Monday, August 16, 2010

Angels and Holy Smoke

A Modern Tale of Signs, Wonders and Miracles

By Ken Raggio

In 1984, my young family and I moved to a little town in Central Texas to assume the pastorate of a small church congregation of about 50 people. It was a cowboy community, as ranching was the primary industry. The county was inhabited by 4,000 people, 5,000 head of cattle, and 10,000 hogs. The two largest employers were a feed mill and a manufacturer of western-style leather belts.

We worked hard and long for the first year or two, trying to win the hearts of the people, and begin an outreach into the community. I confess that I was a city-slicker far out of my element. I knew nothing of riding horses, hunting deer, running herds of angora goats, milk dairies or hog farms.

My only specialty was having church. I could preach and teach and sing and make music. We prayed and asked God to help us reach lost souls and build a church.

I purchased a weekly time-slot on the local AM radio station so I could broadcast a thirty minute program every Sunday morning. Since there was only one radio station in the county, I had a captive audience. The radio station scheduled my Pentecostal preaching right before the local Church of Christ minister. After several weeks on the air, I happened to leave the radio on one morning after my program concluded. I discovered that the Church of Christ minister was using his thirty minutes every Sunday to attempt to refute everything I had just said on my earlier time-slot. It became a real challenge to prepare the most convincing program I could each week that could not be effectively refuted.

One Saturday night, I went into the church alone to record the thirty-minute program for the next morning's broadcast. It was almost midnight when I cued up the tape to record that program. I said a prayer, made some announcements, played a recorded song, and then preached a twenty-minute sermon. Every week, when I finished the task, I would get in my car and drive a few blocks over to the radio station and drop off the tape-recorded program for the next morning's broadcast.

But that night, something very unusual happened. Since it was late, and I was in the building alone, I only turned on one row of lights, which only dimly lit the auditorium. My work-station was at the audio-recording equipment located in the sound booth in the back corner of the auditorium.

As I preached the sermon onto the tape, I felt the inspiration and Presence of the Lord as I spoke. When I finished the thirty-minute program, I stopped the tape and pressed the rewind button.

I looked up toward the pulpit and the platform. When I did, I saw movement. There was a door to the outside located on the left side of the stage. I saw a row of angels walk through the unopened door and walk across the front of the auditorium and stand as if they were soldiers at attention. They were in a shadowy, spirit-form. I watched as one of the angels walked back toward the door, then turned up the aisle along the wall. He came to the third-from-the-last pew on that row and stopped. He stood at the end of that pew for what seemed like a few minutes. Then he and all the other angels vanished.

I sat in the sound booth dumbfounded. I did not know what I had just witnessed. I could not imagine why they had come, or what they were doing. I prayed and asked God to tell me what I should think about what I had just seen.

After a while, I took the tape recording out of the machine, went to my car, drove to the radio station and dropped it off in the front office.

As I drove home, I questioned the meaning of the angelic visitors. I decided that I would pay particular attention on Sunday morning to whoever sat in the pew where the angel had stood. That place on the pew was not normally occupied, so I was curious to see who, if anyone, would sit there the next morning in the church service.

The Sunday morning schedule consisted of two segments. The first hour was for Sunday School. All ages were divided into classes, and I taught the Adult Bible Class in the auditorium. At the end of the first hour, all the classes were dismissed, and everyone came into the auditorium for a worship service of singing and preaching.

During the Sunday School Class in the first hour, nobody sat on the special pew. I felt a little anxious about that. But when people began to come into the auditorium from their classes, the church pianist sat down on the end of that pew. She had never sit there before during a service. As the morning worship service began, I spoke to her from the pulpit. "Sister Neita, I want to tell you that I have been waiting all morning to see who would sit in that pew today, because last night, I saw the angel of the Lord standing at the end of that pew. I do not know for certain what it means, but I believe that he left a blessing for whoever sat in that pew. We will just wait and see what happens." With that, we opened the service with praise and worship.

That night, in the Sunday evening service, Sister Neita's 76-year-old father came to church. That was really big news, because for her entire lifetime, she had been trying to get her father to come to church with her, and he had refused. She and her mother had been faithful to God for all those years without the support of her father. He never did like church, and would never come.

But that night, he sat on the back pew, and lifted his hands in worship when the rest of the congregation worshipped. He listened carefully to the sermon as it was preached. At the end of the service, when the invitation was given to come to the altar and pray, Horice walked down the aisle, knelt at the altar, and wept bitterly as he repented of his sins and gave his heart to God. Suddenly, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he began to speak in tongues as the Spirit gave him the utterance.

When that happened, the entire congregation "went wild" praising and worshipping God, for indeed a notable miracle had just happened before their eyes. Sister Neita and her mother wept and praised God when they saw him born of the Spirit that night. The very next Sunday, he was back in Church again. This time, he presented himself for water baptism. After praying for more than forty years for God to save him, his wife and daughter stood and watched as I baptized him in the name of Jesus for the remission of his sins. He came up out of the water, again speaking in tongues, worshipping God and weeping for joy. That was one of the most exciting conversions that little church had ever seen.

The news of Horice's conversion traveled all over town. Nobody could believe that old Horice had gotten religion. He seemed the most unlikely person. But God knew his heart, and the angel of the Lord came to minister to that family that year. In the months following, I saw both him and his wife receive miraculous healing of acute heart ailments, as prayer was made in their home. He had been at the point of death on several occasions, but was strengthened, and enjoyed several more years of good health. Horice became a faithful saint, and often testified about how thankful he was that God had mercy on him and saved his soul.

Horice's conversion seemed to be only the beginning of the greatest revival that church had ever seen in its 50-year history.

I received a phone call from my Pastor, John Harrell. He told me that there was a man in his congregation who was having much success teaching home Bible studies to new prospects. A high percentage of his prospects were coming to church and being born again. He suggested that I should invite him to come to our church and instruct my congregation in how to conduct effective home Bible studies. I eagerly accepted his suggestion, and made the phone call to schedule a three-day seminar to begin the very next Sunday.

I spent several days that week in fasting and prayer for the success of those meetings. On Sunday afternoon, the guest minister arrived, and we prepared for the Sunday evening service to begin at 6 PM.

Before the service began that night, one of the saints came to me with a special request for prayer. Her husband's brother and family were visiting in the service that night. She told me that their 10-year-old daughter had gone blind, and asked that we have special prayer for her if we thought it was appropriate. I told her that we would.

During the first part of the service, I led the congregation in singing and worship. When the time came to introduce the speaker, I whispered to him that we had a special request for prayer. I quickly told him the details, and gave him the names of the girl and her parents.

As soon as he stepped to the pulpit to speak to us, he went directly to the matter of praying for the little girl. "Arthur and Rosa, would you like to bring your little daughter forward so we can pray for her tonight?" Rosa stepped out into the aisle with her blind daughter, and they began to walk to the front of the building.

Suddenly, one of the saints began to deliver a message in tongues, (as the Apostle Paul taught about in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 14:22). After the message in tongues was given, another saint interpreted the message. The Spirit said, "I am Jehovah Rapha of the Old Testament - the Lord that Healeth. I am Jesus Christ of the New (Testament). I took thirty-nine stripes for your healing, and tonight I will heal you."

The little girl screamed out, "I CAN SEE!! I can see!"

Before prayer was even made, God performed an amazing miracle of healing for 10-year-old Lori. Spontaneous praise rose up in the congregation. The people lifted their hands and their voices and wept as they worshipped God for the notable miracle they had just seen.

The minister walked down the aisle toward the child and her mother. He laid his hands on the mother's head, and she began to speak in other tongues as God filled her with the Holy Ghost. Shortly, he turned and saw the father standing with his hands in the air, weeping and worshiping God. He walked over and laid his hand on the young dad's head and he also began to speak in other tongues as God filled him with the Holy Ghost.

That night was the beginning of a great wave of blessings that swept over that city for more than a year.

The next day, on Monday, they took the little girl to the doctor and confirmed that she had indeed received a miraculous healing. Her best eye had 20-20 vision. Her acute glaucoma had disappeared. The twitching that she had had for so long had stopped. She could see perfectly, and could even read again. She did not even need glasses.

The word spread quickly among her family and friends.

We never did finish that seminar. Instead of having a seminar, we began to have evangelistic services. Relatives of the "miracle girl" came to church Monday night, and six adult members of that family came forward to repent of their sins and give their lives to God. All six were filled with the Holy Ghost that night and spoke in tongues as the Spirit of the Lord came upon them.

Several teenage boys were sitting on the front row that night. As he preached his sermon, the minister suddenly discerned, without having been told, that one of them had been suffering for some time with a leg injury. He walked over to the teenager and said, "When you go to the doctor this week to have it examined, your leg is going to be perfectly well."

The minister had no other way of knowing, except by the Spirit, what he had just said. But the facts were that the young man had been seriously injured on his shin in a sporting accident. His leg had been severely infected for several months. He had been going to a wound clinic for treatments, and the treatments were not working very well. His lower leg had been in bandages for months, and he was scheduled to go back to the doctor the very next morning to have another treatment.

However, when he went to the doctor the next day, they found as they removed the bandages, that his leg was perfectly healed without even a scar. The news of that miracle quickly spread through his family and around town. That night, several more new faces were in the congregation.

One young couple came with their baby, who was less than a year old. For months, their infant had suffered with a horrible skin disease that looked like the chicken pox. The poor child looked awful, and the parents were obviously stressed from the ordeal. The baby had spent days in the local hospital without any improvement. Then she was taken to a regional hospital, where more tests and treatments were performed, still with no improvement. Finally, the child was taken to a large hospital in Fort Worth, where even more tests and more treatments were done.

The baby's grandmother came with the parents and stood for prayer. We anointed the child with oil, in the name of the Lord, and prayed (according to James 5:14-15). The entire congregation prayed the prayer of faith that night.

At 8 o'clock the next morning, the doorbell rang at the parsonage. I answered the door to see the same grandmother, mother, and baby standing there. The baby looked like a brand-new child. The horrible splotches had completely disappeared overnight, and the baby's skin was perfectly healed from head to toe. It was an amazing sight to behold. Both the grandmother and the mother laughed and cried as they rejoiced over what God had done.

What began as a three-night seminar, became instead a six-week series of revival services. FORTY-THREE MEMBERS of the little blind girl's extended family came to church, repented of their sins, received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, and were baptized in water in Jesus' name for the remission of their sins.

It was a glorious time. During that time, I walked into the church one Sunday morning to prepare the building for the morning services. As I unlocked the doors and turned on the lights, I saw that the auditorium was filled with smoke. I was alarmed to see it, and wondered what was going wrong. It appeared that something was on fire. I quickly went through the entire building looking for the source of the smoke. At last, the only cause I could imagine was that the air conditioning system must be pumping smoke into the auditorium.

But I checked all the air conditioning systems, and there was no problem anywhere with the air conditioning. Suddenly, it occurred to me that there was no odor, and no physical source of the smoke.

That is when I realized that the presence of the Lord was in the place. This, I thought, must be the Shekinah - the glory cloud, like Moses saw in the Tabernacle.

The miracles and healings and conversions continued unabated. Over the next few months, over one hundred and twenty people were baptized and were filled with the Holy Ghost in that little church. The congregation grew from 50 to 125 in attendance. The stories of the miracles we saw could fill a book.

I was attending a ministers' conference a few years later, and listened with amazement to a minister from a large Pentecostal church on the East Coast tell a story that sounded amazingly similar to ours.

He told about being alone in his church auditorium on a Saturday night as he walked the aisles and prayed for God's blessings on the Sunday services. As he stood in the low lights of an empty auditorium, he saw a line of angels enter the front of the building and walk around the entire building. He stood in silence as they moved for several minutes, then suddenly disappeared.

"God! What am I seeing?" he asked. "Those are the angels of revival," came the answer.

In the year following that occurrence, that congregation experienced the greatest influx of new souls in its entire history. Over 800 people were baptized in Jesus' name and received the gift of the Holy Ghost that year.

So the days of miracles are over?

Don't you believe it.

I've seen angels and holy smoke.

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