Lonnie Frisbee was the “hippie preacher” that God used powerfully in the early days of Calvary Chapel. The Jesus Movement had begun when Chuck Smith met Lonnie and allowed him to preach to the young people who were flocking to Chuck’s church in Southern California. And Lonnie’s impact was undeniable. Under his preaching hundreds of young people were saved, and believers received the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Often his laying on of hands and prayer prompted believers to speak with the gift of tongues.
Lonnie’s ministry was highlighted in the recent film, “Jesus Revolution.” The movie has stirred up questions and interest in Lonnie’s life and ministry, and it inspired me to tell my “Lonnie Frisbee Story.” I have just one. We met briefly, but God used the “hippie preacher” to teach me a lesson I have carried with me the rest of my life. My one-and-done encounter with Lonnie has proven instrumental in the growth of my faith.
Lonnie’s popularity at Calvary Chapel was strategic, but short-lived. It stretched from early 1968 to 1971 when Lonnie and his wife left California for Florida. For most of the next decade they were involved in other ministries. Lonnie returned to Calvary Chapel in the late 1970s when our paths crossed.
I came from Atlanta, Georgia to Twin Peaks, California in the spring of 1980 to enroll in the Calvary Chapel Bible College. The Jesus Movement had spread from California to places all around the world, even to the Deep South. I started listening to Pastor Chuck on the radio. It was through “The Word For Today” that I learned of Calvary Chapel and its Bible College.
Having been raised in a fundamentalist Baptist Church I knew very little about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and supernatural gifts like speaking in tongues. But when I gave my life to Jesus I wanted to be His witness, and lacked the boldness needed. One night I prayed in desperation for God to pour out His Holy Spirit on me. He did, and for a blessed moment I spoke in tongues. What happened scared me. I thought, “what’s a good Baptist doing speaking in tongues?” And my doubt shut down my praise. But there was no denying my life changed that night. I had a new boldness to share the Gospel and a strong love for people. I knew what I had experienced was real, and longed for a repeat of both the Spirit’s anointing and the ability to praise God in an unlearned and unknown language.
Shortly after my semester at the Bible College began I heard of a pastors conference that was to be held at the facility. I’m thankful the students had the opportunity to attend. I had just begun to learn that there were Calvary Chapel pastors other than Chuck Smith. And of course, I’d heard of Lonnie Frisbee. People told me he had a special gifting, that he prayed for folks and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Again, I was a Southern Baptist branching out. I had come all the way to California to learn from and experience what God was doing at Calvary Chapel. I thought, “I might as well have this Frisbee guy pray for me. If I’m really serious about this why not approach the guy with the reputation.” So one night at the conference I found Lonnie. Someone had to point him out to me. I introduced myself and told him my story; then I asked him if he would pray for me to be filled with the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues.
After a long pause Lonnie ordered me, “Take off your shoes.” I said, “What?” He told me again, “Take off your shoes.” Now it would not have been that difficult. All I was wearing at the time were rubber flip flops. But I was adamant, “I’m not interested in gimmicks. I want the real thing! I want the power of the Holy Spirit, not some charismatic hocus-pocus.” I’ll never forget Lonnie’s response. He was bold, “Man, your problem is pride – intellectual pride. If you can’t figure something out you won’t believe it.”
Then he recited me the story of Naaman the leper. Recall, the Syrian General had approached the Prophet Elisha for healing. Elisha told him to dip himself seven times in the Jordan River. At first Naaman was too proud to immerse himself in the muddy, murky waters of the Jordan. He said if he wanted to dip in a river there were purer rivers in Syria. That’s when his servants called him out for his pride. They ask him, “If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?”
Just as Naaman didn’t understand what his healing had to do with dipping himself in the dirty waters of the Jordan, I didn’t see what taking off my shoes had to do with me receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. But Lonnie saw the connection perfectly. His insistence that I take off my shoes exposed my intellectual pride. If I couldn’t make sense of the instructions, I refused to believe. After a string of excuse-laden responses from me, Lonnie brought our conversation to an abrupt end, “Hey, you asked me to pray for you, and God told me not to pray unless you take off your shoes.”
Well, I was so mad I did something that’s hard to do – I stomped off in flip-flops! No way was I going to get involved in what I saw as spiritual shenanigans. But when I walked up the stairs, and sat down in the lobby of the conference center to sort out in my mind what had happened, God spoke to me, “Sandy, he is exactly right! This IS your problem. If you can’t dissect it, and decipher it, and have it all figured out you won’t believe it. You have a faith that’s limited to your own logic.” Lonnie had hit the nail on the head. My problem was my pride!
So I humbled myself, and took off my flip-flops. And almost immediately, I saw Lonnie walking out the door. He was on the back stairwell. I got his attention and waved my shoes at him. He just smiled. I told him, “Don’t smile, pray! You’re exactly right. I’m a proud man. But I’m humbling myself now, and I really want you to pray for me.”
That’s when Lonnie once more did the unexpected. When I look back on the situation, it’s surefire evidence he was listening to God. He said to me, “God just told me not to pray for you. I’ve done my part.” And with that he gave me a big hug and walked off into the night… And thus ended the only experience or conversation I ever had with the man… almost. For the lesson God taught me that night has shaped my life ever since.
The very next day a group of friends and I went to the baptism at Pirates’ Cove (Corona Del Mar), and after being baptized, as I was walking over the rocks that surrounded the Cove, the Spirit of God moved on me again with power and love, and once more I started speaking praises to God in an unknown language. But this time, even though it baffled and humbled my understanding I went with what was happening. Rather than quench the Spirit as I had done before, I rejoiced! I was grateful! I was experiencing what Peter called “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” It was amazing, a former Southern Baptist was speaking in an unknown tongue! I experienced a wonderful filling of the Holy Spirit that I have never forgotten and continue to walk in to this very day.
And since that day, I have come to realize how vital it is to take God at His word even when I don’t have it all figured out. Prior to my encounter with Lonnie I lived my life with a faith limited by my own logic. If I couldn’t understand the ins and outs of a thing I remained skeptical. I never considered that God was bigger than my understanding. His ways are beyond our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. God is all-knowing, and I am still growing!
And now whether it’s a truth clearly revealed in the Bible that I can’t yet reconcile logically – or a physical tragedy with no apparent explanation – just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean I can’t trust God. Today, when I comfort a couple whose baby just died, or talk to a man whose spouse has a cancer, or walk through a hard passage with a skeptical student, or encourage a sojourner at a confusing crossroads… I can assure that person that real faith doesn’t need to know why, when it is certain of WHO. You and I can trust God even when we can’t trace Him. I love the saying, “What’s over my head is still under God’s feet.”
I have heard the stories of what became of Lonnie Frisbee. He failed to finish well. But his life affirms the lesson God taught me through our encounter. Just as God works in unusual ways that baffle our reasoning, God uses unlikely people to do His work. God knows the great hindrance to building His Kingdom isn’t foolish men or weak men, but prideful men. God’s plan is to use the foolish to confound the wise, and the weak to shame the strong. He uses humble people who aren’t deluded into thinking the power and wisdom is of them. Often I recall the lesson I learned from Lonnie, and I thank the Lord for “the hippie preacher.”
Pastor Sandy Adams