Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2008

A blogger over at a site called “End Times Prophetic Words” is doing a very thorough job of keeping up with the multitudes of things that can be written about Todd Bentley and the Lakeland “Outpouring.”  I really admire her work.

Yesterday, I noticed that we’d both put up similar posts showing the youtube videos and discussing the questions surrounding the purported resurrection of a two-days-dead little girl.  When I read through the comments accompanying that site’s article, I noticed the following, posted by someone calling himself “Chairos Seeker.”  He said, in comment #5,

By the way, being raised from the dead is not a resurrection. The disciples were commissioned to “raise the dead,” not resurrect the dead. “Resurrection” refers to being clothed with a new, perfect body. I think this distinction of terms is both Biblical and helpful. I don’t appreciate Todd’s appropriation of the term “resurrection” for raising the dead, let alone raising the brain dead.

I thought this was a very interesting observation.  While I’ve never paid much attention to the technical differences between the phrase “raising the dead” and the term “resurrection,” I believe that “Chairos Seeker” is probably correct in his assessment.  It does seem to go along with everything I remember from Scripture, that the term “resurrection” refers specifically to those who are raised from the dead and given their glorified bodies.

Something else that struck me, as I pondered the way that Todd Bentley has been touting that the revival has produced “13 resurrections,” was yet another question.  Since thus far, no documentation has been forthcoming about any of these “raised from the dead” stories – none of the “formerly dead” people have appeared on stage with Bentley or anything like that – what sort of message does that send to the world about the most important resurrection? 

After all, the whole reason that Christianity is different from all other world religions is because we claim to serve a RISEN Savior.  The resurrection of Christ (which took place after his crucifixion to pay the price for our sins and to reconcile us with the all-powerful, righteous, and holy God) is the absolute centerpiece of the Christian faith.  If you’re a Christian, you believe that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead on third day after His death on the cross.  You believe in this as a LITERAL, FACTUAL, PHYSICAL REALITY.  It’s the reality of Christ’s RESURRECTION that gives us hope.  Really, it’s the ONLY thing that gives us hope, for this life and the next.

So…my question is…what does it do to the Christian faith, to have the term “resurrection” tossed around so glibly?  If the Lakeland “Outpouring” is really all about Jesus, and if it’s truly evangelistic in nature, then shouldn’t more focus be on the one resurrection that absolutely matters? – Jesus’ own resurrection? 

And if all the stories about people being raised from the dead turn out to be just a bunch of hype, where the people weren’t really dead but, as apparently was true for the 3-year-old girl, merely woke up out of comas, doesn’t that just serve to detract from the message of salvation, the message of Christ’s resurrection?

I think it does.

Read Full Post »

Here is the video that shows Todd Bentley presenting the story about the little 3-year-old girl who was said to have been raised from the dead:

Here is the video of Todd Bentley on the phone with the little girl’s father:

You will notice that even according to the exuberant testimonies on the video, the little girl in question was “brain-dead,” meaning that she had no detectable brain activity.  She was apparently, however, being “kept alive” on life-support machines.  Otherwise, how could they hope to “harvest her organs” for donation?  Like I said before, common sense tells us that they don’t accept donated organs from a 2-day-old cadaver.

I know that some of you think this is a mere technicality, but I would like to go on the record as saying that THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING “BRAIN DEAD” AND ACTUALLY STONE-COLD DEAD!  Even if a machine is doing your breathing and making your heart pump, as long as you have a pulse and blood is still circulating through your body, you are ALIVE, not DEAD.

So technically, this does not count as one of the supposed “thirteen resurrections from the dead” that the Lakeland, Florida “Outpouring” has been claiming to have witnessed.

Now obviously, having a brain-dead little girl snap out of her comatose, “as good as dead” state and then be completely recovered from the disease that had put her in that condition in the first place, is, all by itself, a HUGE miracle.

And God deserves all the praise for such a wonder…

IF it really happened.

But recently, reports have come out that the Lakeland folks have announced that the little girl, Jaden, has died once more.  This time, her cause of death was (supposedly) because a “New Age” lady came and prayed for her.

It all gets curiouser and curiouser!

But oh – I forgot – those of us who are puzzled by all the discrepencies are the ones who are being divisive.  It’s us questioners who are “quenching the Spirit.”

In case you can’t tell, I’m being just a tad bit sarcastic.  My true feelings on this one? –

Well, quite literally, THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS!  If stories are coming out with crucial details being reported inaccurately, and nobody bothers to correct these inaccuracies (such as, for instance, a “resurrection” turning out to be someone awaking from a coma), then those non-retracted stories or non-corrected details would be LIES.  And we all know who the “father of lies” is, right?

 

Read Full Post »

In my email this morning was a message from J. Lee Grady, the editor of Charisma magazine.  It was entitled, “An Appeal For Unity In A Divisive Season,” and in the first part of this email, Grady was basically asking all of us who have serious questions about Lakeland and Todd Bentley to ignore any doctrinal questions we may have and, at least for the time being, shut up with our blogs and our youtube videos in which we point out the unbiblical.

But in the second part of his email, Grady did what I would consider a very good job outlining areas where Charismatics need to reach a theological consensus in order to address concerns that people have raised about Bentley’s unorthodox (to say the least) teachings and practices.

Yet the whole thing left me cold.  J. Lee Grady seems to be trying to appease both sides.  On the one hand, he appeared to be attempting to back-pedal in the face of criticism for his previous editorial expressing reservations about the goings-on in Lakeland, Florida.  In this most recent message, he even said that if he needs to retract portions of his “reservations” editorial and apologize, he would.

On the other hand, he admits that Todd’s teachings and apparent positions on things such as angels, visits to heaven, conversations with the dead, and so forth DO INDEED depart from historical Biblical Christianity’s stances on these matters.

Here is my opinion on J. Lee Grady’s call for unity, that I posted in a comment in the previous article:

I personally don’t think there can BE unity if the “Christians” in question are practicing and valuing different faiths. And since so much of what Todd used to teach – up until recently, when lots of his previous writings were removed from his website – departs dramatically from Biblical Christianity, I’m not sure what sort of faith he’s actually practicing. It seems more like a mixture of New Age spirituality done in Jesus’ name.

I personally refuse to be unified with THAT.

And by the way – I’m NOT calling into question whether Todd is a Christian or not. Only God can know that for sure. But God HAS given us His Word, which clearly does question many of the things that Todd Bentley and this revival are promoting.

Remember – just because seemingly good things happen (like the proported healings), or good feelings are produced (such as the drunken euphoric “highs” that people are reporting), or most importantly, that the name of Jesus is bandied about, that DOES NOT MEAN that the spirit at work is automatically the Holy Spirit.

Jesus told His disciples that many would come IN HIS NAME and yet would be false teachers.

What do YOU think? 

Read Full Post »

Awhile back, I put up a post on this site expressing my confusion over some miracles that had been said to have happened at our former church through the use of “anointed” prayer cloths.  Although they should have been quite easy to verify – especially one story, where two sets of x-rays were taken within less than 24 hours, x-rays that supposedly proved the healing – no documentation was ever presented to the congregation.  The more I thought about this incident in recent months, the more I began to question what I had previously accepted wholeheartedly, just because it had been stated from the pulpit.  Given the fact that the “prayer cloth miracle story” was told repeatedly, to cheering crowds eager for their own miracle, it seemed to me highly unlikely that our former pastor would have passed up an opportunity to REALLY promote his church by documenting the incident, since it should have been so simple to document.

I’ve had those same questions about Benny Hinn and his ministry.  Given how money seems to be no object for him, and how he certainly employs plenty of camera crews involved in the production of his show, why haven’t any of these same camera crews participated in a follow-up show?  Why doesn’t Benny Hinn put an end to all the speculation and simply send a couple of these camera guys home with the folks who say they were healed?  American Idol is somehow able to give us camera footage of its contestants in their “natural habitats” – I remember distinctly how one year they even followed one girl (who ended up becoming a finalist) around as she did her mail route (she was a mail carrier).  Why doesn’t Benny Hinn do the same thing?

I’ve been following the stories of Todd Bentley and the “outpouring” that is happening at his meetings in Lakeland, Florida.  Recently, the internet was abuzz with chatter about the miracles that have been taking place there.  One miracle story was particularly spectacular.  Supposedly, a little girl who had been dead for two days and was on her way to “get her organs harvested” suddenly coughed and sat up, brought to life again.

There was footage – which I haven’t been able to find again – of Todd Bentley on the stage in Lakeland, speaking with the little girl’s father by cell phone.  As Todd relayed what the dad was telling him about the girl’s being raised from the dead, the crowd simply went wild.  When Todd got off the phone, he said to the crowd, “So where’s CNN now?”  Everybody roared and cheered in agreement.

I actually had the same question as Todd Bentley – where were the news people?

Of course, Christians will say that the news folks, of a liberal bent and out to discount the miraculous (unless it’s a “crying” stained glass window or something associated with New Age teachings), have such a bias against the Christian faith that they would never promote miracles by pursuing such a story.  And to some degree, they’re probably right. 

But what about the Christian media?  Certainly a publication like Charisma Magazine ought to be able to follow up on a story as thrilling as a child who was dead for two days but is now alive again, right?

You’d think so.  And, in fact, Charisma HAS done several news stories about Lakeland.  One of these stories was published on May 22, 2008 and does mention this particular incident. 

But for me, Charisma’s “coverage” of this story raises more questions than it answers. 

First of all, what is arguably this outpouring’s most spectacular miracle to date is not even mentioned until the eighteenth paragraph.  The story of the little girl who was raised from the dead is buried deep within Charisma’s accounts of all that is happening with the revival.

Moreover, the only thing Charisma finds to say about this story, in terms of documentation, is, “The hospital denied the report.”

That one line simply boggles my mind.  While I give Charisma credit for at least having the integrity to mention the hospital’s response, I simply cannot understand why their reporters would not have pursued this answer in more depth.

For instance, WHY did the hospital “deny the report”?  (I can immediately think of something that made ME wonder – I’m no medical professional, but even I know that organs are not harvested off of 2-day-old cadavers!  Certainly this little detail doesn’t add up!)

Also, even if the HOSPITAL denied the report, there would have to be plenty of other witnesses who could have confirmed that this actually happened.  I mean, what about the girl’s doctors?  The employees who work in the morgue?  What about the nurses?  Even the hospital custodians?  Surely SOMEBODY who had been there when this thing happened would remember it and be excited to talk about it, right?

The fact that Charisma, a publication with a natural bias toward believing in the Lakeland outpouring and promoting what’s going on there, did nothing to pursue this story tells me that they must know it’s fake.

What is wrong with all the people who aren’t pursuing these things?  I just don’t understand why the Christians who are so eager to believe in and promote the dramatic miraculous don’t do more to document what ought to be very easily proven.  If a little girl really did die and was raised from the dead two days later, praise God!  But let’s see a copy of the death certificate.  Let’s see her medical records. 

And if it turns out that this story, presented to such cheering acclaim in a very public and publicized meeting broadcast on the internet, turns out to be false or even partially inaccurate, then these inaccuracies ought to be publicized. 

To do any less shows a bizarre lack of integrity that is woefully out of line with the Christian faith.  I believe Jesus would be ashamed of those who tell lies in His name.

Read Full Post »

A few nights ago, in response to a post about “Bullying” at church, I found myself leaving the following comment at a blog I like to visit:

Bullying can take more subtle forms, too. I saw lots of practically wordless bullying when I worked for the “Ladies’ Ministry.”

That’s in quotes, because essentially, our “Ladies’ Ministry” consisted of thrice-yearly get-togethers where the pastor’s wife would speak. There were virtually no activities other than these special events, few Bible studies or other small groups where women could learn the Bible, get to know each other, and form friendships. Instead, it was all about the pastor’s wife. Her elaborate themed events would require literally WEEKS of preparation and untold hours of work from many, many people.

Oddly enough, it was considered an honor to be “asked” (you had to be asked, you couldn’t just volunteer) to work on the decoration team. There was an even more select group, about a dozen of the church’s most socially prominent women, who got to be part of The Committee, who actually got to MEET WITH the pastor’s wife IN PERSON and discuss what they were doing for the next event.

Anyway, there was such a bizarre and totally irrational fear that gripped all the ladies who worked on the decorating team. I was so oblivious when I first came on board. I’d never been part of Charismania before, and I didn’t understand the big deal when some gals were freaking out because the two colors of cloth napkins didn’t coordinate perfectly with the elaborate fresh floral centerpieces. Some of the daisies had come in dyed the wrong color. I actually made the innocent remark of, “Why don’t we just call Mary (pastor’s wife – not her real name) and explain what happened?” My question was met with stunned silence as everybody looked at me with patronizing pity at how naive I was.

I soon learned that Mary was NOT to be bothered, not for ANY reason. She had a few minions who functioned as go-betweens, who actually got to speak with her on the phone. And even they (who were her supposed “close friends”) were extremely reluctant to call her. Everybody was so incredibly afraid of Mary.

I never actually SAW overt bullying on the part of the pastor’s wife, but I heard whispers from people who had seen her temper flare. Apparently that was an experience that you did not want to live through twice. And later, I also found out that one scornful glance from her could cut far worse than any knife. She had a way of lavishing smiles on those who did well, to where everybody yearned for her approval and worked like slaves to get noticed by her. Those who were the recipients of her disdain, though, might as well kiss goodbye any hopes of making it socially at that church.

It was a truly sick dynamic.

After we left our church, I came to the sudden realization (as though blinders had fallen off) that those ladies’ events weren’t even about us ladies. They essentially functioned as outreach events, designed to draw people in to the church and impress them. I realized that I didn’t even enjoy them at all, that they were stiff and uncomfortable and overly gaudy and cost way too much money (tickets were sold, usually at $10 to $20 apiece, depending on the meal served).

Executives at billion-dollar corporations don’t even exhibit the prima donna behaviors that our pastor’s wife displayed. It’s all so much the opposite of the “mind of Christ.” Even now, more than a year after we’ve left, I cannot believe we willingly subjected ourselves to that stuff and thought it was OK…let alone CHRISTIAN.

Taking a few minutes to write out my thoughts like that on the “Clarity Rediscovered” blog caused me to experience something of a flashback, as I remembered just what it felt like to participate in the “Ladies’ Ministry” at our old church.  My time as an “invited volunteer” with the so-called “Ladies’ Ministry” at Living Word Church (for the record, NOT the church’s real name) was probably the first source of my disillusionment with the Smiths’ ministry, more than anything else. 

When we initially came to Living Word, I naively projected everything that I’d known about “church” – from a lifetime of involvement in typical Evangelical/Baptist Bible-believing churches – onto Living Word.  As I worked with the other ladies on the decoration committee, I assumed that certain things were just “givens.”  I was completely unaware of the untouchable celebrity status given to Mary Smith.  I had no idea that their thing for “excellence” actually meant frantic perfectionism.   I believed that Mary, as the director of the women’s ministry, and as basically the only teacher permitted to speak to us women, must simply exemplify what a “good Christian woman” ought to be, in terms of her patience, humility, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

Therefore, when “crises” would arise – like when the fresh floral centerpieces arrived and didn’t quite perfectly match the colors of the napkins – I didn’t understand, at least at the beginning, why it was such a big deal.  I just “knew” that Mary Smith, as a kind and gentle woman who exhibited the fruits of the Spirit, would have wisdom and perspective about such silly details.  I projected what I’d always known about women of good Christian character onto her and assumed that if we just explained what had happened, she’d laugh and tell us not to worry about it.  I “knew” that she’d never, EVER care more about some trivial thing like napkin colors than she’d care about us ladies’ feelings.

But the truth was something quite different.  I learned, soon enough, that Mary Smith’s decorating committee was ruled through fear and intimidation…that Mary Smith had an exceptionally sharp eye for detail…and that a few dozen ladies’ spirits rose or fell depending upon the expression on Mary Smith’s face when she entered the event venue for the first time and reacted to the room’s look and feel after we’d finished decorating.  If she loved the overall effect of the decorations, her face would burst forth into a sunshiney smile, beaming her approval on everybody.  But if something were even just slightly “off” or not quite up to her standards, she would demand that it be changed.

And everyone would hop to attention, wringing their hands over the “ruined” detail, scurrying to do everything in their power to fix it.

That was the fruit of Mary Smith’s “ladies’ ministry,” at least the main fruit that I personally witnessed – stress, worry, fear, intimidation, and the feeling, especially among the new decorating recruits, that it would take years for one to ever fit in and be accepted among the “regulars.”

Because I’d posted that comment the other day, these memories of my time on the decorating committee were still with me in a fresh way as I sat in our new church this past Sunday and listened to a message about putting others first.  It was nothing “revolutionary” – it was based on Philippians 2:1-4.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

No, it was nothing “new.”  But as I sat there and listened to the pastor speak, I was so grateful to be back among “normal” Christians and out of the twilight zone of Charismaniac Christianity! 

And I couldn’t help but wonder, how had Mary Smith seemingly forgotten that passage in Philippians?  How had she lost touch with what it felt like to show up at the church and get all sweaty and grungy as we lowly helpers worked for hours to set up tables?  Even if her committee would have all lost their minds and just thrown up some cheap paper streamers and covered the tables with newspapers, how could Mary Smith have gotten so out of touch with reality that she’d even DARE to flick a glance of disapproval in ANYBODY’S direction? 

To answer my own question – I’ve come to believe that what I experienced during my time in the “Ladies’ Ministry” at Living Word was simply the fruit of spending years listening to sermons about “destiny”…and how we’re the “head and not the tail”…how we’re “above only and not beneath”…how we’re “blessed”…how we’re “anointed.”  While all these things ARE, at least in part, true for the child of God, if you forget about how God’s economy is not our economy, and how God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, then you will wind up completely disconnected from what real Christian living is all about.

Rather than being Christlike, a humble servant who puts other people first, you will behave like Mary Smith.  Listen to enough “empowering” Charismaniac sermons, and you, too, will become a puffed up arrogant diva.

Read Full Post »

Every once in awhile, I’ll stumble across something so good that I’ll find myself wishing I would have written it.  I felt that way today, when I found a post entitled, A Challenge to the Sow-a-Seed-For-a-Specific-Need Preachers.  I’d actually recommend the entire website, which is called Theology Today.

In case you’re too lazy to click on over there right this moment, though, here’s the “Challenge” post that I liked so much:

I’m a little bit confused by the “sow a seed for a specific need” teaching that has inundated pulpits and the airwaves worldwide. I understand the principle…but I would love to see it practiced by those who teach it. I want to see THEIR faith in action so I have a little challenge for the prosperity crowd….

Ready?

Give ALL of your money away. Sow that seed into something other then your own ministries….or those of your friend’s mentors, spiritual daddies or mammas and show us that it does indeed work FOR YOU! Airplanes cars yachts and designer clothes….GIVE IT ALL AWAY!

Instead of teaching us to give to you…..so that God will bless us 100 fold…..get the blessing for yourselves! You wouldn’t want to rob God would ya? I didn’t think so so loosen up those purse strings…….offshore bank accounts…..bank vaults or wherever else you’ve stashed your loot and really make a fortune!

If you sow a seed of say….50 million bucks……just think of all the blessings God has in store for you! The days of kissing up to Paul and Jan are over…..no more beg-a-thons…..forget about those endless nights spent shopping on E-bay for those worthless trinkets you give away to those who sow a seed into your ministries…..you will be so blessed you won’t need our seed anymore…..a real life harvest of your own!

Have faith in your seed….in fact have the God kind of faith and just write your need on the seed! Claim that need with your seed and watch the blessings of God rain down from heaven! Just remember that things will be great in ‘08 if you sow that seed today!

Not sure yet? Where is your faith you faithless beings? Don’t you know God wants to bless you….but you have to sow a seed first….and if you sow an uncommon seed….say every penny you have…..then you can expect an uncommon harvest!

So give it all away TODAY! If what you’re teaching REALLY works….then what are you waiting for? Remember that God is a God of patterns precepts and principles and he really wants to bless you….so get blessed today and let us know who you sowed into….how much you sowed and the end result of your sowing…..don’t delay sow today! 

There’s not a whole lot else that I could add to this one – except that I wish Pastor Smith and Paula White and Bishop T.D. Jakes and every single other “Pulpit Pimp” out there would get the message behind these words.  We’re onto your scams.  Especially yours, Ms. White.  How many emails do I get each month that start out with, “I’m praying for your special blessing during this (take your pick) time of the Feast of the Tabernacles/Passover/Jewish New Year/Nordstrom’s Half-Yearly Sale.”  (Well, that last one was just a joke, but I’m sure it’s actually more significant to some of these scam artists – or their wives – as any of the dates on the Jewish calendar.)  Paula White’s emails will always begin with some sweet statement about how she’s praying for our blessing.  But then to SECURE that blessing, we are instructed to sow our best seed into her ministry.

I can’t believe I fell for it for so long.  Can’t believe it.  Can’t, can’t, can’t.  I’m just glad that God woke us up when He did.

Read Full Post »

The other day, I had this observation:

It seems like the majority of the time, Charismaniac preachers base their sermons out of the Old Testament.  They base their teachings about tithing and giving out of the Old Testament.  They rationalize their millionaire lifestyles by using themes and passages from the Old Testament.

They neglect what the New Testament has to say about humility, servanthood, and loving worldly goods.

BUT…

When they prophesy, these same Charismaniac dudes (and dudettes) are lightning-quick to declare that Old Testament rules and regulations for prophets do not apply to them.  They will not be held to Old Testament standards for truth or accuracy.  They invoke what they see as New Testament protection for mistakes as they exercise their “prophetic” gifts.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Read Full Post »

Like someone who Googles the name of an old boyfriend or girlfriend, I admit that I still keep tabs on our old Charismatic church.  Both my husband and I regularly visit the website of Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are all other non-household names used on this site).  We still read the promotional materials we occasionally receive in the mail.  And when Pastor Smith’s (again, not his real name) section on iTunes is updated – which doesn’t seem to happen all that regularly – I confess that I will at least attempt to listen to his latest podcast.

(My husband, though, simply does not have the stomach for listening to any more of Pastor Smith’s preaching.  He avoids what Living Word puts up on iTunes, and if I’m listening to the podcasts while he’s in the room, he’ll ask that I do so through headphones.  He still finds himself too burned by our experiences at Living Word to be able to tolerate even the sound of Pastor Smith’s voice.)

I, on the other hand, tend to get a peculiar sense of comfort out of hearing Pastor Smith and his frequent heresies.  I know that might seem a bit odd, but to me, picking out the false teachings embedded in what seem like otherwise biblical teachings serves as reinforcement for why we left.

So the other day, I was listening to Pastor Smith’s latest sermon available on iTunes.  It is entitled something like, “Enlarge and Inherit” (a loose paraphrase of the actual title).  As I listened, I was both surprised (why, I do not know, as you’d think I’d expect it by now) and comforted by Pastor Smith’s “take” on how a few verses in Exodus about the Israelites’ possession of the Promised Land apply to Christians today.  I’m probably never again going to transcribe an entire Smith sermon, but that doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of falsehoods still being promoted from Living Word’s pulpit these days.

Pastor Smith’s latest sermon is all about inheriting our destiny…and how doing so sometimes involves “standing still and seeing the deliverance of the Lord” (as the children of Israel had done during the parting of the Red Sea) and sometimes involves fighting for what’s rightfully ours.  Smith preaches for over an hour about this single idea.  He does his usual spiel about how the devil wants to steal, kill, and destroy what ought to be ours…how each of us has our own unique God-given “destiny” to fulfill on this earth…how we are meant to prosper and be blessed in our destiny…how, when we have a “God said” over our lives (meaning something that “God told” us, either through a prophetic word delivered to us personally by a prophet, or through “God speaking” to us individually), this thing MUST happen…and how sometimes we must “stand still” and let God be God, but sometimes we must do battle for the breakthrough into our destiny.

As I listened to Pastor Smith’s words, I had several reactions.

One was, oddly enough, boredom.  Despite the energy and drama of his singularly forceful, gravelly voice and the enthusiasm and authority of his delivery, I had a difficult time staying focused on what he was actually saying.  I found that it all began to run together, just so much mumbo jumbo about “destiny” and “harvest” and “victory” and “battle.”

Another reaction, though, was a renewed sense of curiosity.  Pastor Smith began putting his sermons up on iTunes only since we left Living Word, so I can’t easily click on over to messages from years ago, back when we still attended.  I find myself wondering who changed? – Pastor Smith, or us?  Did he always preach like that, hammering away on the theme of our “destiny”?  Where did he ever come up with the Scriptural backing for this idea, anyway?  Where in the Bible does it say that the point of our salvation is so that we can walk in our own unique purposes, which are (supposedly) to include “no limits,” “untold blessings” (which ALWAYS translates into MONEY), and “influence”?

I can remember sermons like this one, but I also remember always believing that Pastor Smith was very well-grounded in God’s Word.  I believed that all his messages were firmly rooted in Scripture.  Unless he’s really changed in recent months (which of course is always a possibility), I wonder how I was lulled and tricked into accepting what actually amounts to a whole lot of unbiblical rah-rah talk about living a successful life – successful according to the world’s standards, NOT God’s.  How did I sit through years of that sort of preaching and still think Smith was teaching us principles from the Bible?

Another thought I had while listening (and later, processing) this latest sermon is that Smith’s greatest, most unscriptural error is rooted in his false understanding of what the Bible has to say about the “end times.”

Prior to our years at Living Word Church, I’d never been one to care much about eschatology.  Teachings about the “last days,” about the “Great Tribulation,” about the Antichrist, caused my brain to check out.  I’d find myself making mental (or sometimes even actual) grocery lists.  But when, about eighteen months ago, we began to seriously question what we were being taught about money and “blessings” and the “triumphant end-times church” and the “billion-soul harvest,” I gradually came to realize that unless I gained a better understanding of Scripture in this area, I had no real way to discern if any of Pastor Smith’s thinking was faulty.

So I began to do some digging, some reading.  I purchased Paul Benware’s Understanding End Times Prophecy, a volume I’d highly recommend because it gives a good general overview of the most pervasive end-times views.  I also did a lot of reading online. 

I discovered, to my dismay, that Pastor Smith apparently subscribes to what is known as “Kingdom Theology” – the notion that as we approach the return of Christ, God’s people – via the church – are going to grow more and more powerful, more and more wealthy, more and more triumphant politically and spiritually.  According to Smith, there is going to be a “great end-times harvest,” where billions of souls will be saved through an outpouring of “signs and wonders.”  Pastor Smith would often declare, “Christ is not coming back for a tattered, defeated church!  He will only return for a glorious bride!”  Therefore, it was our duty to “take authority” over every sphere of our lives.  We were to “take dominion” and reign victoriously in our workplaces, in the political realm, in the areas of physical healing and personal relationships.  We were treated often to phrases like, “The devil is a liar, and he is under our feet!”  Or…even more often, a phrase that I really never quite understood (still don’t):  “The Kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  We were often exhorted to go out and “take it by force.”  Through “spiritual warfare,” we would be ambassadors of Christ and would bring His saving message (which apparently centers around the glory of our dominion far more than it centers on Jesus saving us from our sins) to the masses.

This was, as I’ve said before, some heady stuff.  After years of plodding along in what felt like the doldrums of the seemingly “non-triumphant” Baptist/Evangelical world, it was incredible to hear that we’d actually had it all wrong, that Christians are NOT going to experience increasing persecution as the end nears, but instead are going to gain more and more influence over our culture and over our world. 

I’ve never quite figured out if Pastor Smith subscribes to the whole enchilada of teachings involved in the “Manifest Sons of God” doctrine, which actually (in their fullness) deny Jesus’ bodily return in the clouds but instead claim that Christ’s return will happen gradually, as the church unites and triumphs and sort of morphs into Christ Himself.  But I believe it’s fairly safe to say that Pastor Smith IS firmly in the “Kingdom Theology”/”Triumphant End-Times Church” camp.

This is why Smith feels so free to teach that God wants Christians to be rich.  Although himself a friend of fancy cars, luxury vacations, and new custom homes, Pastor Smith’s punch line for “financial overflow” always involved how we needed to be “blessed” financially so that we could “sow into the work of the kingdom.”  How would we reach people with the Gospel, Smith would ask rhetorically, if we were poor and defeated?

(I always did wonder, even back when I never otherwise questioned Pastor Smith, how it was that he figured the Apostles got the early church off the ground and experienced such raging success, considering that most of them were neither rich nor politically well-connected but were instead oftentimes arrested, beaten, and imprisoned?)

Anyway…all of this is to say that I feel compelled to urge you, readers, to dedicate some time to studying the different views of “end-times” events.  Figure out for yourselves what you believe in this area – or, more importantly, commit to discovering what the BIBLE has to say about the “end times.”

Does the Bible REALLY say that we Christians are going to increase in power and glory before Christ’s return?  Does the Bible teach that we’re all going to be rolling in wealth and influence when Jesus comes in the clouds for His church?  Does the Bible teach us that we’re going to “take the world by force” to “establish Christ’s kingdom”?

Even more importantly, does the Bible actually tell us that we Christians are going to abound more and more in “signs and wonders”?

(Or does the Bible actually teach – as I now believe it does – that false signs and wonders will increase and deceive many, leading them to believe in the Antichrist?)

With all the hoopla over Todd Bentley’s “Healing Revival” in Lakeland, Florida, I think these questions have even greater significance as we work to discern what is of God, and what is not.  I’ve learned the hard way that a Biblical understanding of the “end times” actually DOES matter.

Here are a couple of websites I’ve found very helpful lately:

http://endtimespropheticwords.wordpress.com/

http://www.erwm.com/KingdomTheology1.htm

If you know of others, post them in a comment below.

 

Read Full Post »

Having grown up in a pretty conservative, Bible-teaching Evangelical church, one of the values I absorbed was having respect for God’s name.  At the Christian school I attended as a child, it was even frowned upon to use the exclamation of, “Oh my gosh!”  So ingrained in me was this viewpoint that, although I realize that this is a shallow (and, obviously, unreliable) litmus test, if I heard someone say, “Oh God!” in a fashion that was not seriously prayerful, I generally assumed that this person did not share my basic outlook on God’s Word.

So when, several years ago, we made the jump from our more staid Evangelical/Baptist church to an independent Charismatic congregation, one of the tiny little things that bothered me from the get-go was the way our pastor – whom I’ll call “Pastor Smith,” though that is a pseudonym – would often use the expression, “My God!” when he was preaching or ministering.

As far as I could tell, he did not do it in a way that was respectful or prayerful.  Instead, he would inject this exclamation into his sermons or into times of “ministry” (when he was prophesying or praying for people) to give his own words extra emphasis.  The phrase was never addressed to God Himself.

My gut reaction always was that when he’d do this, Pastor Smith was taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Of course, as the years passed, I pretty much forced myself to get used to it.  I told myself that it was cultural.  Certainly, just about every Charismatic/Word of Faith preacher I heard seemed to do the same thing.  During our time at Living Word Church (another pseudonym), we were privy to appearances by folks such as Gary Oliver, Paula White, Jesse DuPlantis, and T.D. Jakes, all of whom frequently interjected “My God!” while preaching, primarily for dramatic effect (I could never see any other reason for it).  When I’d watch other Charismatic luminaries (like Juanita Bynum) on TBN, I’d hear more of the same. 

A part of me – the part that wanted to buy into every last little aspect of my new Word of Faith outlook – figured that I was just being legalistic and stuffy when Pastor Smith’s seemingly irreverent use of “My God!” continued to trouble me.  But I could never fully get over the unsettling jolt that would shoot through my heart when he would do this. 

I’m not someone given to dramatic exaggerations, either – I would literally feel a sickening stab in my gut whenever Pastor Smith would practically interrupt himself to shout, “My God!”  It was even worse when he would use the phrase, “Oh God” in a sort of sarcastic way, like when he was being humorous with his audience and rolling his eyes at them for something or other.  He didn’t do this as often, but whenever he did, I almost couldn’t get past it to hear the rest of his sermon, no matter how hard I tried.

I was thinking about this recently, in part because I stumbled upon a site discussing the much-trumpeted “revival” led by Todd Bentley, which is currently taking place in Lakeland, Florida.  While watching some clips of Mr. Bentley ministering at these meetings, it suddenly occurred to me that here was yet another Charismatic preacher who did the exact same thing – who used God’s name in a way that was more like swearing rather than prayerfully, reverently addressing the Lord.

I don’t really have anything profound to say about this practice, except that I find it interesting that so many of these guys (and gals) openly break one of the Ten Commandments from the pulpit.  Why is this OK?  Why do these folks do this?  Why do the Christians sitting in the pews – many of whom would never themselves use God’s name as an irreverent exclamation – tolerate it?

I’m wondering if perhaps this is one of those obvious signs, something “hidden in plain sight,” that perhaps ought to alert us to when all is not right?  That perhaps we shouldn’t be so shocked when these same ministers violate other commandments, dabbling in dishonesty or adultery?

 

Read Full Post »

Ever since I put up the Smoke ‘n’ Mirrors post, I’ve been feeling bad.  Publicly suggesting that Pastor Smith (a pseudonym) engineered a fake miracle so that he could kick off Living Word Church’s (another pseudonym) special week of meetings with a bang and drum up more excitement about the annual “Miracle Handkerchief And Anointing Service” was just…well, probably more cynical than any Christian ought to be.

At the very least, I should not have put up the post without trying to investigate whether a particle of my suspicions could be true.

I’d take the post down, in fact, except that I’ve vowed never to do that with anything that appears on this blog.  People link to this site, and I’ve personally always hated it when folks have second thoughts and remove posts.  It can be very confusing…and also seem sort of dishonest.

So I’ve decided I’m not going to remove the article.  Instead, I’m going to put up this disclaimer, sharing my mixed feelings, along with a request.  I know that at least a few former Living Word folks have stumbled onto this site and will easily recognize the cast of characters and remember the incident I described.  (It was, hands down, one of the most oft-repeated miracle stories at Living Word.)  If you’re one of those folks, would you please drop me an email (at charismaniablogATyahooDOTcom)?  Give me your analysis.  Even more helpful would be any sort of verification.  Maybe somebody out there was friendly with the Ortega (yet another pseudonym) son, to whom this healing supposedly happened.  Maybe there’s even someone who knows for certain that he actually went to the emergency room.  Maybe somebody even saw the x-rays.

I would dearly love, once and for all, to get to the bottom of this incident.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to explain, in a bit more detail, why I’ve become riddled with so much doubt about this particular “miracle” – even as I’m agreeing with the Pastor Smith defenders, who would no doubt be horrified that I’d dare insinuate such a thing.

Awhile back, when I was thinking about this “miracle” and how it would (I assumed) always be sort of the “final frontier” in my mind about how much that went on at Living Word was genuine and how much was mostly generated by Pastor Smith, it suddenly occurred to me that, given Living Word’s usual sophistication about showing videos on the big screen, it’s actually rather surprising that they would not have shown some still shots of this young man’s x-rays.  According to the Ortega family’s story, there were two sets of x-rays taken, one set on Sunday afternoon, prior to the wearing of the “anointed” hanky, and one set the following morning.  The first set had clearly shown a broken jaw.  The second set had shown whatever traces that an old broken jaw leaves (I’m not a medical expert).  In other words, the jaw had definitely been broken, but God had miraculously, through the anointed prayer cloth, performed a complete mending of the jaw overnight.

I just wondered, suddenly, why in the world they would not have shown those x-rays.  And called the newspaper, for that matter.  Think of the amazing documentation they should have had, with all those educated professionals who had seen the broken jaw but then had seen the healed jaw.  The media – if not the secular media, then certainly Christian media – would have gone wild.  It would have been excellent publicity for Living Word Church…and I do know that Living Word simply loves publicity.  Pastor Smith was always extremely deliberate and savvy about creating relationships with other, much bigger-name ministers.  He was willing to part with a LOT of the church’s cash to buddy up to Bishop T.D. Jakes, for example, donating $40,000 to Jakes’ well-digging outreach in Africa. 

(Interestingly enough, Pastor Smith’s two young adult sons, Timmy and Tommy, were invited to speak at Jakes’ MegaFest that very same year, just months after the $40,000 donation – roughly 1% of the church’s gross annual income – had been given.  Considering that neither of the Smith boys has exactly made a name for himself, I think it’s remarkable that they were included in such a tiny group of non-African American guys who got to speak at MegaFest.  But that’s another story.  As is how that donation managed to get made without even a peep to the congregation, until it was a done deal.) 

Pastor Smith was also adept at getting himself invited to be a guest on TBN and Daystar.  During these times, he was actually at his best, working the cameras with his unique earnest sincerity, always with many plugs for Living Word Church, and many mentions of its address. 

Even Living Word’s television ministry had little to do with “preaching the Gospel” (despite being touted as exactly that).  Rather, it was more of an infomercial for Living Word Church.  These Living Word broadcasts consisted of a half hour of Pastor Smith going on disconnected rants that had been plucked from different spots in his sermon (which made it impossible to follow his main ideas), interspersed with video of Pastor Smith that had been shot in a local television studio, where he was on some set that resembled a bookcase-lined office.  During these studio portions, Smith came across absolutely as the most gracious, enthusiastic host.  But once again, he did not share the Gospel of Christ.  Rather, he just kept urging folks to visit Living Word Church so that they could “experience this anointing.”  (Not surprisingly, Living Word’s television ministry was not very successful and disappeared without a word after about six months of heavy promotion.)

Also, what other reason would they have had, anyway, for printing up the miracle hankies with Living Word’s name, logo, AND precise location emblazoned in such a huge font, to where there could be no mistaking where the cloth had come from?

Definitely, Pastor Smith – and consequently Living Word Church – knew exactly how to do publicity!

That’s why it does not seem likely that Pastor Smith would have let the “Broken Jaw Miracle” – if it and all its documentation had been genuine – pass without making more effort to get the story picked up by news agencies.  Publicity for the “Broken Jaw Miracle,” after all, would very likely have ushered in the season of overflow that was continually being prophesied about.  People flock to the miraculous, as evidenced by other revivals like Toronto and Brownsville, and now that new one being run by Todd Bentley in Lakeland, Florida.  Theology hardly matters, as long as there are people with stories of gold fillings or healed bodies.  The Ortega family’s story would have drawn people to Living Word Church from all over the country.

Especially considering that Mr. Ortega was on staff as Pastor Smith’s assistant and right-hand man, and had a vested interest in promoting the church, there is simply no way that Living Word would not have capitalized a LOT more on this golden opportunity, considering how much utter verification there should have been…if it had happened as they said, with two sets of x-rays, and two sets of doctors who’d seen both the injury and then the healing less than 24 hours later.

Also, as my husband and I discussed this “miracle” recently, we suddenly had another thought.  Does it strike anybody else as odd that there was absolutely no concern about what had prompted a healthy young teenager to pass out in the first place?  Rather than dashing off to an orthopedic surgeon the next morning, as Pastor Smith had reported them to have done, wouldn’t at least some sort of MRI or other tests have been performed first?

Like I said, I’m no medical professional, but I am a mom, and if my teenaged son had gone through an incident like that, I don’t think I would have blown it off just because his jaw turned out to be OK.

Anyway…as you might be able to tell, I’m terribly conflicted about this seemingly minor thing that happened several years ago.  On the one hand, looking back on all the circumstances, I can’t help but be deeply suspicious about this “miracle.”  On the other hand, I am truly fearful of ascribing this incident to fraud if it actually were the real deal.

I know that one miracle should not be used to validate an entire ministry.  But I’m acutely aware of just how many people the “Broken Jaw Miracle” caused to take those prayer cloths very seriously.  I know how many people clapped and cheered and excitedly waved their anointed hanky during the service, and how many people sent those hankies off to sick and broken people in desperate need of a miracle, in large part because of a few exciting stories told and re-told, year after year, about the wonders that had been performed through those prayer cloths.  The main wonder, as I said, was always the Ortega boy’s story, because it was the only thing that had happened locally, to someone who was actually present in the service and could stand up and wave to the audience.

I know how important this story is to those who were true believers in those hankies.  I know, because I was one of those people.

Read Full Post »