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Archive for the ‘kenneth copeland’ Category

My exit out of Living Word Church (a pseudonym), and Charismania in general, for that matter, was prompted by a handful of what Oprah Winfrey would call “Aha!” moments.  One of those moments, ironically, was born out of a friendship, probably the only true friendship I had at Living Word. 

Living Word Church was NOT a place where it was easy to connect with others.  During the years we attended, there were no “Adult Bible Fellowships” (aka “Sunday school classes”).  There were no small-group Bible studies where discussion was encouraged.  They did have a system of church-organized social groups, called “Care Groups” (now changed to “Life Groups”), but the groups rarely met, and when they did, the get-togethers were often painfully awkward meetings of strangers with next to nothing in common.  

Incidentally, something I always found fascinating is how just about every decent conversation among Living Word folks seemed to end up focused on Pastor Smith (another pseudonym) or the story of how one came to be a member of Living Word.  Seriously.  I can remember attending at least three different Living Word get-togethers where there was little but stiff small talk, until someone mentioned something about Pastor Smith.  Suddenly, everyone in the room came alive and began participating in the conversation. 

Much later, I realized that this was exactly the way Pastor Smith liked things to be.  He and his family were the focal point of Living Word Church, and you’d better not forget it.  To ensure that you wouldn’t forget, you could feast your eyes on large portraits of the Smith family plastered prominently in the church lobby.  You could watch people during praise and worship time, prior to the Smiths’ grand entrance on the stage, and feel the level of anticipation for Pastor Smith’s arrival.  If Smith wasn’t going to be there on a particular Sunday, they’d rarely announce that ahead of time, because they knew how few people would actually still show up. 

So in this very Pastor Smith-centric atmosphere, I considered my friendship with two ladies, middle-aged never-married sisters who typically sat in the same area of the sanctuary as we did, a real treasure.  What started because of conversations struck up during long periods of waiting for the church services to begin eventually grew into a deep, heart-to-heart friendship.  

One of the sisters – I’ll call her “Jean” – became an especially close friend.  She and I would always have a wonderful time when we’d talk on the phone or meet for lunch.  Although we shared interests in more mundane things, our conversations also often touched on our deepest spiritual struggles, hopes, and dreams.  Jean and I frequently shared with each other what we were praying about, the things in our lives that we wanted to change, and where we thought God was leading us.  

In retrospect, it seems almost funny that it was one of those conversations that ultimately sent me down the path of questioning just about everything we’d been taught at Living Word.  During the time we were involved with the church, I probably would have said that the one thing that made us less than content with Living Word was the lack of ways to truly fellowship with other believers.  I always felt uncomfortable with the extreme focus on the Smith family and earnestly wished I had more friends like Jean.  

I never would have guessed that Jean would play a role in our leaving. 

Not long after we first became friends, Jean revealed to me something that even at that time struck me as a bit unreal.  In the early days of our involvement at Living Word, I honestly felt like a whole new world had been opened for me.  After a lifetime of a Bible-based faith rooted firmly in reality, where normal human disappointments still might lurk around every corner, I was suddenly introduced to a Christian life that talked about “dreaming big,” about “having favor,” about “taking the limits off.”  After years of knowing that Christians should not love money, should not place too much importance on “things of this world,” and should not put their hopes in earthly riches, we were suddenly thrust into a world where it was OK – indeed, it was merely a sign of God’s blessing – to drive a luxury car and dream for a huge house.  In fact, it was God’s will for us to have those things.  

So when Jean told me that God had given her and her sister an amazing vision and had also told them that it was going to come to pass, I had mixed feelings when she revealed exactly what that dream was.  On the one hand, we were fed a steady diet of, “The sky’s the limit!” from Living Word’s pulpit.  Nothing is impossible with God…it’s God’s will for you to have the desires of your heart…we are more than conquerors through Christ…God wants us to prosper and be in good health… 

Who was I to tell anyone that their dream was too far-fetched for God to turn into reality?  God could do anything! 

And yet…

Well, when it came right down to what the sisters’ dream actually WAS, I ran into huge roadblocks in my thinking. 

They totally and sincerely believed that God had told them they would both soon retire from their secretarial jobs, come into $53 million, and establish a “hospitality house” where they would play hostess to the visiting ministers whom Living Word brought in on occasion to speak to the church.  They already even had selected their exact mansion – in one of the finest communities of luxury homes that this area affords.  Like, they already knew WHICH HOUSE God had shown them that He was going to give them.

They also believed that God had told them that they were going to experience supernatural weight loss – that one day in the near future, Pastor Smith would give an altar call for those who wanted to lose weight, and when they’d go forward for this altar call, a miracle would happen and weight would instantly drop off their bodies, to the point where they’d start losing their clothes as they’d make their way back to their seats. 

In other words, the sisters believed that someday soon, they’d be both wealthy and slim, even though currently their paychecks only afforded them life’s necessities…they had saved NOTHING for retirement, neither of them had health insurance, and they were still living in their mother’s basement…and even though they had absolutely no plans to change their eating and exercise habits. 

I know it might seem silly to those of you who have never been engulfed in the “Charismaniac” mindset, but I did not immediately dismiss the sisters’ beliefs about their future.  I felt conflicted about them, actually.  On the one hand, the part of me that still had my feet planted somewhere near reality would inwardly shake my head and marvel that they could put so much stock in what they thought that “God told them.”  I mean, although Pastor Smith frequently delivered vague but very positive prophecies over lots of folks in Living Word’s audience, he’d never pulled out either sister for a personal “word.”  They didn’t even have one of Pastor Smith’s prophecies to fall back on.  All they had was their confidence in their own prophetic dreams, visions, and ability to “hear God’s voice.” 

I often thought, even as I was growing to love the gals and enjoy our friendship more and more, that they were setting themselves up for a huge disappointment every time they would strain their meager finances to “sow a seed” into Living Word Church or ministries like Benny Hinn’s.  I cringed on their behalf when, right before offering time one Sunday night, Jean whispered to me that although they’d finally saved enough money to buy themselves new mattresses, they felt that God had told them to give the entire amount to the church instead.  Her trembling hand was clutching a white offering envelope, which she proceeded to bring down to the waiting ushers holding the offering buckets at the front of the church.  

Even then – and this was in the midst of my highest love and loyalty for Living Word – I was greatly troubled at the thought of Jean and her sister sleeping on broken-down beds for several more years while the Smiths barely batted an eye at spending $29,000 per year on floral arrangements and “needed” a new $80,000 Mercedes to replace their perfectly respectable 5-year-old model. 

Yet…well, on the other hand, I never could bring myself to completely discount the sisters’ belief in their dream.  After all, who was I to question their faith?  At the time, I myself was “believing God for something” that probably would have seemed quite far-fetched to other people.  

For at least awhile, I made a sort of uneasy peace with the two parts of my thinking.  To be honest, I was motivated by more than a little selfishness.  My reasoning went something like this:  if I did not honor the sisters’ dream – the object of THEIR faith – then why should anybody, God Himself included, honor MY dream and answer MY prayers? 

I never quite lost the sense, though, that there was a missing link in the sisters’ (actually, the whole church’s, mine included) theology.  I realize – again – that this might not make sense to anyone who hasn’t been engulfed in Charismania, but we’d listen to sermon after sermon from Pastor Smith about faith, about believing God for our dreams, about how our “destiny” was always  just about to be fulfilled.  I’d say at least nine Sundays out of ten, the terms “destiny,” “dreams,” “visions,” and “favor” would figure prominently in Pastor Smith’s preaching.  And always, he’d seem to have plenty of Bible verses to back up his assurances to us.  Despite all the years of solid Bible training I’d had and the many college theology courses I’d taken, I could never really pinpoint what – if anything – was wrong with Pastor Smith’s messages.  

The truth was, I actually WANTED Living Word’s teachings – the same teachings that buoyed up my friends’ commitment to their mansion and their future instantaneous weight loss – to be true.  Church had become an extremely positive, uplifting experience for me.  I thoroughly enjoyed hearing, week after week, how God had a great destiny in store for me, and how my dreams would all be fulfilled.  Just like the two sisters, I myself was hoping and praying every day for a specific outcome, and I did not want to lose what I thought were the theological underpinnings for believing that I would eventually get what I wanted. 

Ultimately, though, I finally concluded that since I could never reconcile the God of the Bible with the sisters’ vision, I had to rethink almost everything we’d been taught about God’s “obligation” to answer our prayers and fulfill our dreams.  I had to go back to the Bible alone, and I had to ask the hard questions about whether or not all the “dream talk” was consistent with God’s character and wisdom, as He has revealed those things to us in the Bible. 

When we finally made the painful decision to leave Living Word, it was due in part to the fact that I could never fully and honestly get behind my friends and cheer them on, even though I really wanted to out of my deep affection for them.  I finally acknowledged what I’d always still known deep down:  that the God of the Bible was not likely to give my friends such a dream and “tell them” that they were going to stumble upon $53 million.  I knew that the God of the Bible was not likely to melt pounds off of them during a five-minute altar call.  I knew that the God of the Bible – as He has revealed Himself to us through books like Proverbs – was not likely to promote a lifestyle that never planned for the future, never even tried to save for retirement. 

I recently stumbled upon a book review by Bob DeWaay, in which he discusses this very subject.  While Pastor Smith never cited this particular book (Prayer Quest, by Dee Duke) in any of his sermons, the book is apparently based upon the exact same principles we were taught at Living Word Chuch.  DeWaay articulates far better than I ever could the faulty theology behind Charismania’s extreme focus on “dreams” and “visions.”  I know this blog post is already quite long, but I’d encourage everybody to read the excerpt below.  I’ve put what I considered the key paragraph in bold. 

Bob DeWaay’s Book Review of Dee Duke’s Prayer Quest 

The subtitle to this book is “Breaking through to your God-given dreams and destiny.” Duke speaks of our dreams and God’s dreams throughout his book. In the Bible God gave dreams to certain people. Those dreams, if interpreted by an infallible prophet, revealed God’s will and God plans. In the Bible, the dreams were from God, but they were not God’s dreams. They were the dreams of the people who dreamt them (for example Nebuchadnezzar’s in Daniel 2). Here we have to add a point of clarification: Only the dreams that are interpreted in the Bible by God’s prophets and spokespersons can be considered to authoritatively reveal God’s will. 

The term “dream” in English can mean “hope for an ideal future,” as in, “I have a dream.” This denotes the hope for some better state of affairs that may or may not come into existence. Duke, in his book, is clearly not using the term in the Biblical sense as a dream a person has that has been interpreted by an authoritative prophet. Instead he says, “He calls us now to dream His dreams, to ask Him daily to display His power.  Duke is speaking of a hoped for future when he uses the term “dream”: 

“Welcome to the reality where dreams come true! God has a dream, and it is certain to happen just as He imagines it. He has placed the stamp of His image on our souls, so that we also dream great dreams. As we learn to passionately share and enjoy God’s dreams, we will see Him work in amazing ways . . .” 

This statement involves some serious category problems. Supposedly God’s dream is His imagination about the future. We (all humans evidently because all humans are created in God’s image) can dream like God. Either this is anthropomorphism run amok or some seriously bad theology. God is the one who says this about Himself: “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure‘” (Isaiah 46:9, 10). God does not dream, He decrees. God calls things into being and works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). He doesn’t imagine a potential future that may or may not happen. 

Concerning us, the only thing we know about what God “dreams” (using Duke’s terminology) is what is revealed in Scripture. Our own dreams about what we would like the future to bring are not going to make God do anything. Duke says, “This book is intended to help you learn to walk so intimately with God that you will see Him fulfill His dreams in and through you.” This brings us back to the typical “prayer secret” genre of Christian writing. Supposedly there is some key to “intimacy with God” that is not based on the once-for-all finished work of Christ, not based on availing ourselves of the means of grace by faith, but based on our own level of personal piety and the use of practices not revealed in the Bible. 

Duke asks his readers, “Do you feel as though you’ve given up on dreams you had when your faith was new?” The implication is that our “dreams” (i.e., hopes for an ideal or optimal future) somehow authoritatively reveal God’s will and that we must make these come to pass by some process. But our ideas about what we hope life will be like are nothing more than ideas and may have nothing to do with God’s purposes. Our dreams are part of providence, but providence contains good and evil. Duke is treating personal imaginations about the future as if they were infallible guidance to be nurtured and followed. But personal dreams are not God’s moral law. 

Here is a further definition of what Duke means by “dream,” 

“A dream is a desire felt so strongly that we think and meditate on it constantly until we see it in our mind as clearly as if it were reality. A dream believes that what is desired will happen; it is accomplished by anticipation and positive expectation. People who dream tend to be upbeat and enthusiastic.” 

This is a very much the type of mind over matter thinking that has enjoyed popularity in self-help circles. 

He gives people some practical guidance on releasing their “imagination” in prayer: “Envision yourself embarking on a day trip into the presence of God. . . . Envision yourself approaching God in His glory.” 

This is strikingly similar to guided imagery. He gives more examples of how to manage your dream time with God, including making lists of dream notes. This is a journey into the subjective realm under the guise of “prayer.” 

Much bad teaching comes into the church by route of mysticism, subjectivism, and having faulty theological categories. In previous articles I carefully defined categories to help my readers avoid these pitfalls. Risking redundancy, I must again assert that there is God’s revealed will in Scripture as well as God’s providential will (containing good and evil) that is revealed as history unfolds. Though Duke wants us to dream God’s dreams about the future, he admits that these dreams we might have come from various sources. He lists thoughts from God, your own thoughts, thoughts from the world, and thoughts from Satan. His readers are supposed to sort through their dream notes to find ones that they think are from God. But how? God’s future providential will is not revealed and cannot be known until it unfolds in history. Our dreams about the future cannot be determined to be from God by any means available to us because they are not revealed in Scripture. 

Duke reveals his lack of Biblical understanding when he cites the scripture, “My sheep know my voice,” as proof that we can figure out which of our dreams is God’s voice. That passage in John 10 is about those whom the Father has given to the Son and who consequently will respond to the gospel and follow Christ, not about listening to various subjective voices in our heads and trying to figure out which one sounds the most like Christ. 

There is no need to belabor how bad this book is theologically. It starts from a series of faulty premises and bad theology and builds from there a concept of prayer that is not taught in the Bible. The term “dream” as he uses it is basically the idea of one’s imagination. The Bible tells us about those who speak in this manner: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the Lord‘”. (Jeremiah 23:16).

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I think these four videos are quite informative.  Check them out:

The first minute and a half of the final video are particularly disturbing to me.  Those sounds and motions Todd is making look like NOTHING I’ve ever read about in the Bible.  They seem completely fleshly.  Remove the sweetly pensive “worship” music being played in the background, and Bentley’s noises and actions would probably strike most Christians as downright indecent.

I actually found myself feeling so disturbed by the various spectacles that I could hardly finish watching Part 4.  Please be forewarned…yet I think these videos provide a succinct summary of everything that is wrong with what it happening in Lakeland.  If you are having questions about the “outpouring,” I recommend that you watch them anyway.  Just pray for the Lord to “guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus” before pressing “play.”

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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[Please read my disclaimer for the following post.]

Despite our journey through Charismania, we are not cynics.  We have not lost our faith in Christ.  We believe in the Bible as the Word of God, and we believe that our only hope in life and death is that Jesus saved us from our sins by dying on the cross on our behalf and rising again from the dead.

We also still believe that God does miracles today.  After all, if God is God and He created the earth and all that is in it, there’s no reason to suppose that He can’t or won’t heal someone.  That simply wouldn’t make any sense.

However…we’ve come a long, long way from our former blind belief in the so-called “signs and wonders” that supposedly took place at Living Word Church (a pseudonym).  The other day, I got to thinking about one such “miracle,” a story that was repeated all the time and served as a major source of validation for every other claim to the supernatural which Living Word and Pastor Smith (another pseudonym) made.  It was always presented as an undeniable miracle, one that we all had practically seen take place right before our very eyes. 

Until recently, I always thought back on this incident as a piece of irrefutable “proof” that Pastor Smith’s ministry was, at least in some ways, authentic, despite all the vague or downright false prophecies that he’d given, and despite how far we knew he deviated from the Bible’s ideas about humility and servanthood.  I mean, even in the throes of my love for Living Word, I always knew, deep down, that Pastor Smith was into money, good clothes, and showy possessions far more than he was into loving and serving his congregation.  He always surrounded himself with his posse of bodyguards and rarely mingled with the people.  On the rare occasions when he did make himself available, you’d think that he was some big-time celebrity, the way folks fawned over him and got all starry-eyed and tongue-tied in his presence.

We knew this was wrong, and a downright weird way for a pastor to behave.  We knew that quite often, Pastor Smith glossed over very obvious Scriptural truths and instead focused on the relatively obscure verse in Third John, “Beloved, I wish above all else that you be in health and prosper…”  We knew that when Pastor Smith preached, he quite often took verses completely out of context and would even sometimes give them odd interpretations that were contrary to anything we’d ever heard before.

We knew all of this.  But because we believed we’d seen and felt the miraculous at Living Word Church, we figured all the errors in biblical interpretation and all the materialistic behaviors and snooty attitudes must somehow not matter much to God. 

After all, great things were happening at Living Word.  On many Sundays, Pastor Smith would prophesy over people.  Then he’d put his hands on them, and they’d “fall out under the power,” swooning backwards onto the floor, where often they’d remain for several minutes, sometimes longer, in some sort of semi-conscious state.  During those times, we knew that the Holy Spirit was doing a work in them.  Also, people were healed at Living Word.  Although it always bothered me that the physical healings during the occasional “Miracle Service” never seemed to involve anything more serious than back pain or headaches, and nobody ever jumped up out of a wheelchair, we still knew that Living Word Church was a “house of habitation,” a place where God’s presence dwelled.

As I said, we were confident of this because of some stories we’d heard repeated again and again.  For several years, Living Word Church would hold a series of special meetings each spring, during which several famous big-name preachers visited and spoke.  Some of these services were so popular that at one point, it seemed like nothing more than common sense to stand in line for four hours so that we could stake out a good seat.

The high point of this annual week of meetings was the “Prayer Handkerchief and Anointing Oil” service, usually held on the final night.  Up to this point, Pastor Smith would very ceremoniously have each visiting minister lay hands on the handkerchiefs and little vials of oil (piled high in stacks and baskets which were rolled out onto the stage on a cart).  On the designated night, everybody would file up to the front, each row of people expertly guided by the ushers, and would be handed a prayer cloth and a bottle of oil.  Pastor Smith and his wife Mary would stand in the center aisle and would touch each cloth and bottle while raucous “shout music” would play.  By the time all 1,500 or so people had made their way up front and then back to their seats, the crowds would be worked up into a feverish frenzy.  Often there’d be folks dancing in the aisles, enthusiastically waving their hankies in the air as they spun and jumped around.

I have to confess, I always enjoyed these services.  There was such excitement in the air, such expectancy, because of stories that we’d heard of the miracles that had been wrought through the anointing, particularly through the use of the prayer cloths.  For instance, somebody had sent one of the handkerchiefs to a relative living on the other side of the country, where that person had placed it on her brother, who was lying in a hospital morgue, dead from a drug overdose.  Incredibly, once the hanky had been placed on this man, his heart began beating and he sat up, alive again!

Another of the prayer cloths was sent to a lady who was a nurse.  She also happened to live thousands of miles away, in a far-off state.  In that case, a newborn baby who had been pronounced dead had come back to life.

But in my opinion, the greatest story of all did not involve anyone rising from the dead.  Yes, my personal favorite story wasn’t nearly so dramatic as the rest, but I really liked it because its key players were people who actually attended Living Word Church.  Moreover, we’d actually seen the young man – a teenager – sustain the injury from which he was eventually healed.

It happened on a Sunday morning, during the worship service that preceded the start of the week of annual meetings.  At Living Word Church, all the front-row seats were reserved for folks whom Pastor Smith called his “key people,” either staff members or trusted longtime members.  One family – we’ll call them the Ortegas – was comprised of three teenaged kids, their mom, and their dad, who was on staff as Pastor Smith’s assistant.  During that Sunday morning service, one of their sons, who was about 14 years old at the time, suddenly collapsed in a rather dramatic fashion, falling to the floor.  He was carried out, and everybody was very concerned.

Later, he was taken to a hospital, where they determined that he’d fainted from unknown causes.  He seemed to be perfectly fine, except for the fact that when he’d fallen, he’d somehow hit his jaw against the floor and it had broken.

Since that was a Sunday, an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon was set up for the next day, so that they could evaluate his broken jaw.  That night, the young man – being filled with great faith – decided to sleep with his prayer hanky (from the previous year’s special services) wrapped around his jaw.

When morning rolled around, he felt much better.  When it came time for his appointment with the surgeon, they took a new set of x-rays.  When these came back, the surgeon confessed to being highly puzzled.  Apparently, Sunday afternoon’s x-rays clearly showed that the boy had a broken jaw.  Monday’s x-rays, on the other hand, showed that while the boy’s jaw had been broken, all that remained was what looked like an old injury, all nicely healed up.

When this story was told to Living Word Church a few days later, the crowd went absolutely wild.  People clapped and cheered and shouted.  Music played, and people danced enthusiastically for many minutes.  I can remember being swept along in the wonder and excitement of it all.  There it was – an irrefutable real live miracle, one that we’d literally seen happen.

This story was told and retold, year after year, and always to the same effect.  It was very uplifting, very faith-building, especially because Mr. Ortega was still on staff, and his son was still sitting next to him in the front row.

I got to thinking about those prayer handkerchiefs recently, and about the story of the Ortega boy, because quite honestly, it was one of the main things that always kept me believing that Pastor Smith and Living Word Church were the real deal.  Even if some of the teachings were a little wacky and unbalanced, with far too much emphasis on material “blessings” for the here and now, where else could we go where the gifts of the Spirit were welcomed and practiced?  What other church out there actually had real live healings?

One interesting aspect of those prayer handkerchiefs was how they were labeled.  Living Word Church always did things in a money-is-no-object manner, and the prayer cloths were no exception.  Although only the quality of an inexpensive cotton bandana, they’d been custom-printed with the Living Word logo (a huge eagle) and the verse from Acts, about how people would bring aprons and handkerchiefs to Paul and then be healed through them.

Nothing wrong with that, really.  Except that I always found it interesting, even back when I never entertained even a slightly cynical thought, that the church made sure to put its name on the hankies, in huge print, much larger than the font used for the Bible verse.

Looking back, I can’t help but wonder about the whole thing.  Several questions come to mind.

First of all, I find it interesting that despite the heavy promotion and distribution of these hankies, there were never any local stories of healings or miracles.  To the best of my knowledge, aside from the Ortega boy, nobody from within Living Word Church itself got healed via the prayer cloths.  Obviously, had there been even a mildly dramatic miracle, it would have been trumpeted from the pulpit during subsequent prayer cloth services, just as the stories of the dead man and the dead baby had been told again and again.  Come to think of it, why did those “raise the dead” stories have such a vague sound to them?  If such a thing had actually happened, wouldn’t some newspaper have gotten hold of the story?  Why did the two most startling stories have to happen so far away?  And not to anyone directly involved at Living Word, but instead, to friends of relatives of people who’d been in the hanky services.

Does anyone else think – as I’ve begun to think – that those stories sound suspiciously like those “urban legend”-type stories?  You know, the ones like where this couple picks up an old woman hitchhiking in the rain, and she gets in and talks to them as they drive for several miles.  Yet when they ask her if she wants to be dropped off, they get no answer.  That’s when they turn around and suddenly discover that she’s no longer in the car!  She’d simply vanished.  The couple shine a flashlight in the back seat, and upon closer inspection, they see the wet imprint of the old woman’s galoshes.

Spooky stuff.

And those “urban legend” stories are always told in the same way.  They always happen to someone that the storyteller sort of knows – usually a friend of a friend.

I wish I could still be a complete and true believer in all the things that went on at Living Word Church, but because of the poison of false (phony) prophecies, I no longer know what to think about much of anything there any more.

If Pastor Smith is not immune to giving a fake or totally inaccurate prophecy once in awhile, what would stop him from cooking up some scheme to promote the prayer hanky giveaway?  I mean, in one way, that seems very far-fetched, but on the other hand, didn’t evangelist Peter Popoff get caught using a radio earpiece, through which he was fed specific information about attendees which he then passed off as “words of knowledge”?  And when interviewed about this scam sometime later, didn’t Popoff say that he did so because he wanted to encourage people in their faith?

Looking back, it all seems incredibly interesting, how one of the most loyal and worshipful staff members at Living Word – Mr. Ortega, who functioned as Pastor Smith’s indentured servant for years, literally turning himself into a carbon copy of Pastor Smith after awhile – would be the one whose son experienced such a dramatic fall, witnessed by the whole church?  Right before that year’s hanky service?

It all fits together remarkably well.  I wish I were wrong.  Maybe I am.  But what is it that they say?  Hindsight is 20/20?

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It’s been awhile since we’ve added anything to the site.  That’s because, in most respects, we feel like we’ve moved on from our experience at Living Word Church (a pseudonym).  We’ve now had a year to process what we witnessed and went through, and after awhile, it’s easy to feel like we’ve figured it all out.

But the funny thing is, right when I think I’ll never have another new thing to add to this blog, I’ll get to pondering our time at Living Word, and suddenly, I’ll be hit by a realization.  That happened to me last night.

My husband and I were reminiscing about Pastor Smith’s (another pseudonym) preaching last night.  As I’ve said in another post,

The thing was, when he’d stick to Scriptures, he was a great preacher—insightful, original, wise, and articulate. When he’d veer into a slightly questionable area, such as seeming to use the pulpit to pump up his own importance, it was easy to cut him some slack. He was, after all, a very dynamic individual with great force of personality that was coupled with a sharp, curmudgeonly sense of humor. When he preached, he conveyed a unique earnest sincerity. I still don’t doubt for a moment that he himself believed in everything he preached. I still think he was honestly convinced of the validity of his own prophetic gift, and of how much the people needed his ministry. His earnest sincerity made you WANT to cheer for what he said, made his audience WANT to show their support for him.

When we first started this site, I often remarked about how Pastor Smith’s preaching was usually pretty Biblical.  He always included a lot of Bible verses and really seemed to spend time putting his sermons together.  Even after we first left Living Word, I still believed that if Pastor Smith had just stuck with Scripture and stayed away from talking so much about his prophetic abilities and the “Prosperity Gospel,” his preaching would have continued to be stellar.

But recently, while organizing my closet, I stumbled upon a collection of sermon tapes from 2003.  Figuring that it would be good entertainment to reminisce – and also figuring that maybe I might be reminded of something edifying while I finished my cleaning – I popped one of the tapes in the stereo and gave it a listen.

I have to say, I was surprised to realize something.  And that is, even back a few years ago, before Pastor Smith became fixated on money, his sermons were still not like the sermons we’ve been hearing lately at the more generic Evangelical church we’ve been attending.  Rather than discussing straightforward Biblical principles and acceptable, obvious truths, Pastor Smith’s preaching was, essentially, all about reading a verse and then telling us what he thought it meant.

“So what’s the difference,” you ask.

Well, actually, there’s a pretty big difference.  Especially sometimes.

You see, the kind of preaching that focuses on making a larger point or a life application by building on basic truths clearly spelled out in the Bible is not the same as making a declaration and then pointing out how this declaration could be supported by a verse here or there.  And it’s certainly not the same as reading a single verse and then explaining to your audience how you know, because “God told you,” that this verse is true in a new and different way for the people you’re addressing.

Case in point:  some years back, pretty early in our time at Living Word, actually, Pastor Smith preached an entire series of sermons on God’s favor.  His text? – Psalm 102:13, which says:

Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.

Pastor Smith spent weeks telling us, usually for more than an hour at a stretch, that the time had come for all those connected with Living Word Church to experience God’s favor.  He had a slogan for this sermon series:  “Dream big, and believe God for favor.”  After a couple of weeks, this slogan was professionally printed onto a gigantic banner which stretched all the way across the second-floor railing in the church foyer, so that it was almost the first thing you saw as you made your way toward the sanctuary entrance.

I remember that all of those sermons were incredibly uplifting.  Pastor Smith used every bit of his sincere, enthusiastic, and utterly convincing style to convey to us that the Lord had given him this verse as a “fresh word for the house.”  It was time for all those under the sound of his voice to get ready to dream big and believe God for favor, because God had told him that the “set time” for favor had begun.

In other words, if you were hoping for a certain job promotion, perhaps, or wanting healing, or looking to buy a bigger house, your time had come.  Even if you might not be the most qualified person, you would find yourself receiving more than the typical consideration for that career advancement, because of God’s favor.  Even if the doctor had told you there was nothing more the medical profession could do for you, you did not have to give up on good health, because of God’s favor.  Even if you weren’t sure where the extra money would come from, if you had a dream for a larger house, you could get ready to see it fulfilled, because of God’s favor.

These sermons had a big effect on the congregation’s mood.  People were cheering and applauding.  Pastor Smith’s preaching would be interrupted by frequent standing ovations.  And it wasn’t just an immediate emotional response, either.  I remember talking to friends and listening to them earnestly musing about how God was finally going to bring their favorite dream to pass…because we all were soon going to be hit by an unusual time of God’s favor.

Last night, as I thought back to this sermon series, and also to the tapes I’d just recently listened to again, I was suddenly struck by something.  Why did we believe Pastor Smith when he told us that we were all about to experience God’s favor?

I mean, it certainly wasn’t because he “proved” it to us through Scripture.  Using the Bible alone, just as it’s written, it’s really impossible to “prove” such a thing.  Even though Pastor Smith took Psalm 102:13 as his “proof text,” it really was nothing of the sort…UNLESS YOU TOOK PASTOR SMITH’S WORD FOR IT.  Psalm 102 on its own, after all, was written thousands of years ago and is about Israel.  Although Pastor Smith made a passing reference to how the Christian church has now been “grafted in” and thus has a right to all the promises made to the Jewish people, the fact still remains that nothing about Psalm 102:13 itself states that it held specific truth for those of us in that sanctuary at that moment.  Really, the only reason anybody would ever get that sort of message out of Psalm 102:13 was because Pastor Smith had told them they should.  And they believed Pastor Smith.

Actually, the majority of Pastor Smith’s preaching was just like this.  He did use the Bible a lot, but it was almost always in a way that focused on HIS INTERPRETATION of what a particular passage was saying, rather than what the passage simply SAID.

In other words, almost all of Smith’s sermons hung on Smith’s credibility.

Or as my dad would say, “The whole big picture hung on one rusty nail.”

Honestly, to really get anything at all out of the preaching at Living Word, you first had to buy into the assumption that Pastor Smith somehow heard directly from God.  And then you had to believe in his authority as “God’s mouthpiece” to the congregation.  Otherwise, his sermons would all be little but empty Tony Robbins-style “rah rah” motivational speeches.

How did we all “know,” after all, that the “set time for God’s favor” had come upon us?  Was it because of Psalm 102:13?  No, not really.  Instead, it was because Pastor Smith TOLD US that this was what Psalm 102:13 should mean to us.

“Rusty nail” sermons are really kind of a scary thing, in retrospect.  Especially because of their potential to do serious damage to people who buy into them and then find themselves blaming God when “favor” doesn’t follow.  I wonder how many of Smith’s listeners back then gave offerings they could not afford because they thought that doing so was a sign of faith for the favor that they’d soon experience?  I wonder how many people ended up bitterly disappointed when they were passed over for the job promotion that “God” had promised them?

Yes, “rusty nail” sermons are dangerous, I think.  And unfortunately there’s no such thing as a spiritual tetanus shot.

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