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Archive for the ‘Richard Roberts’ Category

Saturday night, an alert commenter (thanks, Jan!) posted that Geraldo was going to be interviewing Todd Bentley on Fox News.  We decided to stay up to watch that segment.  It was a bit disappointing to have to wait until the last ten minutes of the show…especially since the piece was essentially more of the same – Todd Bentley proclaiming the great miracles to the world, with talk of “all kinds of documentation,” but no actual interviews with attending physicians of all the dead people who are now supposedly raised to life or anything like that.

I also thought it was…interesting, and extremely convenient, to say the least, the way that Todd’s sound feed seemed to cut out at the crucial moment of Geraldo’s only tough question.  But hey, judge for yourself.  Here’s the video:

 

 

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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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We’re still following the ORU story.  The other day, it took an amazing and wonderful turn, when the family who owns Hobby Lobby pledged $60 million to bail out the beleaguered university.  The Tulsa World did an interview with Mart Green, the family spokesman, which you can read here.

Buried in the “comments” section (found below the story) was an anonymous observation which I found to be very astute:

One subtext of Assemblies of God Mart Green coming on the scene to rescue ORU is the unresolvable tensions within the broadest notion of the charismatic family: The Word of Faith substream antagonizes many in the classic Pentecostal and charismatic streams, who share WOFers’ belief in the contemporary charismatic work of the Holy Spirit but NOT its formulaic presumption about health and wealth. Big differences lie beneath the superficial unity that outside observers may see; and classicals, who have survived a century of ostracism from their fundamentalist/evangelical siblings hate to openly criticize WOFers who (1) have the media limelight and big followings and (2) remain brothers in arms on many points, theologically.

Let’s see how this plays out as Mr. Green tells the WOFers that their problem is spiritual, not financial.

This anonymous poster points out an important distinction that we’ve encountered as we’ve managed this site.  Some folks have automatically assumed that we were criticizing EVERYBODY who believes that the “gifts of the Spirit” (like speaking in tongues) are for today. 

Sometimes it’s been difficult to explain what makes a teaching or a ministry distinctly “Charismaniac” (in serious biblical error).  We made our own tongue-in-cheek list of what characterizes “Charismaniacs,” but we’ve never actually articulated (like the commenter did) that there IS a tension between ministries that believe in a biblical continuation of the gifts and those that add things like the “Prosperity Gospel” to their teachings.  I think this commenter is correct in that it’s hard to take a stand against many of the ministries who are in error, because they DO happen to be the ones who are on TV and garner all the attention.

Also, it can look like ALL critics of “Charismania” are throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  Point out the errors of the “Word/Faith” and “Prosperity Gospel” teachings, and people think you’re also trashing anyone who believes in things like the miraculous or speaking in tongues.

But there really ARE ministries who have maintained a classical Pentecostal “continuist” point of view while at the same time rejected unbiblical “Word of Faith” doctrines.

What do you think?

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One of the great mysteries we still wonder about is just how much Pastor Smith realizes and understands about the stuff that goes on at Living Word Church (once again, our usual disclaimer:  “Pastor Smith” and “Living Word Church” are both pseudonyms, as are all other names used on this site).

Awhile back, we posted an entry about whether or not what we experienced at Living Word was actually the “presence of God.”  Pastor Smith called it the presence of God.  The church members all thought it was the presence of God.  At the time, we ourselves would have said that that certain “rush” – that certain something that made us want to both weep and jump for joy at the same time – was the Holy Spirit.

But when you look at the harsh facts, it’s difficult to know for sure.

On the one hand, this “feeling” – or whatever it was – is marketed by Pastor Smith as the single most important reason why people should leave their “dead churches” and plant themselves at Living Word.  This “feeling” is also carefully orchestrated and cultivated, particularly through the use of music.  People would often refer to it as “The Anointing.”  They believed – and Pastor Smith taught – that “The Anointing” was something he personally dispensed (for lack of a better word).

Yet, on the other hand, how could Pastor Smith knowingly be so manipulative and still come across as so believable and sincere?  How could he stand there week after week, as he’s done for more than twenty years, and not be afraid that God was going to strike him dead with a lightning bolt or something?

After posting “Hooked on a Feeling…”, I really enjoyed the comments that different folks left.  They helped me to come to the following sudden realization:

Sometimes I think that, rather than being so diabolically manipulative that he deliberately manufactures a FALSE something that he then tries to pass off as the “presence of God,” Pastor Smith is actually just as hooked on the sensation (what ever “it” is) as the rest of his audience. He’s probably deliberate in how he wants the service structured, and in the kinds of music he tells his son to choose. But I think he and his family do genuinely believe that whatever it is they “stir up” in people actually IS “the anointing,” or the presence of God. 

Probably the fact that they believe they CAN dispense God’s presence is one of the reasons they’re able to hold themselves above everybody else. I mean, if you think you’ve got God Himself at your disposal, you’re going to feel pretty superior. And you’ll actually begin to believe that you NEED bodyguards and that you DESERVE all the best things.

If the Smiths genuinely believe this – that they somehow “have God on tap” – a lot of the crazy stuff at Living Word would make more sense. Such as the birthday offerings they’d take for themselves. I always wondered how they dared to have the nerve to TELL PEOPLE to give them gifts. Who do they think they are, anyway? But I think I may have inadvertently explained this to myself here. They think they’re the keepers of God’s presence. That’s GOT to be some heady stuff! No wonder they do all the arrogant, insensitive, and prideful things they do. It all suddenly makes sense. 

What do YOU think?

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