Category Archives: Ministry

Faith Healers

Anyone who knows anything about me is aware that I am physically handicapped. As a consequence of a bout with polio, I have spent my entire life walking on crutches or sitting in a wheelchair. I’m not saying that because I want sympathy—I don’t need or want it. I refer to my physical condition to indicate that I have some experience with the subject at hand.

My mother told me a long time ago that it would break her heart when I saw a preacher named Oral Roberts on TV healing people. She told me that she couldn’t help me understand why that kind of healing never happened for me. If healing was the result of prayer, then something was wrong because I know my parents prayed endlessly for me.

When I was a teenager, a group of friends insisted that I go to a revival meeting with them in downtown Denver. The preacher was a man named Morris Cerullo. I had never heard of him, but apparently, he had a reputation for healing people. I wasn’t too excited, but I went with them. When we arrived at the arena, we couldn’t get in because the crowd was too large. Perhaps if my friends had been more like the men who cut through the roof to get their friend around their crowds to see Jesus, things might have turned out differently for me.Faith Healers

As I came to recognize God’s call to the ministry, one of the biggest challenges I faced was my physical limitations. Friends encouraged me in different ways. Some assured me that God would provide and make it possible. A few others suggested that it meant God was going to heal me and allow me to walk. That would have been quite a jump start to ministry.

While in college to prepare, some well-meaning friends organized a special prayer meeting for my healing. They gathered around me as I sat in a chair and we all prayed. I can honestly say that as far as possible, I believed. I remember thinking it was important that I take the first step, so I mustered up as much strength as possible in my legs and tried to stand. Instead, I fell to the floor.

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We Need to Demand Better

Last week the Texas Rangers played the Los Angles Angels in California. One game ended when a Ranger slid into the Angel’s shortstop trying to break up a double play. It was a hard slide, and the infielder received a small cut from the runner’s spikes. The crowd was angry, and a fight almost broke out.

The next night, that infielder who had been cut by the runner’s spikes, slid into the Ranger infielder in an attempt to break up a double play. The crowd once again came to life; not with anger this time, but with glee. The attitude among baseball fans is if your guys does it then it’s a dirty play. If our guy does it, then it’s just good hard baseball.

The same attitude prevails in politics.

One of the issues of discussion floating around social media this week was the crude, racist remark made by TV actress Roseanne. This was followed up a couple of days later by a similarly crude, hateful remark made by Samatha Bee on her TV show. Let me begin my discussion by listing what I see as similarities with the comments and then the differences.

Similarities:samatha bee

  • Both were inappropriate
  • Both were expressions of anger and hate
  • Both were public
  • Both were directed toward a public figure
  • Both are the kind of things we don’t want our children to say
  • Both were made by women who have a history of making crude comments
  • Both apologized within hours of making the comment

Differences:

  • One had racial implications, the other did not
  • One was made within the context of a TV show, the other was on personal time
  • One was made by a Republican, the other by a Democrat
  • One resulted in immediate loss of job, the other didn’t

Arguments Made:

  • The apology by one was more sincere than the other
  • One only apologized because she lost her job
  • The racial comment was worse because it was directed against a whole race
  • The other side is unfair toward my side
  • One has a longer history of saying terrible things

I’m sure you could come up with more under each category. But, here’s the thing that disturbs me. It’s not surprising that Republican-leaning folks are supportive of their teammate, and it’s not surprising that Democrat preferring folks are supporting theirs. I expect that; in fact, I would be shocked if that were not the case.

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The Southern Baptist Convention: One Step Forward and Two Steps Back

For the majority of my life, I considered myself a Southern Baptist. I was proud to be so identified, and even spent a great deal of my time and energy promoting the work of the SBC. That ended a few years back, so if you want to claim that I’m not qualified to speak on this subject, I’m willing to accept your criticism. But, I will speak anyway.

SWBTS

This morning, I saw the announcement that the Trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary finished what they started (and should have finished) last week—terminating their relationship with Paige Patterson. To be honest, this should have been done a decade ago since the incident that precipitated their action occurred that long ago. Any objective observer who didn’t have the need for Patterson’s tenacity to fight other unrelated battles knew that his actions and attitude disqualified him for the position.

However, it took ten years for the Trustees to see the need to nudge him aside, and then another, even more, disturbing revelation, to realize he needed to be gone entirely. It was a slow, hesitant step, but at least it was a step forward. Probably too little too late but at least a move in the right direction.

Then two steps back.

A sizable number of Southern Baptist leaders were accepting of the Trustees’ original move to nudge Patterson aside and even celebrated that he would be allowed to hang around and enjoy the seminary’s generosity. Talk about being tone deaf. Many failed to recognize that his attitude and actions were a problem. It’s like they were saying, “Ok, in order to hold off bad publicity, we’ll make it look like we solved a problem even though we don’t really think it’s a problem.”

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect some of these are the same people who think Donald Trump’s sexual dalliances don’t matter and that the women involved in the #metoo movement should just shut up. Their continued support for Patterson was one step back for the SBC.

Step number two was taken by Al Mohler. Mohler appeared as the new President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville about 25 years ago—a few years after I graduated. Since that time, he has become one of the leading voices for the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Staring Death in the Face

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. (Proverbs 3:7)

During my seminary days, I had the unique opportunity of living next door to my pastor. He was my neighbor first. We were both students living in seminary apartments. Fuller Hall was a first-class apartment building, or at least it had been about a hundred years ago.

Our two apartments were located in the corner of the basement, isolated from the remainder of the building. Fred latched on to us the day we moved in. He helped carry our stuff into the apartment and then he assisted me in maneuvering the campus in my wheelchair.

Because of his servant heart and our developing friendship, we became interested in the church he served as pastor. It was a small congregation on the edge of Louisville; a typical seminary pastorate. We joined the church and immediately began to serve alongside Fred and his wife Valeria.Grim-Reaper

One afternoon, Fred knocked on our door. He had been called to make an emergency hospital visit to one of the church members and he wanted me to go along. We hopped into Fred’s little yellow car and drove to downtown Louisville.

I have never enjoyed hospital visitation. Showing compassion is not one of my strengths. I really do care about people when they suffer but it is difficult for me to express those feelings.

The family we needed to visit was in the lobby, waiting for a report from the doctor. We exchanged greetings, expressed our concern, shared in prayer, and joined the wait.

A woman who was causing a commotion in the hospital lobby caught my attention. She was bouncing from person to person, requesting money for a pay phone. I watched for a few minutes and then started toward her in order to provide a quarter. Before I arrived, someone else gave her the change. She walked over to the phone and everything quieted down to normal.

The doctor finally arrived with good news for the anxious family. We shared a short prayer of thanksgiving, excused ourselves and walked to the car. We had successfully accomplished our ministry objective. Like experienced pastors, we had comforted the family, blessed the Lord, and left everyone with renewed faith. Even though we were still students, we sensed that we had a real grip on ministry.

As Fred maneuvered through the parking lot, he turned into the driveway that led to the street and immediately slammed on the brakes. The boisterous woman from the hospital lobby had jumped in front of our car, waving her arms for us to stop.

Relieved that his reactions were quick, Fred got out of the car to speak with the woman. She was even more excited than she had been earlier inside the hospital. Sorting through her ramblings, Fred determined that her greatest need was a ride home.

He opened the door to allow her to climb into the back seat. From the front passenger seat, I smelled that her immediate problem was alcohol. After a few moments, the woman was finally settled into the seat, holding a large leather bag in her lap.

The woman provided directions to her house and Fred, being somewhat familiar with the city, drove toward her destination. The woman, sitting in the back seat, continued her aimless conversation.  We were still several blocks away from her house when she began to talk as if life were not worth living. Fred and I both thought that she was contemplating suicide.

As her words became more serious, we tried to reason with her but she was not interested in listening to a couple of inexperienced seminary students. As her words revealed more and more despair with her life, she began to rummage through the large bag in her lap. We were convinced that she was going to pull a gun from the bag which meant our future was also in question.

I quickly positioned my crutches between the front seats so I had a clear shot to hit her hand the moment I saw a gun. Fred was reaching underneath the driver’s seat for a tire tool. We thought we were ready.

Suddenly, without any warning, the woman shouted: “Stop!” We did. Fred slammed on the brakes and I tried to crawl underneath the seat. We were convinced that life was over.

As it turns out, the woman did not pull a gun from the bag. Rather, she did not want us to miss the turn to go to her house. “Stop” was her way of giving directions. Fortunately, the house was only a block further. Fred pulled into the driveway, helped her out of the car, and we sped away.

Ministry can be frightening. Or, at least our feeble attempt at ministry scared us. Hopefully, this woman’s despair was eased by sobering up. It was a very sobering experience for two seminary students who thought they were ready to handle any problem the world had to offer.

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Gullible Christians

There have been far too many articles written explaining why Christians have thrown their support behind Donald Trump. There’s nothing about his lifestyle, attitude, demeanor, language, or actions that should be appealing to anyone who professes a commitment to the “narrow way” Jesus called us to follow. Yet, polls make it clear that it was Christians who provided the margin of victory in his election and even today polls show that the majority of Christians continue to stand with him.

Why?

There are many reasons but let me offer one that I’ve not heard from anyone else. I’m not professing to any political brilliance or unique insight. In fact, I’ve always lived by the concept that if you espouse an idea no one else holds, then it’s probably wrong. But I’m going to throw caution to the wind, as they say, and put it out there anyway.

The first thing I need to say is that Donald Trump is nothing more than a con man.

A con man like Victor Lustig who lived in the early part of the 20th century. He is known for selling the Eifel Tower to a scrap metal dealer for $70,000 (a handsome sum in 1925), a box (several of them, actually) that printed genuine hundred-dollar bills, and even conned gangster Al Capone out of thousands of dollars.Snake Oil

Lustig has long been considered at the head of the list of con men. But now, Donald Trump has taken the art of the con (pardon the pun) to even greater heights. Rather than scamming a scrap dealer out of thousands of dollars he is scamming the entire country (probably even Russia at the same time).

He won the election with promises to accomplish whatever people wanted to hear. If health insurance was your concern, then he was going to replace Obamacare with a plan that would cover everyone for less money. If jobs were an issue, then he promised to reinvigorate the coal industry, bring foreign jobs back home, and provide money for big companies to invest in employees. If worry about safety kept you awake at night, then he promised to eliminate terrorists, crack down on drug dealers, and throw more people in prison.

“Step right up, folks, I’ve got the miracle cure for whatever ails you.”

You can hear the medicine man hawking his elixir every time Trump holds a rally or press conference.

Everyone knows he lies incessantly. He tells people what they want to hear, and they leave happy, and he forgets he even had the conversation. He tells people what they need to hear in order to give their support.

Unexplainably, Christians are his most passionate supporters.

I think it’s because Christians are the most gullible people in the world. The dictionary definition of gullible is “easily persuaded to believe something.”

Let me provide examples of Christian gullibility.

  • Jim Jones. The infamous cult leader who led 918 of his followers to commit suicide, began as the pastor of a Methodist Church. Many of his followers thought they were following a Christian teacher, even to the point of killing themselves.
  • Joel Osteen. Tens of thousands of people gather to hear him preach every week and hundreds of thousands buy his books. Osteen is nothing more than Norman Vincent Peale on steroids. He has taken the notion that everything is good because God is good and turned it into a multitude of devoted acolytes who line his pockets with gold.
  • Prosperity Preachers. They twist Scripture to support some cockamamy doctrine that God wants all of us to be prosperous. They then use that teaching to sucker people into sending them millions of dollars, even though they spend it on private jets and luxurious houses. The real doctrine they preach is that God wants them to be wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
  • Christian Businesses. I learned years ago not to do business with anyone who promotes themselves as a Christian business. It is often used as a gimmick to make people feel like they are doing something spiritual when they buy their product or utilize their service. Over the many years of my life, I’ve been cheated more times than I can count. However, the clear majority of those times it was by a professing Christian. Even in the work I do now, I have a policy of not doing a job until I’ve received payment primarily because I’ve been cheated by Christians I wanted to help.
  • Amway. This company deserves special consideration because they turned soap distribution into a multi-billion-dollar business with the help of a Christian-infused pyramid scheme. When I was a teenager, I was recruited by a man to sell Amway. I paid the fee, ordered some soap, and got to work. He wanted me to contact all the women in the church where my father was pastor and get them to sign-up. It was one of my first lessons about doing “Christian business.” I’ve heard folks describe Amway meetings as revival meetings, complete with Christian testimonies and altar calls. However, I’ve never met anyone who actually made money as an Amway distributor, but Christians keep signing up.

The reason I know Christians are most gullible is because I’ve been one of them. It’s built into our beliefs. We want to be giving, help the underdog, minister to the needy, and care for the poor. Those are all good things. But in doing so, we have allowed ourselves to be gullible.

Neither am I suggesting that Christians are the only ones who are gullible—there are gullible people all over the place. It’s just that Christians seem to excel as this skill.

Every pastor has a file cabinet filled with stories of people who came to them or the church for assistance only to learn that they are running a scam. It happens every day. The reason is because we are gullible. We fall for con men often.

Donald Trump understands this as well as anyone. He knew if he promised to appoint a Supreme Court justice who opposed abortion, Christians would flock to his side. He allowed preachers to gather around him with anointing hands because it made a great photo opportunity that would make its way to churches around the country.

He’s selling snake oil and Christians are drinking it by the gallon.

Victor Lustig convinced Al Capone to give him $50,000 to invest in a sure-fire project that would double his money. Lustig took the money, stuck it in a closet for two months never intending to invest, and then returned it to Capone explaining that the investment failed but he wanted to return his money. Impressed with Lustig’s honesty, Capone gave him $5,000.

Trump is running the same con on Christians, and they are so gullible that they praise his honesty and continue to provide support.

I have little hope that things will change. At this point, Christians are so far out on the limb in support of Trump that they would have to swallow too much pride to turn away. In fact, in order to cover the fact they were scammed, they say things like pastor Robert Jeffress recently proclaimed that Trump’s immorality doesn’t matter. I can’t think of one previous pastor of the church he pastors who would have said anything resembling that remark.

We should all be aware of the danger. Sons of some of the most influential moral Christian leaders of the past, i.e., Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell, have become some of the most gullible.

The phrase “snake oil” originated with Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. They brought a medicinal product that was made with oil from a Chinese snake, and it actually had beneficial properties. However, an entrepreneur, Clark Stanley, used rattlesnakes to create his own medicinal oil which was eventually proven to be useless. In fact, his product didn’t have a drop of snake oil. Before he was exposed, he sold thousands of bottles to gullible customers.

P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum and Baily Circus reminded us “there’s a sucker born every minute.” After more than 100 years, the Barnum and Baily Circus folded the tent last year. Yet, the circus didn’t really shut down, it simply moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Con men always leave bruised and battered people in their wake. Our country will survive, and we’ll find a way to regain our integrity and reputation in the world. However, I’m not so confident the American church will be as fortunate.

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The Greatest Christmas Gift

Leaving church on Sunday morning with a new outlook on life was not a common experience for Walter. He normally ended the hour of worship with a growling stomach and acute anxiety that he had missed the opening kickoff. But, today was different. Something the preacher said captured his attention.

He didn’t mind going to church, even though he would not classify himself as a steadfast believer. Walter had no doubts about the existence of God, and he rarely disagreed with anything spoken from the pulpit; he just had other interests. He enjoyed church because he loved sitting next to Sally. She was the love of his life, the apple of his eye, and every other cliché you can think of. More often than not, they would even hold hands for a good portion of the hour.

The amazing thing of Walter’s strong affection for Sally is that they were not young teenagers in love. Walter and Sally had been married for forty-two years. Yet, he was just as anxious to sit at her side as he had been when they first met as college freshmen. The years had brought them closer. In fact, since Walter retired six months ago, they spent most of their time together, and he had never been happier.Christmas-Gift

It was the first Sunday of Advent, a time that Walter always enjoyed. He loved everything about Christmas, especially the gifts. For Walter, giving a present was a process, including shopping, wrapping, hiding, and opening. His greatest joy every Christmas morning was to watch expressions as family and friends opened the gift he meticulously picked for them. For Walter, the first Sunday of Advent was the signal that Christmas was almost here.

The sermon by Rev. Wilson was about the gift of God that we celebrate at Christmas. He pounded home the notion that God’s gift was the greatest ever. He defined that gift as loving those who are unlovable. Rev. Wilson was not known for his oratory skills, but whenever he worked at it, he could be as convincing as any car salesman pushing an extended warranty.

Whatever he said on Sunday, he certainly captured Walter’s attention. In spite of the fact that Walter had been attending church for decades and that he had heard hundreds of Christmas sermons, something about the words of Rev. Wilson captured his interest. Like a child entering a toy store, Walter’s mind was racing with possibilities.

He decided that Christmas was about loving the unlovable. This was revolutionary to Walter. He had spent his whole life giving to those he loved. He could not remember ever giving a present to someone who was unlovable. He had never even given it a moment’s thought.

Walter and Sally put on their coats as they walked toward the church foyer. Leaving church was always tedious for Walter because Sally liked to stop and visit with too many people. She was accustomed to Walter tugging on her sleeve like a bored child. On this Sunday, Walter walked off and left Sally. He was in a hurry to speak to Rev. Wilson.

Waiting his turn in line with the complimenters and complainers, Walter finally reached the preacher. Walter stretched out with both arms and grabbed the Reverend’s hand.

“Pastor, you really spoke to me today,” he blurted out as he shook the minister’s hand like a rag doll.

“Thank you, Walter,” said Rev. Wilson in a tentative voice, “I was just trying to say what God laid on my heart.” He was somewhat stunned because he did not remember his words ever having an impact on Walter before.

Almost before Rev. Wilson finished his sentence, Walter said, “Pastor, I’ve got an idea about Christmas. You convinced me that Christmas is about loving the unlovable. That’s what I am going to do!”

Not sure what Walter had in mind, Rev. Wilson said, “That’s good to hear Walter. It’s always good to know that someone is listening when I preach.”

“Pastor, this is my plan. I’m going to find the most unlovable person in town, and I’m going to love them. That will be my Christmas present to them.”

You could still hear some skepticism, or perhaps it was simply reservation in Rev. Wilson’s voice, “That’s great Walter. I’ll be glad to help. Just let me know what I can do.”

Walter didn’t hear the last few words because he had already turned to look for Sally. She was finishing her conversation as Walter seized her arm and escorted her out the front door toward the parking lot.

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Broken: The Life and Times of Erik Daniels

Every person is broken in some way. Most of us get repaired along the way and become functioning contributors to the world. Others are severely broken, and despite the best efforts of family and friends, never are entirely repaired. Erik is the only person I have ever known who was completely broken and never had anyone care enough to help him put his life back together.

I met Erik when he asked me to write a book for him, a “tell-all” book about his life. He was living in hiding, using a fake identity, and facing a death sentence from people who were out to kill him and the doctor who diagnosed him. The 39 years of his life were filled with tragedies and horrors that would have broken most of us.Broken FC

As he told me his story, so I could write his book for him, he provided vivid details of abuse, violence, murder, drugs, and prison sentences. Beginning with a mother who cared nothing for him, a father who abandoned him, a stepfather who abused him, and a grandfather who molested him he became a hardened criminal as a young teenager. In prison, he was mentored by a leader of a hate group and international drug dealer.

Out of prison, his young adult years were spent with drug trafficking and murder. He arrived at a point in his life where his only goal was survival. He became good at surviving, but along the way, he damaged many others.

Although Erik doesn’t sound like the kind of person you want to befriend, after spending hours listening to his story and re-listening to the recordings, we became friends. We never met in person, I have no idea what he looks like. If he were talking in the next room, I would recognize his voice, but I wouldn’t know his face.

His story was painful for him to tell and painful for me to hear. I have tried to tell it for him so you can understand him like I do. He is not a lovable person. But he is a person who can be and needs to be loved.

“Broken” is Erik’s story, but it is more than that. It is my story. Telling the story meant a lot to him. Hearing the story meant a lot to me. I hope that as you read the story, Erik Daniels will impact your life like he has mine.

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