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Waking Up

I liked my church. I liked being a part of something that was exciting, somewhat controversial, and always in motion. I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to walk away from that. It happened over an extended period of time.

It started with some nagging doubts and reservations. At times, I wondered if people had really been miraculously healed or if they were just “speaking in faith.” I even wondered if some of the supposed recipients of the healings had ever been sick in the first place. I also wondered about “prophetic words” that seemed to contradict each other and even contradict the Bible. Some very specific “prophetic words” were simply forgotten or ignored without commentary when they didn’t come to pass. It made me uncomfortable, but my desire to have faith outweighed my doubts… at least for while.

Faith was supposed to be like a muscle — you had to use it in order for it to grow. My faith was weak, but I dreamt about having “faith to move mountains.” I looked to those who were further along than I was, and longed to be where they were. Certain pastors and leaders were held up as heroes in the faith. They seemed so solid, so convinced, absolutely unshakable. I attributed my lack of faith to a lack of maturity. If I could only stick with it long enough, I believed that all those questions would melt away.

My questions didn’t just melt away, but I learned how to talk as if they had. Talking correctly was just as important (or perhaps even more important) than believing correctly. The reasoning was that if you “talked the talk” long enough, you’d “walk the walk” eventually. Faith was “calling those things that be not as though they were.” I learned to speak with confidence and passion in areas where I really had zero conviction. Essentially, for the sake of “truth” I learned to be a very effective liar.

I was ready to defend my leaders even when I disagreed with what they did. Staying connected to the church was all that mattered. If staying connected meant promising to live according to the group’s rules, then that was a small price to pay. The church was my family. Services, classes or other activities took place almost every night of the week, and I was there whenever the doors were open. We genuinely cared about each other. We made sacrifices for the good of the church. We were making some pretty big life decisions — where to work, where to live — because those decisions would make it easier to commit even more time and resources to the group.

I went to “revivals” on the west coast, special services on the east coast, visited “hot spots” in the midwest and even Canada. These special meetings stretched into the small hours of the morning. You didn’t dare leave before it was over — you might miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have an encounter with God! No one wanted to be the last person who left the upper room before Pentecost happened!

The highs were tremendous, but the lows were horrible. There’s a flipside to believing that God will bless you if you live, speak, and believe correctly. If you’re not blessed, not protected, or not healthy, then the inescapable conclusion is that you must be doing something wrong. There must be some sin in your life.

When I reached that point for the first time, I was discouraged… but instead of walking away, I threw myself into my faith with even more energy and abandon than before. After all, I wasn’t perfect, so I was probably doing something bad without even realizing it. My pastors tried to diagnose my spiritual shortcomings. Maybe I needed to stop working extra hours and devote more time to the church. Maybe I wasn’t reading my Bible enough. Maybe I wasn’t listening to the right music. Maybe I wasn’t bold enough in my witness. Maybe next time I would get it right.

But I didn’t get it right next time, or the time after that, or the time after that.

I was still being taught that God loved me and wanted to bless me… but I didn’t believe it anymore. What did love have to do with rewarding people for doing something correctly? In my mind, God was now little more than some cosmic game show host saying “Sorry — that is correct — but you didn’t answer in the form of a question.”

The buzzer sounds and the bottom falls out of your life…

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3 Responses to “Waking Up”

  • mike says:

    Hi. I stumbled upon your blog while trying to research this whole phenomenon of gold dust, gemstones, gold teeth and such that are appearing in churches everywhere. I had never heard of it before until a friend from work claimed it happened in his church sometimes. Intrigued, I checked it out and it was your usual charismatic kinda deal, which I have never been used to or into. (I’m of the reformed Calvinistic kinda camp.) Anyway, I just wondered if you have any insight into how these pastors do this kinda stuff so I can maybe (gently) give him a little heads up about what’s really going on at his church…

    By the way I think your blog is cool and I’m glad you got to see through the super emotionalism.

  • Jenni says:

    Thanks Mike.

    The gold dust/gemstone thing is interesting. I think it can be “staged” pretty easily by the pastor of the church… but I also think that church leaders themselves can be duped by over-eager itinerants or people in their congregation looking for attention.

    The gold dust thing is pretty easy to fake. There was a woman who was known for this sort of thing in the 90s… she was from somewhere in South America, and as close as I could tell she would have something waxy in her hair that would melt or evaporate in the stage lights and release the “gold dust” — which looked an awful lot like craft store glitter to me.

    I’m pretty sure (tho not certain) that this was a case where she duped the man who was my pastor at that time. Pastors are people too… and if you want to believer something strongly enough, you’ll find excuses to believe it. Plus, back in the 90s, if you were a church claiming to be in “revival,” you almost had to have some sort of spectacular psuedo-spiritual “proof.”

    To get “gold” on innocent victims in the congregation, all you need is for some glitter to be on the seats. The glitter sticks to the oils on your hands and presto! Gold dust. Touch your face or your hair and the “dust” transfers to your head. And the best thing about that scam is that there’s no need to explain why there’s some “gold dust” on the seats already… one could just claim that it was “leftover” dust from a previous service.

    So then you wind up with innocent, impressionable, desperate folks who really want a touch from God… and they think they’ve experienced a genuine miracle. Their excitement and genuine faith are then used to lend credibility to the whole phenomena… and the cycle repeats.

  • joy says:

    Hi Jenni,
    I too was part of a WoF church and can relate with tears to pretty much everything you’ve written of your experience… It is such an encouragement as I just left two months ago (right down to the day!) and I’m finally praying and reading my Bible without feeling complete confusion. All I saw was condemnation, and I’d finally forget about trying to get to know God when I probably wasn’t saved in the first place.

    Anyway, I just wanted to add my two cents to Mike’s question. I was raised in a Christian Reformed church, went to Christian schools and was taught this stuff was demonic and/or ridiculous, and should have never gotten involved. All I’ve actually seen is a pile of “gold dust” on a shirt that the pastor had saved from someone who was heavily involved in the occult, in the moment he cried out for Jesus to save him, this stuff appeared all over his shirt. Supposedly, when he went to his dresser to get a new shirt, his other clothes were already covered in it.

    Of course no one went to get it tested, and to me it honestly looked like a pile of sparkles with some metal filings in it, which it likely was, and no one actually saw it appear on the guy. This person also claimed a ton of healings (cancer x2, shrinking aneurism x2, vomiting up abdominal tumors after prayers – however, no medical evidence ever appeared), claimed being physically transported by the Holy Spirit, and a number of other unverified miracles. Shortly afterwards, the elder’s wife sprinkled the dust all over the prayer room and demanded that God give us more.

    Most accounts of gold dust have turned out to be nothing more than glitter, like Jenni said, when tested. There was one account (I believe it was of Ruth Ward Heflin, but don’t quote me) that claimed “her” gold dust was a “sandwich” of gold, titanium, and oil, but was later shown to be false. I’ve also heard a former elder at my old church claim he saw gold dust “fly” out of a speaker who had the laughter at TACF.

    People will try to see what they want to – At my former church again, there was a big fuss over the youth group’s hands getting covered in dust during a bible study, but no one mentioned that they sat at the same tables the kids’ club did, where, believe it or not, they did crafts involving glitter… No one could question the glory of God deciding to sit on the table in the form of glitter!

    Anyway, going back to this guy who was in the occult – I don’t know a ton about that stuff, but I have heard crazy, first-hand stories of missionaries in countries where witchcraft, witch doctors, demon posession, etc., are common. They are able to manipulate objects, and perform ‘wonders’ by another spirit, and we are told in scripture about lying signs and wonders. I’m 100% sure that most of these faith-healer-gold-dust-etc people are setting up the ‘signs’ themselves, but I wonder in some cases if it’s something beyond people that is causing it to happen, just as psychic mediums can tell people things they shouldn’t be able to know – not by their own power. Because this church guy was literally being groomed to be the leader of a satanist cult in my area, he had survived child sacrifice, it would make sense to me that if our enemy could make gold dust appear, he’d do it just to distract us from God to seek more ‘signs and wonders’ like so many churches are these days. I also accept that I could be totally out there on that thought, but I think it’s possible. :)

    Anyway, I’m not sure if your buddy heard about things happening in his church, or if he personally experienced them with his own eyeballs. In my experience, there was a ton of hype about having signs and wonders following the true believers, not a lot of gold dust, gemstones, “angel” feathers, orbs of light, etc., etc., etc., etc. falling out of people. However, at one point we were seeking signs to the point where ANYTHING could have become a sign if we were creative enough. :)

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