My “claim to fame” is that I’ve been hit on the head by a television evangelist—twice. Had someone told me six months before this occurred that I would be on stage with a TV preacher who was wearing a fifteen-hundred dollar suit and a pinky ring, I would have said he was insane. I’ve learned, however, that when God enters your life, a lot can happen in six months.
I attended church with my parents as a child. I enjoyed the people there, but I never made the connection between what I was taught at church and everyday life until I met a guy my age named Deron. Deron had a way of explaining the key concepts of the Christian faith so that I could understand them. Over four years time I grew to love the God that Deron loved, and after graduation it somehow “clicked” for me. On July 1, 1985, I made Jesus the leader and forgiver of my life.
I dove into spiritual matters head first. Within months I had led a few dozen people to faith in Jesus, started a Bible study at a friend’s house, began actively ministering to the poor, and gave up my college baseball scholarship so I could enroll in a Christian college to study to be a pastor. My spiritual fervency at the time was in overdrive.
One night at Bible study, some friends mentioned that a well-known television evangelist was going to be at their church and that I should go so I could receive the “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” which, they explained, would enable me to have supernatural experiences like those we read about in the Bible. To which I replied, “Dude, sign me up.”
That night there wasn’t a vacant seat in the entire church. Dancing in the aisles, arms swaying back and forth, people shouting—it was a sight to behold and reminded me of a college football game, minus the beer and tailgate parties. After the hour-plus-long sermon, the preacher asked people who wanted to receive “the gift” to come up on stage. I assumed “the gift” was what my friends had brought me there for because they all looked at me and nodded.
“There’s no way I’m going up there!” I whispered. “You didn’t mention anything about going up on stage! I thought there was going to be a class afterwards!” But my friends nudged me into the aisle and the next thing I knew, I was standing up front on the stage with eight complete strangers.
The preacher walked back and forth and yelled into his microphone, “I’m going to need your help, people! Stretch out your hands toward these brothers and sisters!” All over the room people closed their eyes, began praying out loud, and stretched their hands toward the stage as though they were trying to shake hands with the president. Just about the time I was wondering what in the world I was doing there, the preacher began hitting each of the people onstage on the forehead. One by one people fell backward and landed on the ground. When he hit me, however, I just stood there. I felt nothing, but I wondered if I were supposed to fall down anyway. Slightly stunned, the preacher looked out to the crowd and shouted, “Come on, people! Stretch out your hands to this young man!”
The audience roared as people shouted prayers to the stage and stretched out their hands. The preacher turned back to me, took a deep breath, stared into my eyes, raised his right arm high in the air, and yelled “Receive the gift!” as he slapped me on the head again. I didn’t fall down this time either. I couldn’t believe it. People in the congregation were staring at me as though I were a heathen or an axe murderer. My friends all had an “Oh-my-gosh-will-you-just-fall-down-and-get-it-over-with” look written across their faces. Unsure of what to do, after a few awkward moments I did what any normal eighteen-year-old would have done. I leaned over to the preacher and said, “You’re freaking me out” and walked off the stage.
I wasn’t sure what to think as I sat in the parking lot waiting for my friends. Even though the evangelist appeared to be a nut case, my friends who attended that church were authentic. They hadn’t encouraged me to go that night just to embarrass me. They genuinely wanted me to experience God in a powerful way, and I wanted that too. That week I reread the stories of Jesus healing people and of his followers experiencing miraculous answers to their prayers. Had people back then made up those stories? Did God stop performing miracles at some point? Or, in my case, was God simply opposed to the manipulative tactics of a spiritual game show host? I honestly didn’t know what I was looking for that night, but I do know what I took away from the experience: confusion.
You may be confused as well: You’ve prayed for Jesus to work in a miraculous way in your life, but nothing seems to be happening. God hasn’t brought you that special someone to marry. The cancer isn’t gone. You haven’t found employment. The relationship you’ve been praying for still needs mending. You haven’t gained clarity about your future. You may be asking why God doesn’t work in your life the way he did in the Bible—which is an honest question that deserves an equally honest answer.
More than likely, however, you’re not going to find that answer through someone on a television set.
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