Once I got going on this Todd Bentley thing I found lots of interesting stuff. It’s more of the same old same old. This guy is really funny and I laughed a lot reading this. It starts out a bit slow; skim the first part. Word-Faith people won’t like this at all. Ok, well I’m done for now and will move back to my topics and stop focusing on performers…

May 27, 2008

Leaving Lakeland

by Mike Kirkland

The three o’clock traffic in downtown Lakeland wasn’t bad. I decided to ride by Lake Mirror since it was such a beautiful afternoon.

The sun warmed the gentle breeze as it blew across the water where Blinky the one eyed alligator once lived and enjoyed celebrity status in the downtown area. Somewhere around here is the site of the old building where my grandmother worked. She was the first female manager in the Kress department store chain and I spent many a day hanging out here, looking for Blinky, and watching the people come and go.

This is my past. This is where I grew up. Though I have fond memories of Lakeland I also carry the scars of bad choices and negative influence. I was kicked out of Jr. High for drug possession and had been enticed into other small-time criminal activity along the way. There was good here and I had plenty of wonderful experiences; but the bad seemed to overshadow the beneficial and my parents had to make a decision for me. Leaving Lakeland changed the course of my life forever and it was difficult for me. I was fifteen and this place helped form my personality, it was my identity and my home. I didn’t like leaving and it felt like I was ripped from the only turf that provided me both trouble and a sense of belonging. Though it was a difficult transition and the pain of the change would take years to fully heal, the end result would prove life changing.

At four o’clock we decided we better hurry to the Lakeland Center so we could sit outside and wait! We wanted to make sure we got good seats and we were sure we’d be there early enough to make that happen. Mandy, the lovely but tenacious (and sometimes smug) voice of our GPS, guided us directly into the parking lot where we were elated to see that there was no charge.

It had only been a few weeks since we’d heard of Todd Bentley, and only then because of a message board post talking up a healing revival. “This guy is the real deal” they said, which made my skeptical skin crawl. I’m no stranger to this stuff having spent nearly 15 years involved in Christian worship ministry at various levels; but my perspective has changed quite a bit and having fallen off a few, I’m not so quick to jump on any wagons. But when the opportunity presented itself for me to actually see this revival first hand I had to take it.

Todd Bentley is a healing evangelist holding revival crusades all over the world. His quick rise to fame is all but miraculous, and the fact that he has garnered the support of heavy hitters like Bob Jones, Bobby Conner, Paul Cain, Rick Joyner and others, tips the scales of his charisma-cred. They’re calling it the “thing” they’ve been waiting for, the next big move of God, “this is it!” Of course, the fact that Bentley has taken full advantage of the internet to “spread the word” of his crusade instantly should be seen as no small factor in the success of the movement. One thing is for sure, whether it’s God or Google, Bentley’s Fresh Fire is catching on like… well, something hot.

The Lakeland Center is a fairly large venue with ample parking and open spaces. There were lots of cars in the lot but maybe a hundred or so people outside lined up at the various entrances. I noticed the handicapped spaces were filling up as well. We walked up a ramp and stopped at the first set of glass doors. There were about twenty people positioned strategically and ready to move at the first sign of the unlocking. The people seemed nice and they smiled friendly smiles welcoming us into line as the newbies. We wouldn’t be there long before we too would turn, smile, and try to make the rookies more comfortable.
Earlier in the day I told a friend that I planned on interviewing as many people as possible while waiting in line. But that proved more difficult than I imagined. What would the people think? I refused to lie about my skepticism and I certainly didn’t believe any of the hype about Bentley. But would I come across as a self-righteous ass by admitting it? Would I cause them to lose the happy feeling they seemed to be enjoying right now? I couldn’t do it. Maybe I’m a coward, but I didn’t feel good about it. So we decided to listen in on some conversations instead. We considered it eavesdropping for truth.

To our left were four middle aged ladies discussing the revival. “People have been hungry for God” said the lady with red and gray highlights. “Yes. People will crawl over one another to get to God!” said another woman. We would soon find out that she was the prophet of the group. One of the other women talked about being so overtaken with the “spirit” that she couldn’t stand up and she doesn’t remember how she drove home. I couldn’t help but wonder if God would really put lives in danger that way or was she simply embellishing? Or hell, maybe God has a special angel that helps people when they’re DWS (driving while spiritual).

Todd Bentley certainly believes in angels. In fact, he works with them all the time. One angel in particular is named Emma. She is a “mothering angel” who also made appearances to Bob Jones. Bentley says Emma put gold dust on people during one meeting which subsequently helped him bring in “thousands and thousands” of dollars. But why wouldn’t Bentley see angels? It seems perfectly natural since he also makes trips to heaven to visit the apostle Paul who lives in a cabin there. Oh, and by the way, all of you scholars who are debating over who actually wrote the book of Hebrews, Bentley said Paul claims that he co-authored the book with none other than the patriarch, Abraham. Personally, I think Paul is lying.

Two Hispanic fellows stand at the front of the line, all smiles, talking with the elderly couple and young man behind them. Three younger guys stand to our left talking smack like young guys do. One, with long stringy hair, black-rimmed glasses, shorts and flip-flops, mixed spiritual topics with various quips. His partner, dressed in all black, metrosexual, with what appeared to be fake glasses (which seemed a bit ironic at a healing revival), laughed as if on cue. My wife and I stood patiently looking, listening, but apparently not looking right in front of us because the three young guys decided to squeeze their way into our spot. I mean, they moved in front of us when we weren’t looking… praise Jesus, “on thy feet, lose thy seat”, so to speak.

Up at the front of the line I overheard the Hispanic guy explain to the elderly couple and young man about a gold tooth that appeared in “one guy’s” mouth after one of the meetings. I never understood why God, the creator of the universe would take the time to do that. And then I wondered if God would give me gold fronts like Flavor Flav, cause that would just be cool. They talked of expectations and being ready to receive whatever God had to offer. The vibe outside the venue was definitely that of expectation. I looked over at the other entrances and all over the place people were praying for each other and some were beginning to get what I call “the Cocker Shuffel”. Out of the blue they would break into Joe Cocker like movements; kind of like Tourette’s but with rhythm and the added convenience of being able to turn it off at will.

As I stood in line I began to wax nostalgic about my past. This was the town where I got saved. It was in a little place called Crystal Lake Church of the Nazarene. Sure, it was after watching a movie called “A Thief in the Night” which totally scared the shit out of me, but still, I have fond memories of that place and the people there. That’s also where I discovered I had a talent for singing and first felt “called” to somehow do that for God. I also wondered whether or not the pastor’s daughter remembers me but was jolted back to reality by my wife pointing out the fact that the four ladies had also cut in front of us. I really need to pay more attention.

Just then a hulking security guard, and by hulking I mean if the Hulk were played by Peter Griffin from The Family Guy, opened the door and the crowd surged forward. Only one door was opened. In other words, three lines of people were funneled through one door. I was quickly reminded of the earlier prophesy regarding people crawling over each other to get to God and just then three more people jumped in front of us. When it was finally my turn to breech the opening I noticed an elderly couple standing slightly to the rear and to the right of me. I saw a look of frustration sweep across their faces as they stood not knowing how to approach the situation. Immediately my years of home-trainin kicked in and I held the door for the old folks. They seemed appreciative and gave a slight smile as the passed by and moved through the doorway. Then another couple slipped in behind them, and another. I counted nearly 15 people rush past me while I held the door. I finally had to put my hand out toward the crowd and say “whoa! I’m not the door man people!” That created a hole just large enough for my wife and I to scoot through and enter. Once we got in we saw people running toward the corridors and we were once again separated by swarms of pushy people. Though we were very early, we weren’t ruthless enough to secure floor seating. That was left to the truly spiritual, the battle-ready, hard chargers for Jesus. We wound up second tier, stage left. But that’s okay.

A nice lady sat beside us. She was middle aged, seemed a bit stern, kind of like a librarian, one that wasn’t afraid to tell you to “shut the hell up!” She asked the typical questions: “where are you from?” and made the standard statements: “this is going to be good” etc. Turns out, she had driven twenty-two hours straight to attend a few days of the revival. She wanted to bring the “FireTM” back home to her church. She told us of how she’d been to previous “outpourings” such as Toronto and Brownsville. She asked how we liked it so far and I couldn’t help but mention our recent adventure traversing the God-Gauntlet in the lobby. She wasn’t amused but decided to relay a story about last night’s prayer time. She said that Bentley asked how many in the service were senior pastors and about a hundred raised their hands. He then said for the senior pastors and ONLY the senior pastors to come down front to receive prayer. But instead, almost a thousand people got up and rushed down front. I felt a bit of indignation come over me and I said: “wait, did Bentley stop everyone and rebuke the spirit of LYING!?!! If he didn’t, WHY NOT?” “Why are Christians such selfish jerks?” “If I would have known that’s how God rolls, I would have brought football pads and numchucks to secure my personal blessing!” I continued. I could tell I made her uncomfortable so I let my lovely and way more tactful wife talk with the nice lady while I decided to go get some food at the concession stand.

During my absence the lady recounted a story Bentley told regarding yet another angelic encounter. The angel came to him in a dream but didn’t give his name. It turns out that Bob Jones already knew about that angel and said that his name was “winds-of-change”, which, obviously suggested that Bentley was a new kind of revivalist or something (further establishing his charisma-cred). My wife said that Bentley must have channeled an Indian angel with a name like that. I said, yeah, well there was demon in the men’s room named “hey-light-a-match”. You couldn’t see him, but you knew he was there, oh yeah, he was definitely there!

I ordered two nachos, two red-bull’s and a snickers. It was $20! I made the lady at the counter tell me she loves me before I paid her. She asked why but then almost as quickly said: “Ohhhh I get it, I love you man”. When I got back I think the librarian lady had decided that we were just going to bring her down so she changed seats. It was just as well, the music was starting.

The band wasn’t bad. By the end of the first song they had most of the technical bugs worked out and even with our bad seats and poor acoustics, I liked them. But then again, I tend to cut worship bands a lot of slack. They played a song that my worship team used to play and my mind began drifting back a few years. I remembered how good it felt to cut loose and express deep seated emotions through music. I remembered the synergy shared between team members each expressing their individual creativity held together by the laws of rhythm, timing and tone. As a worship leader, my style leaned toward the “prophetic” and back then I was known for being spontaneous and spirit led. Today I’m known as a skeptic. I’m not sure when the transition began, but on some level I think I understand this stuff more deeply and better than ever before.

Part II

“I want to change”, “fill me”, “wash me”, “set me on fire.” This was the mantra shouted by the emcee, then repeated by the crowd, over and over, prior to the live feed television broadcast. The people were being hyped up and primed for the cameras. Prayers and more prayers, with lots of shouting preceded the program. This is a healing revival and according to them, it requires activating faith. “You have to expect it” stated the emcee. And the people definitely expected something.

I began my interest in stage magic and hypnotism several years ago after seeing a show in a local bar. Though I never actually engaged in the art, I studied the techniques intently and greatly enjoyed trying to figure out various tricks and illusions. One particular interest was the power of suggestion and how it relates to everyday life, especially in advertising and later in Charismatic meetings. Few people realize that hypnosis is completely voluntary and only works on willing subjects. Trickshop.com put out a book called “Mastering Hypnosis”. In it, they define hypnosis as:

“…an altered state of consciousness characterized by heightened susceptibility to suggestion. Under hypnosis, suggestions bypass the critical faculties of normal consciousness and directly enter the subconscious mind where, if accepted, they are acted upon. The deeper the level of hypnosis, the greater the subject’s suggestibility.”

“This entire process is based upon the fact that while our conscious thought processes produce inductive reasoning, our subconscious uses only deductive reasoning. Once a suggestion is accepted by the subconscious, it is automatically transformed into reality. It does not matter if the suggestion originates from an internal source (i.e. self hypnosis) or an external one (the operator). Indeed, the distinction between autosuggestion and heterosuggestion is considered to be both arbitrary and superficial.”
The speaker approached the stage with a serious look and a nervous twitch that apparently told the audience that he was about to say something important. “Seventy-five percent of what happens here is due to hunger” he said. “Are you hungry tonight?” The crowd responded loud and long; of course they’re hungry, that’s why they’re here! After several minutes and more such comments the band cranked back up.

The music was carefully selected to create an atmosphere of surrender and expectation. I’m no stranger to this sort of manipulation, but I’m not going to say it’s necessarily a bad thing either. Maybe I’m just defending the art since I’m a musician but before you stop reading, at least here me out. I would say that all music is or can be a form of meditation. At least it helps one experience a meditative state. These type worship songs are a merging of music and message which allows one to accept the suggestion and experience it emotionally. What’s wrong with that, as long as the suggestion is positive? All music does that to some degree and that’s why I still listen to Christian radio. At least I am meditating on pleasant things for the most part and not subjecting my subconscious mind to accept the crap produced by the various other artists such as Brad Paisley “checking his girl for ticks”, or Juvenile’s infamous “Back that ass up”. No thanks, I’ll stick to the positive message found in Christian music whether or not I describe myself as one or not. In doing so I’m making a logical and informed decision on what I allow to influence my mind. The trick is learning when and how to turn it on and off. For a brief moment, I allowed myself to relax into the music, but that would quickly change.

The speaker once again took the stage and began telling an Old Testament story where Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ arms so that Joshua could defeat the Amalekites. He then told the crowd that they too could be like Aaron and Hur and undergird Todd Bentley by becoming a, you guessed it, “ministry partner” to financially support the revival crusade. This classic bait and switch was a bit too blatant for me. I almost called bullshit but just then they asked for twelve more volunteers to help with the offering. “Meet at the bottom of the platform, stage right” said the emcee. I immediately leapt to my feet and didn’t even have time to tell my wife where I was going; she knew. It was all the way across the arena so I sprinted down the steps, nearly busting my butt on the sticky soda stained floor but I made it to ground level in tact. Others were running too, and they beat me. I showed up at the corner, out of breath and attempting to speak. “I’m… here… to volunteer” I said but was too late. The younger, more agile guys (with football pads and numchucks) made the cut and I was turned away.

On my way back to my seat I decided to get the lay of the land. To check out the people and see if I could get a better feel for the type of crowd that was present. As I made my way around the floor seats I noticed several wheel chaired individuals, people with various infirmities and some with obvious deformities. Some were old; some were young; like this one little girl with dark hair and angelic smile. Her legs had not formed properly and they hung from the wheelchair motionless but most notable thing about her was the way she brightened up the space around her with her presence. I walked by an old man, slumped over in his chair barely moving. It looked as if he’d had a stroke or something, his wife stood behind him dutifully with rays of hope beaming from her eyes as she looked around expectantly. I saw another man walk by and I caught myself do a double-take as I noticed a large tumor protruding from the right side of his face causing his right eye, nose, and part of his mouth to be distorted by the intrusive mass. As I continued to walk, I noticed more and more chairs and people, all in some need of physical healing, all with the same gleam of hope and air of expectancy. By the time I made it back to my seat I was emotionally exhausted. My little comedic adventure of trying to volunteer was overshadowed by the notable suffering of the individuals I passed.

The emcee took the stage and delivered a monologue which I would describe as a Bentley promo. He told a story of how a group of ministers recently said that whenever Bentley came in the room, they could feel the presence of God and that they would often drop to the floor (in typical charismatic type fashion I suppose). My ears perked up at this because I felt he was laying the groundwork for what was to come later. He was literally and blatantly implanting suggestions. I predicted (not prophetically) that Bentley would use these suggestions later to create the desired effect so I quickly jotted down notes. I put myself in Bentley’s shoes and tried to read the crowd. They were not that difficult to read, it was like they were holding up a neon sign that read: “we’ll believe whatever you tell us, but just tell us SOMETHING!” And tell them he did.

A Successful hypnotic induction relies mainly on acceptance by the subconscious mind of the target. “Even under hypnosis this acceptance is not always automatic but rather relies on proper timing, repetition, and delivery. Timing is the single most important element in presenting a suggestion” says the book Mastering Hypnosis. “Always begin by suggesting what will happen, and gradually work up to reinforcing what has happened”. Bentley’s crew did a wonderful job of doing just that. They certainly don’t call it that, they call it activating faith. But the entire evening, prior to Bentley’s first appearance, has been spent on priming the pump and implanting suggestions. “Think of repetition” says the book, “as the glue that binds your timing together. It helps to ensure you maintain proper timing with regard to your suggestions. In addition, the persuasive power of suggestion tends to be cumulative in effect.” The music, the prayers, the cheering, the repetitive and monotonous nature of the songs, growing in intensity, all culminate in one thing; the arrival of the main speaker.

I see Bentley sitting on the sidelines reading a magazine. No doubt it is the Charisma Magazine article which just today published their take on the event. I thought he was about to take center stage but another man walked to the podium and asked the crowd if they were ready for testimonials. It may seem pretty innocuous to ask that question, and the guy probably didn’t mean anything by it, but it is significant nonetheless. They were responding on cue and willing to be led. He began by reading a testimonial he received via email. A man was flying into the Lakeland airport and saw an angel outside the plane. My mind immediately raced to the Twighlight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” where a creature devoured the wing of the plane right in front of a passenger who subsequently went nuts. Even though this guy’s angel didn’t do anything as cool as that, I listened intently. He said the angel looked in the plane at him as if wondering to himself, “why are you in a plane?” I thought that must have been a really dumb angel. Then the man said that he looked ahead and saw thousands and thousands of angels spiraling into the city of Lakeland to attend Bentley’s event. Wow. That sounds pretty cool and the crowd seemed to enjoy it as well. I’m sure there were more skeptics at the event, but everywhere I looked I saw nodding heads. The man read other testimonials claiming various healings and such but what struck me was that there didn’t seem to be any verification process, they simply took their word for it.

As Bentley approached the podium the crowd began cheering. He’s a lot shorter than I imagined and pale, the man is very pale. Tattoos cover most of his arms, hands, and neck and his face is pierced with several metal studs. His appearance is certainly atypical and stands out from his peers. That’s about the only thing that stands apart from them though. His voice, his mannerisms, and his style all seem to mimic those who have gone before and you can definitely detect a Kathryn Kulhman-esque quality in his performance. He didn’t preach, and I’m not sure he even had a message. But he did have a point and it came through loud and clear. Todd Bentley is the next big thing. He droned on for a long time, dropping names of the charismatic superstars like John Wimber, Paul Cain, and Bobby Conner showing how they all approved of Bentley. He spoke of their long-time prophecies that called for a big revival and proceeded to insert himself as the fulfillment of that prophecy. And why shouldn’t he? Bob Jones sat directly behind him nodding in approval.

At first I was confused as to why he was pumping himself up like that but it soon became clear. It wasn’t because of healing, it was because of support. He wanted people to give to his ministry, become a “ministry partner” and help spread the word. He told stories of spreading the FreshFire revival worldwide and that even Arab countries are opening the airwaves to his ministry. He claimed that a group of Arabs attempted to hop a plane and come to Lakeland but that day terrorists shut down the Beirut airport so they called Bentley on his cell phone telling him of their predicament. I wonder how they got his cell phone number? I’m calling bullshit on that one.

Bentley went on and actually made a theological point. He claimed that God was in heaven, and that he couldn’t come down unless we tore open a hole so that he could come through. And if we tore a little hole, we would get a little bit of God, but if we tore a big hole, we would see more of his presence. It doesn’t matter that this statement has absolutely no basis in fact, reality, or even biblical theology; he said it and that’s all that matters. The people responded with cheers; maybe they were attempting to let God out of his cloudy prison, I don’t know. But the wording here is important. Bentley suggested to the crowd that they were responsible for how much of “God” they would receive. The ball was now in their court and he garnered himself a bit of plausible deniability. If nothing significant happened, then he could blame it on the small hole, if something cool happened, then all they would remember is the name Todd Bentley and that cool thing. It’s a win-win for him.
Part III
One thing I noticed about the crowd is that they all seemed to be long-time Christians of the charismatic line. Those I talked to and listened to throughout the evening had all been to several of these type events and seem to speak the same language.

My wife confided in me that when she was sixteen she attended an event with Eastman Curtis as the key-note speaker. It was a camp that lasted several days and during that time they tried their hand at the healing aspect of ministry. Several of the teens were encouraged to receive prayer for all sorts of ailments and sure enough, my wife had one that necessitated urgent and immediate prayer. Some of the girls noticed that her right ankle turned in a bit and they talked her into being the center of a prayer circle where God would be invoked to heal her ankle. She reluctantly agreed and entered the circle. Now her ankle isn’t deformed it simply rolls inward after standing for any length of time, but those folks were desperate for a restorative miracle (one where God actually fixes a physical problem). After several minutes of prayer and touching the affected body part, they asked her to stand. When she stood up her ankle was completely and utterly straight. It looked absolutely perfect. The people shouted hallelujah! Praise God! Their faith immediately went through the roof. All the while my wife never told them that this was completely normal for her and that after a few minutes standing, it would roll inward again. She said that she chickened out and allowed them to feel that they had actually done something. To do otherwise would disappoint them she said. I’m not sure it would have mattered, because people tend to only look for whatever confirms their bias and omit the rest. I can’t be too hard on her though, I had a similar experience when one of my legs was shorter than the other!

One of the elders of my church had us over for lunch after services one day. He told me that God gave him the ability to lengthen shortened limbs! I said, well, that’s cool. So he decided that he would show me. I didn’t even know I had one leg shorter than the other but sure enough, whenever he sat me down and held them up, it was true. Holy crap! Maybe that’s why I always felt I leaned to one side! At any rate he prayed in tongues for a minute or two then said “watch this, here it comes, look, it’s growing, there it goes”… and sure enough, IT WAS! Right before my eyes I saw it grow. At least I said I did and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings because I really liked the guy. Much later I learned how to do the exact same parlor trick, without the praying and speaking in tongues. It’s a simple illusion, nothing more.

Those events led to my eventual skepticism and rejection of the Charismatic movement as a whole. If you want “success at hypnotic suggestion” states the author of Mastering Hypnosis, “You need to get it early and build slowly. With each failure you diminish the suggestibility of the subject.” I think that’s what happened to me combined with my hard-headed nature and analytical personality. Other factors that increase suggestibility include getting people to respond early to suggestion. Voluntary responses increase susceptibility to involuntary responses later on. Non-verbal suggestions such as certain repeated mannerisms, body movements, and breathing all influence the outcome. Mass suggestion is more powerful than individual. People who are in groups tend to lose inhibitions as long as the entire group is going with the flow. By this time it seemed like the entire arena was in Bentley’s grip. They were ready for what he was about to do.

Bentley began telling a story of a recent crusade in Africa. He spoke of creative miracles which are supposedly where God actually restores a body part such as an amputation. He said that these things actually happened at his crusade in Africa. I wondered to myself; why the hell does this only happen in Africa? What is so special about them that they can get documented, verifiable, bonafide miracles and we get healing of hemorrhoids? Of course, those miracles are NOT verified, documented, or proven; they are simply claimed, halfway across the world, where it is nearly impossible to actually investigate. That’s why it only happens in Africa.

Bentley then claimed that after he prayed for a creative miracle, a woman ran up on stage and ripped open her shirt to expose her breasts. He said that the woman had one of her breasts surgically removed due to cancer and that God had given her, apparently, a new set of chi-chis. I kid you not; Bentley said that this miracle was verified by those who knew her. Bentley also talked about a man who came up on stage and said that he had a creative miracle of his own, and pointed to his nether-regions. So Bentley now claims that God restored a man’s penis, which had been previously amputated. He said it, I’m just reporting it.

What I think offended my intellect most was that here Bentley had a great opportunity to actually document and verify a significant and ministry-altering, life-changing and ultimately faith building event, and he doesn’t do it. Instead he offers a theological explanation of why God did it. This again is a classic bait-and-switch! It takes the crowd’s focus off of the reality of the claim and forces it onto why God would do such a thing. Turns out, as Bentley suggests, God was showing him that it was about reproduction. And reproduction incidentally was what Bentley was all about; reproducing his ministry to as many people and places as he could. God was giving his seal of approval by symbolically, and actually, restoring reproductive organs. What more could you ask for? Well, I would ask for proof, but that’s just me.

Bentley then claimed that some 34,000 people came to his revival in Africa and had become Christians there. I would like to know how he accounts for this number since he doesn’t seem too worried about verifying the most exciting miracle since Jesus walked the earth, I’m not sure he can be trusted to show how he arrives at his numbers.

“Get ready!” said Bentley. Then he began calling out creative miracles that God wanted to perform! He used the typical shotgun approach where he called out so many different types of things, he was bound to get it right with some. He said that God was going to remove tumors, heal sexually transmitted diseases, re-grow body parts, heal erectile dysfunction and even re-grow hair. People literally ran down to the front of the auditorium and the front area filled up quickly with at least a thousand people. As I looked out over the crowd, I was amazed at how many people needed a creative miracle in their reproduction organs.

When it came time for healing testimonies; the part of the show where Bentley calls up people who have been healed throughout the service, several people vied for their spot on stage. One-by-one they sifted through and gave their testimony with Bentley ending each with his signature “BAM!” (which he totally ripped from Emeril) and an open handed push to the forehead which sent ninety-nine percent of them to the floor resulting in a quivering pile of mush. Of course, they fell ever so gingerly, never messing up their hair or sustaining a bruise but always falling in someone else’s way. To that I have some advice… If you’re going to protect your head and elbows, why not take the extra second to make sure you’re clear of the aisle? C’mon people!

A few of the testimonies stood out to me, like the woman who claimed she was healed of Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid arthritis. Or the other woman who said her doctor told her she had cysts in her arms but now they were gone. Another woman insisted that she had a golf ball sized tumor in her neck that disappeared instantly. Still another woman claimed that God healed 18 fibroid cysts in her breasts. The only consistent thing in these testimonies is lack of proof. I mean, the man I saw earlier with the large facial tumor, wasn’t among those giving testimonials. Why would God only heal occult symptoms and not obvious deformity? I’m calling bullshit. It may not be these women’s fault either; they were literally hypnotized from the outset. I am quite sure they actually believe they were healed but I am equally sure that an independent physician would not corroborate their claims. I would love to be proven wrong here. That would make me very happy indeed.

A man in a wheelchair with Multiple Sclerosis approached the stage. The staff helped him up and sat him in his chair after he hobbled up the steps. Bentley told him to get up and walk. The man slowly pushed out of his chair and stood. As the man got up he walked toward Bentley and the crowd cheered. But his gait was unsure and his legs weak, typical of MS. He was obviously struggling under the pressure. Bentley told him to remove his back brace and the man did so. It actually made him more unsteady but Bentley told him to walk nonetheless. Again the crowd cheered and Bentley took the opportunity to claim victory for the miracle. But this wasn’t a miracle, it was more likely a simple case of the crowd seeing only what they wanted to see and not questioning the information to the contrary. If the man was actually healed of MS, it would be a significant find. After that Bentley said that there is an anointing for crippled people in wheelchairs to be healed.

In a bold move Bentley called all those in wheelchairs up to the front of the stage. He said he would pray for them to be healed. Faithfully they came and lined up side by side along the front of the arena. But they never got prayed for and they never got healed. Bentley left the stage.

I noticed the older man in the wheelchair leaning forward, his wife still behind him, not smiling nearly as much now, but still hanging in there like a faithful companion. I was very close to them and wanted so much to reach down and take the man by the hand and just hang out with them but as the worship band played the crowd grew densely packed and the woman wheeled her husband slowly back to her seat.

I saw the angelic little girl, still lighting the path with her smile, head back to her seat along with all the other wheelchair faithful. They’re the ones that need the miracle. No amount of suggestion can heal them. Hypnosis cannot create body parts or even restore life to them and these folks are the evidence of that. They are also evidence that Bentley’s healing revival is merely a revival of hype with no actual substance. All of the physically impaired individuals with very real and evident medical problems were not healed. They’re still in their chairs Todd; they’re still in their chairs and you’re pissing me off.
After the cameras were turned off the real show began. Todd took a break and a guy named David Hertzog gave the offeratory. It was an hour long ridiculously lame infomercial about how people need to give more money to the revival. This guy was blatantly over the top. I can’t say enough how much I don’t like this guy. For instance, he said that if you give, you’ll get that many times in blessing. For instance, if you give three times, you’ll get three years blessing and that whether you give or not, you’ll affect the next seven years of your life, good or bad! In other words, if you don’t give money, it’s worse than breaking a mirror people! Holy crap. Did I mention that I don’t like this guy? He also mentioned that there are angels of finance. He said that he prays to his angel of finance to bring him money from the four corners of the globe. Huh? Dude, this guy is really, really weird. No wonder they waited till the cameras were turned off to feature him.

The rest of the night was more of the same but as fatigue set in the crowd thinned and the rhetoric stopped being as affective. I was tired at this point and just wanted to leave. I forced myself to stay though, and took the opportunity to wander around the arena again. There were lots of people who seemed genuinely moved by the experience. These were self admitted ministers who were there to bring back the “Fire” to their respective towns and cities. There were those who were less elated but still somewhat pleased to be there. These were the truly crippled and I can only wonder what they must be feeling since they left the arena in exactly the same condition as when they came. Was their faith not strong enough? Does God only wish to heal obscure or hidden conditions that cannot be medically verified? Maybe God is too humble or shy and doesn’t want to call attention to himself.

Then it hit me. This revival isn’t about those who actually need healing. It’s about those who think they can be used by God to heal those who need healing. That’s where the revival is, that’s what is spreading like fire. It’s a big ole steaming pile of ego gratifying and emotional marketing without substance. What it is sure to do is fund a huge ministry to perpetuate the same. I predict (not prophesy) that they will bring in tons of cash and I also predict that not one single verifiable healing will take place; one that passes rational inquiry of a qualified medical professional.

This kind of thing will happen as long as people buy into it, lock, stock, and barrel, without subjecting it to the rational mind. As long as people continue to give their wills over to others without thinking for themselves, they will be duped.

As I walked back to my seat I saw a woman frantically running through the arena with a panicked look on her face. As she came near to me I reached out and grabbed her arm and asked “what’s wrong ma’am?” She kept moving but started crying “my baby I can’t find my baby”. I followed behind her a short ways and then her child popped out from behind a table and the woman collapsed in delight. I didn’t really have to help her but what is significant is that no one else bothered to approach her to ask. That seemed to be the capstone of the event for me. People are too spiritually self-absorbed, trying hard to get a personal and supernatural touch from God while overlooking others who could benefit from real and practical aid.
Walking to the car I noticed a young lady being lifted out of her wheelchair into a van. She’s still in the chair Todd and you’re still pissing me off.

It was around one o’clock in the morning and as we left the Lakeland Center we drove around by Lake Mirror then set out to see the old neighborhood and finally by Crystal Lake Church of the Nazarene where I said hello to the old building. It was just as I had remembered it; in fact I don’t think it changed at all, but I certainly had.

As I left Lakeland for the second time I realized that my life was once again changing. I was leaving behind a belief system that helped form my thought processes and shape my personality. I was leaving behind an identity and moving toward a future which would no doubt be full of uncertainties, hard work, and downfalls. But I knew that where I was moving would be better in the long run.

http://www.darinhufford.com/article.php?id=19

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