A few relationships in my life have been so important, I knew God had made the connection. One of these was my friendship with writer and pastor Jamie Buckingham.
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Growing up in the 1950s, I knew there were two Christian leaders who stood head and shoulders above the rest—Oral Roberts and Billy Graham. I never dreamed I would get to know Oral personally, publish one of his books, serve on one of his boards and even visit him “to say goodbye.”
Once Oral told some leaders that if they were ever asked to speak and were unprepared, they should tell their testimony. Now I feel inadequate to pay tribute to a man who did more than probably anyone in the 20th century to bring God’s healing power to the church. So I’ll just tell my testimony of knowing him.
I met Oral through my mentor Jamie Buckingham. I was barely 30 when I was invited to a meeting of about 100 leaders in the newly built City of Faith, on the Oral Roberts University (ORU) campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During the meeting Oral walked around the room and prayed for each person. When he came to me he said: “Never doubt the gift that’s within you.”
I had only recently started Charisma. Oral must have sensed I was unsure about God’s call on my life. Yet he saw God’s hand on this fledgling magazine. He told me later he read every issue. And once he recorded a short endorsement that I’m so proud of I put it on the special online tribute we posted (charismamag.com/index.php/oral-roberts-tribute).
Once Oral asked me to serve on ORU’s board of regents. I felt as a journalist I needed to keep my objectivity, so I declined. Now, 25 years later, my son Cameron (who graduated from ORU) is the youngest member of ORU’s new board of trustees. Instead, I served for many years on the International Charismatic Bible Ministries board. It brought me to Tulsa for many years and I enjoyed rubbing shoulders with this great man.
I have met heads of state and titans of industry. But never had I met a man who could humbly walk into a room with such a commanding presence. But Oral wasn’t perfect, and he spoke candidly of his shortcomings.
And while he lived in utmost moral integrity, he sometimes did things he must have regretted. When he was desperate to keep ORU’s medical school afloat in the mid-1980s, he threatened that “God would take him home” if he didn’t raise the money.
I wrote an essay in our local newspaper explaining that many Christians believe after they accomplish all they can, God will call them home. That comment is often made at funerals to provide comfort when someone’s life is cut short. Apparently Oral felt that if he failed to save his medical school he would have nothing more to accomplish and he’d go to heaven.
The money did come in, but it wasn’t enough to save the medical school. ORU suffered a great setback and it left ORU heavily in debt. Yet the university and his vision survived and lives on.
The day of Oral’s funeral on December 21 I looked out my hotel window to the beautiful campus that had once been a farm on the edge of Tulsa. I’d heard Oral tell how he had walked that vacant property, prayed in tongues and then interpreted back to himself direction from the Holy Spirit. I have used that prayer technique many times.
After Oral retired to Southern California, I arranged to visit him “to say goodbye.” I took my friend R.T. Kendall, who wanted to meet him. Oral admired several of Kendall’s books, so he wanted to meet him and I went along to help conduct an interview we published in Ministry Today.
I saw him only one more time—at Mark Rutland’s inauguration as the third president of ORU. After the ceremony others on the platform exited amid great academic pageantry. As Oral was helped off the stage by his caregivers he gave a great wave as if to say goodbye.
Later Mark spent some private time with ORU’s founder. After their conversation, Oral put his feeble arm around Rutland’s shoulder and said, “Now I’m ready to go home.” Rutland assumed he was ready to go back to Southern California. Later he realized Oral meant he was ready to go to heaven.
Oral Roberts inspired millions, including this former newspaper reporter. I’m thankful he saw a gift in me. His legacy of faith makes me want to use that gift to its maximum impact.
Steve Strang conducted several interviews with Oral Roberts, including this one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the early 1980s.
A widely publicized study released in late April about why Americans have given up their faith or changed religions is actually good news for charismatic churches. The survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, described as the largest study of its type about why people change their religious affiliation, interviewed 2,800 people. It found that respondents had not become more secular or rejected their religious affiliation because of anger over doctrinal or leadership issues but because they had “just gradually drifted away from their faith.”
Why is that good news? Because it’s an indication that people want something that will meet their needs.
Thirty-five years ago my late mentor, Jamie Buckingham, newly baptized in the Holy Spirit, put this provocative comment on his church’s marquee: “For More than a Sunday Morning Religion.” He knew that people aren’t interested in just hearing a dull sermon and singing the same songs that have been sung for decades. They want a vibrant faith—the living Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is why Pentecostal and charismatic churches around the world are growing.
Like many of the churches noted in the survey, charismatic churches have the problem of people coming in the front door and going out the back door. But I believe the survey results are good news for those of us in the charismatic movement. Here’s why:
People want an exciting worship experience. They don’t want “boring religion.” One thing people say about charismatic churches is that the services are anything but boring.
They want a genuine encounter with God. Often that comes through praise and worship—the subject of this month’s cover story. In fact, the charismatic church has led the way in this area through musicians such as Israel Houghton, Darlene Zschech and others we include in the article.
People want answers to their personal problems. Charismatics pioneered the concept of inner healing, pray for deliverance from life-altering addictions and lay hands on the sick, trusting they will recover, for “by His stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5, NKJV). We believe God has answers for our personal problems, and that resonates with people who are searching.
If people want community, they can find it at Spirit-filled churches, which are more ethnically and generationally diverse than other segments of the body of Christ. Are they perfect? Of course not. But when you find a mixed-race church, it’s usually charismatic.
Our churches tend to be independent, if not organizationally, at least in attitude. Independence can sometimes create a lone-ranger mentality. But it also frees up leaders who have a passion and a vision to get outside the box and share the gospel with those who are hurting.
It has also spawned new churches and ministries, including Christian TV, which reaches millions who don’t go to church. Many who watch Christian programming later get active in a church, but even those who don’t are hearing the gospel and being touched.
Sharing the gospel and reaching out to poor and hurting people are values almost universally shared by Pentecostal and charismatic churches. There’s a need for us to do more. But charismatics have grown around the world because they emphasize outreach, both here and overseas.
As a movement we certainly aren’t perfect. Sadly, many of our churches are just as dead and boring as the ones spoken about in the Pew report. Timothy warns against “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). And there is nothing “deader” than a dead Pentecostal or charismatic church.
However, we don’t approve of deadness, and charismatics won’t put up with it for long. They vote with their feet by going where the presence of God brings life.
I’ve been covering the charismatic church for three decades, and I believe we’re continuing to grow at a time when many other churches aren’t. But the Pew report should remind us that people want answers and we have them—all from the Word of God.
To me, that’s good news.
Steve Strang is founder and publisher of Charisma. Read his weekly Strang Report via email or his Twitter updates here.
From time to time something is e-mailed to me that I think is worth passing along. The item below by Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, highlights the recent outrageous attack by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) against the rights of Christians. On their DHS Threat Assessment list, they recorded conservatives, veterans, pro-gun people and others as "right-wing extremists," and as possible terror threats. Mat articulates the details about this in the letter below. Read it and let me know what you think.
Though the hate crimes bill, which could put pastors in jail and protect pedophiles, has already passed in the House, we still have a chance to stop it in the Senate. The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) does a nice job of explaining the bill and sharing how Christians can help stop it. Read their newsletter below and then give your comments about it on our Web site.
The other side is on the run. The Traditional Values Coalition did not let them get away with their lies about their so-called hate crimes bill. We worked to force them to go on record about what this bill really does -- it protects bizarre sexual behaviors, pedophiles and could send pastors to jail.
About two weeks ago the nation celebrated the National Day of Prayer. I had the privilege of being invited to speak to a group of 100 business people in Jacksonville, Fla., as part of an outreach called Christian Professional Resources. The half-hour message was videotaped and put on the Internet. I'm sharing it with you here because I spoke about "Calling America Back to God" and mentioned some things that I've reported on in the Strang Report. I hope you'll watch it, share it with others and then give me your feedback in the comments section.
Here is a letter from Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a religious freedoms law firm.
On Wednesday by a vote of 188-186, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted down a same-sex marriage bill because it contained a religious liberty protection clause. The state Senate had previously passed the bill along party lines by a vote of 14-10. Governor George Lynch, who is opposed to same-sex marriage, said he would veto the bill unless it contained a religious liberty protection amendment. The amendment was added to the House version of the bill, and that is where it met opposition by an openly homosexual member of the House, who lobbied against the bill because of the amendment.
This was sent in a newsletter by Tony Perkins, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council.
On March 9, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order that opened the floodgates for funding more human embryonic stem cell experiments. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has drafted guidelines for distributing these funds. These guidelines devote your tax dollars to experiments with embryonic stem cells, from destroyed human embryos. But the only successful treatments and cures come from adult stem cells, taken from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood, fat tissue and other body tissues. Thousands of patients have had their health improved and their lives saved with adult stem cells. Dozens of diseases and injuries including cancer, juvenile diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease have already been treated using adult stem cells and more treatments are being developed.
Rep. Tom McClintock gave the following speech to the Council for National Policy in Washington D.C. on May 16, 2009.
Here, in the winter of our despair, I want to pause to take stock of the state of our nation on this date of May 16.
Voters have swept our party from office after a failed Republican administration that abandoned conservative principles. The most left-wing President in our nation’s history has taken office with a 66 percent approval rating and strong majorities in both houses. His agenda includes radical intervention into energy markets, highly inflationary monetary policy, a determination to dramatically reduce our military spending while dramatically increasing overall domestic spending with deficits as far as the eye can see.
That was the state of our nation on May 16 … 1977.
Somehow it seemed impossible-retracing Moses' footsteps in the Sinai desert in nine days when it took the children of Israel 40 years. When I was first invited to join a pilgrimage to the mountain of God, it seemed so remote, I could barely comprehend the fact I might actually go.
But I determined to go, despite the tough preparation that was necessary. I needed to shop for special equipment for the desert, spend weary miles jogging to get into shape, and read-including the first five books of the Bible.
On our calendar May 14 is the date of Israel's independence. The Israelis celebrate their Independence Day on the 5th day of their month Iyar, which was April 29 this year because they go by the Jewish calendar.
Thirty years ago today I was in Israel when the country celebrated its 31st anniversary. Jamie Buckingham, 12 other Americans and I went to climb Mount Sinai. It was my first trip to Israel-indeed my first trip outside the United States. What an experience! We met in Israel with some Christian friends of Jamie's who took us around to interesting sites. My reaction-like so many others-was that it made the Bible come alive.
Besides the fact that the Israelis are perhaps the most determined people on the face of the earth, Gods Word says that the Jews are His chosen people, the apple of His eye, and they will survive.
The situation in Sri Lanka for the Tamil people, many of whom are Christians, is very dire. The United Nations reports that 6,500 people have been killed and 14,000 injured in last three months alone. You can read more about this in a news article through the link provided at at the bottom of this report. This Friday a protest against this bloodshed is planned at the United Nations. If you're able to attend or if you can forward this e-mail to people who can attend I encourage you to do it. This is something we must decry.
Several years ago our readers responded to the emergency of the tsunami by helping the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka through Godfrey Yogarajah, its general secretary. We raised more than a quarter of $1 million.
With all the bad news coming out of Washington, D.C., and the assault on what I perceive as our religious freedoms, it's good to get some good news.
On Tuesday I was reminded by Dan Betzer, a well-known pastor in the Assemblies of God circles, that never has there been a greater time to spread the gospel nor a time when people are more responsive.
He gave a report on the growth of Assemblies of God churches in Cuba. They have grown since 1989—under a communist regime—from 12,000 members to more than a half million.
I know many of you have heard about the stance that Miss California took at the recent Miss USA contest. She said: "I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised." Although she has been maligned by some, many in the Christian community have supported her. You can read an interesting article about it here.
Watch the video of her reception at the recent Dove awards and a video of her at The Rock Church in San Diego with pastor Miles McPherson.
You may have heard the news that late Wednesday afternoon the so-called Hate Crimes Bill, HR-1913, passed the U.S. House with a vote of 249 - 175. Around 5 p.m. a motion to reconsider was agreed to without objection.
I believe that this is a real blow to our liberties as outlined below. We must get the word out to as many people as we can so that this is defeated in the Senate, since President Obama has said that he will sign the bill rather than veto a similar bill as President Bush did.
I also want to call our intercessors to pray because this is much more than just a political battle. I believe this is also spiritual warfare.
On Tuesday Robert A. J. Gagnon sent out an interesting letter detailing why Christians need to be proactive in fighting this hate crimes bill. You can read it below.
Support for a "hate" bill that enshrines "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" into federal law (note that it is not yet so enshrined) does not mean merely that you oppose hateful, violent acts against persons who self-identify as homosexuals, transsexuals, and cross-dressers. Laws are already in place protecting persons who identify as homosexual or transgendered. They are the same laws that protect all of us from violent physical or verbal attacks.
If you've ever been to Israel, you know that it is a life-changing experience. My first trip was almost 30 years ago. I'll write more about that at another time.
I was recently asked to help find pastors who'd like to visit the Holy Land. The Israel Ministry of Tourism is willing to fly pastors who meet a certain criteria to Israel free of charge. The trip has been dubbed a "familiarization tour." For more information send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm reaching out to you for help. I'm hoping that we will find some good candidates and generate more interest in our new e-newsletter, Standing With Israel.
It's known that the best way to grow anything on the Internet is through viral marketing. I'm asking you to read and forward our new Standing With Israel e-newsletter and my Strang Report. I am motivated to double the circulation of the Strang Report in the next three months, but I need your help.
If you'd like to sign up for Standing With Israel or the Strang Report, click here.
In a recent blog posted on MSNBC, Patrick Buchanan, former White House adviser and outspoken Christian, details evidence of how America is "de-Christianizing." He says that "secularism has become the established religion of the American state and judges are the high priests of the new order." You can read his full commentary here. Come back and let me know what you think after you've read it.