I’m sure some of them will say, “Well, what about Philippians 2:5-6?”
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
See? It says we should have the mind of Christ Jesus and think it is not robbery to be equal with God.
Problem is that reading is out of context. Context is so important to understanding the Bible, so let me explain what that means. Reading in context is about trying to figure out what the author meant when he wrote it, and what it meant to the audience it was originally written for. When I say something is being read out of context, I’m saying that is not what the author meant when he wrote it, and/or that is not what it would have meant to the original audience. When the author of Genesis 1:26-27 said the first man and woman were made in God’s image and likeness, he did not mean they were equal to God. The original audience would have thought of an image or likeness in the same way they would have thought of a statue, drawing, or painting of a person. It can look just like the person, but it is not the person. Therefore, reading image and likeness as equality is out of context.
With that in mind, does Philippians 2:5-6 say we should think of ourselves as equal to God? What does it say in context? That’s what I am about to examine.
Context: What does the verse really say?
To answer that, we have to dive into the Greek a little bit. If you didn’t know, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew—except for a few chapters of Daniel that were in Aramaic—and the New Testament was written in Greek. Or maybe they thought Paul wrote in King James English. If so, you need to know he wrote in Greek, because that was the language of the people of his congregations. And because King James English was over a thousand years and hundreds of miles removed from even one person speaking it, but I digress. For us trying to understand today what any of the Biblical authors wrote, it is inevitable that some things will get lost in translation.
In Greek the word translated robbery in the KJV is harpagmos, which could mean “robbery” but also could mean something taken, plunder, a prize, or a thing to be taken or held onto forcibly. Most other translations say “a thing to be grasped.” So should we consider it not robbery to be equal with God, or should we consider equality with God not a thing to be grasped? More context is needed.
Context: What does it mean within this particular section?
In this case the section we are looking at is Phil 2:5-11. Here is the World English Bible’s translation, which I am using because it is not copyrighted.
5 Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, yes, the death of the cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
So Paul starts with “Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). I prefer the NRSV, which says , “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phi 2:5 NRSV). What does it mean to have the same mind as was in Christ Jesus? That is what Paul explains in the rest of the passage. We believe verses 6-11 were a hymn. If so, it could be the oldest Christian hymn we have record of. They didn’t know how to write music then, so we can only guess how it was sung. But the Christians in Philippi would have known and probably sung along in their minds as it was read to them.
Having the mind of Christ means humility and love that is willing to sacrifice oneself for others, even if it means suffering and death.
The hymn starts by describing Jesus as “existing in the form of God,” but then goes on to say in verse 7, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.” So the hymn begins by contrasting his existence before he became a man with the human form he took as a man called Jesus of Nazareth. And when he was “in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, [even] the death of the cross.”
In between his being in the form of God and in human form, verse 6b says he “didn’t consider equality with God” harpagmos. In that context, which is more likely, that he did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, or did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped? Considering how verses 7-8 stress how in his human form, he humbled himself, taking the form of servant, becoming obedient to the point of death, that does not sound like someone going around saying, “I don’t consider it robbery to call myself equal with God.” That sounds like someone who did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. Unlike us, he already existed in the form of God. He had the right to claim equality with God. But instead, he humbled himself, taking the form of a servant. Paul is saying that is the mind of Christ that you should have.
Context: What else does the Bible say about this?
I’ve already talked about Genesis 1:26-27, where it says human beings were created not equal to God but in God’s image and likeness. This passage from Philippians makes the point more powerfully by saying even Jesus did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. That particular phrase also connects this passage with the Creation story in Genesis.
First, God placed them in a Paradise and gave only one restriction.
15 Yahweh God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it. 16 Yahweh God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.”
They can eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They should consider that poison, because “in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.” They were fine with that until a serpent told them,
4 … “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
(Gen 3:4-5 NRSV)
They probably never thought about being like God before. But now that the serpent put that idea in their head, they thought, “That would be awesome.” So at a tree on a hill, they considered equality with God a thing to be grasped, and they grasped it. Because of that, they were banished from the Garden. God would still be with them, but it would never be the same.
The Second Adam
In Romans 5:12-21, Paul describes Christ as a second Adam. When he was brought to a tree on a hill, he did NOT consider equality with God a thing to be grasped but humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross—the perfect act of faithful obedience to God and loving self-sacrifice for us. And in so doing, he reversed the curse and restored our broken relationship with God.
Having the mind of Christ means humility and love that is willing to sacrifice oneself for others, even if it means suffering and death. He had a right to claim to claim equality with God, but instead he submitted himself to God’s plan to redeem humanity. How much more then should we stop grasping for equality with God and show God’s love through service and humility?
God Highly Exalted Him
That was the first half of the hymn. The second half describes how God highly exalted Jesus in response to his perfect obedience. He gave Jesus a name that is above every other name, confirming his status as Christ and Lord. Because God glorified him, he can be called equal with God. We cannot expect to be glorified in the same way. But Paul said in the book of Romans we are children of God and heirs with Christ “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17 NRSV). If we share in his suffering to redeem the world, we will also share in his glory.
Furthermore, he said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18 NRSV). We still won’t be equal to God. But whatever we are, it will be awesome.
Jesus is not a model for us to claim equality with God. He is the model of a servant who submits to God’s will, even when it means suffering unjustly at the hands of others. God’s will was for the redemption of humanity, even those who persecuted him. God’s will was to show the extent of God’s love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Only after Jesus’s death and resurrection did the disciples understand what it meant for him to be the Messiah. It meant suffering and death, not for its own sake, but to save others.
A Suffering Messiah
It was foreshadowed in one of Isaiah’s songs of the suffering servant. God prophecies of someone called “My servant,” who is beaten so much that he does not even look human anymore. People see his suffering and think it must be the wrath of God on him. The servant does not demand justice, because he understands they do not know what they are doing. They are like lost sheep who have gone astray. Somehow they see God glorify him, and their conscience is pricked. They seek the one whom they once despised and rejected and want him to teach them the ways of justice and righteousness (Isa 52:13-53:12).
And the irony was he could have rescued himself. He could have grasped the equality with God that was already his. Before he came to us in human form, he was in the form of God. But he willingly surrendered that status as Son of God to become the suffering servant. If you want the mind of Christ, meditate on that for a while.
So if you think this verse is about how you can become equal with God, you have missed the point entirely.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll come back next time. Until then, remember these words from Matthew 7:12.
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
This is an argument I hear a lot from Prosperity preachers. When the Bible says that God made man in his own image, that meant Adam was made equal to God but lost it in the Fall. That thinking gives rise to something I call the “little gods” doctrine. This says humans were first created not just human but little gods. They lost their god-status in the Fall, but Jesus came to restore that to us. When you are born again (give your life to Christ), you are born again out of the human class into the god-class of beings. Like in the movie Groundhog Day, “I am a god. I am not the God.”
You are a god (with a little G). They were not the first to come up with this, but it really sounds strange coming from people who call themselves Christian ministers. Most traditional preachers would say God is God, and we are not. What makes them think they are gods? It all starts with the story of creation in Genesis, and this verse in particular.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
(Gen 1:26 NRSV)
If you were expecting it to say, Let us make man in our image, that is how many translations read. However, the Hebrew word ’adam is better translated humankind. People will say, “Why do you insist on saying humankind or humanity? Everyone knows when you say ‘man’ here, it means mankind.”
Does everyone know that? I have heard several people say, “The Bible says, ‘God made man in his image,’ not woman.” But notice verse 27:
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
(NRSV, emphasis mine)
Women were just as much made in the image of God as men. So I don’t want to hear anymore about how women are somehow a lesser image of God than men. Now that we’ve established that, the next question is what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Prosperity preachers say it means we are equal to God—or at least we were before that first male and female messed it up. But even so, Jesus will give it back to us if we accept him as our Lord and Savior.
One preacher said,
“Dogs get together. What do they make?”
“Horses get together. What do they make?”
“Men and women get together. What do they make?”
“God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit get together. What do they make?”
Boom! Take that, you religious fuddy-duddies who won’t believe the Word of God!
Doctrine, Tradition, and the Word of God
When I say this does not agree with traditional church doctrine, they would say something like, “We don’t care about the dead traditions and dead doctrines of your dead church. We only believe the living Word of God.”
Here’s why I think church tradition matters. In the nearly 2,000 years we have had the Bible, why didn’t anyone see this before? After nearly 2,000 years since the last parts of the Bible were written, and millions of people all over the world from 50 generations diligently copying it, translating it, and studying it nearly that whole time, how did no one see that we are little gods? I’m not saying it’s impossible that we missed something, but how likely is it really to miss something this big?
And I might be more ready to accept this kind of argument from them if it were only a few verses here and there that they raise questions about. You know, like, “Why does it appear to say this? I never heard anyone from traditional churches teach it.” But the Prosperity preachers on TV and YouTube find something like this every episode they do. And when someone like me questions them about it, they say, “It’s in the Bible.” Oh, yeah. Silly me. I didn’t know the Bible said we are made in the image and likeness of God.
And they don’t even bother to ask, “Why hasn’t the church taught this in almost 2,000 years?” Actually, they do ask but not as an invitation to discussion. Rather, they say it as an accusation that the church has been hiding the truth of God’s Word for 2,000 years. Good thing the Prosperity preachers came along, or the truth might have been hidden for another 2,000 years. How did God ever get along without them?
If you ever sit down to read the Bible, you will come across some verses that make you wonder how it can be reconciled with church tradition. It’s okay to ask about it. You might find out there was a very good reason for not teaching something you never heard of, as we will see when we examine this “little gods” doctrine. I call it a doctrine, because that is how they teach it. It is the Word of God. Therefore, it is the truth. We are gods. One even went as far as to say, “Whenever it says in the Bible ‘I am,’ I just smile and say, ‘I am, too.’” If you don’t know, “I am,” as he is using it, refers to the divine name of God, which we think was pronounced Yahweh. Jews consider that name so holy they can’t even say it out loud. Not this guy. He’s equal to God, so he can say “I am too.” So unlike Bill Murray, he went from being a god to the God.
I will probably say this a thousand times if God lets me live long enough. Just because they are quoting scripture does not mean they are speaking the Word of God. The Bible is only the Word of God when it is rightly read, rightly interpreted, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all of that begins with three things: Context, context, and context. Here are three questions to help you get to the context.
What does this verse really say?
What does it mean within this story?
How does it compare to the rest of the Bible?
Let’s take these one by one.
Context: What does this verse really say?
What they are claiming amounts to this: Image of God = God.
Is that true?
Before we go making strange new doctrines out of something the Bible might or might not have said, let’s ask, what does it mean to be made in the image of God?
Going back to Genesis 1:26 there are two words God uses to describe the creation of humankind as a reflection of God’s self: image and likeness. Those words translate the Hebrew words tselem and damut, respectively. The two words are used as synonyms, so we should consider them equivalent. They are used together again in Genesis 5:3.
When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.
(Gen 5:3 NRSV)
Again the words for image and likeness are tselem and damut. The son is the image and likeness of the father. That business about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit getting together and making gods sounds more likely now, I have to admit. Seth was the son of Adam, and Adam was the son of God. In each case, “image” and “likeness” are used to describe the connection between the son and father. But again, whether that means they were equal to each other or resembled each other is not clear. Image and likeness usually describe statues or drawings of something, not the thing itself.
Since in both these cases, the son is said to be the image and likeness of the father, maybe it would help to examine how the phrase son of God is used in the Bible.
Image, Likeness, and Son of God
There are several possible meanings for “son of God.” There was only one person for whom that meant equality with God, and that was Jesus. That is attested by God at his baptism (Mar 1:11), and by the Caiaphas the high priest, the man who sent him to Pilate to be executed. At one point in the trial, Caiaphas says to Jesus, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mat 26:63 NRS).
When Jesus answers affirmatively, it is obvious from their reaction Son of God in that context meant he was claiming to be equal to God. But “son of God” does not always have that meaning. Sometimes the angels are called “sons of God,” because somehow they share a divine nature with God. A king was called a son of God at his coronation (Psa 2:7). Jesus taught that we can become children of God by reflecting God’s character (Mat 5:9, 44-45). In none of these cases does it mean equality with God. Adam and Eve were God’s children, but were they in the god-class of beings? We still don’t know.
Context: What does it mean within this story?
You can read the whole story in Genesis 1-3. I’m going to pick out one moment that I think is most relevant to this question. You probably know that after God created the male and female Adam, God placed them in the Garden of Eden and charged them to keep the Garden. It was a paradise, with weather so perfect they did not need clothes. All the animals were their friends, and there were all kinds of delicious fruits ready for the picking (literally). And God commanded them to be fruitful and multiply. In other words, start making babies. Life was perfect in every way you can imagine. God only gave them one rule: don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If you do, you will die.
Then a serpent tempted them. He told them in effect, “No, you won’t die! You will become wise, knowing both good and evil, just like God.” Again, does “like God” mean similar to God, equal to God, or little gods? They were already made in God’s image and likeness, so they were similar to God. That tells me they must not have been equal to God or little gods.
Another reason to think so is the serpent tempted them by saying they would be “like God.” How could they be tempted with something they already had? If you say, “Do this for me, and I will make your eyes green,” that is no temptation for me. I already have green eyes. But if you say, “Do this for me, and I’ll give you this brand new Tesla,” now I’m tempted. If they were already little gods, how could that be a temptation for them?
And isn’t it interesting that preachers of the Prosperity Gospel are using the exact same temptation? “Join us, give us 10% of your income, and we will show you how to reach your full potential as little gods.”
Context: How does it compare with the rest of the Bible?
They ate the fruit, traditionally believed to be an apple. They knew they were naked. Their innocence was gone, they were banished from the Garden, and they eventually died. According to the Prosperity Gospel, this is when they lost their status as gods. But Good News! Jesus won it back for us. So when you receive him as your Lord and Savior, you are born again into the god-class of beings. I should say I don’t know that all Prosperity preachers teach this, but a significant number teach either that or something in its image and likeness. To me, a doctrine like this could only come from the Prosperity Gospel.
There is little if anything to suggest that Adam and Eve were created as little gods but lost that status in the Fall. You can’t lose something you never had. So the next question is, what does the rest of the Bible say about equality with God? First of all, I have never encountered the phrase “god-class of beings” anywhere in the Bible. I can’t think of anyone in the Bible who was ever called equal to God except Jesus. But in thinking about the Bible as a whole, there are several stories in the Bible of people who tried to claim god-like status. Aside from Jesus, how did that work out for them? Not very well.
Pharaoh thought of himself as a god on earth, a little god in Prosperity Gospel terms. He went ten rounds with God and got hit with every plague known to humanity at the time. When he couldn’t win the fight in the ring, he tried to win it in the parking lot and got his whole army drowned in the Red Sea (Exo 1-15).
Herod Agrippa once made a public appearance that prompted some people to shout, “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man” (Act 12:22 KJV). He did not correct them and died a few days later.
I think it is safe to say that the Biblical authors universally take a very dim view of people claiming God-status for themselves.
When Paul healed a crippled man, the people of the city saw the miracle and thought he and his companion Barnabas were gods. I’ll let you read the story.
In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk.
When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.
When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
(Act 14:8-15 NRSV)
The people think they are gods, and their response is not to say, “Listen, folks. We’re not Zeus and Hermes. They are false gods. But listen to us, and we will teach you how to be gods like us.” No, they tore their clothes. Jews did this as a sign of grief or great emotional duress. They were grieved that people were calling them gods and quickly moved to correct them. We are mortals just like you, they said, and implored them to turn from worthless things to the living God. If they were here today and heard people speaking in Jesus’ name that “you are little gods,” I can only think they would rend their clothes again and tell us the same.
Images of God
I hope I have shown you enough to make it clear when the Bible says we are made in the image and likeness of God, it does not mean we are equal to God or little gods. If you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, you do well. But you are still not a little god. You are not in the god-class of beings. You are every bit as human and mortal as you were before.
Now I want to share one more thought with you. You may have heard the Bible forbids making any images of God. Have you ever wondered why? I have. I’m not saying I have the answer, but I’ll tell you the best answer I have come across. Remember we started with the verse in Genesis that says God created the first human, male and female, in God’s image. Could it be that God does not want us making images of God because God has already made the definitive image of God? That is you and me.
Historically, Christians have been good witnesses when we remember that every person we encounter is made in the image of God. It is easier to love my neighbor and myself if I see the image of God in both of us. We do not do well when we try to be God, whether that means a god or the God. Thinking we are gods makes us elitist, because clearly if you are not one of us, you are not a god. It makes us arrogant rather than humble, privileged rather than compassionate, domineering rather than cooperative. If I am a god and you are a mere mortal, how can I love you as myself? Since God is inerrant and infallible, it makes you think you are inerrant and infallible. And trust me, if you believe that it’s possible for you to become a little god, you are setting yourself up for a huge disappointment when you find out you are not. Ask Pharaoh and Herod Agrippa.
If you have read this far, thank you very much. I hope you’ll consider it worth sharing with someone else. The first three chapters of Genesis introduce several themes that keep reappearing throughout the Bible. This theme of seeking equality with God, for example, is key to understanding one famous line from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. That will be in my next post. Until then, remember these words from Matthew 7:12
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (NRSV)
I was involved in a movement called by different names. Word of Faith is what we liked to call ourselves. Today it is more likely to be called the Prosperity Gospel. Looking back, I think going in with undiagnosed clinical depression added a whole other dimension to just how tormented I was. I’ll try to explain what I mean.
For one thing, I expected to get healed of a number of pre-existing conditions I had. They told me the healings we read about Jesus and the Apostles doing in the New Testament were for believers today. And any church that didn’t preach that and believe that was dead, because they didn’t believe the Bible. That’s the way they describe traditional churches, dead because they believe their “dead traditions” over the Bible, which is the Word of God. And here’s a quick public service announcement. If the idea ever occurs to you to tell your mother her church is a dead church, DON’T. Nothing good can come of it. Trust me.
They had me convinced for years if I’m not getting healed, I didn’t have “enough faith.” I had to get “more faith.” I would spend more time in prayer, more time meditating on the right Bible verses, until I believed and did not doubt. And I would get to a place where I’d think, “Surely, I have enough faith now.” Still, it didn’t work.
They could never answer the question, “How do I know I have ‘enough faith’?” And if I ask why it’s not working, or what am I missing, is that a negative confession? Because if you make a negative confession, that will undo all the prayers you made before. It will cancel all the prayers you made in faith. Just one negative confession, and Phft! It’s like you never prayed or believed at all. Everything you confessed before, believing and receiving, it’s just gone. You have to start over.
They would say, “Don’t believe your circumstances. Don’t believe your symptoms. Believe only the word of God that says ‘By his stripes you were healed.’ You are not the sick trying to get healed. You are the healed that the Devil is trying to put sickness on. Don’t let him. Keep believing you have it, and you will have it.”
Okay, I believe it. I won’t surrender to the Devil. But I can’t stop myself from thinking, “How long do I have to believe I have it before I have it?” To put it another way, How long do I have to fake it before I make it? I could never get “enough faith” to make it happen. I believed all that for years, even though no one could give me a definitive answer on what “enough faith” meant. Did it mean having no doubt? How can I have no doubt when I’m doubled over from the pain of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?
But I stayed true to the faith. I prayed and believed and received my healing the way they taught. I confessed healing scriptures like Isaiah 53:5 the way they taught me, and I wasn’t getting healed. Either I or the Bible was wrong. It couldn’t be the Bible, so it had to be me, right? So I doubled down, listened to more tapes to build up my faith, because “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” Romans 10:17. What you keep hearing over and over again, you will believe. So if I hear over and over again that I’m healed, God promised healing, and claim verses like Isaiah 53:5 and1 Peter 2:24, and I keep hearing that over and over again, maybe eventually, I will believe it and not doubt anymore. I continued to confess only healing, never sickness, and if I did, I would repent and get back to confessing healing.
It only works if you believe in it, and this is the “it” you have to believe. Anything you say, positive or negative, if you believe it, it will come to pass. That is why it was called the Word of Faith. You must speak (word) and believe (faith). You have to believe you already have it, and thank God as if you already have it, and then you will have it. So I believed I already had it, and I really tried to keep believing I already had it, and I was careful to only confess positive things and thank God as if God had already answered my prayers, but doubts wouldn’t go away.
After I turned away from the Word of Faith (aka, Prosperity Gospel), I could finally admit I was never healed. But I couldn’t admit that before, because they taught me that if I speak as if I am sick, that would cancel out all my prayers. This is why when you hear testimonials from people saying, “I had this heart condition (or whatever they claim to be healed of). I was taking medication for it, but I’m healed now by the power of God. I don’t need medication anymore,” you don’t know if that’s real or if they are saying it “by faith.” And that’s the danger of it too. They have a heart condition that requires medication, but they are “believing for their healing.”
“I believe I am healed. I receive my healing. I am confessing I am healed. I am healed. Therefore, I don’t need medicine anymore.” The vast majority of people who do that end up dying. Or if the condition is not life-threatening, they keep saying they are healed, even though there is no difference in their condition. That is how it was for me. I couldn’t bring myself to say I wasn’t healed, because I was taught if I did, I was giving up on God, and I would lose whatever progress I had made toward having my healing manifest in my body.
Now, if you can, imagine on top of that I was living with clinical depression. That means my brain chemistry was out of balance, which made my brain naturally predisposed to depression. I can’t remember anything more depressing than thinking God had made all this perfect health and abundant wealth available to me, and I couldn’t get it. My prayers were not being answered, because I didn’t have “enough faith.”
I know now part of the problem was my clinical depression was undiagnosed. I didn’t know my brain was predisposed to magnify all the depressing thoughts I was getting from trying to live according to Word of Faith doctrine. They didn’t cause clinical depression in me, but they definitely made it worse.
Declaring Healing Is Not Healing
In one of the conventions or revival meetings I went to, the preacher onstage declared the entire body of Christ was healed of depression. I wasn’t sure how to receive it. On one hand, it felt great to hear it. In fact, it was awesome. I didn’t know I had clinical depression, but I had struggled with depression at times. I didn’t have to worry about depression anymore. Or did I?
I tried really hard to believe it, because I knew it wouldn’t work unless I believed it. It only works if you believe in it. Not believe in God. Believe in it. Believe whatever you say will come to pass. If you don’t believe it will come to pass, it won’t work.
So I tried really hard to believe it. But at the same time, I wondered if he could really do that. Can he just declare an end to depression for every Christian on the planet? Of course, he did not mean every Christian when he said “the body of Christ.” He only meant the “real” Christians, the ones who were born again and read the Bible exactly the same way he did. But that is still a lot of people, tens or even hundreds of millions worldwide. How could he just declare an end to depression for all of us? We were healed of depression for the rest of our lives. Every Christian on the planet. Really? Maybe it was just every Christian who believes in Word of Faith doctrine. But still, really?
By their own doctrine, it only works if you believe in it. Faith comes by hearing. The only people who heard it were those of us in the building. So how could the entire body of Christ believe it if they never heard it? Even as I was trying to believe it, it made no sense.
What gave him that idea? He probably heard something. He says he hears the voice of God from his solar plexus, so I’m guessing he heard, “Declare an end to depression for the body of Christ.” So he did. He claims we are seated in heavenly realms with Christ, and all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Christ. Therefore, we as the body of Christ have all authority in heaven and earth. We have authority over depression. And he is only speaking what he hears from God, so I’d better believe it, or God will be disappointed in me. Again.
I know now that whatever he said did not come from God. Whatever he heard, it was not the Holy Spirit. And no, he did not have authority to declare an end to depression for every Christian worldwide. He did not have authority to do that even for everyone who was in the building. Yes, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mat 28:18 NRSV). But what does that mean for us? Continuing in verses 19–20.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
(Mat 28:19–20 NRSV)
You see? He said he has all authority. He did not say we have all authority. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …. None of his instructions there have anything to do with declaring an end to depression or any other mental illness. It does not give us any authority to heal anyone of anything, whether the illness is physical or mental. Why did God wait nearly 2,000 years to whisper it in some preacher’s ear, “Declare an end to depression for all true believers”? If it were that easy, God could have done that as soon as Jesus rose from the dead. God could have had one of the Twelve Disciples declare an end to depression for all true believers, and I never would have been born with clinical depression.
Do I have to tell you I got depressed again? In fact, more than a decade later, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. So much for the end of all depression. Did that mean I wasn’t really part of the body of Christ? That I wasn’t really a true believer? That I didn’t have enough faith to please God? Should I have believed in my healing despite my feelings or in spite of my symptoms? I did for as long as I could. But with disappointment after disappointment, unanswered prayer after unanswered prayer, at some point I couldn’t keep faking it. I couldn’t keep believing things that all the evidence said were not true. Especially when a specialist told me, “You tested high for depression in every possible way.”
“High in every possible way.” And the funny thing is I only felt mildly depressed at the time. Should I have just rebuked that in the name of Jesus and said, “I don’t receive that”? Should I have continued living in denial? That is what the Prosperity Gospel would say, but I just could not pretend anymore.
Hearing God: Blessing and Curse
I thought the best thing about coming into the Word of Faith movement was they taught me how to hear God speaking to me. They would relay conversations they had with God and said I could have conversations just like that. They would even claim to be speaking directly the word of God live from the pulpit, with “says the Lord,” or “says the Spirit of God.” And they said I could hear God in the same way.
At first, it was thrilling, the idea that I could actually hear God speak to me. Prayer wasn’t just a one way conversation anymore. I would be in the middle of prayer, and in the midst of it, I would hear a still small voice inside me say, “I love you.” I didn’t just read it in the Bible, or hear it in a sermon or song at church. I heard God say it to me personally. And love, joy, and peace would permeate every cell of my body.
But after giving me that gift, they ruined it. Because that voice of love became a voice of judgment and condemnation. As month after month, year after year passed with prayers only being answered no, or at best not yet, their message that it was because I did not have enough faith took over.
Imagine thinking your prayers are not being answered because you don’t have enough faith, and then coming across a verse like Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” So God is not hearing my prayers because I don’t have enough faith. If I don’t have enough faith, it’s impossible to please God. I’m a disappointment to God. How can that be?
“I’m doing the best I can. I’m trying to believe the way you told me to, or the way I’m supposed to, or the way that pleases you. I really am. But I need help. Like the man said to Jesus, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief.’”
I could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit saying, “Why don’t you believe My word? I promised in Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24 ‘By his stripes you were healed.’ I gave you My word. Do you think I’m a liar?”
“Then why don’t you believe?”
“I do believe!”
“I see what’s really in your heart and mind. You still doubt.”
“Because I’m still having these horrible attacks of stomach pain and diarrhea.” (I didn’t know at the time the name for my chronic abdominal pain and diarrhea was Irritable Bowel Syndrome. But even if I did, I couldn’t have named it, because that would have confirmed I believed in the Devil more than God).
“So you believe your symptoms over My word? After all these years, your faith has not grown at all.”
“No, I believe your word.”
“You can’t hide from Me. I am inside you. I see the doubt in your heart and mind.”
“Okay, maybe I still have some doubts. But I’m fighting them the best I can. I can’t make them go away, but I’m not making any negative confessions. I’m confessing health, not sickness. What else am I supposed to do? What am I missing?”
A brain that was chemically tilted toward depression, and conversations like that going on in my head. On top of that, I had an uncle, a great uncle, and a great aunt, all with terminal conditions. I prayed and confessed the Word of God as I prayed, so that should have forced God to heal them.
“… he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction.”
(Psa 107:20 NRSV)
There’s the promise. As I pray for them, God is sending out his word, healing them, and delivering them from destruction. If I believe it and do not doubt, that is. I was standing on the promises of the Bible, which meant God had to answer. God had no choice, because God promised it “in His Word.” I didn’t know at the time these so-called promises in the Bible were all taken out of context.
But I was careful and diligent to follow their instructions, because if you don’t follow their instructions, you can’t blame them or God when it doesn’t work. It didn’t work.
Is it possible I missed something? Of course. I’m not perfect. It’s always possible I missed “something.” It’s always possible you missed “something.” But what exactly did I miss? I got all kinds of different answers. They could raise some possibilities of what a lot of people miss. But once I eliminated those, it should have worked. It didn’t work. Why not? They could never give me a definitive answer. But they seemed to be good at implying that it was somehow my fault.
Here’s the Reason It’s Not Working
If you’re in that situation now, let me tell you something. If you believe it has to be your fault that God is not healing you or someone you’re praying for, you will find a reason. Even if it’s not true, you will find “a reason.” After years of finding reasons to blame myself and eventually blame God, I found the real reason for it. You want to know what it is?
They claimed God promised you things that God never promised you. That’s it. Here I was beating myself up for not believing God’s “promises” that God never really promised.
But the Bible says…
I’m gonna stop you right there, because they quoted the Bible out of context. That was their mistake and still is. Your mistake, just as it was mine, was that you believed them. The reason God didn’t give you the healing you asked for had nothing to do with your faith or a lack thereof. When people came to Jesus for healing, they didn’t all have perfect faith. But they all got healed. Sometimes he commended them for their faith, but sometimes their faith clearly had nothing to do with it. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say Jesus would go into towns and healed every sick or injured person who was brought to him. Do you really think they all got healed because they had perfect faith? The kind of faith that would keep believing for their healing, even if their symptoms did not go away?
It’s possible that a handful of them had that kind of faith. But every one of them? Not a chance. Everyone did not have perfect faith, but everyone got healed. So no, anyone who tells you that whether or not you get what you ask for when you pray is all about your faith and whether you have “enough faith,” they are either lying, or they are deceived. I don’t care how many Bible verses they can quote. It’s like when the Devil quoted scripture to Jesus. The Devil was not speaking the word of God. It is not Biblical, and it is not Christian.
You simply believed the wrong people. That’s all. That was your only mistake. If you learn to read the Bible in context, that will all become clear. Just because they’re quoting scripture doesn’t mean they are speaking the Word of God. The Bible is only the Word of God when it is rightly read, rightly interpreted, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all that begins with three things: Context, context, and context. I’m telling you, no matter how many scriptures they quote to tell you God “promised” healing and prosperity to you in the Bible “if you believe and receive the promise,” their reading takes the Bible out of context. Therefore, it is not the Word of God.
My not getting healed, my great aunt, great uncle, and uncle who didn’t get healed, none of it had anything to do with my faith or any lack thereof. Yes there are a lot of promises in the Bible, but they are usually given to the community as a whole, to the nation of Israel or the church. They’re not to you and me as individual believers.
What Are We Promised?
Here are the only two things I feel quite confident the Bible promises you and me as individual believers: Forgiveness for our sins, and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. That’s it. That’s all you and I are promised as individuals. No promises of health, wealth, and success in everything you do. I’m not saying you’re going to be poor, sick, and a failure. I’m not saying you can’t pray for healing or success. I’m saying God never promised that to you or me. As John says,
And this is the confidence that we have toward [God], that if we ask anything according to [God’s] will[, God] hears us. And if we know that [God] hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
(1Jo 5:14–15 ESV)
Well, there it says, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of [God]. But did you notice it says, if we ask anything according to his will, [God] hears us? There’s the rub. God answers according to God’s will.
It can be tough to understand why God wouldn’t heal you or your loved one. Maybe that’s why I stayed in the Word of Faith longer than I should have. I did not want to believe that it was not God’s will to heal me or anyone I prayed for. I’m not saying God won’t heal you. You can always ask, and maybe it will be God’s will for you. But when you go into it thinking that you can determine the outcome by believing and not doubting and quoting the right scripture, and even if it is not God’s will, God has no choice but to give you what you pray for, because you are claiming a “promise” from the Bible, and then it doesn’t happen, it’s at least twice as bad, especially for someone who is already prone to depression. Trust me, you do not want to go down that road.
God hasn’t healed me of my pre-existing conditions, so apparently that wasn’t God’s will. God didn’t heal my uncle, great uncle, or great aunt I was praying for. Why not? I don’t know, because I am not God. I can’t say I’m happy about that. But I can accept it. I am not God. Can you accept that you are not God? If so, congratulations, because that is the beginning of true faith. God is God, and we are not.
When you read the Bible in context, you see people who were both faithful (loyal to God) and full of faith (trusted God) were often poor. Some of them got sick. Some of them were persecuted and died young because of their faith, not in spite of it. And yes, sometimes God delivered them out of their afflictions. But in the end, Jesus and all of his Apostles died as martyrs. Do you think they were complaining, “God, you promised me long life in Psalm 91:16. I can’t die now. I can’t be crucified. You promised you would deliver me from my enemies”?
And God would have said, like Lynn Anderson, “I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.” Anyone remember that song?
I’m not being flippant. I’m saying don’t blame God for not keeping promises God never made. And don’t let anyone tell you it was because you did not have enough faith.
They tell us if we have this expectation that if we obey the commandments, and believe all the right doctrines, and pray the right prayers, and quote the right scriptures, and believe we received what we prayed for in spite of the cold, hard facts staring us right in the face, God will have no choice but to answer our prayers. It took me forty years of wandering in the Wilderness before I saw there is no way you can read the Bible in context and come to that conclusion.
Faith is not believing something that clearly is not real. It is not denying the facts. It is not believing you are well when you are clearly sick or broken. Faith that denies the facts is not faith. It’s denial. Faith is seeing the facts as they are and trusting that God loves you, no matter how crappy the facts are.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Rom 8:35-39 NRSV)
It doesn’t say a life of faith will be free of hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword. It only says none of that ever has or ever will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As I neared the end of my sojourn with the Word of Faith, I was a wreck: spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s a wonder I have any faith at all today. But I do. I love God and love Jesus as much if not more than back then. My relationship with Christ back then was like being in an abusive marriage, where at times I knew and felt His love, and it was awesome. But other times He beat the crap out of me psychologically for not having “enough faith.”
My relationship with Christ now is what it was meant to be all along. He is a loving father and brother, mother and sister to me. And neither COVID-19, quarantines, masks, social distancing, nor anything else in all of creation can separate me from the love of God in Christ.
And that is how I started to recover from both the Prosperity Gospel and depression. It begins with the truth. It begins when you face the facts as they are, even if they contradict your most cherished beliefs. You may have believed them so deeply it never even occurred to you to question them, until recently.
This pandemic may have you questioning things you never questioned before. Maybe you think you will grieve the Holy Spirit if you ask about something that you are supposed to believe. Or maybe you never really believed but have been afraid to admit it. Maybe you are afraid that if you stop believing this or that, you will go to Hell. And why do you believe that? Because it’s the truth, or because that’s what you’ve been taught? Because that’s the word of God, or because of some Bible verses taken out of context?
You know something is wrong. You will have to ask questions about God and about the Bible you never dared to ask before. Some people won’t understand why you need to ask these questions. You may not understand why you need to ask these questions. But God does. The only reason I’m still here is God stayed with me when I asked those unthinkable questions.
So going back to hearing the voice of God and what that was like, one of the toughest moments you can go through on your faith journey is when you realize you’ve been hearing a voice you thought was God, but it wasn’t really God.
The Abusive God Wasn’t God
Eventually, I realized the abusive voice wasn’t God. On the one hand, that was a relief. On the other hand, it was very disorienting. If I thought for years that was the voice of God, what does that mean? How could I have been so wrong for so many years? It caused me to question everything I thought I knew about what the Word of God really is, what faith really is, and what the truth really is. I felt confused and uncertain about everything. I figured if people in that church I belonged to at the time knew what was going on inside me, they would say, “Oh, David went to that cemetery — I mean, seminary — and they taught him not to believe the Bible.”
I didn’t care what they thought. I knew I had to get out. But strangely, I did not feel depressed. Because somehow I knew God was with me. Not an abusive God, not the one who condemned me for not having “enough faith” (whatever that means), but a God who understood what was happening inside me much better than I did. A God who showed me the offramp to my freedom. Somehow, I knew that in moving away from the false God I had been following, I was moving toward the truth. They may have thought I had taken the offramp to Hell. But Jesus did not say knowing the truth will send you to Hell. He said it will set you free. And so it did.
I will go through this list, using my experience with the Word of Faith. You might want to consider answering for whatever group you are thinking of.
If you want a primer on the Word of Faith, I did a video about it.
Number 1: The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
As a group, Word of Faith (WoF) believers are devoted to their pastor, sometimes even referring to him/her as an apostle or prophet. They also have celebrity preachers that they follow closely. I became disenchanted with one of my churches when the pastor quoted a particular televangelist more than Jesus. It seems at times they take what their leaders say as just as much the Word of God as the Bible, even more so in extreme cases.
The lines between commitment to God and commitment to your leader can get blurred sometimes.
Number 2: Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
They are not punished but definitely discouraged. They encourage you to question and dissent outsiders, traditional churches, seminaries, “the fake news media,” experts, scientists, doctors, evidence, and anything that does not agree with their narrow interpretation of the Bible. But if you question, doubt, or disagree with them, you are automatically wrong, because their leaders are appointed and anointed by God. They might even tell you this is the reason your prayers aren’t being answered, because in questioning them, you think you are smarter than God.
I’ll say yes to this.
Number 3: Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
The only one on that list they practice is speaking in tongues, and it’s not done as a mind-altering exercise. It is to fulfill what they believe is a restoration of the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Cor 12:7-10.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
I don’t remember it as altering my mind, except on a few occasions, and there was no one to witness it. I did not do it in the church, because later in that same letter, Paul says only speak in tongues in public if there is someone to interpret it (1 Cor 14:28). They do believe in meditating on God’s word, but chanting is too new-agey or Buddhist-like for them.
But I’m not sure I can say no to this. The ones who invite people up for healing have gotten good at using the placebo effect. That requires some mind-alteration for people to believe they are healed when they aren’t. I was in my church choir for several years, so music is a big part of the worship experience for me. The way they use music, however, is to make you more suggestible or induce a sense of euphoria, so you will be easier to manipulate.
I will say yes, they do use some mind-altering methods, even if not the ones listed specifically.
Number 4: The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
In my own experience, they would express opinions on some of these issues, but they would not command or forbid one way or the other. They did not tell you what job to take, who to marry, what clothes to wear, where to live, etc. However, they did tell you how you should think, act, and feel in other ways.
If you prayed for healing, they would tell you things like, “Don’t consider your body. Don’t consider your feelings. Don’t consider your symptoms. Consider only the Word of God that says, ‘By his stripes you were healed.’” In other words, ignore the obvious signs that you were not really healed. They would not forbid but strongly discourage seeing a doctor, taking a prescription, getting vaccinated, or doing anything for your illness that did not come from the Bible or the Holy Spirit.
They would tell you that if you have Jesus, you can’t be depressed. For someone with undiagnosed clinical depression, I’ll let you guess how well that worked for me.
This is a tough call, but I’m going to say yes to this.
Number 5: The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and its members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
They did not have a specific leader they considered to be the Messiah, although as I said earlier, there were a few preachers they exalted to a level that felt equal to Jesus. That was when I really had problems with it. They also were somewhat elitist in thinking they were the only ones who believe the Bible, the only ones who stood for the word of God, and the only ones totally devoted to God. Traditional churches were dead as far as they were concerned.
You didn’t have to be part of their church or movement specifically to be saved, but you were considered a lesser version of Christianity. They were not happy with Billy Graham, because he would encourage those who came forward to give their lives to Christ at his crusades to join a local church. They wanted him to tell them to join a “Bible preaching, Bible believing church.” In other words, you have to join a church like ours, because we are the only ones who believe the Bible and teach it correctly.
I will say yes to this.
Number 6: The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
They believe they are persecuted, which fosters an us-versus-them mentality. And to them, that is confirmation that God is on their side, because Jesus said those who were faithful to him would be persecuted.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
(Mat 5:10-12 NRS)
When they do and say crazy things, and people say they are crazy, it means they are blessed. They are righteous. The more they are reviled and ridiculed, the more they think that is proof that they are right. But not all persecution is for righteousness’s sake. When a minister drives Mercedes S-Class or Bentley, or has a private jet, or is known to pull in tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, and people ask how they can afford that, they complain. “Tom Cruise makes $20 million per movie. No one asks him how he makes so much. No one asks about the pastor who drives a Toyota. Why do they ask me about my Rolls Royce?”
Here’s why. Maybe Tom Cruise does make too much money, but we know where his money comes from. He doesn’t require people to give him 10% of their income to buy a ticket to his latest movie. My pastor drives a Toyota. We don’t ask him how he got it because we know how much he gets paid. The members of the church saw the budget proposal and approved it. We know his car is what he could reasonably afford. We don’t begrudge him any of his salary or benefits because being a pastor of a church our size will keep you pretty busy. We don’t want him to have to work another job just to make ends meet and take care of his family. But if he drove up one Sunday in a Mercedes, Rolls Royce, or Bentley, you’d better believe we would be asking him how he got it. And if he told us it was none of our business, we’d probably fire him.
Number 7: The leader is not accountable to any authorities.
Yes, and this is a big problem. The pastor or leader of the church is considered to be “the man of God” and accountable only to God. When I left my WoF faith for the Presbyterian church, one of the first things I noticed was they have an annual congregational meeting where they propose a budget for the next year. Everything the church spends money on, including compensation for the clergy and staff, is laid out for everyone to see. We vote on it and approve it. We can propose changes if we like, but usually everyone is satisfied with it. Any leader of a church or ministry who is not willing to do that should not receive your money. They should never tell you it’s none of your business how they spend your donations.
Some won’t even accept accountability to the government or law enforcement. One who was investigated by the Senate for possible fraud said the IRS has the right to audit their finances, but the Senate does not. He used to say Christians should obey the governing authorities according to Romans 13:1. Why does everyone else have to answer when the Senate comes knocking, but he doesn’t? Is he a Constitutional lawyer? Freedom of religion does not include the right to commit fraud. The church I’m in now would have no problem showing their financials if that happened. We have nothing to hide.
Number 8: The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before they joined the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
The ends justify the means. Defending the indefensible. It does happen, though I can’t think of many examples from my own time in WoF. I’ve seen it a lot more looking from the outside now. Even as hospitalizations and deaths mounted, they kept telling people not to wear masks and not to get the vaccine. Too many of them are not doctors but they play one in the pulpit.
When they said God will make you healthy, wealthy, and successful in all your endeavors if you send money to them—be it tithes, offerings, or “seeds”—at first I did not consider it reprehensible. I thought they were preaching “the Word of God.” It was silly dead church traditions that hid God’s promises of reaping a harvest from the seed–i.e., money–you sowed into God’s ministries. That changed when I saw the only people receiving the promised “harvest” were the preachers who received all those “seed offerings” and tithes. I went to one convention with my favorite televangelist at the time. I had been so looking forward to it, because I thought he was the most Spirit-anointed man walking the face of the earth. The first night, he told the story of how someone promised to give him a plane, didn’t do it, and died. That happened to three people, according to him.
I was horrified. He’s claiming God killed three people, because they lied about giving him a plane? Before I was really in the WoF camp, that would have been a stone-cold deal breaker for me. This guy was not only a heretic. He was dangerous. But I rationalized it by saying Jesus said and did things that offended a lot of people too. If I want to be anointed like this guy, I need to listen and not question. If God has anointed him, maybe I’m wrong. That thinking kept me in the WoF much longer than I should have been. Thank God I figured out he’s not really anointed. He’s just good at mind control.
I will say yes to this.
Number 9: The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
There were times I felt shame and guilt, but it’s hard to judge how much of it was self-inflicted. The fact that I didn’t know I was living with clinical depression did not help. They tell a lot of stories of people who stood steadfast in their belief for answer to prayer. It did not matter what the doctors said. It did not matter what the experts said. They kept believing for a miracle, and they got it. So if you don’t see the answer to your prayers, you have to keep believing. Keep praising God as if your prayers have already been answered, and you will get what you pray for. But if you doubt at all, that will cancel out your prayers. So there is pressure to believe things they say, even when you know they are not true.
They had me believing it was my fault that all those promises in the Bible were not coming true for me. That would make me feel guilty and ashamed, so I would double down. Read the Bible more, pray more, sow more seed offerings, and listen to more tapes of WoF stars to build up my faith, because “… faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17 KJV). Keep listening to WoF teaching, and your faith will grow. As your faith grows, your prayers will be answered. That’s how it works, according to WoF doctrine. Except no matter how deeply I immersed myself in their way of reading the Bible, it never worked for me. After I figured out this was a different Gospel, and what they spoke was not of the Holy Spirit, then I was able to walk away from them and their shame and guilt.
I will say yes to this.
Number 10: Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and to radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before they joined the group.
They are more likely to say pray for your family and friends than cut ties with them. Unless the family member or friend is LGBTQ, or “living in sin,” however they define that. Then they will tell you to cut ties with them until they “obey the Word of God.” With that one caveat, I will say no to this.
Number 11: The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
I think any church wants to bring in new members. But generally, they are more concerned with saving souls whether or not they join our church. I will say no to this.
Number 12: The group is preoccupied with making money.
Many of them claim that God will not answer any of your prayers if you’re not tithing. So 10% of your income (gross, not net) is the cover charge for even getting in God’s presence to pray and be heard. The preachers brag about how rich they are and claim God will make you rich too if you give them money. Here are a few sound bites I’ve heard recently.
“You want your loved ones saved? Get yo’ money! You want peace of mind? Get yo’ money! You want respect? Get yo’ money!”
“Mone-e-e-e-e-e-e-y cometh! To me! Now!”
“Tithing is the door that opens up the door to all the blessings.”
“Every sinner I know who got saved started by tithing.”
“Why are you coming to church if you’re not tithing? You’re not going to get anything from it.”
“I’d like to take all the non-tithers outside, hand out uzis to the ushers, and shoot ‘em all dead.”
Yes, they are preoccupied with making money.
Number 13: Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
They would have Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services. That is more than the Presbyterian church I’m in now, but I don’t consider that inordinate.
Number 14: Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
No. Generally, they recognize you have work, school, and a life outside the church. You should act morally in all aspects of life, but they are not complete separatists. There is no compound where everyone lives.
Number 15: The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
I’m not sure what this looks like. I didn’t fear reprisals from the group, but they would speculate about whether you were still saved or not. “Why would anyone leave us? We have the truth,” was a common attitude. Parents who see their children leave “the faith” often feel shame, wondering where they went wrong. But I wouldn’t say they feel there can be no life outside the context of the group, at least in my experience.
I will say no to this.
There were fifteen items on the list. I said yes to ten and no to five. Some of them I couldn’t answer definitively yes or no. For about a third of them it was difficult to give a definite yes or no, which is why some of my explanations were long. I can think of some cults where I would say yes to all of these. If I were more generous, I might have answered seven or eight yes instead of ten. Just out of curiosity, I ran my PCUSA church and pastor through this checklist and answered everything no.
So back to the original question, is WoF a cult? You could say it’s relative. Compared to Scientology, no. Compared to most traditional churches, yes. However, having been in it and now out of it, I can say there is enough mind control, authoritarianism, and manipulation to be concerned. And knowing my current church checks none of these boxes, even one yes is a red flag for me now.
It’s no fun to think you were in a cult or even a half-cult. Whether it’s a cult or not, Word of Faith is something I am never going back to.
When I started college, one of the first things I did was rededicate my life to the Lord Jesus Christ. It did not turn out like I expected.
I had a couple of friends from high school at that college. Hanging out with them led me to a fraternity. I pledged and made it through. One of my fraternity brothers, Dave, was an atheist. He respected my faith but made it clear any efforts to convert him would be wasted, except he made this challenge. Another fraternity brother (Paul) was legally blind. Dave said if I healed Paul, he would believe.
Most of us have at least heard stories of Jesus and the disciples healing sick people just by laying hands on them, making the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. Dave certainly had heard those stories, even if he didn’t believe them. Have you ever wondered why we don’t see anyone performing miracles like that today? If God did it then, why not now? If you had asked me back then, I would have repeated what I heard from my favorite televangelists. People stopped believing in miracles and divine healing, so the gifts of healing and miracles the Bible talks about dried up. In other words, it only works if you believe in it.
I was involved in a movement of Christianity called the Word of Faith. Today, it’s more likely to be called “Prosperity Gospel,” but I think Word of Faith is more accurate. Here is their view of faith and how it works is based on this passage from the Gospel of Mark.
For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
(Mar 11:22-24 KJV)
You have to believe and not doubt. No doubt. Even a mustard seed of doubt will stop you from receiving what you pray for. You must believe you receive what you pray for when you pray—not some time in the future, right now. If you believe you receive it when you pray, you will have it. So when you pray for healing, do you believe your body, do you believe what you see, do you believe your symptoms, do you believe the doctors, or do you believe the Word of God that says by his stripes you are healed (Isa 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24)?
You also have this definition of faith from the book of Hebrews.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
(Heb 11:1 KJV)
Faith is what gives substance to your prayers. Faith is like the God Particle that causes prayers to manifest into reality. The more your faith grows, the greater things you can manifest. So when you say it and believe it (hence the label “word of faith”), and do not doubt but believe what you say will come to pass, your faith will manifest it into physical reality. That is how you receive healing, according to the Word of Faith. That is how you get your prayers answered. Growing in faith means being able to manifest more and more what you pray for. And don’t look for evidence. Faith is the evidence.
If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like “the Secret” or similar philosophy that says you create your own reality, because whatever you think, believe, and/or desire will manifest in your life, you are right. The difference is they use believing and saying in place of thought and desire. In fact, one of the pioneers of the Word of Faith movement copied directly from E.W. Kenyon, the founder of New Thought, which formed the basis of the Secret and other similar philosophies.
So going back to Dave’s challenge, the question was whether my faith had grown to the point where I could manifest healing for Paul, the same way Jesus manifested healing for a man born blind (John 9). But I didn’t want to tell Dave I wasn’t sure I believed in gifts of healing, so I said something about not being filled with the Holy Spirit yet.
Why was that important? One of my Word of Faith preachers used this analogy. When you are born again, you have the authority to use the name of Jesus, who has been given authority over all of heaven and earth (Mat 28:18). When you come up against sickness and disease, you have authority over it like a traffic cop. When the cop holds up his hand for the car to stop, the car stops because he has authority behind him. But what if one driver defies that authority and drives through anyway? The cop does not have the power to stop the car. Now imagine that cop is inside a Sherman tank. If he says stop, he not only has the authority of the city behind him. He has the power to blow you out of the road if you don’t. That’s the difference being filled with the Spirit makes.
When I heard that, I was like, I’ve got to have that. After you get filled with the Holy Spirit, they said, you have to speak in tongues. But even after I started speaking in tongues, I still wasn’t sure I was ready to heal him. Especially since I could not manifest healing for myself. I had a condition called Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which causes intense abdominal pain and diarrhea at random times. I did what they told me. I did not believe my symptoms—no matter how painful. I spoke only healing, not sickness or pain. Through gritted teeth I kept saying, “By his stripes I am healed. By his stripes I am healed. By his stripes I am healed.” No matter how bad my symptoms, no matter how bad the pain, I refused to speak doubt or consider my symptoms. I only considered the word of God that says, “By his stripes I am healed.”
Eventually, it would subside, as happens with IBS. But each attack just showed I didn’t have enough faith to manifest healing for my own condition. How could my faith manifest healing for blindness? As I got closer to graduation, I couldn’t see the path to healing Paul and thus convincing my atheist friend that God was real.
I got to my final semester. Time was running out. If I was going to help Paul receive his sight, I had until the end of the semester. I had received the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, so I didn’t have that excuse anymore. But I still had way too little confidence and too much doubt. So I prayed more than usual. I went through the reasons why I was afraid. I had a conversation with the Holy Spirit in my head that went like this.
“What if it doesn’t work?”
“Why are you worried it won’t work? Didn’t I promise in my Word?”
“But I’ve prayed for people to be healed before, and they didn’t get healed.”
“I told you, ‘And these signs will accompany those who believe: … they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’ (Mar 16:17-18 NRS) Did you lay hands on him?”
“No, but don’t I need permission from him? All the preachers who have taught this say you can’t usurp anyone’s free will.”
“So you need to convince him. Did you tell him how to be saved and healed?”
“You need to have that conversation with him then.”
“He might be offended.”
“Did Jesus ever offend people?”
“Then what makes you think you can follow me without offending people?”
I was afraid if it didn’t work, it would make God look bad. The Holy Spirit told me to just obey and let God worry about his own reputation. So I had to admit the real reason. I was afraid if it didn’t work, I would look foolish. The Holy Spirit said that was the reason my faith was not working. I had to get to a place where I did not care what people thought of me. I only cared what God thought of me. That was what it took. So I decided then and there when I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, I would obey, even if it was crazy or made me look foolish. I was going to be ready when the Spirit said it was time to have the conversation about being both saved and healed.
That’s another thing about Word of Faith. They claim that if you are born again, you have a right to be healed because the Bible says so. If it’s in the Bible, you have a right to believe and receive it. This was sometimes called, in a derogatory way, “Name it and claim it.” But I didn’t care what the critics said. I only cared what God said.
I prayed and prepared myself to have that conversation. I still had some doubts, so I prayed until I felt no more doubt. And I promised God if the opportunity presented itself, I would not let it slip by, like I had in the past. Then I found out Paul did not return that semester, because he had graduated early. He didn’t tell me. I had to hear it from someone else. I couldn’t believe it. It never occurred to me he would graduate early and leave without saying good bye. I would have been angry with him, except I believed this was orchestrated by the Devil. I must have really been ready to help Paul receive his healing, because the Devil made sure I would never have that opportunity.
I felt so guilty. I never took the opportunities to teach him the way to salvation and healing, because I always assumed I would have another chance. Now I had lost the best chance I had to convince Dave, convince Paul, convince all my fraternity brothers and every student at the school, even some professors, that God was real. Satan must have been laughing at me. It left me feeling like a failure. I had failed Paul, I had failed Jesus, and I had failed my own faith. I was a coward.
That was how I felt then. But …
Since then I have learned a few things that totally changed my perspective.
Faith or Placebo?
I learned that all that time I was beating myself up for not having “enough faith” to get healed or lay hands on people to be well, for not being obedient to the voice of the Holy Spirit, for being afraid of looking foolish, while I saw my favorite televangelists healing people left and right because they weren’t cowards, and they didn’t care what other people thought of them, no one was really getting healed. All those healings I saw, all those people who fell down under the power of the Holy Spirit, were nothing more than a placebo effect.
The placebo effect is when, for example, a boy out in the countryside where medicine is hard to come by breaks his arm. The doctor gives him some pills and says they will kill the pain. The boy takes the pills, and minutes later the pain is all better. The mother asks the doctor what he gave her boy, and it turns out to be sugar pills. How could sugar pills relieve pain? Placebo effect. It worked because the boy believed it would work.
If it works, why should we care if it’s real medicine or a placebo? Here’s where it gets tricky. Some conditions can respond to the placebo effect, and some cannot. In medical terms, functional illnesses can respond to a placebo. Organic illnesses cannot.
When you watch the healing part of these meetings, you will see people on stage who are legally blind and deaf, not totally. You will see the preacher pray then go through demonstrations of Can you see this? Can you hear me? How many fingers am I holding up? Repeat what I say. They respond, and it looks like they are healed. People cheer and shout, Praise the Lord!
The reason you don’t see totally blind or deaf people up there is that is an organic condition. It cannot respond to the placebo effect. I would not have thought partial blindness or deafness is functional. It turns out, though, partial blindness and deafness can respond to the placebo effect. In these meetings, the legally blind and deaf might experience temporary improvement in their seeing or hearing. But when they get home, away from the energy, away from all the talk of faith and expectation of miracles, i.e., away from the placebo, the blindness or deafness returns.
Paul was legally blind. I don’t know all the details, but he could see some things in a fuzzy way. If he got up really close to the television, he could see enough to follow what was happening. He could make out shapes of people but had to rely mostly on the sound of their voice or smell to know who was talking to him. He had a computer that would magnify words to where he could read them, and he could type papers on his computer. That kind of blindness can respond to the placebo effect. Any modern faith healer knows how to use the placebo effect to make it appear they are healed. Here’s a video of someone demonstrating how they do this.
If I had convinced Paul to go to one of these meetings with me, he could have experienced just that. To have him go through that moment of ecstasy when he could see more clearly, and believe that his eyes were being healed, then lose it. And then listen to me or those preachers tell him to resist the Devil, keep believing, don’t give in to the Devil who’s trying to convince him he wasn’t really healed, and nothing come of it. And then have him think this healing thing isn’t real, and therefore God isn’t real. Or like me, come to believe over time that God is real but a cruel prankster, to heal us and then take it away. Thank God I never put him through that just because someone dared me to. In the end, God worked good out of my cowardice.
Admitting that was difficult. It meant letting go of what I thought was proof of God. I realize now it is not my job to prove God’s existence. And even if it is, we are not going to find that proof by clinging to false signs and lying wonders. If Dave asked me again to prove God’s existence somehow, I would just have to admit I can’t. I might have stopped believing in God altogether except for one thing. Jesus and the disciples warned us repeatedly this would happen.
Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.
(Mat 24:4-5 NRS)
And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
(Mat 24:11 NRS)
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’– do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
(Mat 24:23-24 NRS)
They will produce great signs and omens, and people will think they are anointed. If you say, “I won’t be led astray. I’m saved, sanctified, holy ghost filled, fire baptized. I’ve got Jesus on my side,” he said it was possible for even the elect to be deceived.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
I could go on, but I will just add this for now.
Take note, I have told you beforehand.
(Mat 24:25 NRS)
He told us beforehand. And not just him. 26 of the 27 books of the New Testament include warnings against false teachers, false prophets, false “anointed ones,” and wolves in sheep’s clothing. I used to think this was very intolerant, to call anyone who disagrees with you a false teacher or false prophet. But if you look at how they are described, the false teachers they condemned were using people’s desperation and sincere desire to please God to defraud them. They used fear and greed to manipulate people. They told them what they wanted to hear in order to exploit them.
“Sow a seed for your need.” That means God will answer your prayers if you give me money.
“Sow the best seed you have.” You need to give more.
“Don’t consider your symptoms.” Ignore the obvious signs that you were never healed.
“Only believe the Word of God.” I’m quoting the Bible out of context.
“Do not believe what the doctor says. Only believe the Bible.” I’m not a doctor, but I’m playing one in the pulpit.
“Don’t believe those dead church traditions.” Because if you do, you’ll see this is not really the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“I’m not the healer. Jesus is the healer.” So don’t blame me when it doesn’t work. It’s your fault for not having enough faith.
“We believe God is a good God.” So don’t criticize my multi-million house, luxury cars, private jets, and designer clothes, all tax-free and made possible by your donations.
“That’s why I drive a Rolls Royce. I’m following in the footsteps of Jesus.” That money you sent me may not have answered your prayers, but it answered mine.
They will quote scripture after scripture, so they can claim they are speaking the Word of God. I will say this a thousand times if the Lord lets me live long enough. The Bible is only the Word of God when it is rightly read, rightly interpreted, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all that begins with three things: context, context, and context. If they tell you the Bible promises you perfect health, abundant wealth, protection from pandemics, control over the weather, and success in all your endeavors, I’m telling you they are reading it out of context. That message is a parody of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Yes, there are many promises in the Bible, but most of them are to the community as a whole. They are not to you and me as individual believers. When you read the Bible in context, I see only two promises to you and me as individual believers: Forgiveness for our sins, and nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ. That’s it. That’s all we are promised.
So are you saying God wants me to be sick, broke, and a failure?
No. I don’t know what God wants for you. I don’t even know what God wants for me. Maybe God will bless you with wealth and success. Maybe God will answer your prayers for healing. I’m saying God never promised to do that for you. God never promised to give sight to my friend, Paul, whether he was born again or not. God never promised that I could personally lay my hands on Paul and give him perfect vision, even if I had perfect faith with zero doubt and spoke in tongues.
A Cowardly Lion’s Moment of Truth
I haven’t seen Paul since he unceremoniously left me to wrestle with my doubts and feelings of failure. What would I say to him today? If I were honest, I would say I was mad at him for leaving without saying goodbye. But it was probably a good thing he did, because I was about to do something I would have regretted, and he probably would have regretted too. I would have to explain everything I just explained to you. And I would ask him how he would have reacted if I had said everything I was planning to tell him. I don’t know how he would answer, but I would also have to tell him my faith is very different now from what it was when he knew me.
I used to believe I might be able to heal his eyes if I had perfect faith. I no longer believe that. I can’t lay hands on him and heal him the same way Jesus did. It turns out I’m not Jesus. Go figure.
I might tell him about a pastor I found online. He was blind in his right eye and raised in a charismatic church that taught this Word of Faith doctrine. From the time he was eight years old, he began praying for his eye to be healed. He came forward for his church to pray for him nearly every Sunday. He was told to fast and pray, so even as a child he would fast two days at a time. The pastor there talked constantly about wholeness and healing, and how God wanted to heal every sickness and disease. When he came forward for healing, he would close his eyes, receive the prayers from the elders, and open them fully expecting to see. He would pray before going to sleep at night, fully expecting to wake up seeing.
After several years of this he still wasn’t healed. Then an elder spoke to him, and this is how he described the encounter.
“When I heard that story,” I might tell him, “it made me think of you and what I was planning to do. What that elder did to him, I would have done to you if I had gone through with my plans. And when I think of how I wanted to bring you with me to one of those faith healers, and what I know now about the placebo effect, I am so glad I never did. Because what could have ended up happening is you would go up there and see better temporarily because of the placebo effect. We would both think God was healing your eyes, and the fake healer would have promised 20/20 or better eyesight. But when the placebo wore off, and you lost that healing, which would have been inevitable, I would have thought either you or I didn’t have enough faith.
“For years, when I thought I didn’t have enough faith, I would double down. Like that boy, I would keep praying, fasting sometimes, until I expected healing, and over and over again healing never came. It was the worst possible thing for my faith and mental health. When you graduated early, I beat myself up for being a coward because I never had that conversation with you. And when I think that I, your friend and fraternity brother, almost put you through all that, all I can say now is …”
Paul might say at that point, “Thank God you were a coward?”
I would laugh and agree. Paul was a philosophy major, while I was a religion major. We had some pretty in-depth discussions about the two subjects, especially where they intersected. I imagine he might ask, “So why aren’t you a coward now?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you just made a heavy confession to me, but I didn’t hear any fear in your voice. Why not?”
“I don’t know. For some reason, I just felt the need to say I’m sorry for thinking the way I did and what that almost made me do to you.”
“You were afraid back then, even though you felt the need to tell me about getting healed. So why aren’t you afraid now?”
“Because I really believe in this.”
“So you’re not afraid now, because you really believe in this.”
“Oh, I see where you’re going. At the timeI could not have admitted this, but I didn’t totally believe the whole Word of Faith theology, even then. And I thought that was the problem. It only works if you believe in it, so I tried all kinds of ways to make myself believe. Because I thought if I could get ‘enough faith,’ I would see the miracles I wanted to see.”
“What is ‘enough faith’?”
“I don’t know, but apparently, I never had it.”
“And you disobeyed the Holy Spirit. How do you feel about that?”
“That wasn’t the Holy Spirit. I know that now because it sounded just like the Word of Faith preachers I was listening to at the time. I don’t believe anymore that that was the Holy Spirit. I believe that is what happens to me when I commit myself to a particular ideology, any ideology. It starts talking to me to reinforce itself.”
“You know what, David? I don’t think you were a coward. I think you just couldn’t push something on me that you did not believe in yourself.”
“Hmm.” I have to pause to think. “You may be right. In fact, I think the reason I never totally believed that is because there was always some part of me, deep inside, that knew there was something wrong with this view of faith and God. God is God, and I am not. Learning to accept that has been critical for my healing, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
“It sounds like you’ve been on quite a journey.”
“Oh, man! That is not even the tip of the iceberg.”
“Are you gonna try to save my soul now?”
I laugh and say, “Actually, you helped save mine. But I’d be happy to share more of my journey with you if you’re interested.”
“You know I love to discuss the meaning of life. I’m interested in hearing what’s different about you now.”
And so we would be off on another of our in-depth philosophical/theological conversations. Paul, wherever you are, I hope we meet again, in this world or the next, because I miss those conversations so much.
One of my word of faith teachers preached on using fasting to increase the power of your prayer. The text came from Isaiah 58. By the way, spoiler alert. That’s not what Isaiah 58 says when you read it in context. This teacher that I thought was so brilliant and so anointed and just spoke the uncompromised Word of God, yeah, he took it out of context, like just about every other Bible verse he preached. But I didn’t know that at the time.
And I was thinking I was the only one who believed in the power of faith to heal. Everyone else believed, “God can heal, but you don’t know if it is God’s will.” And I’d be like, “Well, Isaiah 53:5 says, But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed (KJV). 1 Peter 2:24 says, Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (KJV).
Note: I’m using the King James Version because when I was in the Word of Faith movement, it was the preferred translation. It is not necessarily the most accurate. More on that in future posts.
They taught and still teach if you belong to Christ, the Bible says Jesus’ death didn’t just bring you forgiveness of sins. It’s not just about the sweet by and by. It’s about the rotten stinking here and now. You can have peace of mind and healing for your body along with forgiveness for your sins. Why settle for one when you can have all three?
If it says it in the Bible, then it is God’s will. If you can find a verse in the Bible that says you have it, it’s yours. If you find a promise in the Bible, you can claim it. And if you do that in faith, and believe and do not doubt, and don’t believe the lies of the Devil that you are sick when the Bible says you’re well, God will have no choice but to give you what to ask. That is what I learned from the Word of Faith on how to get your prayers answered yes.
With all the focus on health and wealth, it can sound selfish. This wasn’t selfish. My great uncle had Alzheimer’s, and it was ravaging his brain. He needed to be healed. I had one side telling me we don’t know if it’s God’s will to heal your uncle. I had another side telling me it is always God’s will to heal, because the Bible says so. Which do you think I chose?
If it is to be, is it up to me?
But inevitably, there will come a time when you pray for healing and don’t get healed. Or you pray for someone else to be healed, and it doesn’t happen. How can that be if God promised it? It’s because either you didn’t know about the promise of God, or you didn’t believe that God would heal you or whoever you prayed for. You started out in faith, but some doubt crept in, and that stopped your prayers from being answered. Those are pretty much the only reasons. It’s never because it wasn’t God’s will, because they say it is always God’s will to heal.
I was the only one in my immediate family who believed this way. Therefore, I was the only one who could exercise faith to get my uncle healed. If it was going to happen it had to be through me, through my faith and my belief. And I needed all the help I could get. My favorite televangelist preached on this passage on Isaiah 58.
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
(Isa 58:6 KJV)
So fasting will supposedly release you from bands of Satan and break every yoke the Devil has put on you.
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward.
(Isa 58:8 KJV)
There it is, thine health shall spring forth speedily, because you fasted. The televangelist quoted that and then would tell stories about himself or other big names in the Word of Faith when they fasted because they weren’t getting their prayers answered, or some stubborn demon wouldn’t leave, and they would be saved, delivered, and healed because they were super-charged with the power of the Holy Ghost. So I thought that was what I needed to do.
I think my brother is in a cult
One weekend, I came home from college. My sister was there. My parents had gone away, and we were supposed to call Domino’s or Pizza Hut to get a pizza or something for dinner. But I couldn’t eat. I was fasting so I could focus my prayers for uncle Raymond. So I told my sister that I wouldn’t be eating anything for dinner, so she could get whatever she wanted. She kind of freaked out. In fact, anytime I fasted, none of them took it well. I was like, “What? Like this hasn’t been a common religious practice, not only in Christianity but Judaism and Islam and Buddhism for thousands of years?”
I thought she was overreacting. But like I said, I was deep into this Word of Faith doctrine. And if I remember correctly, she had just recently seen a movie about people who got sucked into a cult. That’s how it always works with a cult. You kind of get sucked into it, because they seem to have all the answers you seek. They may not be correct, but they’re easy to understand, and they appear to make sense out of your life. When I listened to this one teacher, I felt like he was pulling back the veil and revealing the glories and mysteries of the heavenly realms.
And so, you think you are getting the truth from them, and you can’t get it from anyone else. Maybe you think they can teach you how to have supernatural gifts and manifestations of God, just like you read about in the Bible. You end up doing things you wouldn’t normally do in the name of your faith.
She had watched me for years with my, shall we say, eccentric ideas about God and religion and faith. So I’m guessing it wasn’t just what I said about fasting and praying for our uncle to be healed that she was reacting to. I think she had been worried about this for a while, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
So she called the pastor of the Presbyterian Church the rest of the family attended. My Word of Faith teachers called churches like this “one of those dead churches, stuck with their dead religion that care more about their dead traditions than they do about the Bible. And that’s why they don’t get their prayers answered, and then they say it’s the will of God. It wasn’t the will of God. They don’t believe the Bible.” That was their standard answer basically to everything that was wrong with denominational churches. So, if I wanted help getting my prayers answered, I knew I couldn’t get any help from that pastor.
Poor guy. He just had no chance with me at the time. I mean, the Word of Faith was promising me miracles and supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit with power. And that church was telling me I could pray, but it was really up to God.
But she called him and said, “I think my brother is in a cult.” She even wanted to have me kidnapped and deprogrammed. I guess she had seen that in the movie. She had told me this years ago, but she never told me what he said to her. I just knew that somehow he had talked her out of the whole kidnapping and deprogramming idea.
But I found out what he said, and I wish I had known back then, because I would have respected him a lot more. She and her husband came to visit. Down here — this was so cool — It was in February of 2020, just before Covid restrictions, and in our little town, the oldest venue there is the Opera House, which was hosting Jeremy’s 10, a Pearl Jam tribute band. So I called my brother-in-law (or maybe texted him) and I was like, “You want to see a Pearl Jam tribute band?”
And he was like, “Do they really sound like them?”
“I think so.” I sent him some links from their website.
Wisdom in action
They came down for the weekend. He and I went to see them, and my wife and sister had their fun just hanging out and talking about whatever sisters-in-law talk about when they get together. They watched a couple of episodes of Cold Case. I didn’t watch that when it first came out, but my wife and I ended up watching the whole series on Roku.
Anyway, during that weekend she brought up that incident, and I finally found out what he had said to her. He asked her what was happening that made her think I was in a cult. After she explained it, he said, “It doesn’t sound like he’s a danger to himself or to you. If that changes, call me.”
I did a video and post earlier on what I think makes a good pastor. It’s not comprehensive. It was just a few thoughts off the top of my head, because where I am now the pastor is getting ready to retire, and he’s been really good. One of the things I am learning more and more is how important wisdom is for any kind of leadership, and how rare it is. So it is really important for a pastor to have wisdom, because you’re going to be getting calls like what my sister did that night. And you’re going to have to help them navigate not just theological territory that is confusing for them. You’re going to have to help them navigate some scary emotional and family situations. And his answer was perfect wisdom. He didn’t dismiss her concerns, and he had the wisdom to recognize the most important question is not, “Is he in a cult?” but “Is he a danger to himself or others?” Because even if she was right, I don’t think anyone could have convinced me I was in a cult. In my mind, I was in the Truth (with a capital T). But knowing I was not a danger to myself or others set her mind at ease.
My family in general did not know how to handle me. That’s because no one knew about the Word of Faith back then. There was nothing to prepare them or guide them in dealing with a son or brother who swallowed this strange new theology hook, line, and sinker. Word of Faith was new to a lot of people, and I think because I had these strange ideas that were coming from someone who claimed to speak the Word of God, which of course meant you couldn’t question it in any way, it looked like a cult.
What is “the Word of God”?
And speaking the word of God did not just mean quoting scripture. Sometimes, they would even start speaking words from God directly, punctuating them with “says the LORD,” or “says your God,” so you know it’s not the preacher speaking now. It’s God. That was so exciting. I wanted to be able to access God directly like that. How can a traditional Presbyterian church compete with that?
These days, you hear people talking about the Prosperity Gospel. Well, Word of Faith was Prosperity Gospel before Prosperity Gospel. Our pastor did try to address it in one sermon. But even he didn’t understand why it had a hold on me and why it can have a hold on anyone, especially if you have a heart that wants to please God. And I doubt any of his classes in seminary taught him how to counter this false gospel.
He said at one point, “Nowhere in the Bible does God promise health and wealth and success if you have faith,” or something along those lines. Well, if it were that simple to refute, I would have left it a long time ago. But when people said something like that, I would think, “What do you mean nowhere in the Bible does it say that?” And I could roll off a whole bunch of scriptures that said just that, like, Isaiah 53:5 “By his stripes we are healed.” There’s the promise of healing. First Peter 2:24 promises forgiveness of sins and healing of the body. Protection from harm? Psalm 91. Healing for your loved one? Psalm 107:20. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions (KJV). When I pray for my uncle, God is sending his word to heal him and deliver him from destruction.
Prosperity? 3 John verse 2. Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. (KJV). Okay, so there’s prosperity and health right there.
Abraham was rich because God blessed him (Gen 13:1–2). And Galatians 3:13–14 says, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (KJV).
And people would say, “God answers prayers, but sometimes the answer is no.” The Word of Faith said, if it’s promised in the Bible, don’t take no for an answer. God is looking for people who will challenge dead traditions, who will not take no for an answer, who will believe the Bible, who will take God at His word and believe it above all circumstances, above their symptoms, above what the doctor says, above how they feel, above their bank account, above everything, seen and unseen, that contradicts it. David believed in God more than he believed in the size of the giant, and God gave him victory because of it. That’s the kind of faith you need to have if you want to get your prayers answered. And if you don’t have that kind of faith, don’t expect any answer except No. If you’re happy with God saying No, believe that old time traditional church teaching. If you want to know how to get God to answer yes, listen to us.
Full Gospel or Fool’s Gospel?
Eventually, I found a “full gospel” church (that’s what Word of Faith folks liked to call themselves) that preached this message. The pastor one time imitated religious folk with, “‘Well, brother, we hope and pray…’. Then he countered, “God already said in his word, knuckle head! I didn’t mean that! I didn’t mean that! I apologize! I was talking to myself.”
We had a good laugh out of it, but that was basically the attitude we were taught to have. When you pray for something that is already promised in the Bible, you don’t hope and pray. You don’t pray, “If it be thy will.” If it wasn’t God’s will, God wouldn’t have put it in the Bible.
Of course, in order to maintain that belief, you have to ignore verses like,
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
(1Jo 5:14 KJV)
See, there’s the rub. If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. There were situations where even Jesus did not heal every sick person he saw. There is no guarantee that if you pray for healing, it is according to God’s will. Or this?
Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
(Jam 4:13–15 KJV)
They say praying If the Lord will shows a lack of faith. Yet that is exactly what James says to do, and it is in keeping with the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament. And all their promises of prosperity do not explain this verse.
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
(Jam 2:5 KJV)
What does that say about all those claims that if you are rich and making a lot of money, it’s because God is blessing you? Or if you are faithful to God, God will make you rich and successful in everything you do?
I think I will say this a thousand times if the Lord lets me live that long. The Bible is only the word of God when it is rightly read, rightly interpreted, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all that begins with three things: Context, context, and context. When you read the Bible in context, there are basically only two promises God makes to you and me as individual believers: forgiveness for our sins, and he will be with us always. That’s it. No promises of perfect health, abundant wealth, protection from diseases like Covid, or success in all your endeavors. When they quote verses like Isaiah 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24; 3 Jn 2; Psa 107:20; Psa 91; Isa 58:6-8, or pretty much anything in the Bible, I’m telling you they are quoting it out of context. My Presbyterian minister–and the rest of my family, for that matter–had that right. But I didn’t know that then.
Failing the smell test
I don’t know how much of the specifics my sister knew, but she knew I followed some televangelists who did not pass the smell test. And she had seen enough I guess that when I talked about fasting so that I can pray for our uncle like it was under my control — that I could make it happen because of my faith, regardless of whether it was God’s will or not — then she couldn’t help thinking I needed serious help. She was right about that. I’m still not sure if it was a cult, but I needed help. The problem was I don’t think anyone knew — me least of all — what kind of help I needed.
Word of Faith, or Prosperity Gospel, I don’t believe is a cult, because there isn’t one authoritative figure that everyone follows. I was never part of an isolated community like the Jim Jones cult. Their theology is strange and a different gospel, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a cult. However, it is possible that they have adopted standard cult methods of mind control to manipulate true believers, like I once was, to believe their message. Looking back, especially at that one teacher and self-proclaimed prophet I followed more than any other, I think I was manipulated. So that’s why I say I’m not sure my sister was wrong.
Whether I was in a cult or not, I have seen many ways religion can hurt people. If anything about my experience sounds familiar to you, maybe you should reconsider whether you are on the right path. If you want to know more, or you know you need help but don’t know where to turn, the International Cult Studies Association’s website is a good place to start.
Beyond that, let me tell you this. Just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean God promised it to you. The Bible does say Abraham was rich, and that through Christ we have access to the blessing of Abraham. That does not mean God promised to make you rich. God also blessed Abraham with a son when he was 100 years old. God did not promise that same “blessing” for you or me (Thank you, Jesus!). I’m not saying God won’t give you health, wealth, or success. I’m saying God never promised to give you that. This might not be what you want to hear, but I’m telling you, that is the truth that set me free.
Would you like to take a little stroll down Memory Lane to a time before the Covid lockdowns? I thought so. Super Bowl LIV was exciting because the Chiefs struggled for three and a half quarters. The odds against them were staggering, but they did not give up. And in the last seven-and-a-half minutes, we finally got to see Patrick Mahomes going all Patrick Mahomes! They went on a tear and won 31–20. That kind of never-give-up attitude was admirable, and they could not have won without it. In football, as in politics, it is admirable to never give up while there is still time on the clock. …Read more · 8 min read
In the last post, we began a story about Ahab, King of Israel, in 1 Kings 22. At some point, the Arameans had taken a city called Ramoth-gilead from Israel, but the two kings reached a truce. They were at peace for three years, but Ahab wanted to take that city back. Of course, if the king of Aram defeated him before, it would not be easy, so he enlisted the help of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. As kings would normally do before going into battle, they inquired for a word of Yahweh. …Read more · 17 min read
I had written this post before the incidents of January 6. Ironically, that is Epiphany, the day many churches celebrate the visit of the wise men. But it looked like wisdom decided to take a holiday from Washington, D.C. I don’t have a lot to say that hasn’t already been said. But I will say my goal as a Christian is to follow Jesus’ commands, specifically, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Do unto others as you would have them to do you”, “Love one another as I have loved you”, “Love your enemies”, and “Turn the other cheek.” I don’t see any way to reconcile that with insurrection, terrorism, and storming the Capitol to stop our democracy from doing what it has done since 1789. But what do I know? …Read more · 12 min read
Some of my Christian brothers and sisters are disappointed with the results of the election. Well, disappointed is an understatement. To be honest, I’ve been disturbed at their inability to accept reality. I mean, the electoral college has met, and Biden has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 228. That’s about the same margin of victory as Trump had over Clinton in 2016. I know denial is one of the stages of grief, but at some point you have to move on to acceptance. You will never recover from this if you don’t accept reality. …Read more · 12 min read
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
(Mat 2:1 NRSV)
The Greek word for “wise men” is magoi, the plural of magus. It may read “magi”, “kings”, or “wise men,” depending on your translation. The word is usually more closely associated with magic than royalty or wisdom, so magi seems the most accurate. Gingrich’s Lexicon says it can mean “wise men” or “astrologers.” Friberg’s Lexicon says it refers to the high priestly caste of Persia. Thayer’s Lexicon says it was a name the Babylonians, Medes, and Persians used to refer to “wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augurs, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.” …
Confession time: While we were in quarantine, a lot of people picked up new hobbies. My new hobby is Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. I was a skeptic for a long time, but now I’m a believer. The problem is I spent so much time learning and planning trades it consumed my writing time. I’m going to have to learn balance. But the best way I can justify that time I spent is to write about it.
A quick disclaimer: I am not a financial advisor. Anything I say is for educational and/or entertainment purposes only. Any financial product or service, including particular crypto currencies, exchanges, stocks, experts, or whatever I use as examples do not constitute an endorsement. Always do your own research.
I have owned some Bitcoin for only a little more than a year, so I can’t say if we are in a bear market now. But the fact that we are having that debate at this time took me by surprise. If you don’t know, Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, meaning it is “a digital or virtual currency that is secured by cryptography, which makes it nearly impossible to counterfeit or double-spend.” So it is an asset that exists completely on a vast computer network. Bitcoin was the first and is by far the biggest cryptocurrency in terms of market capitalization. Coinmarketcap.com lists over 10,800 crypto currencies that can be bought, sold, and traded on exchanges, similar to stocks and commodities. Some of the more popular exchanges are Coinbase, Binance, Kucoin, Gemini, and Kraken.
Also like stocks and commodities, the value can go up or down depending on supply and demand. If more is being bought than sold, the value goes up, and vice-versa. While Bitcoin is the focus of this article, I may refer to other cryptocurrencies (a.k.a., cryptos) for comparison.
If you have heard anything about Bitcoin, it’s probably that the price is very volatile. It can go up very quickly and back down just as quickly. I already knew that, but I thought I had the market figured out. The Bitcoin (BTC) price normally moves on a four-year cycle because of an event called the halving. At set intervals, the amount of Bitcoin that can be mined (the term for creating new Bitcoin) drops in half. This diminishing supply coupled with greater demand makes the price go up for about 16 to 18 months before there is a bear market. The most recent halving was in May, 2020. Based on that, we should have had a bull market until at least mid-September, maybe even into October or November. Until May 12, it was playing out that way. Then Elon tweeted, and the price crashed.
We are now 50% down from an all-time high in April. This was supposed to be a bull market. How could one tweet break the cycle? Or maybe the cycle is not over, and this was just a much needed correction. But a 50% correction in a bull market? And we haven’t recovered yet? Should I hold on and hope the price goes up, or get out now to cut my losses?
Many who bought in March or April are asking the same thing. Again, I’m no expert, but I’ll tell you how and why I got in, and what I have learned in this crash.
How I Got Started with Bitcoin
When I first heard about Bitcoin in 2013, and it sounded like a pipe dream. I didn’t see how a currency, asset, or whatever you call it, could exist only on computers and have real value. Last year, I saw a presentation that explained what currency is and how it works. We are used to currencies having a physical form, for example, gold, bills, coins, etc. However, that is not really necessary. Anything people accept as a medium of exchange can be a currency, even if it is entirely digital. So yes, Bitcoin can be real money. El Salvador has even made it legal tender for the whole nation.
By the time Coinbase, one of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges, IPO’d on April 14, the price was up to an all-time high of about $63–65K (prices vary some between exchanges). In the next few days, there was a pull back, and the price hovered in the 50’s for a few weeks. That wasn’t so bad. Even a bull market will have corrections like that.
Then on May 12, Elon Musk tweeted concerns over its energy use and climate change. I care about climate change, but in this case I think the concern is overblown. I plan to write another article to explain that, but this chart will give you an idea.
As you can see, the latter two use more than twice as much energy. Furthermore, the energy Bitcoin uses is more likely to come from clean, renewable sources. I wonder what would have happened to the banks if Elon had raised concerns about their carbon footprint. If people knew about how damaging gold mining is to the environment, would they stop buying it?
But Elon’s 56 million Twitter followers got the message. The price dropped about 15% in just one day and kept falling. At the bottom, it reached lows of about $29K, a more than 50% drop from its recent all-time high. Most experienced crypto investors know this kind of volatility is normal. But even many of them were surprised that such a drop happened when we are supposed to be in a bull market. Experiences like that create FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). You could also think of them as fear and greed, and they tend to move the markets more than one mercurial billionaire.
FOMO and FUD: How You Can Be Your Own Worst Enemy
What is the mantra of professional investors? Buy low, sell high. FOMO and FUD will make you do the opposite. Here’s how they work together.
You heard about Bitcoin a few years ago, and you thought it was silly. You haven’t thought about it in years. Then you hear it broke its previous all time high of $20K, and it’s going up, up, up. $30K, $40K, $50K, $60K. You don’t understand how it works, even at a “Bitcoin for Dummies” level. You don’t know any market fundamentals. You don’t know what makes the price go up or down. But you are afraid of missing out, so you rush to buy before it’s too late (FOMO). Then the price falls: down, down, down. Just when you think it can’t go lower, it does. You are afraid of losing everything you put in, sell at a loss, and promise never to do that again (FUD).
Experienced investors use this FOMO and FUD to enrich themselves. When everyone FOMO’s in, they sell. When everyone FUD’s out, they buy. The best protection against FOMO and FUD is to educate yourself. Learn the history of why Bitcoin was created. It’s a fascinating story. Learn how cryptocurrency compares with fiat currency (dollars, euros, etc.). Learn what blockchain is and how it works. You don’t have to get too technical, just enough to where it makes sense. Learn about the halving and the four year cycle. And most of all, listen to people who have held Bitcoin for four years or more. They have seen markets go way up, way down, and everywhere in between, and they are still in the game. That will give you the perspective you need.
I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t invest in something just because the price is going up or some celebrity tweeted about it. Get at least a basic understanding of what it is, what value it brings to the market, why the world needs it, whether the business model is sound, how much investment it is attracting and from whom, and risks versus potential reward.
With Bitcoin, the four-year cycle has meant it reaches an all-time high about 16-18 months after the halving. Despite this downturn, there is still time for that to happen. Then it drops 85% before beginning to recover. If that happens again, will you beat yourself up or see it as a buying opportunity?
It Is Not a Get Rich Quick Scheme
Of course, I knew that before I got started. But it is easy to forget when you see the price go parabolic. When the price skyrocketed to an all-time high of about $65,000, I started having visions of all the remodeling my wife and I want to do and retirement by the end of the summer. Then the price went into free fall, like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, when his assistants stopped him just before he hit the floor, but he’s just hanging there with his arms and legs up to keep from setting off the alarm.
At first, I was scared. But as the price has settled in the 30,000’s, I realized this crash was the reality check I needed. There are some newer cryptocurrencies that saw over 1000% gains this year alone. Bitcoin is not that kind of investment. It is so big now, it takes much more to move the price up than for something like Polygon (MATIC), which currently sells at about $1.05.
Of course, with greater rewards come greater risks. Many of those with 1000% gains dropped back to pre-bull levels in the crash. Even though they’re not connected, most cryptocurrencies follow Bitcoin in the market. If Bitcoin pumps, they will pump more. If Bitcoin dumps, they will dump more, so the losses can be much greater as well. Some even went down to zero, so make sure you do your research before jumping in. Bitcoin has been around long enough that it’s highly unlikely that it will go to zero now. But if you expect to get rich with it, you have to think in terms of years, not weeks.
So what do you do when the price drops?
Buy the Dip
If you don’t believe in it as a long-term investment, the emotional roller coaster will drive you nuts. If you do believe in it as a long-term investment, you won’t get caught up in the hype when it goes up, and a price dip is a buying opportunity. Large investors have been buying even during this crash, which is the one reason I don’t believe this bull market is over. Who knows how long this opportunity will last?
How should you buy? You could try to time the market. When I think about how I bought at $9.7K, it’s tempting to think I could have sold at $63K. That would have been over a 600% gain. And then I could have bought back in at $29K to prepare for the next bull run. But I had no way of knowing where the top or the bottom was. Professional traders have very sophisticated market analysis tools, and even they get it wrong sometimes. That is why I believe the best strategy for buying is dollar cost averaging.
Dollar Cost Averaging
This is a way you can take advantage of an extended price dip without having to guess which way the market will go. On most exchanges, you can set up a recurring purchase, where you buy a set amount every day, week, or month. That is called dollar cost averaging. It’s a way to minimize your risk, because you’re not putting all your money in at once.
When I started out, I set up to buy $10 of Bitcoin per week on Coinbase. The price went up slowly from June to October, and I kept buying. When the price went up much more noticeably, I stopped my weekly buy and made bigger, less frequent purchases. But even when the price is going up, dollar cost averaging is not a bad strategy, because the price will come down at some point. On average, it still works out in the long run. The following chart shows what dollar cost averaging with $10/wk would have yielded today.
$10/wk for four years equals $2090 invested. For July, 2021, that results in a value of $9448. That is a gain of about 352%.
But no matter how I buy, I do not put in more than I can afford. I have heard of people losing their homes because they bought too much and at the wrong time. This market is much too volatile for you to spend the money for your rent, mortgage, groceries, water, electricity, children’s education, or any other essentials. I approach this like a retirement account. I do not put in money I need for daily or monthly expenses. I do not put in money I am likely to need in the next few years. I put in a little at a time, because I expect it to appreciate in the long run. If you are comfortable with that approach, the next strategy is for you.
Bonus Tip: Prices tend to be lowest on Friday mornings, so that is when I like to set weekly buys.
That is not a typo. Thanks autocorrect for making me retype it. On December 18, 2013, someone with the username GameKyuubi posted on the Bitcoin Forum with the title “I AM HODLING.” Why? Because in his own words, “I’m a bad trader and I KNOW I’M A BAD TRADER.” The gist of it is good traders know when to buy and sell, but he doesn’t. Trying to time the market is a trap for most traders. You end up buying high and selling low, the opposite of a good trading strategy. But he has figured out that the overall trend is up. What do you do with an asset that is volatile but goes up in value over time? You buy and hold (or hodl). The crypto community still likes to use that term today.
One obvious advantage is you never say, “I should have sold or traded then.” Whenever you have that thought, you just remind yourself, “No, I am hodling.” I want to be clear, though, this not a good strategy for every cryptocurrency. I used to think I had to hodl at least some of everything. Now, I hodl Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH). There are a few others that I don’t exactly hodl but am reluctant to sell. Any others I have no problem selling if the price goes up, or if it is time to cut my losses. There is no way I can keep up with every crypto that is supposed to be “the next Bitcoin,” so I am very selective about it.
Another advantage is holding onto any asset, including crypto, for at least a year will reduce your tax liability. So next I want to talk about taxable events for crypto currency.
Be Aware of Taxable Events
I am not an expert, so check with your accountant or tax advisor on this. If you don’t have one, you will probably need one once you get into crypto. I learned that buying crypto is not a taxable event. If all you do is buy and hold, you won’t have to worry about taxes on Bitcoin or other crypto. Good for you, hodlers. Selling or trading one crypto for another is taxable. For example, if you want to sell some of your Bitcoin to take profit, or exchange some of it for Ethereum (ETH), those are considered taxable events.
As I understand it, if you trade one asset for another, any profit on that trade becomes taxable. That might mean if you buy that Tesla with Bitcoin (assuming they bring that option back), you might have to pay extra taxes, because you swapped one asset for another. Unlike El Salvador, Bitcoin is not considered currency in the US, so using it to buy something could make you liable for capital gains or other taxes. Again, I am no expert, so don’t take my word for it. That’s just what I have heard.
But unless you are 100% hodling, you will likely have to pay taxes. There is some software available to help you navigate that, so I’ll tell you what that is like.
Daily Interest Payments on Crypto Might Not Be a Good Thing
There are many good opportunities to earn interest on crypto, and I encourage you to investigate them and find one or more that works for you. However, with what I know now about crypto tax software, I would avoid offers of daily interest payments on any cryptos for now. Let me explain. The programs I’ve seen are free up to a certain number of transactions. Once you cross that threshold, you will have to pay. How much depends on how many transactions you’ve made. That includes all transactions — buy, sell, swap, move, or gifts. Any transaction whatsoever.
When I joined Coinbase, I took advantage of their Earn program. They offer the chance to earn free crypto by learning about it. That was a good thing. I got between $3-$6 in several free cryptos just for learning, which I was happy to do. A few of them offered 4–6% APY in interest, which was much better than the 0.1% I was getting from my bank. I was like, Great. Not only do I get free crypto, I get interest on it. And on Coinbase it’s compounded daily, so it will gain faster. And if the crypto takes off, I will have just a little more boost to it. Each of those daily interest payments was another transaction. Do you see where this is going?
I had a couple hundred or so transactions that amounted to nothing but counted toward my transaction limit on the tax software. I know my dollar cost averaging creates more transactions, and I’m okay with that. I didn’t know each and every one of those miniscule interest payments would count towards the number of my transactions.
I had to shop around, and the cheapest software I found was koinly.io. Even with that, I was going to have to pay $99. Fortunately, I was able to get a summary report for free. This year, I probably will have to pay for a full report. But I will try to do it without all those negligible interest payments, maybe putting all of it into one total transaction if possible. The only way I would take daily interest payments now is if I had a large enough balance to where the payments actually amount to something. I mean, if you’re getting 6% interest on one million dollars, that would give you daily payments of $164.38. I could live decently on that. Otherwise, to save on your tax software, you might want to look for weekly or monthly payments.
Despite tax liabilities, you might want to take some profit if the market goes up again. I’ll talk about that next.
You could adopt a “modified hodl” strategy, where you take profit when the price is going up. My ideal strategy is when the price doubles, sell half. Then you will make back your investment, and you can hodl the rest. I was fortunate to be able to do that not only with Bitcoin but some of the other cryptos I had invested in last year. Of course, that only works if you buy at a time when the price can still double or more. That is why you want to buy the dip. Whether it’s a temporary correction or a bear market, buying when the price is down sets you up to take profit during a bull market.
What should you do after selling? Paying off some high interest debt is always a good thing. If you have that taken care of, experienced investors set aside part or all of their profits and wait to buy the next dip. Then when the price goes up again, they take some profit so they can buy the next dip. Rinse and repeat. That is how crypto fortunes are made.
When I bought my first Bitcoin, the price was about $9700. As I write this, the price is now just under $35K. That’s a gain of over 200%, even with the recent crash. I understand, though, if you bought in at 40K, 50K, or 60K, you’re not feeling great about your decision now.
Though I don’t have any gift of prophecy or crystal ball, I feel confident in saying the bull market will return. The question is when and for how long. Will we have to wait four years to see any gains, or will the market come back in the next few weeks? Again, history says a bear market will come, if it’s not here already. I just don’t believe this is it.
But one more thing that surprised me. One of the reasons cryptocurrency was created was to eliminate the need for a “middle man” in financial transactions. Third parties like banks, credit cards, Western Union, and Paypal take fees for facilitating transactions. Cryptocurrency, theoretically, should reduce those fees significantly, but in practice that is not always the case. Ethereum’s ERC-20 network especially has seen fees go up a lot in the last several months. Bitcoin (BTC) has nothing to do with ERC-20, but sometimes its fees are too high as well. One thing you can do is convert BTC to Litecoin (LTC), which has much lower fees, and then trade, sell, or withdraw it.
What Comes Down Must Go Up?
For now, I want to leave you with this. If you bought for the first time at the top of this market, that doesn’t mean you made a bad decision. There is a saying in the Bitcoin community: “When in doubt, zoom out.” That means when the chart looks bad for a month or two, look back a year or two, or even going back from the beginning to now.
You might be wondering if it’s too late to get in. If you believe in Bitcoin long-term, then this price dip is a great time to buy. If you don’t believe in it long-term, then it is probably not for you.
Past performance is no guarantee of future performance. It is an extremely volatile asset. Parabolic gains and crashes come with the territory. But there is enough history to be optimistic in the long run. It’s hard to see this on the chart, but in 2013, the price dropped 80%, then rose 2300%. Will we see a similar bounce in the coming weeks? I don’t know, but anyone who has bought and held for at least four years has come out ahead. In July, 2017, the price averaged around $2600. If you bought four years ago and held, while people are complaining about a price hovering between $33–37K, you would be up over 1200%. Where do you want to be four years from now?
Just understand there is still some risk to it. I think in the next two or three months, the price could go to six figures. But if this really is the end of the latest bull market, the price could drop to $20K or even lower, and we will either have to hodl or wait for the next bull market to take profits.
So if you are just getting started, or considering getting started, here are the important lessons I’ve learned in my first year:
“When in doubt, zoom out.”
Dollar cost averaging is the easiest, lowest risk, and most stress-free way to get into this (or any) market.
Consider hodling or modified hodling.
It’s okay to take profit in a bull market. Have a strategy for when and how to do that.
If you are looking to get rich quick, look elsewhere.
For tax calculations, daily interest payments might not be worth it. Weekly or monthly payments might work better for you, depending on how many transactions you want to do.
Watch out for high transaction fees. Converting BTC to LTC can help with that on some exchanges.
You don’t need expensive programs to learn how to do this. There is plenty of good information available for free.
Seek advice from people who have been in for at least four years. That way, they have seen at least one complete bull and bear market.
Don’t rely on one source to tell you what to do. You should have three or more different sources. Look for people who have a lot of experience and a track record of putting out good information.
Certainly do not listen to people who are either always positive or always negative. The always negative ones are just pushing FUD, maybe even hoping to convince you to sell to them at a discount. The always positive ones will miss the signs that a bear market is beginning.
Look for experts who are positive long term but aren’t afraid to tell you when we are headed for a downturn.
FOMO + FUD = consistent losing.
For more information on what Bitcoin is, how it works, and how to get started, I can recommend a site and YouTube channel called 99bitcoins. Have you had any experience with Bitcoin? What do you think of it? What hobbies did you pick up while quarantining? Let me know in the comments.
In case you did not know, March 8 of each year is designated as International Women’s Day. The purpose is not to denigrate men but to honor women and promote gender equality. As the website says,
International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Significant activity is witnessed worldwide as groups come together to celebrate women’s achievements or rally for women’s equality.
Studies have shown countries that do best on women’s rights and equality do best on human rights. It seems a good thing for me to do for IWD is to honor a woman who had a profound impact on my life. Of course, there are several I could name. Since I dedicated my book Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain to Dr. Betty Jean “B.J.” Seymour, my favorite professor in college, this is my International Women’s Day tribute.
Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, is a small college with a long history. When I attended, there were just a few more than 1,000 students, and it was about 60% male, 40% female (I didn’t like those odds). It used to be men’s only college, but it went co-ed in 1971. In the same year, Dr. Seymour became the first female faculty member as a professor of religion. She is still known for that and a few more firsts: First female professor to receive tenure, first female department head (Religious Studies), and first female to attain the rank of full professor. Needless to say, she played a significant role not only for the Religion department, but for paving the way for full inclusion of women as students and faculty.
She was also an ordained Baptist minister at a time when most denominations (including Baptists) forbade ordaining women to pastoral ministry. How could that be? The Baptist church was more of a congregationalist church than, say, the Roman Catholic Church. Even though there was a national governing body that made rules technically for everyone, in practice each congregation mostly governed itself. She found a congregation that was open to ordaining her, even though she was a woman.
In my sophomore year, I took two courses from her: Survey of the Old Testament, and Survey of the New Testament. It wasn’t like studying the Bible in Sunday School, and not like the Word of Faith preachers I listened to. At that time, I started getting disillusioned with the Word of Faith. It wasn’t working the way those preachers said it would, but I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I still thought it wasn’t working because I needed to get “more faith.” By the end of the year, I changed my major to Religious Studies. Not the best financial decision I ever made.
But I learned things from her that neither my church nor my favorite televangelists taught. She taught us the historical background behind the Bible, which changed the way I read it. It’s called reading in context, by the way. That whole thing about man being made in God’s image, and woman was made to serve man, or the Bible forbids women from serving in ministry, she totally debunked—get this—by using the Bible. I was like, “The Bible says God made man in his image, and then made woman to serve him. The Bible says women should keep silent in church for they are not permitted to speak. Show me in the Bible how that’s wrong.”
And it was like she opened up the Bible and said, “Here. Here. Here. Here. Shall I go on?”
And I was like, “Damn, we were wrong!”
If she couldn’t have shown me from the Bible, I never would have listened to her. But she did, so I did. If we were wrong about that, could we have been wrong about other things?
I know some of you are terrified of going there, but if your standard is to do what the Bible says, and what we’ve been taught about the Bible is wrong, don’t we need to know that? She gave me the tools to discover what the Bible meant in its original languages and its original context, something neither church nor my televangelists did. “Just read the Bible and do what it says.” If that is how you approach the Bible, I guarantee you are reading it out of context, just like I was. I had heard people say you have to read the Bible in context to understand it, but she was the first person, along with the college chaplain, to teach me how to do just that.
My church did not talk about doubt much. The Word of Faith preachers taught doubt was something to crush with the Word of God and faith. But Dr. Seymour pointed out places in the Bible where the authors openly expressed doubt. Some of the Psalms address that doubt directly to God. Job had no problem telling God what was wrong with the way God ran the universe. And God included all that in the Bible. This is going to sound funny, but learning to accept doubt was crucial to saving my faith.
And I learned from her that critical thinking is not the enemy of faith. John Wesley had a slogan, “Unite the two so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.” Dr. Seymour embodied both those disjoined qualities. Without her example as a woman of faith who refused to compromise her honesty and integrity for any God or religious doctrine, I don’t think I would have any faith to speak of today. By dedicating my book to her, and writing this tribute, I wanted to do what I could to keep that legacy she passed on to me alive.
And I’m happy to say her legacy does live on at my alma mater with the B.J. Seymour Award, which is given each year to “an alumna of Randolph-Macon College who has consistently worked on behalf of issues important to women and/ or girls, and who demonstrates vitality, integrity and leadership.”
When I got my book ready to publish, and I decided to dedicate it to Dr. Seymour, I knew she had died in 2010, but I did not know when she was born. Through the site Legacy.com, I was able to find her obituary. It gave the date of her baptism, but not her birth date. And since she was a Baptist, her baptism probably was not even the same year she was born. I couldn’t believe it. I had never heard of an obituary that did not include the person’s birth date, or even the year of her birth. The obit listed the name and address of the executor of her estate. I called and explained my situation. They told me they knew her birth date. She had to tell them for legal purposes. But she did not want it to be made public. So only a select few know the year she was born. That was why it was not published in the obit. The year of her birth is not even on her headstone.
Most women don’t like to tell their age, but I had never heard of any other woman going to these lengths to hide it. It had been about twenty-five years since I last saw her, and she was still full of surprises. They told me they could tell me if I really needed to know. My first impulse was to say, “Yeah, of course I want to know.” My next impulse was to say, “Shame on you for offering to go against her last wishes.”
So I told them not to tell me, and I would figure out how to work with it. The dedication reads
That was what The Chicago Manual of Style said to do in a situation like this. It does not include the year she was born, and even if I knew it, I would not tell you. Maybe in heaven, I will be able to ask her. Dr. B.J. Seymour is now among that great cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12:1, the faithful ones who have gone before me and on whose shoulders I stand. And so B.J., if you are listening, happy International Women’s Day.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
Brother B is replaying his interview with me from December 6 as a “Best of” episode on his show, “This is the Situation,” on 100.9 FM in Muskegon, Michigan. He said he chose this episode because he got a lot of positive reviews for it, and he feels it speaks to a lot of what is happening now in this country. And I would say around the world as well. What we have been through the last year has taken a toll not only on physical health but mental health as well.
On the radio at 100.9 FM (In the Muskegon, Michigan area).
On the “Tune In” app. They offer a premium service, but you won’t need it for this. Search for Muskegon 100.9 FM, and it should come up. If you don’t have it, you can follow this link to download the Tune In app from the iTunes store. http://tun.in/sfh1j. Or here on Google Play.
And hopefully, I’ve given you enough keywords that you can find it on Google if all else fails. We talk about some of the principles in my book, how you can have clinical depression and not know it, and how I have been able to find happiness and faith in spite of a brain that is tilted towards darkness and depression.
And he made this promo was so cool.
Brother B, it was an honor to be on your show the first time, but even more to be chosen now as a “best of” episode. I’ll be listening again.
Would you like to take a little stroll down Memory Lane to a time before the Covid lockdowns? I thought so. Super Bowl LIV was exciting because the Chiefs struggled for three and a half quarters. The odds against them were staggering, but they did not give up. And in the last seven-and-a-half minutes, we finally got to see Patrick Mahomes going all Patrick Mahomes. They went on a tear and won 31-20. That kind of never-give-up attitude was admirable, and they could not have won without it. In football, as in politics, it is admirable to never give up while there is still time on the clock. But when the game is over, it’s over.
What if the 49ers were clamoring for two and a half months after the game that they really won, and the only reason they lost was that the Chiefs cheated, the game was rigged, and the referees were biased against them, because the whole NFL was a secret child trafficking cabal of Satanic pedophile cannibals that their coach and only their coach threatened to expose. I don’t think anyone believes the NFL owners and commissioner are saints. But if you make an accusation that they are Satan worshipping child traffickers, pedophiles, and cannibals, you’d better have proof. And I mean a lot of proof, way beyond a reasonable doubt. Repeating an accusation 100 times or even 1,000 times doesn’t make it true. Any courtroom would say that’s hearsay, not evidence. Show us the evidence.
“Here is the evidence. The game was almost over. Seven and a half minutes left in the game, and we were ahead by a lot. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas calculated the Chiefs had a one in one thousand chance of winning at that point. And then, all of a sudden, the Chiefs score twenty-one points in the last seven-and-a-half minutes? When they had only scored ten points before that? And look at that, a helmet-to-helmet hit on our quarterback, and the referees did not call it. There is no way the NFL did not rig that game.”
You would say that is ridiculous. The game is over. They lost. They need to accept it and move on, and I don’t know, maybe work harder to get to the next Super Bowl and win that one?
But instead, when the NFL commissioner refuses to change the final score—because one, he does not have the authority to change the outcome of any game, and two, he doesn’t have the power of time travel to give the 49ers the chance to play those last seven-and-a-half minutes differently—instead of accepting the loss, he calls the commissioner and says, “We won by hundreds. I’m only looking for 12 more points. That’s all I need. You know, 49ers’ fans all over the country are angry. They’re saying they were cheated out of their victory, and they’re not gonna stand for it. Just 12 more points. That’s all I’m asking. Or even 11 points. Then we can have another game, or just play overtime, and let our season ticket holders choose the referees. Or even better, let our season ticket holders be the referees. That way we know the game is not rigged. I think that’s more than fair, considering we won by hundreds.”
The commissioner again refuses, because again, he can’t do that. The game is over. Even if you do find a couple of penalties that should have been called, you still can’t change the outcome of the game. But instead of accepting the rules that every team in the NFL has agreed to accept ever since the players wore leather helmets, a bunch of 49ers’ fans, who have been told for two and a half months that the game was stolen from them, storm the NFL headquarters, take all the owners hostage, and tell the commissioner at gunpoint that he’d better declare them the winner, take the Lombardi trophy away from the Chiefs and give it to them, or he’s dead.
The game is over. Do you get that? It’s over. I’m not saying the result is good or bad. I’m saying that’s the way it is.
“The Election Was Stolen!”
Maybe you keep thinking God has to overturn the election because your vote was stolen. No, your vote was counted along with 155 million other votes. You voted for the candidate who got fewer votes. He lost. That’s how democracy works. Even if it was stolen, you can’t change the results at this point any more than the 49ers can change the results of the Super Bowl.
That is why I always accepted the results of our elections, no matter how upset I was that my candidate did not win. I’m not saying I didn’t complain. But I didn’t try to overthrow the government either. In the end, when the candidate was sworn in, I accepted that he was the President each and every time.
Why did you accept a president that you voted against?
Because I understood no one is guaranteed they will get the candidate they voted for. You can try again in four years. That system has worked since 1789. No, it’s not perfect, but more than anything it is what makes this nation great. You accepted the win in 2016. Now you have to accept the loss.
Look, we’ve all got an extended case of cabin fever. The stress and anxiety of living in a Covid world are getting to us all. We’ve been watching a lot more social media where conspiracy theorists and false prophets run amok. They said God promised to give Trump the victory. Trump was God’s candidate, and Biden was Satan’s candidate, and there is no way God is going to allow Satan into the White House. Hollywood, the liberal elite, the Democrats, and antifa are all in some deep state underground sex trafficking ring run by the Devil, to whom they have all sold their souls. If I believed that, I’d think it was the end of the world too.
The Promises of God Are Sure. But …
There have been many times over the years that I felt God betrayed me, because God would make promises that did not come true. Of course, it was my fault they did not come true, because I didn’t pray enough, or I didn’t have enough faith, or some other reason that sounded biblical. It only works if you believe in it, so doubt was the enemy. I would censor any reports, any facts, that did not agree with “the promise of God,” or “the word of God.” I had a lot to learn about what those phrases really meant. But for a long time, false prophets spoke promises to me that did not come true, and I always assumed I must have messed it up some how. I assumed because they told me the word of God can never fail, so I must have failed. God wanted to bless me with health, wealth, and success, but because I had a mustard seed of doubt, I stopped God from doing what God wanted to do. At one point, I got so frustrated, I prayed, “God, stop making promises I can’t keep.”
So I understand why you refuse to believe the vote counts are real. Once God has spoken, you can’t allow for any doubt. If facts cause doubt, you must squash them. But what is the word of God, what the prophets on YouTube said or what the Bible says? It’s both? Okay, but the Bible says you will know false prophets when what they say does not come true.
It took a long time before I realized if God makes a promise, it will come true. You can’t stop it. I can’t stop it. The deep state can’t stop it. Antifa can’t stop it. The Democratic party can’t stop it. The electoral college can’t stop it. Congress can’t stop it. And even the agents of Satan on earth can’t stop it. No amount of doubt can stop it. So if it did not come true, God did not promise it. Or as Deuteronomy 18:22 says, that is a word that the LORD did not speak.
If the Facts and the Prophets Do Not Agree, What Should We Believe?
If the facts do not agree with what the prophet said, that is a word the LORD did not speak. The prophet spoke presumptuously. They presumed to think their own imagination or wishful thinking came directly from God. And I made that same mistake many times. When the facts do not agree with what the prophet said, believe the facts, not the false prophets.
Remember Micaiah said exactly that. If what he said did not come true, the LORD did not speak through him. But what he said did come true. He told the people of Israel that is how you will recognize a false prophet. Just look at the facts. If what they said did not come true, that is a word the LORD did not speak. They said Trump would win, but who got more electoral votes? The official count was 306 to 232. The one who got 306 won. Who is that? Not Trump. It was Joe Biden. This is 2021, not 2017. What the prophets said did not come true. Therefore, it is a word the LORD did not speak.
See, that’s the problem with believing “the Word of God” over the facts. The false prophets say, “Don’t believe the facts. Believe me because I speak for God.” The Word of God says the facts will tell you if the prophet is false. Therefore, God says they do not speak for God. And if their prophecies about the election did not come true, I guarantee it was not the first time. In a previous post, I tell you about 62 prophets who prophesied what God would do in 2020, and none of them got it right. Do they speak for God? No. So stop believing them, and start believing the facts. Joe Biden is the president-elect. You don’t have to like it, but those are the facts. As long as we have our democracy and constitution, you will get another chance in four years.
I’m Not Prophesying, But …
Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20. God didn’t tell me that. The constitution did. If somehow that doesn’t happen, I will take back everything I said in this post. But if it does, will you finally accept the results of our democratic election? And will you stop listening to the king’s prophets who over and over again have proven themselves false? Trust me, there is a lot better content on social media if you look for it. I’d like to leave you with a message from Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a video where I share my “Confessions of an Ex-Prophet.”