Chapter OneThe Man Who
A Sunday night service I will never forget
started an unusual series of events I never
could have imagined.
We were prepared to serve Communion to
the congregation, and I was looking forward to
preaching from the Word of God. In addition, a
young couple-gospel singers from Nashville-were
prepared to sing for us that night. But none
of that ever happened. While we were singing
praise songs to the Lord, an extended time of
free-flowing worship began. As people poured
out their adoration to God, an awesome sense of
his presence filled the auditorium. All of us were
overwhelmed as rivers of deeper and deeper
praise ascended from our hearts to the Lord. All
sense of time seemed to disappear as we became
lost in God's presence. Nothing seemed to matter
except worshiping "the Lamb at the center of
the throne" (Revelation 7:17), the One who is
worthy to be praised forever. It seemed as if wave
after wave of God's glory rolled over us as we
stood, sat, and knelt before him.
As I looked out over the congregation from
the platform, I realized that God was doing a special
work among us by his Spirit. A kind of
divine surgery was going on as worship and
praise mingled with petitions and intercessions.
Conviction of sin was very strong, which always
happens when the Spirit of God manifests his
holy presence among his people. To stop or hinder
what was going on seemed like a terrible
grieving of the Spirit, so I never even took an
offering that evening. The bills would wait. I just
could not interrupt the wonderful ways in which
the Lord was working in people's lives. The service
ended hours later, and people were still
kneeling or sitting quietly before the Lord when
I finally left the auditorium.
Carol and I arrived home late. We were physically
exhausted from a long day of ministering,
but our hearts still basked in the afterglow of our
time with the Lord. When I came out of the bathroom,
Carol was already in bed and had turned
on the television. We often watched the national
broadcast of one of America's foremost televangelists
late on Sunday nights. The program was
usually a tape of one of his crusade meetings, and
that night was no exception. The televangelist
was already preaching his sermon when I began
watching from the bathroom doorway.
During the previous months, we had been
saddened by the increasingly shrill and harsh
spirit of this man's preaching. Instead of carefully
and humbly handling God's Word, his preaching
was dominated by bombast and denunciations of
sinners high and low. But we were not prepared
for what he said that night.
As he discussed social evils contaminating
America, he referred to a recent child molestation
case featured prominently in the news. "I'll
tell you what needs to be done with a person like
that," he roared as he paced back and forth on
the stage. "If I had my way, he'd be lined up and
they would empty a shotgun into his chest!"
Suddenly the crowd exploded; people leaped to
their feet with a thunderous applause and
My wife groaned, "O God, help us!" I was
stunned, frozen where I stood. The spiritual shock
of the evangelist's comments went deep. Our
hearts were still tender from the hours we had just
spent in the presence of the God who is love. Now
we watched as more than fifteen thousand Christians
cheered for the shooting of another human
being whom God created! No matter how awful
this man's sin might have been, I thought, this is
not what Jesus is about. I had attended all kinds of
church services in my life, but I had never experienced
anything like this. The thought of the pulpit
and a congregation being perverted like this
absolutely took my breath away. The anger,
venom, and vengeance on the screen before us
were worlds apart from the Spirit of Jesus who
prayed for those who were crucifying him.
The next thing I remember, Carol began sobbing
and saying, "Please, Jim, turn it off. I can't
watch anymore." I did as she asked and felt my
tears welling up. Is this what viewers around
America need to hear? I thought. With all the
problems around us, how can this be the good news
Jesus told us to spread?
"Someone has to talk to him, Jim, before it's
too late," Carol blurted out as I began turning out
the lights. "Something is really wrong in his
spirit, and he will hurt the cause of the gospel
before it's all over."
"I know," I said. I had the same ominous
feeling as my wife, but it seemed there was little
we could do.
"Can't you talk to your friend who knows
him pretty well?" Carol asked. "Maybe he can
counsel or warn him before it's too late."
I lay in bed that night praying that somehow
God would stop this brother in Christ from pursuing
what seemed to be a self-destructive
course. Carol and I talked about the situation
during the next week, but I didn't feel right
about approaching my friend and asking him to
intervene with someone of world renown whom
I had never even met.
Eight days later, Carol and I again talked about
the televangelist. Was there anything we could do
for him-anything God wanted us to do?
Suddenly I felt a strong, distinct prompting
to call my friend. He had a national ministry as
well, and I knew he had spoken several times at
the televangelist's school. I quickly picked up the
phone and dialed his home. He answered, and
after brief greetings I nervously got to the point
of my call. "I really don't know how to say this,
brother, and I sure don't want to put pressure on
our friendship, but Carol and I are really troubled
I quickly summarized our special Sunday
night service and the spiritual pain we had felt
upon hearing the televangelist's raw remarks. I
told my friend how deeply this had affected us
and that we just couldn't put it aside. But the
phone seemed to go dead on the other end as I
rambled on. "Are you still there, brother?" I
After a brief pause, he slowly and emotionally
replied, "Go on, Jim."
"Well, that's really it. We're aware that you
know him pretty well, and maybe there's something
God would have you do. Somebody has to
do something, or we feel he's going to self-destruct.
Do you know what I mean?"
Again, there was a strange silence. I was
almost sure I could hear quiet sobbing on the
other end of the line. "Hey, maybe I'm calling at
a bad time," I added nervously. "Maybe I
shouldn't even be bothering you with stuff like
"Jim, I'm glad you called," my friend said.
"God meant for us to talk right now."
He then told me that just ten days earlier he
and his wife had visited the televangelist's
school. My friend had gone there to preach and
was alarmed by what he had seen and discerned.
The pace and pressure were so overwhelming,
the financial crush so phenomenal, and the
broadcasting and crusade schedule so demanding
that the televangelist had no time for spiritual
priorities. My friend saw him becoming
spiritually shallow. Careful Bible study, time
alone with the Lord, time alone with his wife-these
essentials were being overrun by a monstrous
empire that demanded all of his time and
energy. My friend returned home with a broken
heart and warning signals sounding inside him.
But that wasn't all. While in prayer a few
nights before my call, my friend felt God's Spirit
come upon him. The Lord seemed to give him a
prophetic word of warning for the televangelist.
With godly fear and trembling, he wrote it out in
a letter. The main thrust of the letter was, "Shut it
down. God wants you to shut it all down no matter
what the cost may be. Get back to prayer, the
Word, your family-get back to God. Don't worry
about the supposed cost of shutting everything
down, because the cost will be greater if you don't
go back to your spiritual roots of communion with
My friend said he had prepared the letter for
mailing but told his secretary not to send it until
he gave the word. He wanted to be sure the Spirit
of God was leading him because he knew that
the letter could cost him his friendship with the
televangelist. As my friend prayed that night in
his study, he asked God to give him a sign-some
confirmation that sending the letter of
warning was of the Lord. That's when the phone
rang. There I was on the other end, bringing up
the very same subject!
The letter was sent the next day, but the
response was not encouraging. My friend was told
that his discernment and "word from the Lord"
were way off base. The televangelist could never
think of "shutting it all down" because too much
was at stake-too many cities and countries to
reach, too many television contracts signed, too
many crusades planned, too much money coming
in daily-to think that God could ever say something
as radical as "shut it all down!"
The televangelist never listened to our mutual
friend whom God used to warn him of the perils
ahead. Soon the day came when he probably
wished he had listened, wished he had shut it all
down. But by then it was too late. By then his name
and picture were known around the world as a
symbol of scandal and shame. The spiritual cancer
that had been growing for a long time had finally
claimed its victim. All the tears and public apologies
came too late to stop his life from careening out
of control. In the end, it was all shut down-the
empire, the international television ministry, the
massive crusades. It became part of one of the saddest
religious stories of the twentieth century.
I was much younger then as I watched the
story unfold before me. I knew of at least one
hidden episode of God's efforts to save the televangelist
before his nasty fall. God is faithful,
and God is love. The problem was, God was
speaking but nobody was listening.
* * *
The problem was, God was speaking
but nobody was listening.
* * *
From beginning to end, the Word of God
greatly emphasizes the need to listen. We all
make mistakes, fail to do God's will perfectly, and
even rebel against his commands. But when we
refuse to listen to his voice of correction and
direction, things can quickly reach critical mass.
I remember how true this was on the playgrounds
of Brooklyn where I played as a kid.
Basketball was my thing; I devoted myself to the
game. When I began playing on the varsity team
at Erasmus Hall High School-a school with a
great basketball tradition-I noticed something
odd right away. The guys I knew from the park
could play really well, but they never made the
team, which meant that receiving a college athletic
scholarship was out of the question. Many
of these talented guys had one main problem:
they wouldn't listen. No coach was going to
change anything about their game. No, sir! No
one could tell them how to defend better, shoot
more accurately, or rebound better. They were
uncoachable. They wouldn't listen. So all their
God-given talent and ability counted for nothing.
Every instructor knows the dilemma of having
a student who won't yield. Every parent
knows the pain of having a prodigal who must
have his or her way. Where we see failure, wasted
opportunities, and heartache, this fatal flaw is
THE KING WHO STARTED WELL
It's not always easy to listen. King Amaziah is one
of God's poster people for this kind of problem.
He is the man who wouldn't listen. The strange
thing is that Amaziah did listen at first. He listened
very closely and obediently to the Word of the
Lord when he began his reign as king of Judah.
Amaziah was twenty-five years old when
he became king, and he reigned in
Jerusalem twenty-nine years He did
what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly. After the kingdom
was firmly in his control, he executed
the officials who had murdered his
father the king. Yet he did not put their
sons to death, but acted in accordance
with what is written in the Law, in the
Book of Moses, where the Lord commanded: "Fathers shall not be put to
death for their children, nor children put
to death for their fathers; each is to die
for his own sins" (2 Chronicles 25:1-4).
After he was established on the throne,
Amaziah had to take care of some unfinished
business. His father, the late King Joash, had
been assassinated, and it was Amaziah's duty to
punish the men responsible for this vicious
crime. Although he now had absolute power,
Amaziah did not give in to the desire for unbridled
vengeance by executing the assassins and
their families. (This was a common practice during
those rough-and-tumble days when royal
power wreaked havoc among the peoples of the
world.) Rather, King Amaziah heeded the com-