By Pastor Robert Perez
A couple of years ago, I was invited to attend a service at a Long Island church by a person who can only be described as a “Jesus Freak”. At least that was the persona he worked hard to portray for effect and for business (huh?). While becoming a Pastor at that time I felt it was appropriate for me to attend to learn more about institutions I was unfamiliar with (very unfamiliar). What I discovered had a profound impact on me.
The facility was quite nice. A modern house of worship, with great audio and lighting systems, video production, large auditorium etc, perfect for flashy Jesus worship. The stage was enormous. The parishioners were very pleasant and expressed their happiness for my attendance that night. After much handshaking, we took our seats and the show began.
“The Show” started with a rock and roll musical tribute to Jesus. The second act was a dance tribute to scripture performed by young adults. After the dance performance, the Head Pastor of the church came onto the stage peacocking in all his “glorified pomp” suggesting “NOW THE REAL SHOW IS ABOUT TO BEGIN”!
Most of what he spoke about was blah, blah, blah, but the takeaway was how God was going to make all the parishioners rich beyond their dreams. His performance followed the TV preacher playbook: quote some scripture, promise to get rich with Jesus, and rile up the spirit for some good ole’ speaking in tongues and bopping around with the Holy Spirit. The Parishioners hopped out of their seats, ran up to the stage like they won the car on The Price is Right and let the Spirit work their mouths and limbs. They looked like dancing zombies from a Tim Burton movie – frightening, weird and definitely funny.
Let me pause here to make it clear that it’s not my position to merely make some fun about other peoples worship. Any and all sincere worship of God and Christ is a beautiful thing. But I also want to make it clear that insincere phony BS worship really pisses me off on a bunch of levels, so that makes it fair game for analysis and mockery.
At this time it was becoming clear to some parishioners that I was a bit, how do you say it, shocked. They assumed I was just a new guy in their church, and as they must have seen it before, just needed some cajoling to get me to join the hootenanny. I, of course, denied all association with the lot. I was looking for Jesus, not a bit part in the stage production of Jesus Zombies.
As I scanned the room, there were some very very sincere worshipers in the crowd. If you can read someone’s position in life, some seemed to be doing well while others were clearly in need of assistance. But each of the sincere worshipers warmed and broke my heart at the same time. They deserved the Spirit, and as God is all powerful, I’m certain that He knows the difference and comes to those worthy.
The Preacher concluded his sermon extravaganza with his voice booming and his hand beating his chest and with the faintest hint of a now sore throat. The crowd clapped and yahooed for him, and left some praise for Jesus. I was glad to be packing it up to go home so I could digest it all.
But, oh no, it was not the end, but only the warm up act.
For false Christs and false prohets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. – Matthew 24:24 (ESV)
The Preacher announced there was a special guest speaker that night, a prophet. Let me rephrase that, he said “The Prophet.” Sitting on the sideline, surrounded by what looked to be bodyguards acting like assistants, was a man in a dumbed-down James Brown costume. Since nobody dresses like that in real life, I correctly assumed that that was The Prophet.
The obligatory lengthy introduction touted his credentials as a prophet for our age. He was to speak the truth that would lead us to Jesus’ salvation through the firestorm of Satan’s wrath that was upon us. The intro ended, the claps and shouts erupted, and The Prophet rose and walked (deliberately slow) to the podium. He gave a long pause to suck down all the excitement from the crowd. I stood amongst them motionless.
I need to somehow condense his almost two hour performance into a cohesive understanding of what I witnessed. This will not be easy. First, there’s so much to cover from his shocking sermon. Second, I could write pages about my observations of the crowd. I will instead describe key points and let the readers fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. With that said, if you can think it, imagine it happened.
To simplify describing the events that followed, it’s easiest to comprehend if I break it up into four parts: intro, sermon, fund raising, and conclusion.
I’ll begin where he began. He actually started by telling us how this was going to go down, like giving us the movie trailer right before the actual movie, just so we were prepared. He said, he’d start slowly and softly build his spiritual case and crescendo to a loud conclusion. It was his style and he wanted us to know that. He said he was going to warm up the crowd, then get into the meat and potatoes of his sermon, and end with a glorified KAPOW, comic book style.
I’m already thinking to myself, am I the only one who thinks this is bizarre and surreal?
He also warned us that he would diverge a lot, and he did A LOT, and that it would all make sense in the end. We just had to bear with him. And so he began by scanning the room for all the women he could flirt with. He made it clear he was single and that he was a great candidate for all those single moms who had a a deadbeat dad in their life. He also made it clear that even if the dad was in their life that they should dump him now. Throw his ass out on the streets and get a real man, like him. This went on and on, as he singled out woman from the crowd that he found attractive.
Without warning, like a really bad edit job on a B-movie that went straight to Netflix, he started bashing homosexuals. I can’t, no matter how I try, think of how he transitioned. It just…happened.
This was awful to witness. The hatred he expressed, admonishment and desire to have them all burn in hell, or better yet, before his eyes, was not funny anymore. I wondered if maybe someone had locked the doors and I’d be killed in some f’d up ritual, like Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk til Dawn. I’m not gay (but he didn’t know that). However, I was clearly in defiance of all that he was saying.
It was probably at this point that he noticed me and got really curious. From this point on he secretly spoke directly to me. It was obvious to me. And it was obvious to him that I knew he was doing it, which only made him want it more so. He was going to break me, somehow.
Just like the burning of the gays, he abruptly switched topics and began to ramble incoherently about scripture. He was impressive about his quotes, but sounded like an idiot the way he strung them together. Nothing made sense. Knowing it was gobbledygook, he straight away said it was us who were ill equipped to understand his higher thinking.
For a brief moment I thought he was a word magician. His slight-of-mouth meant I couldn’t see the shell game and would always pick the wrong tongue to look under.
Now that he was fired up after fueling his wrath and hatred for homos, he picked up the pace and volume of his voice. The crowd was stirred, and for him, it was a good time to make some moola. If it were possible, the stage should have switched sets to a game show look, with lights everywhere, and girls in bikinis opening doors with hidden prizes behind them.
He told the crowd that they would unequivocally be millionaires. All of them. The he started pointing out different people and single-handedly telling them that since he was a prophet and had the power to do so, he was declaring that they were now bestowed with the power to be rich.
Like a movie, their reactions were purly ecstatic. “What? Me? You picked me?? OMG, I’m gonna be rich!!” The crowd went nuts with praise, claps, and just a smidge of jealously from those not being picked. People hugged. People cried.
All along, The Prophet kept watching me for my reaction. I stood there straight with no reaction on my face. Inside, the Spirit was with me and through my recording eyes, was disgusted.
He challenged the crowd to put their money where their desire was. He wanted us to come to the stage and deliver an offering to him. The bigger the offering, the bigger the reward. If they wanted to be rich, they had to pay out! So they did, one by one. Big money. The Jesus Freak who invited me was one of the first to go up with a show of his holy wallet. He gave and gave big! The crowd praised him and he had his Warhol moment of fame.
As the crowds went up, I desired to get a closer look of The Prophet. Now that we were mentally locked on each other I wanted a chance to face him down eye-to-eye. So I moved through my aisle and joined the line down to the stage. He noticed me coming with intense curiosity.
When it was my turn, time slowed down. We stood there staring at each other. The rest of the room was still in a frenzy. I walked up to him and he said to me, as I handed over my sacrificial $20 bill, “I should be afraid of you”. With the same expression I had worn all night, I said nothing, but the message was delivered. It was chilling for him, although he took great care not to show it to the crowed.
I walked back to my seat and resumed watching.
But he was not going to be bested by some dude in the crowd. He was “The Prophet”. Now he was really going to show his power. He proceeded to get the crowd on their feet and start dancing and shouting, singing praise to Jesus Christ. Loud, his insisted. “Louder,” he cried. The crowed was insane. They danced and jumped around like in a club on ecstasy. Many people tried to grab me and make me come join them. I wouldn’t.
The Prophet then turned to me and said to the room, if anyone refused to join the crowd in the next 30 seconds, they were going to burn in hell, he promised it. He proclaimed it. I was now officially condemned with no hope of redemption. Some people were clearly distressed by this, knowing he was talking to me. So they urged me to join. Then I felt a cool frail hand grab my hand. It struck me. I turned and it was an elderly woman, who in the chaos said, “Come dance with me.” I looked at her and said, “For you, I will.”
I moved with her to the center of the room and became her partner for the next few moments as the crowd died down and the event came to a close. The Prophet had moved off stage without me realizing it and was gone. The lights came on and we were all just standing there.
The old woman said something like, “See? That wasn’t so bad.” I was immediately reminded that in this room were genuine believers of Christ and God. I had too much to process to form any conclusions at that time, but I was made to notice that important fact.
She asked me if I could walk her to her car as she had trouble walking steadily. I was honored to do so. She said she was a long standing member of the church and had special privileges. So she walked me back stage and into the building, giving me an impromptu tour of the place. Walking through the building meant she could go out a secret door in the back that was closer to her car. We exited the building and I helped her into her SUV. She was thankful and hoped I’d see her again here at the church. I lied, and told her I hoped so too. I knew I was never coming back.
I drove home and called my girlfriend on the way. She was so excited to hear about how it went. She got an earful…
Part Two: What the F?