As I was eating my Total Raisin Bran and sipping my coffee this morning before I left for work, I took in a little TV. I am a habitual flipper and it drives my wife crazy. One program caused me to stop flipping for a moment. It was, for lack of a better word, an "infomercial" for Peter Popoff's Miracle Ministries. I almost dropped my cereal after watching for a few moments. Mr. Popoff was offering to send me his Miracle Spring Water for a small donation. If I acted fast, he would upgrade the size of my Miracle Spring Water.
He interviewed a few people who have been blessed by his "miracles." One was able to lay down her crutches and walk, while others were "blessed" with financial windfalls due to Popoff's intervention with God on their behalf.
Popoff's name sounded familiar and I realized that he was the same guy that magician "The Amazing Randi" (aka James Randi) showed to be a fake in the late 1980's. During his public events, Poppoff would miraculously call out folks in the audience, mention personal details about their life, claiming to get the revelation from God, and proceed to "heal" them. After watching one of these events, James Randi hired an electronic surveillance expert. At the next event, the expert located a radio frequency and found that Popoff was communicating with his staff via a small device in his ear. His staff would gather information before the event on people and communicate to Popoff during the event. All of this made Popoff look like he was receiving a special revelation from God. After James Randi's expose, Popoff fell off the radar screen for a few years...but recently popped up again (no pun intended), hence the special opportunity I had this morning during breakfast.
The program brought two questions to mind:
1) How are we as Christians called to react to such people?
2) Does the Bible promise a gospel of prosperity, minimizing God to a cosmic genie?
As to question 1, Jesus tells the disciples in Mark 9:38 not to stop a non-disciple from casting out demons in His name and states, "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us." Does this mean we should not call out folks like Popoff? I guess it depends on the definition of a miracle. If Popoff was actually performing miracles, I would be inclined to follow Christ's admonition. I doubt, however, that secretly deceiving people and cashing their checks counts as a "miracle." (His ministry brought in over $23 million in 2005 and he earned a salary of over $620,000)
Question 2 is more rhetorical, as you may have noticed, but it brings up an important point regarding those who preach a prosperity gospel. Folks like Popoff claim that God stands ready to give us whatever we want if we have enough faith (and a few dollars to give to their ministry). Christ does tell us in Matthew 7, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, the door is opened." However, Christ also taught us to pray as follows, "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." In essence, our will must match up with that of God. He is not a genie waiting to grant every wish we desire. Those who preach such a gospel are setting people up to be disappointed and worse, might cause them to fall away from the Church.
There is much more that could be said on this subject, but I will leave it at that. It you are up early in the morning and come across Popoff's infomercial, try not to drop your coffee. Although, if you do order his Miracle Water, it might come in handy to clean up the stain.