In 1995 after returning from a church planting trip to India I woke in the middle of night with the most horrific pain. I went to the doctor and he immediately admitted me to the hospital. I spent 3 days there with what turned out with an infection around my kidney.
While laying on my back I was thumbing through a Christian magazine and came across an article that inspired me greatly. A pastor named Randy White along with his wife Paula had planted a church in Tampa Florida. They were reaching out to all strata of society; the rich, the poor, the professional, and the homeless. Instead of protesting the "adult" establishments in their area, Randy would invite the owners to lunch to establish relationships with them. The church was helping with job training for the unemployed as well as providing a ministry to people living with AIDS. In addition, they were providing support for the business and community leaders in their sphere of influence.
We were on the verge of planting Island City Church in Hong Kong and this article resonated in my heart as the type of church I wanted to pastor. When we did plant in Hong Kong we did so in the Lan Kwai Fong area where there is a large International community. Bars and restauraunts frequent the area and the whole district was the "go to" place for after work night life.
Taking a cue from the article I invited the president of the Lan Kwai Fong Association up to the church for coffee and to introduce ourselves. I explained that we were there to be part of Lan Kwai Fong and serve the community as Christians. I remember our conversation went very well and he remarked, "You know, so many evangelical groups come into Lan Kwai Fong to proselytize because it's supposed to be full of all of these "bad people". Its good to have a church here that wants to be part of Lan Kwai Fong."
I kept that article and would re-read it at times for encouragement. Then I returned to the States and began seeing Paula White more and more on Christian programing. The things she was saying and the way she was saying them seemed out of sync with the article I had read a few years back. I remember watching her and seeing some of the things rumored to be going on in their now 'megachurch' in Tampa. I winced inside.
Last year the couple divorced amid different allegations I will not go into. Paula White's new ministry has been under U.S. Senate investigation for financial wrongdoing. Add to that the following article I read today and I ask myself, "What happened?" What takes someone who is doing so much for God's Kingdom and for people and leads them to become so deceived?
I have been reading the Book of James lately and the apostle says something that just hit me:
but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death
Ouch! James lays out the same basic stages everyone goes through when they find themselves kneedeep in sin. It starts with desire. Now some desires are given by God and are to be acted upon but other desires are like the itch that we all desire to scratch knowing it will only make it itch more.
Once we start scratching, we can either acknowledge the itch and bring it into the Light so God can deal with it OR we can hide it OR (even worse) convince ourselves and others that it's all really good and Godly.
What happened to Randy and Paula? I won't pass judgement but leave that to the Lord. But I do know that the root of their itch is no different than all of ours. Gold, Glory, and Girls (or guys) outside of God's rulebook are always waiting at the doorstep.
When it comes knocking, will YOU open the door?