Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message: Luke 1:26-56; Date: 19 Dec 2010
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More Than Praise Points
This morning we want to praise God and remember the praise points of 2010. What made us happy this year? Can we make a list? [Invite contributions from the congregation.] [E.g.: 12 months of the glory dust miracle; conversions and baptisms; mission trips to PNG, Indonesia, Fiji, Hopevale, Uganda, South Africa, … ; financial provisions; healings (Tatjana, short-sightedness); growing in faith; the richness of God’s Word among us; prophetic word through Heidi Baker; relationship with other Lutherans in the Darling Downs; … ]
This is a good list and a long list. We have a God that is not holding back his blessings from us. However – look again at the list – is there anything missing in what we have remembered? The praise points have all been highlights – periods of excitement in 2010 – special memories – but what about the joy that is ours even on bad days?
I read from the Bible – Luke 1:26-30: “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and kept pondering what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God.’”
In her time – in a year that was lived on earth more than 2000 years ago – Mary – a young teenage girl – living in Israel – also experienced a highlight – (the highlight of her life). An angel appeared to her and greeted her, saying: “The Lord is with you. You are highly favoured.” Who among us here had an angel come and speak to us? Mary had an encounter – like never before in her life – positive – exciting – yet – she did not immediately enjoy the experience. Instead, “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and kept pondering what kind of greeting this might be.”
This almost seems to be the standard reaction when God allows us to experience the supernatural. Miracles, signs and wonders – visions and dreams – victory over demons, healings and the cloud of God’s presence, gold dust and Holy Spirit “gibberish” (the gift of speaking in tongues) – at first, we are struggling to get our head around all of these phenomena. Mary was “greatly troubled” and – then – Mary was probably wondering in what way she could be considered “highly favoured”? The angel said: “The Lord is with you.” But – maybe – like many of us – she did not expect to be special. She was young with no education and poor and living in the country. Her family had no connections to anyone in power. What could life hold for her? Were there expectations that she wouldn’t be able to meet?
However – and here is the first lesson that we can learn from her – Mary did not opt out of the experience. She did not reject the angel’s appearance and greeting. Many Christians today – (just “google” the internet) – would huff and puff, saying: “This is ridiculous. Angels don’t say that to teenage girls.” Yet, Mary – in the words of the Bible – “kept pondering” what had been said. Mary kept wrestling with the words of the angel and – as she persevered with these words – as she resisted her own premature judgements – as the encounter with the angel continued – joy – abiding joy – a joy that would be more foundational than any temporary highlights – came upon her life.
The Bible reading continues – Luke 1:30-33: “But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’”
The reason for Mary’s joy would be Jesus. She would be the one that would carry him in her womb. She would be the one that would give birth to him and nurse him. Mary’s child would be the Son of God – a King – the successor of King David in Israel – establishing an everlasting kingdom. Mary’s son would be the greatest person that ever lived. Jesus would be the joy of her life. [Consider demonstrating the excitement by pondering the future call of one of the babies in the congregation.]
Only – there was one problem. How would Mary fall pregnant? I continue the Bible reading – Luke 1:34-38: “‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.’ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.’ Then the angel left her.”
Mary heard strange things from the angel – divine plans without precedent – there were no textbooks on this. The plan was that she would fall pregnant by a miracle from God. Baby Jesus would be planted within her womb by the Spirit of God. This was strange – and today we understand even better how strange. Jesus – growing in Mary’s womb – was not just a man but God. He had existed together with the Father and the Holy Spirit long before the world was created. In the Christian faith – there is this mystery that God is one but in that unity there are three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Bible says about Jesus – Colossians 1:16-17: “ … by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together … ” John 1:2: “He was with God in the beginning.” Philippians 2:6-8: “ … he, who had always been God by nature, … stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to … being born a mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal … ”
Mary kept listening to the angel and she kept pondering his words. For many years to come – she would not understand much of God’s designs – (and we are also often in the dark about the big picture of his plans) – but the angel gave her enough confirmation of his words to help Mary believe in her calling. He said: “Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” This was enough for Mary to take the leap of faith and say: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Immediately – after the encounter with the angel – Mary did pay Elizabeth a visit – her aging relative. Mary checked out whether the angel was right and she was indeed pregnant with another miracle baby. I read to you what happened – Luke 1:39-45: “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!’”
Mary received even more confirmation from Elizabeth than she had expected. Not only was her relative pregnant as the angel had said, Elizabeth – without knowing anything beforehand – all of a sudden – stirred by the Holy Spirit and the miracle baby in her womb – prophesied about Mary’s own pregnancy. She was full of joy because the baby in Mary’s womb would be her Lord – (her Saviour) – very much what the angel said in different words. Jesus would be a blessed child and – therefore – Mary would be a blessed mother – indeed, a mother of immense status: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Then, Elizabeth ended her outburst of joy with another important announcement: “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” When the angel greeted Mary, she kept pondering his words and then she kept listening to his explanations and then she believed. Mary took the leap of faith and made herself available to God: “Okay, may your word to me be fulfilled.” From now on – Mary was going to line up her life according to what the angel had spoken to her and – therefore – the very first action after the encounter with the angel was her confirmation visit to Elizabeth.
Was Mary free to say “no” to the angel? Could she have resisted God’s plan for her life? I think so. Faith is a choice. You have a choice whether you believe God or not (cf. Hebrews 4:2). I do not think that God would have violated Mary and made her pregnant against her will. This is not how it works. All other people in the Bible were free to say “no” to God’s call. Abraham could have stayed home – instead of leaving his family and country. Noah could have downed his tools – instead of building the ark. Moses could have stayed a shepherd in the wilderness – instead of returning to Egypt and leading the people of Israel out of slavery. Faith – and stepping out in faith – is a choice, which Mary made.
Now – there is much in Mary’s experience that is for us today. More important than our many praise points – more foundational than any of our individual experiences in 2010 – is to hear from God what Mary heard. God was speaking to her about her destiny – the reason why God put her on earth. What is God saying to you? Know where you are going. Know your purpose and life can throw up all sorts of challenges and trials but you have something that can never be taken away by anyone: a promise from God, the joy of knowing that everything that God has said will come to pass.
Mary – the young teenage girl – burst into song when the words of the angel had taken root within her. She sounded the praises of God – before any of the angel’s words had come into fulfillment – saying – Luke 1:46-55: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their innermost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary had the joy of faith – which you can have. She was thankful that God had chosen her – a servant of “humble state” – as I have said before: with no education, no money, no connections. [A similar person of “humble state” was the insignificant monk Martin Luther and he was used by God for greater things.] You don’t have to impress God with any of your abilities. You only have to be available. You only have to say what Mary said: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”
Mary was pregnant with Jesus. She had the immense privilege of carrying him in her womb and delivering him to the world. You cannot be Mary but – on the other hand – somehow – God the Father is asking you to do the same. Even right now he is asking you: “Are you ready to accept my Son into your life? Will you be available? Jesus is Lord. Will you carry him and deliver him to the world?” For us – the task is not to be pregnant with him but to be the bearers of his name – his authority and power. The Bible commissions us to be his ambassadors – 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
Do you hear God speaking to you? This is your source of joy. Hear the words. Are you ready to accept Jesus? Keep pondering the invitation. Will you believe in the miracle of receiving the Son of God in your life? Will you step out in faith? Mary never knew the full extent of Jesus’ saving work and life did not get easier for her. She had to give birth to Jesus in a stable and – then – put him into an animal food-box as his first bed. Later – she and her fiancé fled to Egypt because the King tried to kill baby Jesus. She remained poor and had her heart broken when her son ended up dying on the cross. Another one of her sons (James) – Jesus’ brother – was an early leader in the church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension but he was also persecuted and killed because he believed in Jesus. Mary’s life was not going to be easy and – likewise – your life may not be easy. It may be hard but hear the words. Hear the promise. God is giving you Jesus as Lord and – with him – the future is going to be yours.
And then – this is where it is getting even better – it’s not just about your future but the future of everyone. Mary – the young teenage girl – as insignificant as she was – she had an amazing vision for the entire nation – not just herself. This is what Christians are like with Jesus. Mary said: “God’s mercy extends to those who fear him … He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble … He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
This morning – hear the call. Put your faith in the words which say that Jesus will come to you. Accept him. Accept Jesus. Anything can happen and you can anticipate the future with joy. God can bring to pass anything.
Consider just one example – the life of Oral Roberts (1918-2009). We watch the following clip and then I will expand on his person and testimony.
In the clip – Oral Roberts – before he explained his special commission from God for him – emphasized that God speaks to all people. He quoted Jesus from the Bible – Revelations 3:20: “Here I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” Oral Roberts said: “If anyone misses this call from Jesus, he is missing the meaning of life.”
Then, God also said to Oral: “Son, I am going to heal you – today – and you are going to take my healing power to your generation and some day you will build me a university – built on my authority and the Holy Spirit.” At the time that God spoke to Oral, he was not any more gifted or significant than Mary. His state was as humble as hers … [Abbreviate and retell his testimony. See the two attachments.]
Add this joy to the highlights of the year. God has commissioned you to have Jesus in your life. He is your source of joy. You may not know precisely how everything is going to unfold but he can do anything. Your life will not be wasted. Trust him with the future. No present-day challenges and trials can cancel the words of God. We will not lose sight of what God has spoken about Jesus. We keep the faith. God – with joy – we are available to you. Amen.
Celebrating The Life Of Oral Roberts (http://www.oralroberts.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/DOC_BIN/miracles_mag/2010/pdf/ORinsertWeb.pdf).
There was no way on earth it could be done. There were no blueprints…no plans…no human example to follow. You just can’t get from where he started to where he ended his earthly life 91 years later. Not by any road that man could build.
But as a young man, Oral Roberts found the One who makes a way where there is no way—Jesus Christ of Nazareth. As he chose to follow Jesus…one day at a time, one step at a time, tiny seeds of faith began to multiply…and impossible dreams turned into miracles.
Born in a two-room house to Ellis Melvin Roberts—an itinerant preacher father—and Claudius Priscilla Roberts—a Cherokee Indian mother who prayed for the sick, Granville Oral Roberts came into this world in tiny Beebe, Oklahoma, on January 24, 1918.
The fifth child of a family who had no worldly goods to offer him, Oral Roberts was born into a spiritual heritage more precious than gold. Mama and Papa Roberts loved God with all of their hearts. Oral has often said that, as a boy, he thought Jesus lived in his home. Every morning he heard his parents pouring their hearts out to God in prayer.
Oral was the son of a promise. The night he was born, his Cherokee mother, known as Mama Roberts, was called on to come to a neighbor’s home and pray for a sick child. Sensing that the child she was carrying was “a special child that would have God’s anointing,” she made a promise to God that if He would heal her neighbor’s child, she would give the Lord her child—the black-haired, blue-eyed baby boy she had prayed for.
The neighbor’s child was healed. And Mama Roberts returned home, knowing her child would someday preach the Gospel. But preaching the Gospel was the last thing Oral Roberts wanted to do, growing up in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma. Speaking, alone, was a difficult enough task for many years of his life.
Oral was a stutterer. His name, meaning “spoken word,” seemed in itself something of a cruel joke. One day, Mama pulled him on her lap, as she had done many times, and said, “Oral, someday God will heal your tongue and you’ll preach the Gospel for Him.” Papa prophesied many times, that one day he would hold huge revivals.
Leaving Home—Teenage Years
As Oral grew older, he also developed a passion for sports. There were great dreams of athletic fame, university study, a law degree, and a career in politics. Setting his sights on becoming Governor of Oklahoma, at 15, he was recruited by a former teacher to play basketball in Atoka, Oklahoma, a town 50 miles away. Finally, the chance for a new life had come!
Atoka appeared to be all Oral Roberts had ever dreamed of. Living in a local judge’s home, he studied dili gently at school while holding down three jobs to support himself. He spent as much time as possible reading law books, but Oral often neglected his physical needs for nourishment and rest.
Gradually he began to weaken, and at 17, while making a driving lay-up to win the last game of his high school district basketball tournament, Oral Roberts collapsed on the basketball court. The coach drove him back home to Ada.
As Oral lay in bed for months—growing weaker and weaker physically, his lungs hemorrhaging his very life’s blood from his body—hope slowly ebbed from his heart. He’d heard the diagnosis “final stages of tuberculosis,” with the prognosis of only 3-4 months to live. For Oral, life appeared over before it had really begun. People prayed and doctors treated. But nothing changed. Surely the God that he had run away from could not care about him, he thought to himself.
But one day, as Papa knelt at the foot of his bed and began to pray, something felt different. Oral felt a warmth come into his body, and looked up into Papa’s face. As he watched the tears flow from his father’s eyes, suddenly a bright light shone. Papa’s face disappeared and in its place, Oral saw the face of Jesus. In a moment’s time, he called on the God he had run from, crying, “Save me, Jesus. Save me!” And a new life was born into the Kingdom of God that day.
Although Oral was saved, he was still dying from tuberculosis. Only now, when his sister, Jewel, came to him and said, “Oral, God is going to heal you,” he was ready to receive her, and with new hope he replied, “Is he, Jewel?” Many times through the years, Oral would tell the world about the seven words that changed his life forever.
Evangelists who prayed for the sick were almost non-existent in 1935. But a man named George Moncey had come to Ada to do just that. Elmer, Oral’s oldest brother, who was not even a Christian, borrowed a car, filled it with 35 cents worth of gas, loaded up his family, and laid his youngest brother on a mattress in the back seat.
It was on the way to be prayed for that Oral Roberts first heard the voice of Jesus. Too weak to even sit up, he heard God say, “Son, I’m going to heal you. And you are to take My healing power to your generation.” Pondering what God was telling him, again Oral heard the voice of God, saying, “You are to build me a university. Build it on my authority and on the Holy Spirit.”
The dream of true greatness was planted in Oral Roberts’ heart that day. Not the ambitious dreams of fame or fortune that he had once had, but the dream of obeying God and raising up generations to praise the name of the Lord.
It was a dream worth fighting for…worth living for.
As Brother Moncey prayed, anointing Oral with oil and laying his hands on him, he spoke directly to the disease, saying, “You foul tormenting disease, I command you in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, come out of this young man. Loose him and let him go!”
Instantly, Oral could breathe…and breathe deeply from both lungs! No coughing; no spitting up blood! A roar arose from the crowd, as Oral began shouting praises to God. And, miracle of miracles, the stuttering, stammering tongue that had so long plagued him was set free! It was a glorious time of rejoicing for Oral and the Roberts family. But it was only the beginning of a lifetime of miracles!
Following God’s Calling…and Finding a Life Partner
Healings were so rare at that time that Oral Roberts was considered a modern-day miracle, and everyone wanted to hear this young man speak. Requests began pouring in for him to tell his healing story. As soon as he was able, Oral began preaching the Gospel with Papa and telling those around him about a healing God. And within 4 or 5 months he embarked on his own ministry.
One summer evening, about a year after he was healed, Oral met schoolteacher Evelyn Lutman at a church campmeeting. Impressed with the young preacher, Evelyn wrote in her diary after the service, “Tonight I met my future husband.”
It was almost two years later before Oral would write to see if he could come visit her in Texas. With Mama in tow as a chaperone for the young couple, they spent the weekend enjoying one another’s company. Then Oral made his pitch. The young man who once couldn’t even say his own name proposed marriage to the woman God had brought him. But not just any marriage proposal would do for Oral Roberts! With a poetic quality and flair for commanding words, he blurted out the following words to his beloved Evelyn: “My huge, happy, hilarious heart is throbbing tumultuously, tremendously, triumphantly with a lingering, lasting, long-lived love for you. As I gaze into your bewildering, beauteous, bounteous, beaming eyes, I am literally, lonesomely lost in a dazzling, daring, delightful dream in which your fair, felicitous, fanciful face is ever present like a colossal, comprehensive constellation. Will you be my sweet, smiling, soulful, satisfied spouse?”
In her normally pragmatic frame of mind—and one that she would come to be known for in her lifetime—Evelyn replied, “Listen here, Oral. If you’re trying to propose to me, you’d better talk to me in the English language.”
He did. And she accepted. And on Christmas Day 1938, the partnership of a lifetime began.
The Healing Ministry and Nurturing a Dream
With Evelyn now at his side, for the next 12 years Oral continued on his path of pastoring, studying, and preaching wherever he could—even on street corners. Still, there was the feeling of discontentment inside. Always in his mind were God’s words to him, “You are to take My healing power to your generation” and the command to “Build Me a university.” But Oral Roberts didn’t know how to do either one of those things.
Oral had the habit of reading his Bible every day before leaving home for school. One day, he forgot. Coming back inside the house, he opened his Bible and began to read at random from 3 John 2, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” Though he’d read the Bible at least 100 times before, this was a revelation from God! When he called Evelyn and read the verse to her, she challenged him with, “That isn’t in the Bible.” “Oh yes, it is, Evelyn. We’ve just never seen it before. If this verse is right, then I’ve been preaching wrong. God is a good God…and I must preach that to the people.”
God is a good God. Oral’s eyes had been opened to the truth of God’s Word, and there was no going back now. About that same time, Oral had an encounter with a farmer in his church. Something in the man’s actions reminded him of a principle he had learned as a boy, farming with his father: when a farmer plants a seed in the ground, he always expects a harvest. Oral began to realize that the same laws that applied to nature could be applied to the Word of God in the area of sowing and reaping…planting and expecting a harvest. Scriptures to support it were there in God’s Word, scriptures Oral had read many times before, but never understood until now.
Years later, Oral would put a name to his discovery of the Bible way God meets people’s needs—“the principles of Seed-Faith.” Luke 6:38 would become a foundation stone in his ministry as he shared the 3 “keys” to Seed-Faith living: look to God as your Source, plant a seed out of your need, and expect a miracle…a concept that would revolutionize millions of lives.
Not long after, Oral Roberts began to get his first glimmer of a God who wanted to bless and prosper His people. He shut himself away with God for 30 days—reading and studying His Gospels and Acts—and by the end of 30 days, Jesus had become so real to Oral that he knew that he knew that he knew how to obey God! He saw that his ministry and the ministry of Jesus were to be one and the same. “My ministry was to come against the same four things that Jesus was against—sin, demons, disease, and fear—emphasizing the same power that Jesus did—the miracle-working power of God.”
Shortly thereafter, Oral Roberts rented a building in Enid, Oklahoma, where he now lived, and invited the people to come and witness the healing power of God. He put three “fleeces” (prayer requests that he had to see fulfilled) before God so that he would be certain this was truly the direction God wanted him to go. #1—For there to be at least 1,000 people in attendance. #2—For there to be enough money to pay the rent. And #3—For at least one person to be healed in a way that he would know and the people would know it was God’s healing power at work.
Twelve hundred people attended the service. When the offering was taken up and counted, there was enough money to pay the rent—with $3.03 left over! After Oral Roberts preached his first healing sermon ever—If You Need Healing, Do These Things (see page 8 to order)—people flooded to the front for prayer, many testifying on the spot that they’d been healed. One person in particular proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to Oral and to those in attendance that she had indeed been healed. An elderly woman, whose arm had been crippled for nearly 40 years, began waving it about with joy, shouting with happiness, “God has healed me!”
Oral began holding healing meetings every Sunday afternoon. “How do you heal people, Oral?” people have often asked him. “I can’t heal anyone,” he replied. “Only God can heal. I’m just an instrument that He uses to help people release their faith for a miracle.”
With many churches unable to contain the size of Oral’s crowds, he began traveling the roads of America with a canvas tent. As word of the healing miracles spread and the size of the crowds grew into the thousands, ever newer and bigger tents had to be purchased. Finally, Oral purchased what became known as the “tent cathedral”—an enormous canvas tent large enough to seat 12,500 people inside, while thousands more could gather around the outside and watch the service
In 1949, evangelist Rex Humbard encouraged Oral to film the crusade meetings for all America to see. Television was new in those days, and Oral’s televised healing services caused a sensation! Never before had people been able to see a healing service right before their eyes in their own living rooms.
Soon, thousands of letters began pouring in from the United States and Canada to Oral’s offices in Tulsa, and by 1957, he was receiving some 1,000 pieces of mail a day. Through the letters that came in, Oral Roberts knew he was feeling the pulse of America. Then in 1958 he established the Abundant Life Prayer Group to accept calls for prayer 7 days a week, 24 hours a day—a ministry that has never been interrupted to this day.
The Time Has Come
For years, as Oral carried with him God’s command to build Him a university, he would often stop his car in front of a farm at 81st and Lewis in south Tulsa. He and Evelyn, and what was by now a family of four children, would all join hands and pray that God would hold onto that piece of property until Oral could find the way to build God a university.
Operating in faith, he spent hours visiting with university leaders, professors, and students, and speaking with architects who had built such schools, immersing himself in the history and operation of many colleges and universities.
But with all of the knowledge he gained, still he did not know how to build God a university. How would he finance it? Where would he find the faculty and staff to help him build it? And who would want to attend a university run by Oral Roberts?
ORU—The Birth of a Dream
Two pastors in Denver voluntarily gave Oral $1,000 each to help begin. Oral deposited the money and waited on God. God spoke to him again, and what He said to Oral Roberts that day is planted deep in the heart of every student, staff and faculty member. “Raise up your students to hear My voice, to go where My light is dim, where My voice is heard small, and My healing power is not known, even to the uttermost bounds of the earth. Their work will exceed yours, and in this I am well pleased.”
Oral knew that God’s university was to be—what else?—different from any other. First, it was to be built on God’s authority and on the Holy Spirit. Second, it was to provide young people with a threefold, whole person education—body, mind, and spirit—an entirely new concept in education. The mind was to be educated to the fullest degree possible. The body was to be trained physically in a way that would promote health and soundness. And third, the spirit was to be emphasized above both the mind and the body.
Despite the opposition on so many fronts, Oral simply continued to do what he believed God had told him to do, in the spirit Mama Roberts implanted in him so many years before: “Oral, obey God and stay little in your own eyes,” she said, “and God will bless the world through you.”
One day as Oral was walking and praying, literally groaning and crying out, “Oh God, help me,” as he prayed in the Spirit—the heavenly language that he has taught millions to understand—words…concepts…began coming to him that he had never thought of before. Before long, God had given Oral Roberts revelational knowledge of how to build Him a university! Not every exact point, but a great overall breakthrough into the knowledge and ability he needed to do what God called him to do.
Opened in 1965, Oral Roberts University stands as a testament to one man’s reliance on the revelation knowledge of the Holy Spirit and the certainty that God still speaks.
Prime-time Contact Specials with Celebrity Guest Stars
Oral was a pioneer in religious television, being the first to film live healing services in his crusades, and for many years producing a 30-minute Sunday morning televison program. But in 1968, God began stirring Oral in the area of reaching people in a way different from any before. After much prayer and consultation, Oral announced his plan that, in addition to the regular Sunday morning program that would continue to air, he was going to begin airing quarterly Prime-Time Contact Specials. They would include an element of entertainment geared at reaching a new generation of people with the Gospel. Programs were often filmed on location in places like Hawaii, London, Alaska.
Oral’s son, Richard, joined his dad on the programs as a featured singer. As other Specials followed, they included such well-known celebrity guests as Pat Boone, Dale Evans, Anita Bryant, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lewis, Lou Rawls, the Lennon Sisters, Burl Ives, Shari Lewis, and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Ratings showed that nearly 10 million people viewed the first Contact Special. With ratings steadily rising thereafter, they reached an all-time high of almost 40 million viewers in 1973. The Contact Special in 1971, celebrating Valentine’s Day, was nominated for several Emmy awards.
Merging Medicine and Prayer
Even as a young man suffering from tuberculosis, Oral Roberts never separated the importance of medicine from prayer. He knew that medicine, by itself—limited in its scope—could never bring healing into people’s lives in the way God wanted it without combining it with prayer.
In 1977, God began speaking to Oral Roberts that he was to merge together God’s healing streams of medicine and prayer…and he was to build God a new kind of medical center, calling it the City of Faith.
Years later, an official from the American Medical Association told Oral, “You’ve affected the AMA forever. There was no talking about merging medicine and prayer until you came along…and you were right.”
In 2005, Oral’s beloved Evelyn died after an unexpected fall. They had been a “healing team for God” for more than 66 years of their lives. But rather than grieve himself to death, or just sit down in his rocking chair, Oral made this promise at his darling wife’s memorial service. He said, “I’m going to make a new commitment of my life. I’m not going home to sit in a chair and wither away the rest of my life. I’m going to do God’s work ‘til the day I die!”
And that’s exactly what he did until the day came when, with his son and daughter by his side, he went home to be with the Lord—December 15, 2009.
A Legacy of Faith by Ken Walker
Claudius Roberts dedicated her son, Oral, to God before his birth in rural Oklahoma early last century. While pregnant, she went to pray for a neighbor’s child who was stricken with pneumonia. Battling a fierce thunderstorm as she crossed a field and crawled through barbed wire, she told God if He would heal her neighbor’s son, she would give Him her soon-to-be-born child.
When Granville Oral Roberts was born to her on January 24, 1918, he survived a raging flu epidemic that killed more people than World War I. Later, as a teenager with a severe stuttering problem, he almost died of a respiratory illness.
His mother prophesied God would release his tongue and that he would speak to multitudes. Then, in July 1935, after suffering with tuberculosis for 163 days, he was healed of both the TB and the stuttering through the ministry of an unknown evangelist, George W. Moncey.
En route to the meeting, Roberts heard a voice that he believed was God’s say: “Son, I am going to heal you, and you are to take My healing power to your generation. You are to build Me a university and build it on My authority and the Holy Spirit.”
Roberts would go on to preach to millions and lay hands on 1.5 million people for healing. Before his life ended on December 15, at age 91, he had written more than 120 books, pioneered television evangelism, spread the doctrine of biblical prosperity and founded the university that bears his name. Christian historians have placed him alongside Billy Graham, William Seymour, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II as a spiritual giant of the 20th century.
“He’s one of the most significant figures in American religious history,” says Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan. “I think he planted the seeds publicly of what became the charismatic renewal after 1960, because the American public first saw Pentecostalism in their living rooms through his televised tent crusades.”
Roberts’ testimony of miracles became the basis of his upbeat theology. He wrote in his 1995 autobiography, Expect a Miracle: “Some believe in miracles; some don’t. Take miracles out of Oral Roberts’ life and I’d be dead.”
His father, Ellis, was a poor farmer who also picked cotton while preaching in Pentecostal Holiness churches. Roberts credited his parents with instilling faith in him. Hearing their early-morning prayers convinced him that he could be so close to Jesus that he could talk to Him.
Strong faith was necessary after Roberts set out to lead his first revival at age 23 with his wife, Evelyn. Lodging in the home of a church member, he shivered nightly for three weeks as subfreezing winds howled through the plank walls.
Over the next six years he bounced between evangelizing and pastoring, settling on evangelism after a startling experience in Toccoa, Georgia. A deacon at his church was injured when a car motor fell on his foot. When Roberts prayed for him, the pain vanished and the man’s crushed toes returned to normal.
Roberts would pastor one last time—at a church in Oklahoma where he experienced miracles of provision that laid the groundwork for his teachings on prosperity. Forced to live with another family, he donated his $55 weekly salary as “seed” money for a parsonage. Early the next day, a farmer gave him $400. Soon after, a Buick dealer gave him a new car.
A year later, Roberts moved to Tulsa and started the evangelistic ministry that later bore his name. Wherever he went across the world, he was confident that when he felt God’s power come on his right hand, people would be healed.
The early years were not easy. He often hauled his family’s furniture on the roof of his car during their frequent moves. While he was on a preaching tour in Virginia in the 1940s, he sometimes took odd jobs, such as painting houses or hanging wallpaper, to make $5 a day.
“That’s how he kept body and soul together,” Synan says.
But Roberts’ fortunes would change in the 1950s after he seized on the potential of radio and television for spreading his healing message. By 1955 his program was on 800 radio stations and 200 TV outlets. Within two more years 1,000 letters a day flooded his ministry. Two years after that he moved his ministry into a seven-story building in downtown Tulsa after outgrowing two previous spaces.
Roberts’ heyday was in the 1960s and 1970s after he pioneered the concept of a multimedia ministry. The circulation of his monthly magazine, Abundant Life, reached as high as 1 million. His monthly spiritual column appeared in 674 newspapers. For almost 30 years his Sunday morning TV program was the No. 1 syndicated religious program in the country—reaching 64 million viewers at its peak.
Though Roberts would be known as a healing evangelist throughout his career, his lasting recognition came because of the university he founded in Tulsa in 1965 (with just 303 students). When he stepped down as president of Oral Roberts University (ORU) in 1993, Roberts remained as its chancellor and a lifetime trustee.
Over the years, the student body grew exponentially while the number of undergraduate majors expanded from 24 to 63. By the spring of 2008, ORU’s rolls included 37,000 alumni and approximately 23,000 graduates.
Each of those students passed through the entrance of the school where its most famous landmark now stands—a 60-foot bronze sculpture of praying hands. It symbolizes Roberts’ belief in the power of audacious faith.
Former student and longtime professor Ralph Fagin, who assumed the interim presidency after Richard Roberts resigned in November 2007, fondly recalls the statement of faith on the sign the first president kept on his desk: “Make no small plans here.”
“The Living Bible says, ‘The godly grow trees that bear life-giving fruit,’” Fagin says. “Oral grew lots of trees. His vision, his message—he would plant them in your soul. His vision is still alive in every student.
One of the school’s less-publicized aspects is its ethnic diversity. Because Roberts was one-eighth Cherokee he was committed to crossing racial boundaries long before it was popular. Though he drew considerable heat for allowing interracial crowds to mingle freely at his meetings in the 1950s, he never backed down.
The fruit of that decision is reflected today in ORU’s enrollment, which in the spring of 2008 included 18.2 percent African-American students and an equivalent number of Indian, Asian, Hispanic or other backgrounds.
In 2002 the university won the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ Racial Harmony Award for building relationships and serving students of color and other minority groups.
Tulsa pastor Billy Joe Daugherty, who died a few weeks before Roberts, served as acting president of ORU before Fagin and pastored 17,000-member Victory Christian Church across the street from the ORU campus. He told Charisma before his death that many people overlook the significance of the school’s birth during the turbulent 1960s. It was an era of upheaval that Daugherty ranked second only to the Civil War.
“In the middle of this, God raised up His standard,” Daugherty said. “Instead of just going into the sunset, Oral developed something. Thousands of young pastors got the same vision to raise up a standard and hear God’s voice.
“Now ORU’s not limited to one tent—it’s in the arts, education, ministry, government, medicine, everywhere you look. I go to Washington, D.C., and all over there are ORU graduates. We go around the world and they’re in leadership, making an impact.”
Not all of Roberts’ faith goals for the school were achieved. His highly touted medical school and City of Faith lasted only a decade. A graduate nursing program is gone, as well as dental and law schools.
However, Fagin thinks that despite its closing in 1989, the medical school achieved a long-lasting impact. Many doctors today recognize the value of combining prayer with conventional treatment, an approach to medicine that was practiced at the ORU medical school.
“He was thinking so far ahead,” Fagin says. “I think about his launching out in terms of TV ministry, but also the City of Faith and merging of prayer and medicine. All these things were ahead of his time.”
Roberts was certainly not perfect, and he admitted that his ego drove him. “To be strong, to be a leader, to obey God with all of your ... ability, you need a considerable ego,” he wrote in his autobiography. That ego could have been part of the reason he made two unusual public statements that landed him in hot water in his later years.
In 1977 the evangelist told his supporters that a 900-foot-tall Jesus had commanded him to build his City of Faith complex in Tulsa. Then in 1987 he announced that God would kill him if he did not raise $8 million for his medical school.
That embarrassing incident, which occurred at about the same time as Jim Bakker’s and Jimmy Swaggart’s sex scandals, tarnished the reputation of American evangelists. Some TV stations refused to run his appeal; others accused Roberts of “emotional blackmail”; others feared he was hinting at a planned suicide. In the end, despite the bad publicity, Roberts raised $9.1 million with the unusual appeal.
Roberts also dealt with lots of personal pain, starting with the death of an older sister at 19. An airplane crash claimed the life of his daughter, Rebecca Nash, while his oldest son, Ronnie, committed suicide after a long battle with drug addiction.
There was also the death of his wife, Evelyn, in 2005 after their 66 years of marriage. He called her the most popular and respected person at ORU, saying when it was time for God to hand out rewards, hers would exceed his.
The most public disaster, though, involved
ORU years after Roberts retired to California. After a lawsuit was filed
against the school that included allegations of financial mismanagement, son
Richard stepped down as president of
the university in November 2007.
The next spring, the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association moved its operations off campus after Christian philanthropist Mart Green offered the debt-ridden school a $70 million endowment. The gift hinged on whether the school would remake itself with a new board and president.
Respected Christian educator Mark Rutland stepped in to fill Richard Roberts’ shoes as president, and the donation from Green is now being used to refurbish buildings and re-establish ORU’s credibility. Many people believe the school’s best days are ahead. One of them is Rutland.
“ORU continues to be the pre-eminent charismatic university in the United States,” he says. “The emphasis is not just on evangelicalism in a broad sense, though it is that—and evangelicals attend. It’s a university that embraces and celebrates and lives in the Holy Spirit, present tense, in and among us in the operation of the gifts, and in responding to God’s direction in the world.”
Most observers Charisma interviewed say the 2007 setback will be a blip on the big screen of Roberts’ legacy.
“I think it was devastating to [Oral] when Richard was forced to leave the presidency,” Synan says. “But the fact that he was able to weather that storm and come out with the university intact is a great testimony.” Oral Roberts’ resilience sustained him through tragedies that would have destroyed lesser people, Synan adds.
Daugherty told Charisma that he was so captivated by ORU that he gave up a full athletic scholarship to transfer to the school his sophomore year. He said he would never forget how much the school’s founder taught him.
“Oral Roberts inspired us to believe that God is a good God,” the late pastor said. “That was probably the greatest revelation, that God wanted good things for us. He inspired us to believe that we could do whatever God put in our heart.”
There are some leaders who believe ORU was a distraction from Roberts’ evangelistic calling. Pentecostal historian Bill Menzies never considered the university a crowning achievement, instead terming it a “major blunder” because of the time and energy that fundraising required.
When Roberts got involved in starting a seminary and other expensive programs, the work mushroomed beyond his control, according to Menzies.
“Those sapped his energy and strength,” Menzies says. “I remember hearing him speak at a meeting in Korea some years ago, and he was just overloaded. He had to raise so many thousands of dollars a day to keep that empire afloat. I think he regretted some of the things he got into that weren’t sustainable.”
Yet after you study a list of ORU alumni—a list that includes a renowned cardiologist, a congresswoman and thousands of pastors and leaders of ministries—it seems unfair to call ORU a mistake.
ORU is perhaps the most tangible legacy Oral Roberts leaves behind—built through simple faith by a simple man from Oklahoma who dared to believe that God still does miracles.
[Ken Walker, a writer based in Huntington, West Virginia, wrote Charisma’s cover story on Richard Roberts and Oral Roberts University that was published in March 1996.]