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My Go-To Gang

“Of making books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” So said Solomon thousands of years ago. If it was true then, how much more true is it now that the bookshelves of the world are groaning under the weight of human “wisdom,” commercialized guruism is all the rage, and we’re up to our eyeballs in religious rock stars? It’s a spiritual jungle out there, and one key to survival in this Jungle of Eden is to develop a screening system so we’re not tossed and blown by every wind of teaching. I’ve been hacking around in the jungle for over three decades and found a boatload of good stuff, but I’ve narrowed my list of go-to’s down to a manageable number. These folks keep me in step, encourage me, protect me from fad-ology and help me avoid spiritual and sensory overload. If you don’t have a go-to gang yet, I urge you to assemble one that works for you. In the meantime, you’re more than welcome to hang out with mine. But remember: “Test everything. Hold onto the good!”

J. Vernon McGee: In 1988 the Judds released a wonderful tearjerker called, “Grandpa,” the opening lines of which go like so;

“Grandpa, tell me ‘bout the good old days. Sometimes it feels like this world’s gone crazy. Grandpa, take me back to yesterday, When the lines between right and wrong didn’t seem so hazy. Did lovers really fall in love to stay,

And stand beside each other come what may? Was a promise really something people kept, Not just something they would say and then forget? Did families really bow their heads to pray? Did daddies really never go away? Oh, oh, Grandpa, tell me ‘bout the good old days!”

To me, J. Vernon McGee is the Grandpa the Judds were singing about. Even though he’s crossed over, he lives on through his radio program, which takes people through the whole Bible in five years. He sounds a lot like Huckleberry Hound, which is mighty soothing in itself. More importantly, he teaches me a ton of Bible stuff that’s actually worth knowing. Best of all –and this is important, at least to me— he keeps me connected with the all the humor and warmth and sincerity of “old time religion” without draggin in all the guilt and shame and fire and brimstone. It’s a neat trick to teach the Word without aggravating the Old Covenant Hangover, and when it comes to that, “Grandpa” McGee is as good as it gets.

Andrew Wommack: Whenever I pray for my go-to gang, I thank God that he didn’t give Andrew more charisma (By the way, Andrew himself will be the first to admit it!). Andrew is quite possibly the most trustworthy Gospeleer on the planet, and if he had more effervescence, he would put a lot of televangelists out of business!

I’ve read just about everything he’s ever published, and I’m never disappointed. Seldom if ever do I put down one of his books and think to myself, “I already knew that stuff.” He is a champion of first-hand revelation and is constantly encouraging students of the Gospel to “take hold of this stuff” for themselves.

I met Andrew at a charity golf event several years ago, and I expected him to be surrounded by bodyguards. He wasn’t. He didn’t know me from spit, yet while his companions waited patiently, he invested a good five minutes in me, and I wasn’t even particularly needy that day.

Another refreshing thing about Andrew is that when he makes personal appearances, he never hides backstage, plus you don’t have to buy one of his books to have a word with him. He is always ready to go, so he’s never weird or worried about people siphoning off his “anointing.” If you’re looking for good news and a sermonsible mentor who never sticks his hand in your pocket, Andrew is an excellent choice!

Rob Bell: The world of technology has Apple, the coffee world has Starbucks, and Christianity has Rob Bell, just a guy in blue jeans sitting on a stool and fielding profound questions and stupid questions alike with easy grace and self-deprecating humor. Bell doesn’t have a tremendous amount of mileage on his odometer, which makes him a slight risk for my go-to gang, but I’m a gambler at heart and find the prospect of him one day “losing it” to be part of the attraction. Not that I want him to lose it!

On the cover of his landmark book, “Velvet Elvis,” Bell includes a remark which could turn out be his most enduring gift and which ought to be the official disclaimer of every sermonsible person: “God has spoken. The rest is just commentary, right?”

As far as I can calculate, Bell’s teachings are 51% gospel truth, 27% disdain for religiosity, 22% intellectual sweat equity, 17% genius, 9% serendipity and 5% total disregard for mathematics, for a total “preacher index” of 131% out of a possible 100%. This makes at least as much sense as quarterback ratings.

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll scratch your head. You’ll wait in joyful expectation for whatever comes next.

Joel Osteen: Joel Osteen is God’s Clarence. Please allow me to explain.

When rocker Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen does a live concert, he usually introduces his sax man, Clarence, like this: ”You’d love to be as cool as Clarence, but you can’t.” In the same way, a lot of people would like to be as effective as Joel Osteen, but they can’t. It’s a gift.

Go ahead and laugh if you think you’re too sophisticated for him, but know this: In a world filled with damaged people, Joel Osteen is a bridge over troubled water, the very epitome of “first, do no harm.” Who else has the nerve to say to the drug addict, “Hey, if you took less drugs this week than you did last week, you’re doing gooood!” Who else blatantly trusts God that much? Who else betrays that much insight into the affliction of desperation? Not me. And not you, either. Sorry.

If you’ve got it all figured out, Osteen is not your guy. But if you’ve been down so long that you don’t even have the heart to ask for help anymore, he could very well be your guy. Next time you’re sitting in deep darkness and gloom, try a dose of Osteen. The results are often miraculous, and they often defy scholarly explanation.