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ANDREA BURKE
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Review: "God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel"

Andrea Burke

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When Costi asked me to review his book, it was a no brainer. Having walked the stage with some powerhouse health and wealth teachers early on in my adulthood, I wanted to hear the story of someone who knew the system inside and out and could speak into it with some Gospel clarity. The prosperity gospel sounds so good. It’s subtle. It shades the edges of so many of our local churches, the songs we listen to, and even the prayers we pray. But I was only a few pages into Costi Hinn’s book when I had to set it down. One deep breath of a sobering realization settled in my chest.

“I know I lived through some of this,” I said to my husband. “But I didn’t realize that this was the gimmick. It’s a whole thing. They all do the same thing. The deception is the same.”

 

I was only 17 when the traveling ministry from Miami rolled through my town. Rural upstate New York is the opposite of Miami Beach, in every way possible. We were rough around the edges country folk. Blue jeans that didn’t fit quite right. Mid-‘90s Doc Martens covered with late October mud. They, however, were polished. Tailored suits and unscathed high heels. Perfect hair and flawless makeup. Expensive cologne and white smiles.

For weeks he preached and prayed, money flying out of our pockets while we fell to the ground. We, the faithful, showed up to the small church on the hill night after night for weeks on end. The committed ones. The ones who wanted revival. And for weeks on end, he told us how revival was coming. How we needed to believe more. Give more. Sacrifice more. How our acts of faith were the same as the widow’s mite. We needed to give sacrificially. Be willing to take a risk. Maybe then God would show up.

Please, we begged, baggy jeans and country knees to the floor. Show up.

This was the rhythm I would eventually learn. Not long after they arrived in our little church, the man in the suit turned to me and said, “Come with us.” And so I did. Halfway through my senior year of high school and until I was nearly 20, I played piano and sang night after night while we traveled from city to city. The story was the same every night — two sermons. One on money. One on God’s coming revival. That was the one that usually tied to your circumstances. The one that asked if you had bills to pay, rent due, illness in your body, an unsaved family member, that God’s revival would come if you had enough faith. If you believed enough, shouted enough, prayed enough, gave enough.

“Give and it will give back to you,” he’d say. Direct correlations drawn between how sacrificial your giving was and how active God would be. As if His desire to move was contingent on us. On my money. On my faith. On my action and ability, willingness and desperation. On how loudly we’d could shout or how much we had cried. God was a reluctant guest who needed a bit more convincing to actually show up at the party.

We traveled from Miami to New Jersey to Michigan to Alaska. The same message everywhere we went. God was bringing blessing and revival. God also was telling you to fund that mission. Sow a seed to see what God will do. Speak as though you have it. Don’t say you’re sick — say “The doctor may say I’m sick, but I believe I’m healed.”

It didn’t take long for the strings to unravel.

For part of one stretch in Michigan, while the pastor and his wife rolled around town in a Jaguar, the ministry interns were getting our food and essentials off of the local food donation truck. They dined wherever their ministry supporters were taking them. We dined on the dented cans and expired boxes of Chef Boyardee and mac and cheese.

Yet night after night, I sang the songs. Night after night, I counted the offerings. Night after night, we participated in the same cut-and-paste routine. Marriages were struggling. Illness was represented en masse. Homeless guests would come listen. What a spectacle to see. Our door-to-door “evangelism” ministry was led by a slick salesman from Ohio. He taught us how to nod when we asked people questions.

“Before you know it,” he said, “they’re nodding with you. That counts as a salvation. Write it down.”

Stacks of names would be brought in night after night. People who sat next to us on the buses, met us in the streets, nodded with us when we asked if they were afraid to go to hell. Names of people I never saw again. Faces I never knew beyond a number. That stack of names was held up in front of the cash poor crowd each night.

“See?” the man would say. “Revival! Be desperate for a move of God and ask him to show up.” An offering (or two) later, an altar call, and the night repeated itself like a prosperity gospel-fueled Groundhog Day. One day we’d be in front of a laughing, hysterical crowd in Oklahoma City with checks being cut to us numbering in the thousands backstage. Other days, when the veneer wore off, I could barely move out of bed from the depression and hopelessness that weighed so heavy on my soul.

And yet the good news of Jesus was nowhere in sight. No water to drink. We offered handfuls of dust. We took money from people who needed it. We spent money in Manhattan on leather shoes and tailored suits. Money that was to us given by people who needed to pay for medical bills, credit card debt, Christmas.

The prosperity gospel was planted. We reaped no good.

It can be tempting to call it harmless. That it’s just some skewed scripture, people who mean well, people who just want good for you. It seems like nothing more than a slight optimistic bend on faith, money, and sickness…until you pull back the curtain and see that this is no subtle, nuanced song. This is deafening, deadly theology.

 

In “God, Greed, and the Prosperity Gospel”, Costi Hinn bravely puts the prosperity gospel on notice. As one who lived among it, he is now a man marked with the story of the true Gospel. We listen to those who have the scars. The ones who’ve braved the fires and the wars and live to tell about it. The ones who can point to their limp and say “God won.”

Costi saw the brokenness, the hierarchies, the lies that twist and distort scripture so much that it takes years of undoing. Costi, the nephew of well-known “health and wealth” preacher Benny Hinn, tells his story of what it was like growing up inside the private jet and speak-as-though-you-have-it walls. He wore the clothes and drove the cars but within his chest there was a steady call that compelled him to seek, find, and know Christ.

And while I’m thankful for the exposure of lies that this book addresses, what I’m even more thankful for is Costi’s immense humility and compassion exhibited in his writing. This isn’t a tell-all exposé. This isn’t meant to destroy a person or give some juicy details that will grease the gossip mills. “God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel” isn’t meant to simply garner applause for Costi and his bravery.

This book points to a man, a gospel, a kingdom that is far more beautiful, desirable, and worthy than that of the prosperity gospel. Costi points to Christ as a clear bell ringing in the fog of his struggle with what he had grown up with. Where the theology of men fails and the twisting of scripture only contorts our feet, Costi tells how the Lord patiently worked to rescue him and set him on solid ground. He gives scripture, practical wisdom, and narrative throughout to teach and encourage anyone picks up this book. He calls to something better, something truer, something richer. The good news of the Gospel is the best news for those caught in the web of the prosperity theology — God is more faithful than you could possibly imagine, speak, or dream.

“God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel” releases on July 9 and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s available for pre-order now!

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Dear Hormones, Trust the Lord.

Andrea Burke

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It’s 5:25 a.m. The birdsong and frogs in the pond woke me up while the earth was still gray and foggy. Early morning commuters are splashing through the fresh puddles on the road and I’m here, in my yellow chair, Psalm 7 open in front of me. The lilac bush outside our bedroom window is nearly ready to burst with fresh flowers. And the rest of the house sleeps.

Yet, my mind is the opposite of the world outside. Fears, worry, lists, busy noise. It won’t let me sleep. As heavy as my eyelids are and desperate to crawl back into bed next to my sleeping husband and sprawled out toddler (who happened to find his way into our bed again during the night), my mind cannot rest.

I’m on the other side of 35 now. I’m a few years away from 40, having just passed the tree-line of 36. The hill rises above me and though I have not gone over it yet, I feel my body preparing.

“We’re getting older,” a friend said recently. She’s a few years ahead of me and we were rattling off the most recent health concerns in our own failing bodies. These bodies that aren’t meant to be preserved and pristine. These internal clocks that tick toward the end. My latest slew of doctors visits and lab work have to do with the infamous hormones that rise and fall within us women. The ones that make us feel like we’re losing our minds. The ones that help us feel deeply. The ones that make us vibrant and joyful, and exhausted and weary, all in the same 24-hour stretch. The ones that aren’t so simple and predictable.

Everything is fine, I whisper to myself at the edge of the morning. Everything you feel is not true. Everything you fear is not certain. The rise of the wave of fear mounts within me about nothing in particular. It settles on a prey and then devours that thing. My kids. My future. Finances. The garden. The church. Culture. Friends in distress. My own body. Like a roaring lion, it seeks something to devour. My hormones cue stress and I sit in the silence trying to tell them, “Everything is fine. You’re ok.”

My own mother tells me this morning, “Relax today. Destress.” I laugh a little. She knows. “De-stressing” sometimes feels like the most stressful endeavor.

I wish I could tell my hormones to trust in Jesus, I tell my mother. I wish what I knew in my head started to trickle down into my body. I feel a bit like David in Psalm 103, facing my own skin and bones, blood and organs, body and mind to say —

Praise the Lord, my soul;

   all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul,

   and forget not all his benefits

who forgives all your sins

   and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit

   and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things

   so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.


This is not some prosperity, health and wealth gospel. This is me telling my body to trust in the Lord and remember him. This is me picking up the quivering chin of my inward being to say “Look at him. You can trust him.”

Dear hormones, trust the Lord. Everything is ok. He’s holding it all. Dear organs, worship him. Dear mind and heart and blood and muscle, praise the Lord. This is not an exhortation; this is a command.

The rain stopped this morning but the birds continued to sing. I read scripture again and prayed. I traced over Spurgeon’s words about the Lord who heals and wasn’t disgusted by humanity’s broken bodies. I crawled into bed next to my two sleeping men and I went back to sleep.

The Invincible Summer

Andrea Burke

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The days are long and gray. A bland color palette greets us each morning. That is springtime in New York. A heavy fog that settles over our fields, our homes, and further enhances the ashy hue of our hearts. When it’s April and snow is still in the forecast, you understand why people move south. Why their skin begs for sun. It’s easy to forget in the long winter that it won’t last forever. My daffodils have bloomed but they’re small. Much smaller than they should be. They persisted through the autumn leaves that piled and came out to say a weak, but definitive “Good morning.”

My twitter-friend John Blase recently posted “When I was a boy, I was told to steer clear of booze, and sex, and drugs, and rock'n'roll, and...I still keep my distance from some of that, but now that I am a man, I know the great enemy is despair.”

Despair — the heavy darkness that seems to lure its prey with the idea of solidarity but only to suffocate it with its weight. We are at first tempted to think that despair is a friend to the battered, tired heart. A ringing bell of reality to which we must pay allegiance. Springtime in New York reminds me that despair is more like the mud that I slog through in my boots. Dark and cement-like. Deep and deceptive. Just on the edges of everywhere we step.

It isolates, chilling us inside invisible walls. Everyone else is happy. Everyone else is fine. Everyone else is living their dream. Out of nowhere, it grips us on the back of our necks, a feline-like grip of control, rendering us helpless, limp, rag dolls until we’re dropped where it leaves us.

It seems to come when we least expect it to. The uninvited guest in the middle of the day when I haven’t yet put on makeup. The middle of the night phone call that requires clarity of mind before you’ve left dreamland. The doctor’s report that is just obscure and vague enough and makes you wonder if the horizon of your life is closer than you thought it was. 

Despair is what brings many women through the doors of my home, our church offices, my inbox, my phone messages. Despair is the burden on their shoulders they point to when we sit eye to eye. How do we keep our eyes on heaven when the world feels too heavy? 

There is no easy, fast answer. Despair feeds us a meager serving of slop. The pilgrimage to home may feel long and weary, and we could easily think that slop is our portion. But it’s not. The Gospel was never meant to be a diversion. It’s not a placebo. 

Don’t get me wrong — it is indeed the source of all joy. The bottomless well of peace. The fountain of unmovable strength. But it is not a cream we apply. It is the bed we lay down in.

We are living in a dark world. Full of the dust of feet, the stain of sin, the continuous ramifications of a world leading one another around in the pitch black night. We swing lanterns for each other along the path. We say “Let’s talk about the way home.”

We keep going back to this: read the letters from Zion. The scripture is full of reminders of people who had burdens too heavy to bear, fears that seemed insurmountable, and yet, they made it home, faithfully plodding along, one step at a time. Somehow (by grace we know) their steps lifted. The pilgrim hearts knew that despair wasn’t a verdict. Those with hearts set on home, as the writer sang in Psalm 84, had Zion written in their hearts.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion”

They knew the road, like a well-worn path in front of them. The Psalm sings “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” We can repeat those words in the shadowed doorframe of our heart. No good thing has he withheld. Even despair, which longs to tell us that our happiness can be traded on the black market for whatever it is our soul thinks it needs, even despair can take a backseat to this reminder. He reminds us he has not withheld. And we can tell our weary hearts that in the day we need him to sustain and provide, he will not keep one hand behind his back. God is not in a cat and mouse game with us. 

Scripture reminds me that he catches my tears in a bottle. 
He knows our frame; he remembers we are dust. 
He is near to the brokenhearted. He binds up their wounds. 
A bruised reed he will not crush. 
He doesn’t snuff out the smoldering wick. 
He sees the outsiders. 
He loves those on the fringe. 
He didn’t come for the healthy. 
The poor in spirit are blessed. 
That He’ll sustain us to the end.

Despair may linger but grace lingers longer. 

Dear pilgrim, throw aside the burden that strangles, the fear that entangles. I have slogged through enough spring mud to tell you this — it doesn’t keep the plants from growing. It doesn’t stop the summer from coming. Maybe you come through it with not as much bravado as we hoped. Maybe you’re more aware of your stature, like my daffodils, smaller and a little more aware of fragility. We may lose some life along the way, some early spring vigor, but that which can persist, does. And the Spirit of God will not be smothered underneath an ashy, disheartened fog. The French philosopher Albert Camus said “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” This is the fight against despair. To believe that God sees and knows and sustains within you a heart that is set on Zion. He brings life where you see only dirt. He turns valleys of tears into doors of hope. He is the invincible summer.