Posted by Rev. Jeff Dixon, Senior Equipping Minister at Covenant Community Church on Jan 1, 2002, 17:46
It really does have all the makings of an episode of the X-Files. The place is Hazelton, Pennsylvania, and there is a new guest in their town. He arrived last October and drifted into town wearing a dirty white robe with no shoes. When he first arrived in Hazelton many pointed and laughed at the man with a scruffy beard and shoulder length hair. He began to preach to anyone who would listen at first, but as time has gone by, the community that originally laughed at him, has now embraced him as some type of holy man.
These days it is not uncommon to find hundreds of people gathering in fire halls, gyms, and open fields to listen to the stranger. Some in the community are frightened that many have embraced this mystery man too quickly, while others say that the soft spoken messenger is a man sent from God.
Connie Muir, a member of the catholic church there said, “I’d walk through fire for him...he has been blessed by the Holy Spirit. People’s hearts are changed after they have heard him.” She has taken the mystery preacher into her home to live after it got too cold for him to sleep outdoors.
Though he has preached for up to 6 hours at one stretch, he is a man of few words when it comes to himself. In interviews he does not say much about his birthplace or background, saying it would take away from his message. He chooses to dress in the robe because he says it draws attention to his ministry and makes him more approachable. He is referred to as “What’s your name” since that is his reply when asked his name. He teaches that the phrase comes from the Hebrew tradition to not reveal one’s name until you become their friend. The locals have locked in on that.
Police have checked into his background and found nothing of great concern. His real name is actually Carl Joseph, age 39. In his nine years of ministry he has traveled in 47 states and 13 countries. Hazelton is unique in the fact that he has never remained in one place very long. As a community Hazelton and others have gone through troubled times since the coal industry bottomed out decades ago. Unemployment in the county is high and boarded up store fronts still line the main street in town. That may be some of What’s Your Name’s appeal.
“Lots of people here are hurting and this guy is the only sign of hope some of them have seen in a long time, it worries me because people are putting all of this stock in a guy who, to me, seems like he’s got a screw loose,” says longtime resident Robert Clark.
Joseph has spoken to as many as 2,000 people at one time gathering in Hazelton, and it is not uncommon to see several dozen people standing in a field at 2:00 am listening to him preach. A local cable call in program has featured him as a guest on four different occasions. On one program it was for a 3 hour time block and the phones never stopped ringing.
His popularity has given him unrestricted access to schools and hospitals in the area. This concerns some and others are not concerned at all. Religious leaders in the area are divided. He seems to have no agenda for financial gain and his ministry is now overflowing to bordering counties. He has stated he will remain as long as there is a need for his words.
The information you have just read was reported by the Associated Press and is available through America On -Line News Services. When your read stories like this there are always a number of questions that come up.
How would you react in Hazelton? How do you react and respond when things take place that are outside the expected? What should you be trying to decide if you heard the mystery man in Hazelton teach and preach?
The opening section of this story reads much like the latest Frank Peretti spiritual warfare book; The Visitor. As a matter of fact when I first read the reports I thought that it was an effort to promote the book. Then as I discovered that the reports appear to be factual, I asked the same questions that I included above. It is so important for Christians to be able to think and ask questions responsibly. This is one of those occasions.
What do you look for in the man from Hazelton or any other person who is making claims in the name of God?
First, Listen to what is being taught.
Are the things being taught the Truth that is found Scripture or is the Bible used merely as a proof-text? Are the things said doctrinally sound and fall in line with what Scripture really does teach? Are you hearing a teacher that is well grounded spiritually and using the Bible with integrity? Are you hearing a teacher that has a good understanding of Scripture and has spent time in study?
The way you get these answers is to make sure you are doing the same thing. You must be a good student of God’s Word. You must learn to read and practice to understand the Truth’s found in Scripture. You must be willing to make yourself take on the discipline of being a good student using good study tools and resources that are available.
So the message of the man in Hazelton is important. But there is something else you need to look at.
Second, Does the walk match the talk.
If the message is in line Biblically, then how does the message effect the messenger? The most troubling thing about the man in Hazelton is the mystery of his background and his lack of willingness to disclose it. There is nothing wrong with a little mystery at times, I think the question to wrestle through is that when it comes to spiritual issues we are always to be children of the light. So if the mystery adds to the appeal of the messenger, so be it. If the mystery becomes a hindrance to the credibility of the messenger, then it is a concern.
This point is illustrated by an experience that I had at Campus Community Church at the University of Central Florida. In the early days of planting that church on campus, CCC ran into the issue of credibility. One of the things I had to do as the point man of that ministry was to prove and validate what we were trying to accomplish by producing credentials. My educational background, my degree of study, my experience in church ministry, my experience in student work, and my references from the religious community all were looked at. In other words, my credibility had to be proven to win the audience. There was never any doubt we had been called to be on the campus. I was determined to do what God had told me, but I always tried to do so in a way that would reflect positively the ministry that God had called us to be a part of. Credibility may become a factor for the mystery man.
There are so many needs in the world today, and the message of Jesus Christ needs to be shared in a way that people can understand and respond to. Perhaps the mystery man of Hazelton is yet another way God has chosen to deliver the message of good news. Perhaps there is more to the agenda of the mystery man than we have heard. . .but if you begin with the two tests we just examined then you are well on your way to uncovering the mystery of ol’ What’s Your Name in Pennsylvania.
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