Monthly Archives: August 2007

Another Jesus?

For some reason, I seem to be on a cult leader kick lately. Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda is quite a character. He claims to be Jesus in the flesh. He encourages his followers to get 666 tattooed on their body. He encourages his disciples to be party animals.

Oh, Jose Luis denies the existence of hell too. No wonder the Scriptures warn about false teachers in the later days. The USA seems to be full of them.

You can read more about Jose from the following links:

http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/02/16/miami.preacher/

http://www.allaboutcults.org/jose-luis-de-jesus-miranda.htm

http://www.creciendoengracia.com/reportes/2007/0407_miamiherald/04_23_2007_MiamiHerald_com.mht

I think Jose may be my favorite wacko cult leader yet. He has a lot of chutzpah. I’ll give him that.

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Gospel of Inclusion

While in Atlanta, I saw a clip on CNN about a pastor in Oklahoma who went from opposing homosexuality to accepting it. He now preaches a “Gospel of inclusion.” Bishop Carlton Pearson of New Dimensions Church in Tulsa changed his theology because of people he knew who came out of the closet.

Pearson asked, “Do you ever see anywhere in Scripture where Jesus rejected anybody? Period.”

Most people would say, “No.” But I immediately thought of the time that Jesus rebuffed a Canaanite woman who sought deliverance for her daughter. Eventually, Jesus gave in to her request although he rejected her pleas at first.

Then I thought about a warning that Jesus gave. He said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”

Pearson has a point that Jesus showed love to many people who were rejected by the religious establishment. Unfortunately, the same thing happens today. But I believe Pearson strays from Biblical truth when he makes the leap from loving people to condoning their sin. Jesus never did that.

Although Jesus was willing to be seen and associate with prostitutes and sinners, he never told them their sin was okay. I get a sense that people who spent much time around Jesus were so amazed at what they saw that they left their old lives of sin. People came to Jesus so that they could change.

A number of years ago Pearson had built a 5,000 member mega church in Oklahoma. He earned big speakers fees for conferences and was a regular on Christian TV programs. Then he made a drastic change on his beliefs about sin, hell and salvation. He lost it all. Most of the members of his large church left. Nobody wanted him for conferences any more.

Now, Pearson pastors a much smaller church that openly embraces and condones homosexual behavior. Pearson denies the existence of hell as is traditionally taught in most Christian theology. 

Basically, Pearson believes that almost everyone will be saved and very few people will go to hell. He believes that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross covers the sins of the world, including those who have not confessed faith in Christ.  

While part of me respects Pearson that he would take a stand for something even though it would likely cost him a lot, I also reject his conclusions and theology. I would have left his church too just because I believe his new teaching compromises Scripture. The Bible is clear about salvation and sin. Scripture is also clear that homosexual acts are a perversion of God’s standard and design.

Pearson said, “All this hyper conservative, fundamentalist religion is probably not working.” That’s true. I believe that much of the rhetoric gets in the way of reaching wholeness and proclaiming the Gospel. Many people use God and morality as talking points to get elected or obtain power. God is not a registered Republican or a Democrat. At the same time, God decides what is right and wrong not men. And for the Christian, the Scriptures are the basis for judging morality. The Holy Spirit reveals the mind of Christ to us through the Bible.

Pearson said, “We have idolized the Bible and used it to denounce anything we don’t like, don’t understand or we fear.”

While I agree that some people seem to worship the Bible by denouncing any other way for God to speak today, Pearson’s conclusions about homosexuality are unfounded. Throughout times, some people have used the Bible to support all sorts of horrible things, such as the Crusades, racial bigotry or slavery. On the other hand, I strongly disagree with Pearson’s characterization that people are doing the same thing today by using the Bible to condemn homosexuality as a sin. I don’t believe that fear, dislike or misunderstanding has anything to do with the fundamentalist position that homosexuality is a sin.

Fear, dislike and misunderstanding may be behind inappropriate reactions by misguided Christians. But that has nothing to do with the proper interpretation of the text. There are times where Christians say and do things to homosexuals that are horribly wrong. This includes gay jokes, stinging comments, physical harassment, judgmental attitudes, etc. Those actions stem from fear, prejudice, pride and other sinful conditions.  

You see I believe that a Christian can say homosexuality is a sin without being judgmental. The real test comes in how we treat a gay person. Do we show them the love of Christ? Would we treat them like a leper?

If you believe homosexuality is a sin, it would be a dreadful thing to tell others that it is not. One of the last things you ever want to do is call good evil and evil good. That is lying, and it doesn’t really help anyone in the end. 

Pearson also said, “Scripture says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself not counting men’s sins against them. So if God doesn’t count men’s sins against them, why are we Christians or religious people so comfortable doing that.”

Pearson is right that God has forgiven the sins of those who are Christians. But that doesn’t mean we should keep on sinning. The Apostle Paul dealt with this issue. He wrote that we should not keep on sinning but should live holy lives as empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Christ may not hold our sins against us, but that doesn’t mean it is okay to live in sin. Jesus not only came to forgive our sins. He also came to set us free from being a slave to sin. We don’t have to give in to temptation because we can escape it by God’s power.

The real danger of Pearson’s teaching is that it makes people feel comfortable in their sin. They are likely to think that they will receive a free get-out-of-hell card regardless of what they do or believe. The devil wants people to believe that so many lost souls will go to hell. It sounds like this Gospel is something that you don’t want to be included in.

Free Junk

“It’s FREE. People would beg for trash if it was free.” – Pastor Dave Simiele’s comment about how people went stark raving mad at the Braves game last weekend trying to get free T-shirts.

Dave makes a great point. Americans are suckers for anything that is free. Even if it is covered with corporate logos and was made in China for two cents, we love free stuff. I am not quite sure why. Maybe we like to brag to our friends what we got for free. Then again, we will also proudly show off the new T-shirt that we bought in the mall for $35.

We seem to either like to promote our thriftiness or our trendy fashion sense. Go figure!

Even More Thoughts from Atlanta…Feel Good Religion

I love big cities. But I also struggle with them too. For instance, I met a guy in Atlanta who approached me and a co-worker for money while we were looking at a menu outside of a fancy restaurant. I never give people money. I will buy them lunch or a bus ticket. But I never give cash. The guy didn’t look right. Although he didn’t smell of alcohol, I wondered if he was on drugs based on his eyes. He talked a good game. The man said he was homeless and gave a litany of reasons why he couldn’t get a job.

My co-worker gave the man some money. I didn’t. This jump started a lengthy discussion at dinner about helping the poor. At other times in the past, I have helped homeless people buy groceries or bought them dinner. I didn’t help the man this time because of the situation.

My co-worker and I talked about our motivation in giving. Sometimes we give to make ourselves feel better. Sometimes we give to get people to leave us alone. Sometimes we give because that is what a good person is supposed to do. Sometimes people give because we think that is what God would have us do. I told my co-worker that I try to sense in the moment what is right and do that. Then, I go on without making apologies for it.

Given the situation, I would do the same thing again. I still believe that giving money in most circumstances is not a good move. Many of the people on the street don’t need the things they are likely to spend the money on, such as drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. If I was not on a business trip, I might have offered to take the gentleman into the food court for dinner. Christians should show Christ’s love to the poor and the homeless. But that doesn’t mean that we have to help everyone who might ask for it.

More Thoughts from Atlanta

Here’s more thoughts and insights from my trip to Atlanta in late June.

While visiting with a friend who works as a youth pastor in Atlanta, I was surprised to learn that many of the leaders in his church are probably not Christians in the traditional sense. They may believe in God and like Jesus. But the Bible is not the guiding source of their faith. Evidently, this denomination does not require elders, deacons and other key leaders to sign a confession of faith or meet any criteria other than being elected by the congregation. Most of these positions rotate and are not long-term. I learned about this when my friend said, “No not all the elders are Christians.”

I found this hard to believe given the Apostle Paul’s admonition, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.” By this Paul was talking about the practice of laying hands on people who are appointed to leadership in the early churches. It is good to have a fellowship that equips the average person to lead. But it is bad if a church elevates any body to leadership just because people like them or it is their turn.

Then our conversation switched to the question that all youth worker asks, “How do we get students to become passionate about Jesus?”

I have to confess that sometimes I feel that I know the answer. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a clue. It starts with modeling out authentic faith. Programs, mission trips, good teaching, spiritual disciplines, all of those things can help. But that is not enough. Eventually, students must decide to take the plunge for themselves.  

Students need legitimate encounters with God. At the same time, you don’t want their faith to be based on experiences, which can change. Faith has to move beyond the visibility reality or is it ever really faith?

While we discussed the struggle to transfer our faith to others, we turned to Ephesians 4.

Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

As Ephesians points out, many students are confused. They live for lustful pleasure. Scripture makes it clear that Jesus is the source of truth. You have to introduce your students to Jesus for them to get what it means to be a Christian. If your ministry has no punch or lasting effect, maybe it needs more Jesus. Lastly, this passage shows that we have to actively put on the new nature, which starts by letting the Holy Spirit renew our minds to think more like Jesus. Being a Christian is a choice, and you have to stick with it every day.

The Peoples Temple – The Danger of a Religious Spirit

I was in middle school the first time that I heard about the massacre/suicide at Jonestown. I don’t think that I ever looked at Kool-Aid the same way again.

Truth be told. It wasn’t Kool-Aid but Fla-Vor-Aid, which is one of the many popular misconceptions about what took place on November 18, 1978. Led by the movement’s charismatic leader, Jim Jones, more than 900 people died from cyanide poisoning. The terrible incident took place after the death of a U.S. congressman and others that visited the Jonestown complex to investigate complaints about the group.

It is hard to believe that hundreds of people would kill themselves or that people would follow Jones based on what former Peoples Temple members have told about what went on in the cult. I don’t believe that all these people were crazy although some of them clearly were, especially Jones. Keep in mind that some of the people may have been killed against their will. A large number of the people who died were children or seniors.

Jones was able to develop a following for a number of reasons. First, he preached a radically different message about racial equality, social justice and spiritual community. Trained in the Pentecostal church, Jones learned how to work a crowd and knew how to manipulate people to get them to do crazy things.

The Peoples Temple did some very good things like giving hope to the poor, operating soup kitchen and senior centers. Jones actively championed the cause of minorities, which is one reason that many blacks were drawn to him. Jones own family was racially diverse. 

From his bus tours to his rhetoric, Jones amassed a large following that worked tirelessly on the various activities of the church. Jones was obviously a gifted motivator and someone who was capable of building an effective organization. But his private demons and lack of oversight caught up with him. 

People flocked to Jones because his message hit a cord with many who were disillusioned by race problems, poverty, ineffective government, materialistic churches, etc. Things were getting done and that was enough for some to look the other way.

Many of the followers were not aware of the inner workings of the organization. Like Hitler and other psychopathic leaders, Jones was able to compartmentalize the operation so that nobody really knew all the key details of the operation except for him. Many of the insiders knew enough to be concerned at times, but none of them knew enough to act. Based on what I have read about the movement, some of the leaders appear to have embraced Jones’ wacky beliefs about sex, God, discipline, etc.  

“When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you’ve ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you’ve ever met, and then you learn the cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true-it probably is too good to be true! Don’t give up your education, your hopes and ambitions to follow a rainbow.” – Jeannie Mills, an early defector from the Peoples Temple

A number of things likely led people to drink the punch. First, many of the people viewed Jones as a prophetic voice from God. Some maybe even thought of him as God or at least their spiritual father. There is a danger whenever we put too much faith in any man. That is clear from this tragedy.

Many of the people worked long hours to build the church in California and even Jonestown. Exhaustion may have made people susceptible to Jones’ influence. Plus, they had spent a lot of energy and time following Jones. The community may have created invisible peer pressure that would be hard for someone to resist once they got in very far.  

Temple members heard lots of indoctrination from Jones. When people got to Jonestown, Jones’ messages were broadcast regularly over loudspeakers, which may have reinforced his control on the people there. On the last day, he characterized communal death as a revolutionary act to walk to another, more beautiful world.

If we can’t live in peace then lets die in peace. We are not committing suicide-its a revolutionary act.”—Jim Jones on the last day at Jonestown 

Jones tried to make the people believe that they would all be killed by the U.S. government because of what happened to the congressman and the other Americans. He wanted them to control their fate instead of being left to the “mercy” of the U.S. government. Jones had successfully created an enemy, which was the outside world, especially the U.S. government. Then, he cast himself as the savior and protector of his people from this great threat. This tactic has worked well in the past to mobilize people to do insane acts. Hitler used the same approach to galvanize the German people against the Jews.

The People Temple also tapped into people’s innate desire to connect with the spiritual. Video tapes indicate that the church services were very charismatic with lively worship. There were both false and indeed real miracles that occurred according to written accounts. I believe that everyone longs for a deep spiritual connection with God although most will end up settling for counterfeits, such as false religions, drugs, personal escapes, inappropriate sexual acts or relations, etc.

The bottom line is that Jones offered something different, something that people wanted. The rub is that he didn’t really deliver in the end. People followed a dream and got a nightmare. The truth is that Jones could never really deliver on his promises. He supposedly was trying to create heaven on earth. The problem is that he left out Jesus. He turned the focus to the plight of men and ultimately to himself.

One thing is clear from the Scriptures, man’s effort to save himself will always fall short. That is why Jesus had to come to die and save humanity.Like any good counterfeit, the Peoples Temple looked like the real thing on the outside, but it lacked the key ingredient – Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life not any man, church, movement or social cause.

Behind it all was a demonic, religious spirit that I believe orchestrated the entire thing behind the scenes. Sure, the people were responsible for their actions. But that doesn’t mean they thought the whole thing up by themselves. That even goes for Jones.

If you look through history, you will see that religious spirits have been the cause of some of the greatest tragedies, wars, false gospels, etc.

Today, we see radical Islam as the most prominent example of what can happen when a religious spirit has control over a group of people. I am reminded of the Crusades as another good example. The big problem with religious spirits is that they are hard to detect until it is too late. True believers think they are doing God’s will when their actions wouldn’t seem reasonable to any man, let alone God.

Religious spirits have a way of appearing good at first. Plus, we all are a little like Eve. We can be easily duped into thinking our actions are good when indeed they are centered on self and soulish desires.

Counterfeits also make people leery about the real thing. This can cause people to shy away from what God really wants to do. The devil wins by confusing people. I have seen this happen at times with legitimate moves of the Holy Spirit. People walk away from a good thing because they are worried about drinking the Kool-Aid.

Religious spirits tend to work hand-in-hand with sexual sin and pride. The Peoples Temple created their own community because they felt American society could not be saved. If that doesn’t smack of pride, I don’t know what does. It is Jesus who saves not Jim Jones.

Immoral sexual acts were common among the Peoples Temple community. Jones encouraged and participated in many of these sins. He used sex as a control mechanism over the members, especially men.

All of this works in conjunction with the spirit of the antichrist. Many people don’t understand that the spirit of the antichrist has been alive and well since the beginning of mankind. Although there will be one person who embodies this spirit at the end times, the world has suffered from the spirit of the antichrist throughout the ages. This spirit is anything that raises itself up to be God except that which is really God. This spirit denies that Jesus is God who came down in human form to save the world.

Jonestown offers many lessons. The primary one is that you can only find what you are looking for in Jesus. He is the one who offers the path to eternal life.

Truth Out of Context Is No Truth At All

Have you ever heard someone quote a Scripture and think as they wrongly apply it to their situation, “Hey, that’s not right?”

Well, I have plenty of times. I believe that one of the most misquoted Scriptures is Jeremiah 29:11. It has been particularly abused by those in the prosperity camp.

Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (NIV).

Wow, that is just a real feel good verse, especially if you are ego centric. If you interpret every promise in Scripture to be about you, then God’s promise in Jeremiah is just what America wants to hear. It makes us feel so warm all over to think that God is all about blessing us here and now.

The problem is that many people wrongly interpret this passage to apply to almost any thing or situation. It is read out of context, which leads people to false conclusions about God in their difficult circumstances.

Words mean things, and you cannot interpret the Scriptures to mean things that God never meant them to say. That is where context is critical to understand how to apply the Bible.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a promise said to the Jewish people who were in pre-exile. It was not spoken to any modern person to apply to their financial woes today. Sure, it can reveal something about God’s character and how He works. But the promise was not made to people today.

Voddie Baucham, a preacher and teacher, recently spoke on this topic at North Point Community Church in Atlanta. I found his sermon online. Voddie said, “The promise wasn’t made to you or me. Now, the promise applies to you so don’t get too sad here. But there is a difference between a promise that was made to you and one that applies to you.”

Voddie’s point is that you have to understand the promise in context and get the gist of it before you try to make application to your circumstance. This is not a simple game of cut and paste theology.

The truth is that Jeremiah 29:11 was made to a group of people not an individual. These people never saw in their lifetime the fulfillment of the promise that God made. Actually, the promise was meant to encourage them to press on despite the coming hardships. The promise was not about a blessing for an individual person nor the good life here and now.

Jeremiah 29:11 is about leaving a legacy of faith and holding onto God’s Word so that preceding generations can enter into God’s promises. Voddie did a really good job of explaining the concept in a two-part sermon series on legacy.

Here are the details: The sermons can be viewed or listened to by visiting http://www.northpoint.org/messages

7/8/07  Multi-Generational Promise
Legacy, Part 1  Voddie Baucham
7/15/07  Getting Your House in Order
Legacy, Part 2  Voddie Baucham         

So what is your legacy? Is it based on truth or a misunderstanding of God’s promises?