Monday, August 28, 2006

Growing in Blasphemy

I thought to myself "surely, my wife misunderstood him." One morning last week, she came into our bedroom as I was getting out of the shower to tell me that a pudgy, middle-aged Hispanic man from Miami was on NBC's Today Show claiming to be Christ-incarnate, declaring all other Chrsitian faiths false, proclaiming that there is neither sin nor Satan, and vowing to bring an end to all man-made governments and religions.

But a quick perusal of his ministry website, along with a July 22 edition of the Miami Herald, assured me that Amy had heard correctly, which means only one thing: Satan is gunning for the Hispanic population in North America!

Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, a 60-year-old native of Puerto Rico, was for a time an evangelical pastor. But 20 years ago, after founding the ministry Creciendo en Gracia (Growing in Grace), his message began to become more nutty with each passing year, until finally reaching official nut job status in 2004, when he claimed that the spirit of Jesus Christ had been reincarnated in his body. In short, Miranda now refers to himself as "King of Kings, and Lord of Lords" with ever increasing frequency.

An examiniation of Miranda's message clearly vindicates Solomon's wise reminder that there is nothing new under the sun. Part ancient Nestorianism, part new thought metaphysics, part Prosperity Gospel, and part Liberation Theology, Miranda's "gospel" is tailor-made to a 21st century Latin-American immigrant culture.

There are a few differences, however, between Miranda and the Christ whom he presumes to be. First, having declared that sin and Satan are both myths, Miranda has conveniently forgotten that messages like those preached by his ilk are conceived by an enemy who disguises himself as a good guy (2 Cor. 11: 13-15), as well as the fact that those who say what Miranda says are devoid of truth, and lie to themselves as well as everyone else (1 John 1:8).

Second, in his quest to found "God's government on earth," Miranda is taking quite some time to accomplish this goal. The real milennium is established with one word from the real Jesus. (Rev. 19:20-21) With over 100,000 worshippers, Miranda has certainly established a following. But Scripture tells us that when He returns, the real Jesus will be able to take care of assuming control of all the Kingdoms of this world quite well on his own.

Third, The Herald noted that Miranda travels everywhere wearing a bullet-proof vest and surrounded by a tight security detail; a fact that in retrospect seems a bit absurd if his contention that sin is no more is really true. Again, the real Jesus needs no such protection, but instead comes back as a white-haired, fiery-eyed warrior wearing a robe drenched in His enemies' blood, with a tatoo up his thigh, to slaughter all who oppose Him. I read nothing in Revelation 19 that would suggest the neccesity of a security detail.

Fourth, Miranda claims that he never opens a Bible (hey, I might have found the problem here!) or prays, rhetorically asking "who am I going to pray to?" The real Jesus, by contrast, was filled with Scriptural wisdom (Luke 2:52, 4:4-13), and constantly prayed to the Father.

Perhaps, if Miranda would pick up the very Bible of which he claims to have no need, he might see a clear picture of himself there, and as a result, recognize his true identity:

Let no one deceive you in any way, for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God . . . .For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming." (2 Thess. 2:3-8)

Or maybe he would find himself here:

"See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will lead many astray." (The real Jesus, quoted in Matthew 24:4-5)

In short, although claiming to be the Messiah, Miranda is but one very insignificant antiChrist in a long line of antiChrists that Jesus warned us about. Worse yet, God in the Scriptures has condemned Him. As such, he is the most pitiful of the pitied.

These incidents should trigger pity in the hearts of genuine Christ-followers. Furthermore, they should call our attention to our evangelistic impetus. Hispanics will likely be the majority ethnic group in North America within the next half-century. As they go, so our culture will likely go. Men like Miranda should serve as a solemn reminder to the church that if we don't reach the lost with the Gospel, some accursed individual or group will reach them with an attractive alternative (Galatians 1:6-9)!

One day, in the not-too-distant future, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda is going to come face-to-face with the One who has marked him out beforehand for damnation (Jude 4). In that moment of truth, how many of his growing number of followers will join Him in hell? The answer to that question may very well depend on our commitment to engage our immigrant friends with the message of the real Jesus.

Further resources:

Alexandra Alter, "Divine or Dangerous: He's got Disciples" The Miami Herald. July 22, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Mainline Mess

Even a far-left publication like the Los Angeles Times gets it! But apparently, the most liberal wings of the church are still in denial about their imminent demise. Hemmoraging mercilessly for the past four decades, The mainline arms of the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist Church continue on a trajectory of slow and agonizing death. In a July 9 Religion column entitled "Liberal Christianity is paying for its Sins," LA Times columnist Charlotte Allen points theological liberals to the writing on the wall, describing their current condition as a "meltdown of liberal Christianity." And in a recent blog post, Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll reminds us that no church is exempt from the possibility of having their candlestick removed.

In commenting on the Times column, Driscoll offers, among other things, 10 ways to destroy your denomination, and the same principles hold true for individual churches. His list is below:

In summary, here are ten easy steps to destroying a denomination:
1. Have a low view of Scripture and, consequently, the deity of Jesus.

2. Deny that we were made male and female by God, equal but with distinct roles in the home and church.

3. Ordain liberal women in the name of tolerance and diversity.

4. Have those liberal women help to ordain gay men in the name of greater tolerance and diversity.

5. Accept the worship of other religions and their gods in the name of still greater tolerance and diversity.

6. Become so tolerant that you, in effect, become intolerant of people who love Jesus and read their Bible without scoffing and snickering.

7. End up with only a handful of people who are all the same kind of intolerant liberals in the name of tolerance and diversity.

8. Watch the Holy Spirit depart from your churches and take people who love Jesus with Him.

9. Fail to repent but become more committed than ever to your sinful agenda.

10. See Jesus pull rank, judge you, and send some of your pastors to hell to be tormented by Him forever because He will no longer tolerate your diversity.

The rest of Mark's post can be found here:

Since he writes more eloquently than I could on this subject, I encourage all of you to check this one out. Let us never seek so hard to become "relevant" to our culture that we become irrelevant to God and His Kingdom!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Matt Chandler, and More Thoughts on Trying to be a Hero!

A great paradox regarding pastoral ministry is seen in the way pastors claim that they realize they aren't "Superman," while simultaneously trying to walk on water. Early in my ministry, a well-respected African-American pastor once told me "son, Jesus already died for your people, and there is no need for you to do it too!" It was good advice! Yet the statistics clearly reveal that pastors are still dying, at least professionally if not physically, for churches. 1500 pastors leave the ministry each and every month due either to moral failure or burnout, and in spite of ample warnings, the hemmoraging hasn't slowed down. Perhaps this is why Matt Chandler's latest post, and recent sermon, is so timely.

Chandler assumed the pastorate of First Baptist Church, Highland Village, Texas, in December 2002. Almost four years later, the church has a new name (The Village Church), a totally new structure, and has grown from 160 to over 3000 in 6 weekly services, while almost killing its new pastor.

At 32, Chandler already seems to have the wisdom of a guy with decades of pastoral experience. Of course, hearing his testimony leaves you thinking that the last four years have advanced his life by at least that many decades! While in Seattle this past May, I had the privilege of being blessed by his testimony, and reminded of my own limitations.

Evidently, the casualty rate in ministry has fostered an issue dear to Chandler's heart, and his recent post at Resurgence illustrates this concern. He states:

Why does this keep happening? Why do we keep losing sharp, young, godly men to bitterness and despair? Am I in danger? I found myself praying and thinking for the next few hours. I always want to go back to the life of Jesus when it comes to questions of surviving ministry.

This post, and his recent message "Gravity: The Weight of Pastoring and the Knowledge of Christ," will be required reading and listening for my Pastoral Theology students at Capital Seminary this fall. If you are a parishioner seeking to understand the heart of a pastor, the blog and online message will give you a brutally-honest inside look. If you are a pastor, your heart will reasonate with Matt Chandler, and if you heed his words, they just might save your ministry!

Read the blog at:

Hear the sermon at:

Visit The Village online at:

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mel Gibson and the Myth of Christian Heroism

Less than three years after producing a phennomenal depiction of Christ's death and resurrection, Oscar-winning actor and director Mel Gibson was arrested for drunken driving, and castigated by the media and general public for strong anti-Semitic remarks he made while being placed under arrest. Once again, Hollywood and the media are simmering over "Mad Mel's" racist tirade, and this latest debacle again brings to the surface two struggles that have seemed to perpetually plague the A-list actor, the other being alcohol abuse.

While the national media debate Mel Gibson's fate, the church has largely remained silent and somewhat paralyzed by an event that has obviously caught us off guard. After all, two and a half years ago, Gibson was touring evangelical churches all across the world peddling his new film The Passion of the Christ as a tool of evangelism. Once again, someone the church at large held up as an icon of strong faith has fallen. But this isn't the first time the church has been surprised by bad behavior from those celebrated as strong believers, nor will it likely be the last. And in the midst of the media frenzy, Christians must ask deeper questions about our propensity to look to men rather than to God.

From TV evangelist Jim Bakker's arrest to NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon's divorce to singer Michael English's extra-marital affair, the list of men vocal about their faith who have fallen is a long one. I remember hearing about Gordon's rumored extra-marital affair and subsequent divorce, and immediately recalling his strong testimony before thousands of people in Indianapolis at a Billy Graham crusade just four years earlier. Likewise, many who idolized Michael English during the early nineties were crushed when it was revealed that the singer had kept secret an ongoing affair with a fellow Christian artist. Given our experience with placing people on pedestals as role models, one might think evangelicals would learn from history. Such is, regretably, not the case.

Unfortunately, our penchant for the idolization of men (and women) can be credited in large part to our hermaneutic. From the cradle, evangelicals have taught their children that the stories in the Bible are about "good guys" vs. "bad guys." Abraham is the father of a nation who, with his strong faith, was willing to filet his only son. David is the strong King of Israel who slaughtered Goliath. Solomon was the wise King who arbitrated a scenario between two mothers that would have otherwise been impossible in a pre-DNA testing age. Elijah is the great man of God who called down fire from heaven and killed the prophets of Baal. John the Baptist was the great preacher who called all to repentance. Peter also was the great preacher at Pentecost.

We teach the Bible as if it were full of stories about heroes, when in reality it is simply a story of sin and grace. Perhaps this is why, when men like Mel Gibson demonstrate that they are, well, men, we are so shocked. We forget that Abraham was, at heart, a liar, David an adulterer, Solomon a pervert, Elijah a whiner, John a doubter, and Peter an indecisive hot-head. We forget that their moments of greatest strength were so because of God's empowerment which overcame their depravity.

From beginning to end, the Bible has one hero, and that hero is God! He is the grand protagonist throughout both testaments, and the human "heros" are essentially no more than His enemies whom He has brought near to Himself and made friends.

Paul echoes this when he tells Timothy in his first letter to preach that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." Paul understood that from the perspective of the cross, there are no heros, but only those who have been saved by grace. Therefore, as he ministers, he does so not as the great missionary-hero who sweeps in to save the heathen, but rather, as a trophy of the same grace he proclaims to those who will listen.

This perspective will put an end to the myth of Christian heroism. Even in his brightest moments, Mel Gibson is no hero. All good things that resulted from the Passion are so by God's design and power. Conversely, the recent Gibson episode doesn't make him any worse than he has always been. Anti-semitism and alcoholism are simply two expressions of a sinful nature that plagues each one of us. Such a realization will produce the right response from followers of Christ: forgiveness and restoration to one who claims to be our brother, and who has asked for help.

With that said, don't read between the lines that I think we should take Gibson's actions lightly. This is not my point at all. In fact, the restoration process is one that can only properly take place within the bounds of church discipline. The point however, is that what sets the Christian story apart from all others is that it isn't about heroism, but grace. We should expect that adherents to other religious faiths would be shocked by Gibson's actions. Their teachings all appeal to human goodness and human works as a means of acheiving salvation. But true Christianity realizes that apart from God's common and special grace, human goodness is a myth. Therefore, when professing Christians fall, we should condemn the behavior, but not the person. We should express dissapointment, but not shock. We should administer discipline, but not wrath.

"Mad Mel" messed up! Rest assured, he won't be the last! May the church use moments like these to remind ourselves that none of us wear a cape, and only One wears a crown!