Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Ugly Face Of Fanaticism: Christians Blindly Following Wicked Leaders

Few would argue that we are witnessing the unraveling of the end of days if signs and events are any indication. The ferocious battle between good and evil rages even more, and the fact that Christians are at the front lines of this battle is indicative that spiritual casualties are a possibility. Jesus, during his earthly ministry had warned his disciples of the coming deception that would test their faith that even the very elect could fall for. When his disciples inquired of him as to the end of days, the first thing he said was, "take heed that no man deceive you" (Matthew 24:2-3).

Deception is the favorite weapon of the devil to ensnare those that do not belong to him. Deception is his classic ammunition intended for the believers to get to the core of their belief where he can easily compromise without him getting noticed. I remember a pastor once said that "the devil cannot get inside the church (a building or room where we gather), for it is a holy place. Of course I imagined we were being secured by a spiritual fence in the form of fire where no enemy dares enter. But as a Christian desiring to grow deeper in the knowledge of truth, I found out that the enemy can make easy playground through the doctrines taught in church.

As Christians we are called to be vigilant, discerning and well-versed in the scripture. But the devil is cunning, his antics never get boring when it comes to ensnaring believers into his trap, and he is more well-versed in scripture than any of us, so who can top that? The Bible says, "greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4). So, that is already one big blow to the enemy, if we hold on to God's truth in faith. Speaking of truth, it is very important that as Christians we don't strip ourselves of the full armor of God, one of which is the belt of truth that should be tightly fastened. But once our belt of truth loosened up, our breastplate of righteousness also goes down with it, and every other armor comes unraveling so that we lose our battle with the enemy. Some Christians easily overlook the fact that once we have submitted ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ, we have also automatically enlisted ourselves into God's army. We don't expect to be just sitting back as spectators to the ensuing battle without participating, and by participating we mean getting ourselves fully equipped to be ready for battle with the intent to win it.

Christian Dilemma over scriptural emphasis on following laws of men

Very often we hear exchanges of opinion in church and among Christian communities as to the right interpretation of certain scriptural doctrine that sometimes contentious subject find its way on social media platforms. As a result, debates and arguments lead to fire and brimstone which ultimately unmask the true state of modern Christianity, thereby giving the unbelievers a front view seat to the spectacle. 

One particular subject that sets up Christians to an argument can be found in Romans 13:1. It says, "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God." Take note that Paul calls everyone to be in subjection to all authorities as it is God who establishes authorities on earth. What Paul wanted to say is that, authorities are there for a reason to create laws and policies in order to attain social order. For when there is no law there will be chaos and disorder. Even Paul and other disciples had subjected themselves to authorities. When they were apprehended and jailed for no apparent reason apart from preaching God's word, they did not fight back or initiated dissent, rather they obeyed their oppressors who happened to be the men in authority.

In Acts 5, the authorities got the apostles arrested and jailed for preaching and healing the sick. But the angel of the Lord came to their rescue and commanded them to preach about Jesus. When the authorities found out that they got out of prison and still preaching at the temple, they were again arrested and presented to the council where they were warned not to preach again. But Peter defiantly replied, "we would rather obey God than men". Before they were released, the authorities had them beaten again and warned them not to preach Jesus to which they blatantly defied by continually preaching and teaching in the temple and in every house. (Acts 5:42)

Take note that if Paul's admonition to believers to obey authorities is absolute, he himself should have obeyed them, no more ifs and buts. When the authorities had warned him not to preach, he should have stopped preaching, for reasons that he just causes trouble by stirring up arguments that would eventually lead to chaos and dissent. But Paul and all other apostles were not cowed by death threats and incarceration because to them God's laws and commandments should come first before all other laws of man. They could have easily stopped their ministry if only to set an example to the believers that they practice what they preach. But there is really no need to be confused if we all read and understand our bibles because one thing that Paul and the apostles would want us to know is that, once the law of man is already in conflict with the law of God, there is no contest as to which law the believers ought to follow.

Christians unconsciously becoming complicit to the transgression of God's law

These days, one of the hot topics in just about every conversation of global proportion is the so-called war on drugs in the Philippines initiated by president Rodrigo Duterte. Since he took office in July this year, there has been over three thousand dead people who are either products of police operation or extra-judicial killings. Duterte won the election in May mainly because of his promise to rid the country of drugs and other crimes in only three to six months - which greatly resonated with people. Filipinos think he is their hope amid all troubles befalling the country. If anything, their admiration of him already borders on idolatry if the degree of loyalty to him is any indication.

Duterte supporters come in all shapes and sizes, his charisma pervasive it transcends religion, social status and party affiliation. History would vouch no other political figure has emerged in Philippine setting as polarizing as Duterte. Either he is being adored or loathed. By tradition, if a politician has a reputation of killing people, that could pretty much spell his doom. Ironically, Duterte is being adored for bragging he had killed many people and has promised during campaign that he would kill all criminals so that peace will be achieved in the country of 110 million.

This brazen pronouncement by Duterte coupled with a serious vow to make it happen in just six months - either got people excited or alarmed. Fast forward to three months, the death toll including many who were innocent - whom Duterte supporters pass off as collateral damage - is already inching closer to four thousand mark. Despite cries by the global human rights organizations of a massive human rights violations and the increasing local opposition to the culture of death - there seems to be no waning of the bloodlust by the Duterte supporters who advocate drug users of all kinds deserve death.

Wait till we hear real consensus from real people. During the campaign preceding the election, it is understandable that Duterte's support comes from all walks of life - and that includes born-again believers who openly campaign for Duterte. Pastors and spiritual leaders would even dedicate a day of prayer and fasting to ensure Duterte's victory in the election.

It is no secret that President Duterte despite all allegations of criminal past - enjoys massive support from Christian communities. The magnitude of support he has from Christian groups is unprecedented in Philippine political history, that not even a certain Eddie Villanueva, a popular pastor evangelist - could draw a fraction of that support when he ran for president twice.

Now this is where it gets really disturbing. If social media is to be the barometer to gauge people's opinion, the consensus is really scary. Most professing Christians including those that I know of personally - are in favor and fully supportive of Duterte's style of war on drugs no matter the method of implementation. So far those that are dead include the innocent, women and children, and lately a vacationing OFW who was mistaken for a drug suspect, got apprehended, tortured and killed by the police.

The love of many shall wax cold

A few months back prior to election, I had a conversation on Facebook with a pastor based in the Middle East who is an ardent supporter of Duterte. He said he does not believe in due process anymore and that it's about time that all the menace in society should be annihilated. He said he stands by what he said because he already started to fear for his family given today's crime-riddled society, so due process to him is no longer applicable. That goes without saying, once a suspected criminal gets cornered, there will be no jail time for him or a court of law hearing his case, just one final stop for him: six feet below the ground.

That conversation may sound ordinarily innocuous but it is reflective of the actual values present in today's churches: of Christians forgetting the very basic tenets of Christianity for their self-preservation. What makes it even disturbing is the fact that this pastor does not believe in due process anymore but is advocating death for society's transgressors as shortcut to peace. The fact that it is an opinion of a Christian, let alone a pastor who had topped his Homiletics class, is doubly disturbing, and I could only hope and pray he is alone. But reality tells otherwise. In the wake of a weakening Philippine economy mainly due to fears and worries of the president's deadly war on drugs, some Filipino Christians are yet to awake from their blind adoration of him. The extent of their fanaticism is shockingly evident by their Facebook posts supporting the lies and ferociously defending even the vilest of deed associated with the president, and we can't even start to comprehend how on earth Christians can lose their testimony and becoming belligerent in the name of their idolatry for a wicked man.

I've been in some of these churches and I can tell how congregants are being fed with the doctrine of absolute authority by the state and that Christians ought to obey leaders as though it is a godly mandate they need to follow ascribing to Romans 13. However, this twisting of the scripture coupled with church's leaders special fondness for a certain leader - makes for a lethal recipe for spiritual deception. They think that whatever directive it is coming from a leader, even if it is a wicked leader, they ought to support it. And this begs the question: How can "Christians support and even defend a leader whose program of death is a glaring violation of God's commandment "thou shalt not kill"?

Christian's false obedience (to authorities) as one facet of deception

Indeed deception comes in a variety of forms. Christians who believe that if they follow or obey whosoever in authority as backed up by their Romans 13:1 misinterpretation - will be finding themselves at war with biblical truth. Or is it because they themselves are the fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3: 1-4 that they would rather support a president who advocates killing without the rule of law? How far will some Christians go in their adoration for a wicked man at the pretext that he is a god-installed leader whom they should support and follow regardless of his bloodthirsty agenda? Have they already forgotten the time when the gospel of salvation was preached to them and later found out that "God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth"? (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9) Did it not even cross their minds that the death of the wicked does not please God? (Ezekiel 18:32)

Christians ought to obey authorities for no authority under heaven exists except that which God ordains. That's very clear.  God also tells us to obey human laws, and we should. But sometimes men in authority act as if they are above the law of the land, and yet people, including many Christians perceive it as God-ordained so that they equate supporting and obeying these men in authority to obeying God. And what kind of a Christian will support and agree with a leader who invokes Hitler and tags himself as the modern-day copycat who would gladly slaughter millions of drug addicts? If we do, we have been greatly deceived for not even recognizing we no longer serve the compassionate God who gives second chances, in fact many chances, to all. Truth be told, we may have been serving another god.

The Holy Spirit will not allow true believers to get stuck in a quagmire of confusion for it is Him who guides, directs and convicts believers into all truth. It's just that we do not allow Him to do His work in us because as Christians our personal opinion and preferences override that of the will of God. This is where many Christians who are die-hard supporters of wicked leaders suffer from an issue of false obedience. It is as simple as it gets: we've been commanded to obey human laws and also authorities, no question about that, but when human laws come in conflict with God's law, "we are to obey God rather than men".

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gambling And Pyramiding Christians: No Problem?

Last week's Powerball draw in the US had left at least three winners extremely happy, but millions of others heartbroken who had hoped for a windfall of wealth at the blink of an eye only in dreams possible. No backbreaking exertion, no big amount to take the risk but a few dollars coupled with the help of lady luck and voila, all this world can offer comes running to you.

The three winners from California, Florida and Tenessee are estimated to be dividing the incredibly huge amount of US$1.5 billion among themselves. Very few people in their lifetime have actually gone from rags to riches and zero to hero courtesy of the Powerball so one can easily understand the excitement and hope it gives bettors given the staggering amount of money to be won.

Gambling in general, is big business, and for some cities like Las Vegas and Macau, obviously it has been for many good reasons: their economies revolve around gambling revenues that in turn create employment opportunities and enhance tourism - all because people spend lots of money to get rich quickly and be entertained. Unfortunately, most people tend to get poorer instead of richer when gambling. This is not a shocking statistic as it is how the world operates. Throughout history, gambling has been a constant fixture in the lives of people - ordinary and great - both as a form of entertainment and as a passage to accumulating more wealth.

For Christians, is Gambling a Sin?

Of course, you will hear blunt reasoning left and right from biblically "smart" Christians who are into some not-so-obviously evil form of gambling saying the word gambling per se does not exist in the Bible hence, it is not considered a sin. True enough, the Scripture is silent on this subject as it is with other similarly interesting ones such as drug addiction, arson, pornography, etc. But does it mean to say when the Bible doesn't roar about them we Christians automatically get a free pass to get involved in such things? Certainly not!

Last year, a North Carolina single mom with four children said that the first person to get a cut of her $188 million Powerball lottery win will be the Lord "because I wouldn't have any of it if it wasn't for God". Last year, Marie Holmes was beaming with joy as she announced she will pay her tithes first to her church and the rest will be set up for college funds and the future of her four children.

It's not shocking that this single mom of four is a Christian for acknowledging God by her tithes. And she's not alone who frequents a Christian church, and probably serving God through a specific ministry. Statistics show that a lot of professing born-again Christians play the lottery and have no qualms whatsoever frequenting casinos for "entertainment" while many others pin their hopes on winning a Powerball so that they can be a blessing to others and their church. Sounds very alarming.

Gambling is inconsistent with biblical virtue. It is fueled by - and it fuels - covetousness, greed, and materialism. It is associated with crime, vice, and corruption, so that wherever gambling exists, crime rates rise. And it is contrary to the biblical work ethic because it is an attempt to gain wealth without working for it. Gambling violates a number of biblical principles and therefore, ought to be avoided in all its forms.

There is a sinister principle that underlies all forms of gambling: that for every winner, there are losers. And the winners' gains come at the losers' expense. There is no other way to gain money through gambling. When you win, you are taking that which belongs to another. The winners' profit always comes directly from the losers' pocket.

The following quotes from Scriptures can be taken as serious warnings for anyone who is into gambling:

"Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it." ~ Proverbs 13:11

"He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity." ~ Ecclesiastes 5:10

"A faithful man will abound with blessings, but he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished." ~ Proverbs 28:20

"A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, and does not consider that poverty will come upon him." ~ Proverbs 28:22

One of the biggest problems with gambling is this: It's win-lose. True wealth should be win-win, not win-lose. In gambling, millions have to lose for one to ultimately win. This is not God's design. God wants win-win. When a person creates a product, another person buys it. The customer gains something (the product), and the seller gains something (income). It's win-win. In gambling, it's the opposite. It's win-lose. Millions will lose, only one (or few) will win.

What is your reasoning for wanting to gamble? Is it to get rich quick? The Bible commands we should labor and earn wealth honestly - not by some luck of the draw. Being a compulsive gambler is certainly just as sinful as being drunk, drug addict, or being greedy. If you gamble to get rich, you may be loving money more than God (a sin). As the Scripture admonishes: a person who sets his will to work patiently and steadily will find his prosperity steadily increasing because God oversees the well-being of those who keep His commandments.

Equating Pyramiding Scheme with Gambling and why it thrives among Christian churches

Obviously, the two are distinctly poles apart - in form, in dynamics, and in methods by which they operate, but clearly the motivations are certainly the same. Online multi-level marketing plans aka pyramiding scheme per se cannot be classified as a form of gambling because in here you invest your money for unbelievably higher returns, sometimes yields are too-good-to-be-true that it can get addictive which drives investors even harder to enroll more recruits into the scheme. But as recruiting quickly multiplies and becomes impossible, most members are unable to profit; as such, pyramid schemes are unsustainable and often illegal. Some multi-level marketing plans that we always see being aggressively promoted in social media have also been classified as pyramid schemes.

Previously, we have written an article about certain churches whose members and even elders are into pyramiding scheme (rampant of which is the Emgoldex/Global Intergold). These churches aggressively teach that if you're generous in giving (and tithing), you will be tremendously blessed. They love to quote their favorite Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) as it strikes a chord with those whose goal is to scoop up all the favors that the generous God of the universe supposedly loves to rain down on them. They are oblivious to the fact that many lives and relationships have been ruined as a result of a church-sanctioned greed which they conveniently and shamelessly describe as "an exercise of faith or faith in action" in the context of "faith without action is dead".

The aggressive pyramiding activity within Filipino Christian churches especially in the Middle East goes unhampered and blatantly thriving because even pastors and leaders themselves are active players in what they call "an opportunity from God to be blessed abundantly". Note that to them the word abundance equates with financial prosperity. 

While society quickly labels gamblers as immoral, the social media savvy pyramiding warriors are conveniently called investors or online entrepreneurs. But just the same, the motivation is to get rich real quick and at the expense of the poor and gullible. Remember, it is the poor that play lotteries so that winners get their winnings from these bets. Likewise with those on the top levels of the pyramid who feed off the money and effort of those at the bottom level who most of the time do not necessarily share the luck of those above them and oftentimes are unable to recoup their hard-earned money when the pyramid collapses. Other schemes such as Emgoldex have produced sob stories of countless "investors" who were not able to get their rewards much less their investment money that led some of them into depression, broken relationships, and worst, suicides.

Wanting to get-rich-quick has proven repercussions

Just recently, we got to help a guy who survived a suicide attempt (of all places in the Middle East) and the backstory behind his attempt was a failed investment in Emgoldex that resulted in a complex series of problems that led to severe depression. His recruits demanded that their investment money be returned back as they could no longer wait for the supposed rewards or return of investment promised to them. But he could not do so because he had already remitted their investment money to their group leader who is in another country. He spent sleepless nights as a result of their constant bugging and jail threats. One thing leads to another, and before he came to his senses he had already flirted with death, and that episode leaves him mentally and psychologically scarred for life.

God indeed is good that even in this grave circumstance when everything seemed hopeless for this man He allowed us to minister to him throughout his ordeal until he had recovered and got reunited with his loved ones in the Philippines. During his month-long hospitalization, we were privileged to have shared the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to him and taught him the importance of contentment by which all men should live with. He aimed to get his hands on instant wealth yet found himself on the opposite end, but in his miserable state, he came to know the true meaning of being rich in life - that is, of having contentment in life and getting to know the One who gives genuine abundant life.

Despite serious warnings, lure of earthly riches proves to be some Christians' Achilles heels

The "parable of the rich fool" in Luke 12:16-21 conveys God's thoughts on man's foolish quest for more riches and His disdain for man's arrogance and discontentment. It is a serious warning that most people should heed. Sometimes it is convenient for us Christians to say, "okay, this is not me, only unbelievers and the godless tend to be like this rich man. I work hard, I invest my money, maybe a few dollars for a Powerball ticket won't really define me as a Christian, or maybe if I encourage people in our church to invest in Emgoldex it would be a great help for my brethren's financial status and consequently our church's finances". The moment you get your hands on your first goal, the bigger your next goal becomes, and suddenly the goal you've set for yourself becomes boundless.

This is exactly what motivated a brother in Christ when he encouraged us to enroll in the pyramiding business he was into - that he would set up funds to build a church in his home province and at the same time help us augment our incomes. Sometimes our "noble plan" to help our church and our brethren becomes a convenient facade behind that sinister motive to get to our goals, that is to enrich ourselves, because whether we admit it or not we dread being poor and struggling. We believe that God is rich and generous, and being the legalist that we are, we cleave to the principle of "rightful inheritance" so that we stake our claim to all that belongs to God.

Contentment and Obedience constitute true riches

Jesus in His sermon had urged His followers to choose to store up riches in heaven rather than on earth. Yet  this gem of an advice does seem to be unpopular among many Christians in favor of the Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) which proves to be very popular yet taken out of context as this verse refers to those who were in captivity in Babylon. (This verse is hardly quoted in its King James version as it sounds very different from the ear-tickling NIV.)

The apostle Paul had long predicted that "in the last days people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, arrogant, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power". (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. ~ 1 Timothy 6:6-10

An important lesson of life to learn is that wealth is a means, not an end itself. Get-rich-quick schemes, cutting corners to get more for oneself and taking unfair advantage of another's ignorance will, in the end, destroy the perpetrator. Those who do these things to get rich are in reality seeking death because they are breaking the spirit of the eighth commandment that says "thou shalt not steal". But if we place God first rather than the accumulation of wealth, then we will use whatever He allows us to have, no matter how little or how much, to glorify Him (1 Cor. 10:31)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...