|Has one of your children
ever come to the kitchen while you were busy fixing dinner and exclaimed,
"Boy am I hungry! I hope the food is going to be ready soon!"? You
may have gotten a chuckle out of this if that kid was really a lumbering
teen-age boy with a non-stop appetite who ate a hearty lunch and had been
snacking on goodies much of the time since then. When he refers to "hunger"
he certainly doesn't mean "starving for nutrition." You can bet if you
offered him a plate of beets to "calm his hunger" while waiting for the
steak and potatoes to be done cooking, he'd likely exclaim he wasn't that
hungry, and could wait a little while longer.
A child who is well-fed in a loving home seldom ever experiences the kind of hunger that may be felt by those in less fortunate circumstances. There really are people who go to bed physically hungry--some who even go to bed starving--in many places in the world. Most of us realize this.
But what we may not realize is that there are also people who really do go to bed spiritually hungry--some who even go to bed spiritually starving. And these people aren't all in far away places somewhere around the world. Some are right in our own community, some are in our own neighborhood, some may even be inside our own home.
God built into mankind a hunger to get to know Him. As some have poetically expressed it, "There is a God-shaped hole in your soul that can only be filled by a relationship with Him." He sent prophets and teachers to reveal Himself and His plans to mankind. He eventually sent His Son as the ultimate revelation, and as the ultimate sacrifice to redeem lost mankind to Himself. The Bible records what we need to know to have that hunger satisfied and lead us into that fulfilling relationship.
But for most people, just owning a Bible doesn't satisfy that hunger. Something is still missing.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Go south to the road-- the desert road-- that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, "Go to that chariot and stay near it." Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. "How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:26-31)The eunuch was hungry to know more about God. But even with his great learning, he could not clearly understand all that he read. He craved someone to "explain" it to him. And if he had not already possessed some of the Bible, he would have had to have someone bring it to him in the first place. As Paul noted:
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Rom 10:14-15)It is clear in the Bible that, although everyone can have access to the scriptures themselves, God has provided "teachers" to assist others in hearing about and understanding the things in those scriptures. The burden on those who have this calling is great:
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1)And the New Testament contains a number of warnings about teachers (and preachers, and people acting in the role of prophets and apostles--those who would claim to be spokesmen for God in some way) who do not have a calling from God at all.
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them-- bringing swift destruction on themselves. (2 Pet 2:1)In the animal kingdom, it is not the physically healthy and strong in herds and flocks who are easy prey for the wolves. It is the very young, the sick, the weak, and the hungry and starving who are easy pickings. And it is those weak ones wandering off by themselves who are in the most danger of all. An injured or sick dolphin that is with its family "pod" is encircled by its healthy family members, and is kept safe from the sharks and aided to the surface to breathe and so on until it regains its strength. A weak dolphin off by itself is also easy pickings for the ocean predators.
Thus it is in the spiritual realm also. The false teachers that Peter spoke of are not much of a danger to the spiritually healthy and strong and well-fed. They are a danger to those who are young in the faith, those who have been hurt by relationships within "religious" groups, those who are wandering off by themselves confused. And they are particularly a threat to those who are spiritually hungry.
Even Christians who were strong in their faith once upon a time can become weakened and hungry if they find themselves in a religious setting where their needs for good spiritual food and for opportunities to build up their "spiritual muscles" are not met. That food and exercise comes in a number of ways: from formal teaching, from interacting with others seeking to know God, from using one's own spiritual gifts to build up the Body. An environment where any of these factors is missing can lead to a spiritual hunger and weakness--which can leave the weakened Christian as easy prey for false teachers and spiritually harmful religious groups. An extreme example would be the cult known as the "Moonies" which has long targeted lonely teens and young adults, often run-aways, who are hungry for love and fellowship and answers to their spiritual questions.
But one doesn't need to be a confused teenager to be targeted and lured by harmful religious movements and misled by false teachers claiming to be coming in Jesus' name, but who were not called or sent by Him. One only needs to be spiritually hungry.
Do you have friends or family members
who have become interested in or directly involved with religious groups
about which you have concerns? Would you like to know how to help them
avoid or escape such spiritually unhealthy entanglements? If so, you need
to realize that the situation likely involves spiritual hunger of some
sort. There are some needs that are being met by the new involvement that
were not being met elsewhere. And thus any efforts of persuasion you attempt
to use that do not take into account that hunger and those needs will be
ineffective in the long run.
Here are seven steps to helping the spiritually hungry who may be headed for danger.
Sometimes people who get involved with unhealthy religious groups can become a bit "unlovable" as they try to force their newfound beliefs on others, or withdraw from family and friends in order to pursue their "new love." They may be even taught by their new religious teachers to "expect persecution" from friends and family. And thus they may even become belligerent and hostile for a time. If you truly wish to help them, you cannot allow their "emotional distancing" affect your own attitude toward them. Remember the example of the father of the Prodigal Son in Jesus' parable, and communicate your unconditional love at all times.
The parents of teenage daughters usually discover for themselves this principle. A 14-year-old young woman might "fall for" the town "Rebel Without a Cause." In this case, the last thing that would dissuade her from her starry-eyed puppy love for him would be for her parents to sit her down immediately and rant at her about his horrible reputation and all the things they disapprove of about him. She will immediately tune them out, and begin defending him from their accusations by pointing out that they just don't know "the real him" like she does. In the same way, a person who has been studying a potentially harmful group for many months may begin to be impressed with what they are learning and with the warm welcome they have received within the group. In this case, they are not going to listen to the concerns of their loved ones if they are presented as a frontal attack. Ranting at such a person that they are becoming "involved in a cult" will fall on deaf ears.
You are not going to be able to discover the nature of the underlying hunger and needs that your loved one has that is attracting them to a potentially harmful group if you are doing most of the talking. It may be very hard to hold your tongue when they make statements you know to be either unbiblical or irrational. But if they have already begun to "invest" themselves in the new group (by devoting their time, energy, efforts and even finances in support of it) you will be ineffective in trying to "reason" them out of their investment with just argumentation regarding isolated tidbits of what they are beginning to believe. The process of turning around their thinking is going to take time. Your best investment in the early stages of dialogue with them is an investment in listening to them. Asking calmly-worded questions that are not confrontational or combative will provide you with information on what is going on inside their mind and emotions. You may be able to use this information … with God's guidance … to good effect later.
God does not want any of His children trapped in unhealthy spiritual environments. He loves your friend or relative as much and more than you do. Yet He does give everyone free will, and thus He will not prevent someone from going down a dark path if that is their choice. He can, however, use you as a tool to shine His Light down that path toward them and help them return. But this can seldom be done instantaneously. It will take time and wisdom and patience on your part to complete the task. Those can come only from God.
One of the greatest hindrances to the efforts of many to help friends or relatives who are being lured by spiritually unhealthy religious groups is lack of knowledge about the group in question. Have you just vaguely heard that the religious group is labeled by some a "cult" and thus worry about your son or daughter or neighbor who is studying with them? If you know nothing more than this vague label, you will be totally ineffective at trying to reach your loved one. Their personal experiences and the "hype" they have heard from their newfound teachers will convince them that such labels are unwarranted. Only solid facts will eventually be useful in addressing the situation. I have been involved for over a decade in research regarding religious movements, particularly those movements about which I have serious concerns relating to spiritual abuse and deception. For those who are considering involvement in a new religious group, those who may have concerns about a movement with which they have been involved, or those who may wish to help friends or relatives avoid or escape spiritually harmful religious groups, I have created a website of reference material regarding such groups. The site provides profiles of a wide variety of religious teachers, groups and movements. Each profile contains:
an overview of the history of the group or teacher;
the chief claims made by them to attract followers;
information that may lead the reader to share my concerns about the claims;
recognition of any positive contributions of the teacher or group;
and documentation and bibliographical material for those who wish to do more extensive study on specific groups.
The site is called the Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion, and it is at:
Once you have done your homework, pray again for God's guidance to know just when and how to use the information that you have gleaned. The most effective way to share information with your loved one about such groups may be to plant at least some small seed of a question about the policies, history, or teachings of the organization for which you know, from your studies, the organization is unable to provide an answer. Again, this will not work over night, and you may need to plant small seed after small seed before the person begins to have at least a small nagging doubt. But once that small nagging doubt begins, it can be nourished with solid information.
Women who escape from abusive marriages often find themselves soon attracted to another man who is just as abusive. And thus they may find themselves in "serial" abusive marriages, because they never stopped long enough to find out just what was attracting them to the "wrong kind" of mate. In like manner, a person weaned from one unhealthy religious group, perhaps by circumstances beyond their control such as disfellowshipment, can easily just find themselves quickly lured to an equally unhealthy spiritual environment by the deceptive teachings of one more false teacher. If you want to help your loved one in the long run, you need to be spiritually healthy and strong yourself. And you need to be part of creating a healthy, nourishing spiritual environment for the spiritually hungry in your own community. This may be as simple as a small home fellowship group of believers who meet in your living room regularly to share their Faith and edify and encourage one another. If you do not live near the person you are attempting to help, then you will need to pray that God help you to help them to find such an environment in their own area.
|Pam Dewey 10/18/02|
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