He was born deep in the heart of Texas, San Antonio to be exact. His daddy was a preacher who had a gift for communicating God’s Word, and the people would come from near and far to hear him Sunday after Sunday.

The family moved from San Antonio to Corpus Christi in the mid-40’s because dad felt called to begin a new church. He worked hard and God blessed. Today, the church started by the aspiring and tireless preacher is known as The Parkway Presbyterian Church. The family liked Corpus Christi and they enjoyed the fellowship of their new friends.

Their son adjusted well to his new school and neighborhood. The boy was mesmerized by his father’s ability to touch people’s hearts with the spoken word. Herff was a chip off of the old block as everyone around him recognized his charisma and personable way with people. One of his high school classmates said that he was certainly the most likely to succeed at Corpus Christi High.

In high school he was a member of the National Honor Society, the Bible Club, and the Science Club. He sang in the choir and worked on the school’s newspaper all throughout high school.

When he graduated from high school in 1948, Herff chose to attend Austin College, a Presbyterian college in Sherman, Texas. He was one of the most popular boys on campus. He was the president of the freshman class, president of the organization of students who planned to join the ministry, a student council member throughout his college days, and an honor student who always made the dean’s list. His college roommate remembers Herff for “his popularity with women, his singing in school productions, and their late-night ‘bull’ sessions.” Herff was seriously considering following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a minister. While he was wrestling with the decision as to whether or not he would commit his life to ministry, Herff chose to major in Philosophy and minor in English. As time progressed he found a deep love for music which caught his attention. As a result of his love for music, Herff sang in the choir, he played the lead roles in the Broadway-style musicals, “Brigadoon” and “Oklahoma!”

In 1952, the year following his graduation from Austin College, Herff enrolled in the Union Theological Seminary to study for the ministry. After one year he was recruited to become the minister of music at the First Presbyterian Church in Gastonia, N.C. Herff was married and he and his wife stayed at First Presbyterian until Herff entered the military.

In 1960 Herff became the a professor of music at the University of Alabama. Things were going well for him. He had a beautiful, two beautiful children, a beautiful singing voice, and he even cut an album with the Crimson Tide marching band. Prosperity and good times were short-lived for Herff. His marriage broke up and he left Alabama under the suspicion of having a homosexual affair with a student.

Herff took another job at the University of St. Thomas teaching music in the mid 60’s where he produced upbeat musicals and tried to put his life back together. College records show that he left the school in 1970 because of health problems of an emotional nature.

With his life unraveling at the seams, Herff checked into a hospital suffering from severe depression and shame. He was hearing voices and praying to be cured from his homosexual tendencies. Some of his friends at the time say that he was also suffering from drug use which was causing him to hear voices.

While he was in the hospital Herff met Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles, a nurse who dabbled in astrology and far-out religious movements. Herff was desperate in his search for happiness and peace and Bonnie had answers that she was willing to share with him. The two of them ran off together and began to share their strange religious ideas of escaping this world’s fleshly desires.

The rest of the story has been told over and over again during the course of the past two weeks as Herff, today known as “Do” and 39 of his followers committed suicide in a Rancho Sante Fe mansion.

How can someone who has so much going for them end up so far out in left field? How can someone raised in the home of a passionate preacher of the Gospel, an honor roll student, college professor, and concert performer end up searching for a space ship trailing the tail of a comet? It’s not as difficult as you might think.

In our study for today I want us to take very seriously what has happened and look to God’s Word for answers as to how we might avoid the absurd snares of deception which are waiting for us. Take a look at 1 Timothy 4:1-11.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. {2} Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. {3} They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. {4} For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, {5} because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. {6} If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. {7} Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. {8} For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. {9} This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance {10} (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe. {11} Command and teach these things. (1Timothy 4:1-11) Strange religious ideas are not new my friend. The Apostle Paul gives us some insight into the strange religious teachings that were going on his day as he instructs Timothy how he might avoid the absurd snares of false teachers. Paul also gives Timothy a “How To” manual for him to remain strong in his faith and witness to the world.

The first letter that Paul wrote to Timothy is an instructive letter to a “young preacher” who has been a close companion, a son in the spirit, to Paul. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to care for the church. Although the letter was written to a minister, it is equally valuable for each of us. Paul wanted to let Timothy know going in that there were going to be folks who would leave the faith, those who would desert Jesus looking for something more. Paul didn’t want Timothy to be led astray so he he told him how he could avoid the snare of the false teachers whose words may sound smooth and exciting but who were actually leading folks to destruction. Paul, twice in the letter, encourages Timothy by saying, “Keep with the prophecies once made about you” and “Do not neglect the gift that was given to you through a prophetic message.” Undoubtedly, part of Timothy’s frustration with trying to share the Good News of Jesus was the same frustration that all Bible teachers today are experiencing — false teachers which filled the streets and churches of Ephesus. These false teachers were leading people astray and teaching them beliefs and practices that were contradictory to the Word of God.

In the fourth chapter of 1 Timothy we find an entire chapter devoted to the problem of false teachers and the approach Timothy should take in combating the teachings of these people. Paul wants Timothy to know in no uncertain terms that there are people who will be deserting the faith as they follow deceiving spirits which teach practices contrary to the Word of God.

How is it that we who have been given the Word of God can, like those in Paul and Timothy’s day, be so easily led astray? That is a question worth pondering. Let me give you a couple of suggestions as to why this is happening.

First, we live in a day when almost anything is considered true as long as someone truly believes it. A Congressman from the Rancho Sante Fe district commented on television about how Americans have essentially chosen to scrap traditional beliefs as irrelevant and outdated. He said, in light of the “Heaven’s Gate” suicides, that “we should stop and look where that is taking us.”

I have shared the story before about how, shortly after I arrived here at Britton Christian Church, a young college girl started attending church. After services one Sunday she asked if she could speak with me. We made our way to my office and had a seat. While we were talking about the sermon she noticed a book on my shelf called, “Out On A Broken Limb” which was a response to Shirley MacLaine’s book “Out On A Limb.” The young lady asked, “Have you read that book?” I said, “Yes.” “Well what do you think about reincarnation,” she asked. I said, “Well, I don’t believe the Bible teaches that reincarnation is an option for a Christian. The Bible says, ‘It is appointed to man once to die and after that to face the judgment.'” (Hebrews 9:27) I said, “What do you believe about reincarnation?” She said, “Well I believe in reincarnation.” I asked why she held that belief. She said, “I just don’t think that anyone can live a good enough life in one lifetime to go to heaven so we have to come back and try until we live a good enough life.” I said, “Well you and I must be different. I have a feeling that if I came back again, knowing me I would only mess things up worse.” She said, “I know some people think my beliefs are weird, but I just feel it is right in my heart.” I said, “Well no, I mean I have some beliefs that others have said are kind of weird also so don’t feel bad.” She said, “Like what?” I told her “Well, I believe the moon is made out of cheese.” She said, “You do not.” I said, “Well, I sure do. If you look up there at night you can plainly see that it is cheese. You can see the holes in it and I’m almost certain that it is Swiss, I just feel it in my heart.” She sat in stunned silence and I was reading her mind as she thought to herself, “This guy is nuts!” I said to her, “You know it really doesn’t matter how sincere we are, if what we believe is wrong, then we are simply sincerely wrong.”

Secondly, we live in an age in which people are hungry for spiritual matters. This is really no different than what Paul and Timothy faced in their day as the people of Ephesus, Corinth, Laodicea, Jerusalem, Joppa, and Lydda were dying to believe in something and as a result they were willing to believe almost anything.

Because our generation is starved for meaning and purpose in their lives they are willing to listen to almost any new idea that comes down the pipe. Our generation is so disillusioned with life as we know it that they are looking in all kinds of directions for something to put their hope in. Have you noticed how folks are intrigued with things like astrology, alien abductions, near death experiences, out-of-body-experiences, and the like? Look around and you will notice the increasing influence of extraterrestrial-oriented movies and TV shows, psychic hotlines, and New Age esoteric spiritual ideas. The promise of all of these groups is that it is better out there. Wherever out there is they really can’t say, but out there it is certainly better than it is in here. The problem with this type of spirituality is that it is void of Truth and a meaningful relationship with Jesus, God with us. The spirituality of our day promises to lift you above the rut of 9 to 5 with spiritual feelings and experiences, but it fails to confront folks with the claims of Jesus Christ.

The call of Jesus on our lives is based on historically verifiable facts concerning His life and His challenge for us to live in the 9 to 5 world with purpose and power, whereas the spirituality of our day is based strictly on feelings and experiences. Jesus, like the cult leaders of our day, said that it is better out there, but He went beyond there weak promises by telling us about the Heaven that God has prepared for those who will trust in Him. As a matter of fact you can read the 21st and 22nd chapters of Revelation and be overwhelmed with the description of the glory of Heaven.

That longing for something more is a valid longing. God has created us as people who are inherently spiritual. There is something inside us all that cries out for meaning and significance that everyday stuff just can’t satisfy. There is a reason why we are seeking a deeper spirituality beyond what if offered in dead ritual. The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has set eternity in our hearts.” We are looking in every direction to try and find eternity. We will even lay aside what we know to be true if we can be promised something more. The “something more” that we desire can only be found in a life-changing and life-giving relationship to Jesus. Colossians 1:16 says of Jesus, “All things were created by Him and for Him.” You and I were made to share, serve, adore, and worship Jesus!

Thirdly, people are being easily led astray because they are looking for an easy and immediate answer to their problems. Marshall Applewhite, the leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult, struggled with homosexual tendencies throughout much of his life. His answer for himself and for his male followers who struggled with any kind of sexual desires was simply castration and medication.

When we get sick we want to be whole and now! When we are in financial trouble we want out and now! When our children are going through tough times and turning their back on God, we want them back now! When our marriages are in trouble and falling apart we want them fixed and now! In the worlds of that great American theologian Jim Morrison — “We want the world and we want it now!” We want answers now, we want solutions now, we want happiness now!

James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, {3} because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. {4} Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV) The cultural religious gurus want to teach us that we can escape our troubles, Jesus tells us to trust Him in our troubles! The people of our day are hungry for things of a spiritual nature, but we are especially fascinated with spirituality that promises the removal of all of our problems.

There are good reasons why the cults in our society are making inroads in the hearts of seeking Americans. There are some basic longings in the human heart that transcends culture, race, socio-economic status, education, and personality. It doesn’t matter if your skin if brown, black, red, or white. It doesn’t matter if you make a hundred million a year or a hundred dollars a month. It doesn’t matter if you possess a Ph.D. or you can’t read — there are longings in every human heart. The cults are masters at getting people to think about those deep longings of their heart. The only problem is that the answers they provide are empty of power to fill the longings. Let’s take a minute to look at some of those reasons.

1. The Need to Connect With Something Bigger Than Us. Marshall Applewhite pointed his followers to some cosmic being who was going to rescue them. Jesus points us to Almighty God’s great plan for our life — with what we were born to be! Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it in abundance.” (John 10:10)
2. The Need For Personal Significance. God planted in us the instinct for “something more.” “Heaven’s Gate” pointed to a cosmic state “above human,” outside our physical “containers.” Jesus points us to how we can be sons and daughters of God Himself, right here on this planet. In fact, God’s Son took on a human “container” — a body created in the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26) He did this to show us how we can live to make a difference on this earth right now.

You don’t have to tell people that their life doesn’t stack up, that they have failed to make the most of their life. There is a deep feeling in most of us that we should do more, our life should count for more than it has so far.

Just last weekend there was a family who came to stay with my family and visit with us about their lives. The man is an architect in Dallas and he is doing very well as Dallas is booming once again. He wanted to talk with us about the possibility of his family relocating to Oklahoma City and going to work with Urban Impact. I sat up a couple of meetings with some of the Urban Impact folks and I listened as he told his story over and over again about how he was frustrated with setting through meetings about how many trees he has to put on properties and how far apart they have to be. He said, “I want my life to count for the Kingdom of God.” I am convinced that we are born with that desire and that if we aren’t struggling with wanting our lives to count for the Kingdom of God then we have killed that desire.
3. The Need To Conquer The Darkness Inside Us. According to the media, Marshall Applewhite agonized over his homosexual feelings — he was reportedly dismissed from a college teaching position because of a relationship with a male student. We all struggle with the darkness inside us — whether it is sexual desires, anger, depression, selfishness, or bitterness. “Heaven’s Gate” offered a way to try to master the “demons” inside, but it often meant medication, isolation, and ever castration. Jesus offers not mutilation or reformation, but transformation! Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-35) Jesus offers His sin-mastering power on the inside, not imprisoning control on the outside.
4. The Longing For Something Better. We’re told “Heaven’s Gate” was looking for a space ship. Jesus promises eternal life. That is the something better that God has created us for. But eternity begins when He decides, not when we decide. The only One who has the right to end your life is the One who gave you your life (Psalm 139:13-16; Psalm 31:15) (taken from Ken Hutchins recent article on Heaven’s Gate)All of these needs are very real. The people who are getting involved in these cults of death, deception, and destruction are people with very real needs who are buying lies promising what can never be delivered outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. God created us as explorers, searchers in search of something more than what is. Our search ends when we fall on our knees before the Savior and allow Him to fill the void of our lives.

The darkness inside us all is very real — it is called sin. Sin enslaves and grinds on our soul until we can’t stand it any longer. Marshall Applewhite’s struggles and extremes measures to alleviate his problem with ungodly sexuality came as a result of the sin that gnawed on his soul. Rigorous physical discipline, denial, or even mutiliation can’t eradicate sin’s grip on the human heart — only Jesus can remove our sin and set us free. Paul wrote in Romans 6,What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? {2} By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? {3} Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? {4} We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. {5} If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. {6} For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– {7} because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Rom 6:1-7 NIV)

When we ask Jesus to come into our hearts and cleanse us from our sin we are set free from sin’s power to rule over us and filled with the power of God to live the life we have been called to live.

There is a tragic reality which we must all be aware of when we wag our heads and wonder how anyone could be so deceived as to get involved in one of these strange groups — Most of the groups leaders and members are folks who at one time were part of a Christian church. They are folks who became disillusioned with the church, with the God taught by the church, or one of a million others foibles of the people of God. Disillusioned they left and sought another venue to express their spirituality.

Do you know what troubles me about that? I hear disillusioned church folks all the time. I see how when we think God is giving us a raw deal that we back away. I see how when we are treated less than Christ-like by some supposed brother or sister in Christ that we fade into the background. Back and forth, in and out, but deep inside the yearning for something more continues to cry out to us. I pray that we will not be deceived. I pray that someone here this morning who is disillusioned will seek the heart of God in His Word and among the Body of Christ rather than seeking out some group that promises the moon, but can’t deliver.

I watched a video interview with some of the Heaven’s Gate people who stated that everything about their commitment just felt right for them. My young college friend felt deep in her heart that reincarnation was a fact of life. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 16:25 NIV) Don’t trust in what feels right in your heart, trust in the Risen Savior who has given us His Word to study, pray over, and meditate upon so that we can avoid the absurdities we see going on around us.

Study The Word To Avoid The Absurd
1 Timothy 4:1-11