“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

As a child of the 1930’s-40’s, he was an avid reader who studied Stalin, Marx, Gandhi, and Hitler, carefully noting the strengths and weaknesses of each. He found making friends difficult, and childhood acquaintances later recalled him as being a “really weird kid” who was “obsessed with religion … obsessed with death”. James Warren Jones became an American religious cult leader who, along with his inner circle, initiated and was responsible for a mass murder/suicide in excess of 900 persons on November 18, 1978. Jim Jones, as he became known, developed a charisma as an ordained Indiana minister in the Christian Church and later established the “Peoples Temple” in San Francisco in 1956. By the early 1970s, Jones began deriding traditional Christianity as “fly away religion”, rejecting the Bible and denouncing a “Sky God” who was no God at all. Jones promised a utopian society that provided for the common welfare of its members. But like most cult leaders, he became a tyrannical leader, and he exercised that power in a dangerous, manipulative way. In 1973, an increasingly paranoid Jones began to move Temple members to Guyana, South America, naming the settlement Jonestown in honor of himself. Once free of U.S. law, Jones became a brutal dictator in his isolated and heavily guarded compound, where he controlled and employed various mind control techniques on his followers. Concerned ex-members in California brought details of Jones’ terror to the attention of Congressman Leo Ryan, who, along with some aides and a TV crew, visited the Guyana “paradise” where Jones presented a false show of normalcy for the visitors. Ryan learned that some members wanted to escape, and transportation was offered for those who desired to leave. A vindictive Jones ordered the murder of Ryan, his staff, the TV reporters, and Jonestown escapees as they prepared to board their chartered planes. Back in the compound, Jones feared a U.S. military rescue mission as a result of killing a congressman, and the cult leader demanded that his trapped followers commit suicide as a “revolutionary act.” Jones urged his followers that they had do this or else the Guyanese military would come in and take their children away. The followers were forced to drink or otherwise administered with a fatal cocktail of poisoned punch.

As a result of the massacre, “Drinking the Kool-Aid” became a commonly-used phrase to describe blind acceptance of a belief without critical analysis. The reference has been viewed as somewhat unfair to the manufacturer of Kool-Aid, since the actual drink used at Jonestown was something called Flavor Aid. But it has drawn attention to the reality that there are vulnerable members of society who can become infatuated with a purpose so extreme that they will die for the cause or its leadership. This is quite contrary to the teachings of Christianity. Any follower of Jesus understands that when an act is no longer voluntary, it is no longer Christ-like.  Jonestown is a bitter reminder of what happens when people surrender their emotional and moral independence and become spiritual slaves to evil leaders who guarantee their own promise of salvation, eternal life, or utopia. Contrast the drink offered by Jim Jones to his followers with the cup offered by Jesus to His disciples during that final Passover meal together. On that occasion – He spoke these words: “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people–an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20). In this case, the only life that is being sacrificed was that of Jesus.  He did this that we might have Life Eternal.

So, does Jesus not require any sacrifice from us?  He asks that we serve Him. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1). These are the words of the Apostle Paul who also put forth this challenge: “You should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). As God’s beloved children, we are to imitate Him by loving one another, just as Christ sacrificially loved us. In order to do this – we must understand His ways, study and absorb His Word, and be a beacon of light in the world around us. Test and discern His will for your life, and you will not only learn to imitate Him but also walk in the footsteps of His sacrificial love!

REFLECTION: Why is it so important for us who imitate God to watch the way we act and speak? Why must we be careful to know God in all His attributes as revealed in His Word? What errors may result if we don’t? Consider what forces have negatively impacted your ability to make a living sacrifice for others.


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