News Commentary: Mr. Frank Vennes Jr. Indicted- An Exposed Wolf in Sheeps Clothing

         Soon after this blog was started the Tom Petters ponzi scheme was exposed.  One of the individuals involved in the scheme was Frank Vennes Jr. a professed evangelical who had ties to Teen Challenge, a prison ministry called Charis, and Northwestern College in Minnesota.  The initial article[i] called Mr. Vennes Jr. to task for being a wolf in sheeps clothing and those who knew and supported Mr. Vennes confronted this writer for jumping to conclusions and passing judgment without facts on Mr. Vennes. I recognized that my initial response did come from some anger, but the anger was related to what appeared to be blatant deceit.  The anger was recognized leading to a published apology.[ii] In January of 2010, this writer wondered what did Mr. Vennes actually know and commented about how we all need to stand for truth[iii]. See Mr. Vennes friends and voraciously defended the man and his reputation that doubt was caught on the initial impressions and anger.  It turns out the impression and anger was righteous and justified.

            His friends pointed out the fact that Mr. Vennes was not indicted no did he seem the target of the investigation.  It was that one fact that led to questions. Well, now there are questions no more.  As. Mr. Vennes has now been indicted. Apparently his finances had long ago been seized in relation to the fraud.  Sure, an indictment is not “proof” but the points of the initial articles were relevant and on target. See the question was always whether Mr. Vennes was a man conned, or an integral part of the con.  The current allegations point to his being an integral part of the con.  The Star Tribune article[iv] states that Mr. Vennes is on tape stating the empty warehouses will cause the scheme to “implode” and that the whole thing is “a little paper manufacturing plant.”

            See this shows appearance can be deceiving.  It illustrates that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. If you think you know a person, even had his deep faults confessed, he still can be seeking after that which is crooked and deceiving.  And Mr. Vennes is not really any different that any of us.  Each of us are capable of deceit and betrayal.

            In retrospect, there are lessons to be learned. While caution is always in order, there is righteous judgment and discernment.  The truth can be known without evidence of all the facts. Mr. Vennes is alleged to have actively conned others, and this writer believes that to be true.  He put both Teen Challenge and Northwestern College in positions that impacted them and threatened their existence. The root of the actions and deception was all in order for a handful of people to make a lot of money.

            Another point is no matter how well hidden things seem to be, sooner or later all the deeds in darkness will be exposed. Some, like the Petters scheme will be exposed in this life time before all. But when Jesus returns, every little evil will be brought into open. Nothing hidden! 

            It is also worth noting how easily any of us can be if we operate based on experience.  We think we can know a person, view their actions and conclude they are seeking after pure motives. Yet, there are many like Mr. Vennes or Ananias and Sapphira, or Judas that more is going on then the initial experience. With the disciples, none but Jesus knew what was in his heart, even when he left the last supper, pointed out as a betrayer, the disciples see were unaware of the darkness in his heart. He followed Jesus.  It is due to revelation of the Holy Spirit that Ananias and Sapphira were exposed and brought to death.  Some think that God is cruel for such actions. But it is that deep deception, the deceitful appearance and heart that God knows impacts and corrupts many. Their death was an act of love and righteous wrath. Now, I hope and pray that Mr. Vennes is not like Judas or Annanias and Sapphira. It is not too late for true repentance. However, the man has conned many for a long time and the veracity of anything coming from the man will need to be questioned.  For it is not the appearance of good works that is the fruit of repentance, it is true surrender to Jesus. Mr. Vennes faked it fooling many, but He has been exposed. The story serves as an example for all.  And if there are friends who still seek to defend the man, take it up with the creator, for Mr. Vennes in my mind is a deceiver and wolf in sheeps clothing that fooled many.

Holy Week Musing: Preparation on the Path of Submission

Yesterday, my thoughts went to the confusion of those around Jesus as the event s of Holy Work enfolded leading to Jesus dying on the cross as payment for our sins.  He followed the path, step by step, surrendered to the Father’s will.  As already stated, to everyone but Jesus there was great confusion. However, God was working out His plan.  Prior to Jerusalem, and every step up to Passover and the betrayal the wheels were in motion.  Everything was falling into place.  Jesus with every action was preparing both His self and His disciples for what He knew was to come.  God prompted people to provide what was needed, from the colt, to the upper room and so on, God prepared and wheels were in motion.  God was at work, but it was not always recognized, expect by Jesus, who knew what was to occur. 

This is often the way in this life.  We do not recognize at the time what God is doing and how He is working.  How God set in motions things for Him to use us to carry out His plan.  Every day this is true, and when we walk and follow in submission to God’s plan, God works so that He is glorified and we are brought to further growth.  In this, we always have a choice.  Jesus at any moment could have turned away.  Every fiber of Jesus humanity wanted to turn from God’s way, to not take the cup of the suffering.  Yet, He maintained faithful. He resisted to the point of sweating blood.  It was not His divinity that enabled that, but His being dedicated to always do the Father’s will, whatever the cost, for God’s will and plan was the right way, there was no other that could redeem the fallen state of creation.  

So the question is for each of us, what do we do as we go along our varied paths in life, do we remain faithful, or to do me make the self-focused choices like Judas?  Each step on the path is another choice; choice upon choice upon choice.  And in the ever enfolding choices, when we follow God’s way, He prepares the steps before us, even when all appearances suggest otherwise.  And when we falter and stray, there is always the means to return, and God can and will meet us wherever we are at.

Sadly, we often miss what God is doing. Sometimes we learn what God intended after the fact, sometimes we just don’t “get it.”  Yet, God is who He is. He is the same God worked to ensure all that as needed was provided as Jesus approached the climax of the cross.  God worked the ways of death to bring life.  The reason being because of love, so that what was twisted can be restored and God’s love be made evident to all.  Yet, given all the God did through Jesus, we all still miss it. We all don’t get it.  For there is no words of man able to describe the height, depth, length, and width of God’s love and ways, for we cannot comprehend.  Yet, even in our not “getting it” God has, is, and will prepare us.  God not only is patient, but delights in preparing us and surprising us in ways of revealing His love that are beyond anything we could imagine.  He revealed His love in Jesus, in the events of Holy Week, and His working things  so that everything that was needed was provided, even if it made no sense. 

For all of this, the Holy week, the expectations, the confusion, the preparation, and so on all took place to reveal God’s passion for us, His deep and abiding love.  For while we are yet sinners, he took the initiative to suffer and die, so that all who respond and not reject God’s initiation, may be made right and free from the wrath that  a loving and Holy God has to carry out. 

In thinking about all of this, no that no matter where you are in life, God is still loving and initiating and active. God always is ahead of us. He knows us intimately. He knows the deepest pain, know why we make the choices we make.   He loves, and He prepares.  Even when we choose unfaithfulness, God is there, loving and working things to the good for those of us that love Him.   Without that love, without God active in our lives, there is no hope, and only survive.  Holy week, the cross, the tomb all demonstrate the reason for Hope, for God gave all He could so the way could be made for all. This way is found in Jesus alone, for there is no other that suffices.  God has, is, and will provide and prepare as we follow the path of surrender to Jesus and respond to Him with our love and submission. His love dictates no other way.

Musings on the Incarnation: God’s Divine Empathy

Lately God has brought to my mind a growing awareness of the depth of God’s empathy. Perhaps it is related to the gifts of empathy he has given me and the ongoing awareness of deepening levels of pain. As thinking about empathy and God in relation to this season where we celebrate the Incarnation, of God stepping down and taking on flesh, being God with us it cross my mind that the Incarnation really is a visible demonstration of God’s empathy. God became flesh, experienced life in a world twisted by sin and filled with pain and suffering. Jesus ultimately suffered greatly, dying a gruesome death in order to set us free and opening the door for God to be truly with us.  Emmanuel, God with us is all about divine empathy.

Divine empathy is a difficult concept to fully grasp for often times we fail to even grasp simple human empathy.  We have difficulty at times putting ourselves in the place of others.  Yet, God is constantly aware fully of others.  He knows our depth.  God daily is aware of the pain of all.  He knew from the moment of the first choice to go against His will the depth of pain, the twists it caused.  God is in constant awareness of the whole of pain. He is constantly filled with empathy. Then He took that empathy, came to earth and entered into the physical reality of the fallen and twisted world.  He moved beyond the emotional awareness to the physical experience. He does not just know of the pain, does not just feel the pain, but experienced the depth of the pain.  God’s awareness of the pain of sin, God’s empathy, really helps us understand even God’s wrath and actions that cause many to suggest wrath in inconsistent with love. Well if one begins to understand divine empathy the reason for divine justice and wrath is clear.  God is not capricious in His actions, there is purpose and that purpose pertains to the pain and twists caused being outside God’s will, plan, and order. 

Yet, even greater than understanding God’s wrath, is if we understand part of God’s character as divine empathy then we understand better the relational nature of the Holy God.  Personally, one of my struggles with God is truly entering and engaging God relationally.  God often has felt distant and far off.  Now there are certainly experiences in my life that helped shape that faulty perception but really grasping God as one who embodies true and pure empathy lets me grasp deeper the love and know that God is far beyond one that is distant.  He is always aware of every ounce of my pain and knows full well the pain of my own choices.  Each and every self-centered action is aware of.  In fact, God’s empathy stretches beyond humanity to the whole of Creation. He knows how it was twisted. He knows the pain of each living creature.  Divine empathy is beyond understanding.  And grasping God as divinely empathetic gives a grasp of His love and awakens me that there is not a moment, not a speck that God does not know and understand.  He knows my pains, my hurts, my pains, my fears intimately not just at the “awareness” left but also at experiential and felt level. 

Takes some time during this season of celebrating the incarnation and God’s carrying out His plan of salvation. His plan displayed divine empathy and enables God with us, enable God in us, and makes it so we can approach God, as no longer any barrier for the sin and pain and twist of actions outside of God’s will is more than He could bear in His Holy empathy for our sins cause God great pain.   God’s love and empathy and immeasurable, ever enduring.  Praise the Most Holy One who is beyond our ability to grasp, for who can measure the love of immeasurable empathy that bore all so that we may be made right.  Hallelujah!

Passion Week Musings: Jesus displays anger at temple

Today’s thoughts focus on the first then Jesus did upon arrival in Jerusalem. Since he went about his Father’s business, the first place he went was to the Temple. Now the temple was set up as was normal for the week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover. There were booths selling animals for sacrifice and booths for exchanging money for “Temple coins.” It seems to me those coins were the equivalent of an arcade token. You could not spend other money in the temple; instead, you had to have the special coin of use nowhere else. Add to that, the merchants were making it easy for those traveling to Jerusalem. They did not have to select a lamb or dove prior to making the trip to Jerusalem. They did not have to tend to it for a week while traveling to Jerusalem. All they had to do was show up, purchase a sacrifice and go on their way. It was profitable and ingenious. It was making it easy for folks to do their duty at little cost to self. So Jesus arrives, sees this grand program all set up in the court of Gentiles (only place foreigners allowed) and comes across this scene, which in my find would be similar to a country fair. If it was today there probably would also be assorted thrill rides somewhere close. So Jesus arrives, gets angry and disrupts the whole scene driving them all away. The portrayals of this event most likely do not even come close to doing justice. Jesus was angry and likely angry for many reasons. The chief reason though is summed up in Luke 19:46B (ESV) “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.”

There is a contrast between what God intended for the Temple including the court of Gentiles, and what the process had became. The Temple was about communion and interaction with God with space designated for those not part of Israel to engage in communion with God. The temple was all about facilitating connection with God almighty. Now the feast day and Passover in particular was very important. Instead, it became a big commercial enterprise serving everyone of Israel and all that came to partake. The offered services really in essence made sacrificing easy for you did not really have to bring your own. If you did, most likely it was disqualified as imperfect forcing you to buy one at the temple, which most likely was an animal disqualified from someone else. The whole scene served as huge barrier to people truly seeking to connect with God and follow through with what God required. A time of solemn remembrance and celebration became about either creating an obstacle for genuine worshipers or providing short cuts for those who did not care to give the whole devotion and simply intended to follow through with the duty.

In thinking over why Jesus became angry, it is worth reflecting how we manage church today. The gifts and talents God has given to members of the body are sold just as readily as the goods offered in the court of the Gentiles. We readily depend on what God has given others to aid our growth and communion with God. More often than not we pay for it. We cycle and recycle Sermons, worship music, and teaching usually at a cost. The Gospel is even denigrated to something cheap and easy with no real cost to the individual. The Gospel has become just the frame around which many build their own Kingdoms, separating things from others that is meant for own profit. In a large sense, we have developed a self-involved approach to worship that involves passive engagement with no real true engagement of self. It would be the equivalent of waiting to get to the temple and buying a dove or goat because it is easier. The truth is, the Church as we know it had digressed far away from a fellowship of believers supporting one another to often what is a group of individuals gathered together engaging in corporate worship as individuals. There are people seeking genuine interaction with God and other believers, and there are those who are not. However, we have great barriers between self and others and people all too to sell prefabricated information that prevents true engagement and attachment, creating a barrier between God and us. Far too often there is very little genuine response to God’s reveal reality much less following and acting with dependence and gifting from the Holy Spirit even by those making claims of same. Each of us need to take a look at ourselves and see are we engaging in genuine worship that reflects community and a house of prayer, or do we simply engage in a machine moving money and filling the pockets of others with money? Now it is worth noting that there are those out there following God in spirit and truth and moving beyond the machine around us that professes to aid God’s kingdom but simply places barriers or cheapens God’s grace.

Take time, seek God, pray and ask for revelation of how robbers have been let into or engaged in your own walk with God, for we all have given money and time to thieves. Examine yourself and see are you genuinely seeking God, or after something to simply satisfy and build self? Do we walking in loving God and loving others, or do we simply engage in what is expected and put in some time. Does God daily impact your life? These and many other questions come to mind but all revolve around living surrendered to God or serving self. So two paths are clear, the path of thieves who draw the anger and wrath of God, or the path of a genuine worshiper seeking to come under God’s rule and bring Him glory.

Helpful Articles: A Godly response to criticism by Ben Pierce of Steiger International

 

Recently ran across this article by Ben Pierce, a member of No Longer Music and part of the Stieger International team.  It really points to need for humility and trusting in God for defense.  These are words that are worth sharing and reading. Hope you are challenged and blessed. 

A Godly Response to Criticism

Written by Ben Pierce   
Friday, March 05 2010 02:09
Being a human being is a strange thing. If we dare to be different, stand out from the crowd, try something new, or take a risk we will inevitably face criticism. No one is immune to criticism, deserved or otherwise. In ministry the intensity and the frequency of the criticism can be even greater. The bible is full of examples of this. Noah was ridiculed for trusting God and building the ark, Moses was mocked by his own people for attempting to lead them out of captivity, and of course Jesus was constantly criticized by the religious leaders of his day. Criticism is to be expected. 

The bible is very clear about how we are to handle criticism. Our response to deserved or undeserved criticism is crucial. In Romans Paul writes  “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (Romans 12:19). It is clear throughout scripture that God will speak for us, defend us, and stand up for us, so we should not.Wrath is often a misunderstand term. Literally it means righteousness anger. God’s wrath is His rightful anger towards things that aren’t right. We are going to encounter all kinds of situations in life in which the world’s way of operating would entitle us to retaliation. It is in these situations we need a major paradigm shift from a human response to God’s response. What Paul posits in this part of his letter to the Romans is that we need to leave making things right to God. Ultimately, it’s an issue of faith and surrender. Do we trust that God is ultimately in control of justice or do we feel that if left to Him nothing will be made right? 

The highly influential theologian A.W. Tozer strongly urges us never to defend ourselves. He writes: 

“What do we defend? Well, we defend our service, and particularly we defend our reputation. Your reputation is what people think you are, and if a story gets out about you, the big temptation is to try to run it down. But you know, running down the source of a story is a hopeless task. Absolutely hopeless! It’s like trying to find the bird after you’ve found the feather on your lawn. You can’t do it. But if you’ll turn yourself wholly over to the Lord, He will defend you completely and see to it that no one will harm you. “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” He says, and “every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn” (Isaish 54:17). 

So when confronted with criticism, how do we respond? First, it’s important to realize that in any situation we are rarely completely guilty or innocent. When approaching any situation in which you have been criticized it is important to be humble and realize that you most certainly have something to learn.  

It is obvious that we are not to defend our reputation or our image. So what do we do? Turn to the bible. Jesus gave us a model for dealing with criticism. When the religious leaders of his day criticized Him, He turned to scripture. 

2nd Timothy 3:16 says, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, and for training in righteousness”. Paul encourages Timothy to see the Bible as a tool for character shaping and reproof. I believe when faced with criticism we need to take it to God and ask Him to reveal what truth, if any, can be extracted from the experience. We need to humbly search the scriptures for any “training in righteousness” that needs to occur in the process. If we choose not to defend ourselves when criticized, but rather see it as a chance to grow, I believe God will shape us into people who He can use for any noble purpose, we truly would be vessels of Gold. 

No one can avoid criticism, but we can all choose our response. Sometime criticism is warranted and other times it can come out of nowhere. In either case we need to respond as God would have us respond. Let us choose humility. Let us leave our defense up to God. The alternative will stop what God wants to do in your heart and will limit what he will be able to do through you. 

Tozer put it frankly when he said, “if you insist upon defending yourself, God will let you do it. But if you turn the defense of yourself over to God He will defend you” 

That certainly seems like an obvious choice to me. 


Ben Pierce has been a member of No Longer Music since 2007, co-leads a local Minneapolis outreach ministry, and works as the assistant development directory for Steiger. The views expressed in the following blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the complete views of Steiger. See Steiger’s Statement of Faith and Values in the ‘About Us’ section of the website.   

Video Selections:The necessity of Hell-Tim Conway Sermon