Vernon was a 22-year-old, born-again Christian when he fell in love with a pastor’s daughter. While praying for divine guidance, he supposedly found his Bible open at Isaiah 34 and noted that verse 16 promised, “none shall be without (their) mate, for the mouth of the Lord has commanded…” Convinced it was a direct message from God, he approached the pastor about his daughter. The pastor expelled him from the church. His daughter was only 15, and some say Vernon got her pregnant.
Vernon’s own mother was 15 and unmarried when he was born. He never knew his father. He lived under his mother’s violent alcoholic boyfriend. Later she dumped Vernon on his grandmother. At age 8, he was allegedly gang-raped by older boys. In school, kids nicknamed him “Mister Retardo,” because he had dyslexia. He dropped out of high school to avoid persecution. It’s not hard to understand how Vernon’s start in life left him vulnerable as a man.
Eventually he changed his name. His new name meant “Cyrus the Great,” in Persian. He came to believe he was God’s own prophet and usurped a Christian religious community with his message. Surprisingly, he taught a lot from the Bible. He also took many wives…
But government officials suspected the group had numerous weapon violations. They obtained a search and arrest warrant. This initially led to a gunfight, followed by a 51-day siege. In the end, nearly 80 men, women and children were dead, including Vernon. The 1993 disaster happened in Waco Texas.
Vernon Howell was also known as David Koresh.
How does a born-again, church-going, Bible-reading Christian come under such blatant deception and end in catastrophe? In my view, Koresh had raging childhood wounds that created deep unmet needs. When human beings feel helpless, oppressed, and invisible, some will desperately attempt to fill that void with power, control, and adulation. And in that driven quest, many fall under presumption and deception.
Presumption is an arrogant belief in something, without actual evidence. Presumption leads to deception. Lies are useful to sway or dominate others, but eventually they can overtake one’s own soul. This progression can lead to what the Bible calls, “doctrines of demons” and “lofty things raised up against the knowledge of God.”
The truth is, none of us are immune.
How can honest seekers of intimacy with God, be grounded as we learn to hear His voice? Here are some safeguards:
–The written Word and the fresh words of God go hand-in-hand. The Bible is our foundation. Anything the Holy Spirit says in a current situation has to be evaluated through the lens of Scripture. We are not adding new chapters to the Bible. While Jesus promised His sheep would hear His voice (John 10:3), and the Holy Spirit would come and teach us (John 14:25-26), that is no substitute for understanding Scripture. Isolated verses can be manipulated. Our goal should be to learn the whole Bible.
–Accountability and humility. The enemy picks off lone rangers. We must stay in fellowship and receive wise counsel from others of solid character. Submit yourself to trustworthy leaders and friends who can protect you from error while you learn to hear God’s voice.
–Wisdom and discernment. We know in part. No one but God has the corner on truth. Pastor Mark DuPont said if someone prays over you and says, “You’re called to be a missionary in Africa”—there are two wrong responses. First, to run out and buy a plane ticket. Second, to say, “Oh there’s no way that could be God.” The right response is to pray and wait. Remember, God speaks now one way, now another. If it’s important, God will confirm something over and over. “Test the spirits,” (1 John 4:1), because not everything is from God.
–Fruit Inspection. Jesus said we would know them “by their fruits.” That applies to them and us. Are we growing in character or hypocrisy? Red flags go up when anyone uses “God told me” as a rubber stamp to do whatever they want.
–Love. Much of what God says to us in a fresh way is for encouragement, instruction, discernment, and guidance, but most importantly to show us His love.
–Faith. God’s desire to speak to us is greater than the enemy’s aim to deceive us.
“If we pause to listen, we will discover how often God speaks to us through human and earthly means. He stands at the windows of the easily overlooked and the unlikely, tapping at the pane. He beckons us to places of encounter where we learn how well he understands the language of our hearts.”
–Ken Gire, Windows of the Soul