"On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts." Mark 11:15-16I have blogged many times here about the disgrace of pastors using their church's resources to market their special trips to the Holy Land, or cruises down the Danube or on the Mediterranean. I called for pastors to cease the trips for a couple of years during these tough economic times.
But it is full steam ahead - pastors are still using their church resources and their celebrity status to market these trips to their worshipers. Some pastors benefit financially as they are incented by the travel company based on volume. Some take advantage of free introductory trips to Israel so long as they promise to bring 15 or more of their church members to Israel within a year. Some pastors will take their church media personnel and equipment to videotape the trip for future marketing, showing the plebe back home what they missed.
Apparently one of the sponsors of the 2011 FBC Jax Pastor's Conference was the Israel Ministry of Tourism - an agency of the Israeli government according to their website. Their Commissioner for Tourism, Haim Gutin (man on the right in photo), was given the microphone by Mac on the eve of the final night of the conference before James Merritt preached, to tell the pastors that they all need to lead groups to Israel to walk where Jesus walked. Here is part of Haim's message:
"How many of you have been in Israel [show of hands]. Quite a few. But not enough, not enough....Israel, the holy land, I know this land is dear to you as it is dear to me. And I know that you love the land as I love my land. But in order to show your love, you have to be there, to walk where Jesus walked, to walk in his footsteps...but to come every few years to Israel is to show to the people of Israel that we are the best friends. Israel...is the place where Jesus was born and ministered."This is an example of why eventually the tax exempt status of churches will someday be a thing of the past. Consider what is going on here: FBC Jax sells tickets to their pastor's conference to visiting pastors. Then, they also sell "promotions packages" at their conferences that allows an organization to purchase platform time within the house of worship. The state of Israel buys one of these packages, and flies in their commissioner of tourism - who presumably does not share the same faith as the pastors - to tell them they must come with their church members to "walk where Jesus walked" as an act of love toward Israel.
More from Haim:
"About 700,000 tourists came from the United States [last year]. It's a big number. And I would like that this number be by the end of this year 1 million tourists from the United States, and I need your help. So please, stand up, stand up. Feel free, stand up. And let's pledge together: Next Year in Jerusalem! Thank you!"Yes, pastors, FBC Jax sold access to your eyes and ears to the state of Israel, so their minister of tourism could pander to you and get you to pledge to bring your sheep over to walk where Jesus walked.
And if that wasn't cheesy enough, a representative of the Land of Promise Foundation (man on the left in picture above) was on hand to tell the pastors how their churches can do a "fund raiser" to plant trees in Israel - and he quoted scripture to explain how people will be blessed if they plant a tree in the Holy Land. The Land of Promise Foundation raises money for trees, fire prevention, and helping alleviate the water crisis in Israel. How wonderful that FBC Jax is on the cutting edge of ministry, doing their part to raise funds to alleviate the tree and water crisis in Israel.
At least during the Israeli fund raiser of 2007 hosted by the Souds, the funds were supposedly being raised for an Israeli hospital.
Now First Baptist is in the business of hawking Israeli vacations and trees for the Holy Land.