Get Me Jesus On the Line?


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A few years back the jazz vocal group “Manhattan Transfer” hit the charts with a Gospel infused tribute to spiritual hunger.

The catchy chorus went:

“Operator? Information? Get me Jesus on the line!”

Wouldn’t that be something?

I mean, how much would you pay for a five minute phone conversation with the Savior Himself?

Well, believe it or not, an L.A. radio station is offering its listeners the privilege and with a toll free number, they even pick up the charges for the call.

Every Sunday morning KFI radio presents what it calls “The Jesus Christ Radio Program”.

The gimmick behind this spiritual question and answer program is that they claim to eliminate the middle man.

Callers don’t interact with someone who relates what Jesus might have to say about their life and circumstances – they claim to offer God’s truth straight from the horse’s mouth.

“Two thousand years ago, he walked this Earth,” a recent airing began just after 6a.m. “Teaching, guiding, loving and preparing to make the ultimate sacrifice. `For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ What if today you could talk to him, laugh with him, cry with him – not just through prayer but through the radio?

“You’re listening to `The Jesus Christ Show.’ To be part of the show, call (800) 520-1KFI. And now, here’s our host, Jesus Christ.”

KFI’s  “Jesus” plays it straight, never snickering when he refers to himself as “your holy host”.

And unfortunately, this program is no joke to listeners either.

“Jesus” is in reality KFI’s marketing director Neil Saavedra.

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Saavedra, a professing born again Christian, began playing the role of Jesus as a bit of shtick on “The Bill Handel Show”.

Handel, who is Jewish, had Saavedra play the role of Jesus as an interview on an Easter Sunday broadcast. The segment was so well received by listeners, “The Jesus Christ Radio Show” now has it’s regular Sunday spot on the broadcast schedule and is syndicated nation wide.

“There was no question he could not answer. Out of that evolved what I consider to be the most unique show in radio,” said Handel, who is Jewish. “It’s sort of like Dr. Dean Edell meets Dr. Laura meets Jesus on the cross.”

So “The Jesus Christ Radio Show” is successful.

It is syndicated.

But is it spiritually safe?

Saavedra openly admits that even while playing Jesus on the radio  he doesn’t have all the answers.

Or maybe even no answers at all.

“Do I feel qualified to answer any of this stuff? No way,” he said during a commercial break. “But sometimes the people are so desperate for help, my God, I’ve got to do something.”

But that “something” has lead both Saavedra and his listenership to a pretty precarious spot.

Consider this interaction noted by Brad Greenberg on ReligionNewsBlog.com

“Well, people that know me, and I’ve known you for 30 some-odd years and I know that you are going to perfect whatever work I start, but I would think that after 30 years, I would get rid of some of these character defects, things that I do that I know I have to apologize for,” Moyes said. “Why is my brain still thinking that way?”

“Well,” KFI Jesus responded, “Scripture says it via (the Apostle) Paul very well: `The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.’ … The benefit is that it’s paid for: It’s taken care of by the blood of the cross. … You hit it on the head when you called, and that is that I will finish the work and the perfection I started in you. That comes from me and not you.”

Weighty words from a man who didn’t die on a cross and rise from the dead three days later.

The natural, if knee-jerk, reaction is to question the audacity of a self-trained, unordained minister of the Gospel who would answer people’s most haunting questions and try to heal their deepest wounds by pretending to be their best friend and life guide.

Saavedra seems to have struck a nerve with his  speaking for Jesus in the first person performance.

So what are we to make of this from a biblical point of view?

There are those who tend to see this in a whatever gets the word out kind of pragmatism.

Hey, if people are helped and encouraged, who cares if it’s just a 37 year old radio dude playing a part?

Supporters would point to what Paul said in his letter to the Philippians:

Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18)

But here’s the rub.

Neil Saavedra isn’t preaching about Christ. He is preaching as Christ.

And that opens up another whole can of worms.

It reminds me of another wind of doctrine that blew through Christian circles a few years ago – it was called “The Healing of the Memories”.

According to this fusion of the New Testament and New Age thinking, people with pain from their past were lead by counselors to vividly imagine the most traumatic moments of their lives.

Then they were to imagine Jesus stepping in to defend, affirm or encourage them in their past.

Only one problem with this – How does the therapist know what Jesus would have said or done if He had been physically present at that moment?

The danger in “The Healing of the Memories” is to reduce Jesus to little more than a marionette, able to be commanded to act or speak in any way the hurting person desires.

People soon began to wonder if they weren’t just experiencing an emotional release caused by literally putting words in Jesus’ mouth.

Putting words in Jesus’ mouth.

It is one thing to faithfully and compassionately relate to people what Jesus did say about the issues of life.

It is quite another to say, “I am Jesus and here’s what I say to you…”

If you make claim like that, you’d better be right.

You’d better have all the answers.

100% of the time.

Or you end up not only misrepresenting God’s message, but God Himself.

The danger inherent in this approach is aptly illustrated by this  supposedly helpful interaction.

“I was talking to Jesus through Neil,” Helen Harris, 69, of Woodland Hills said after calling KFI Jesus.

The founder of RP International, a nonprofit that fights retinitis pigmentosa, a rare disease that causes blindness, Harris’ life has been scarred by trauma. RP stole her vision 33 years ago and now is taking her two sons’ sight. One also is battling prostate cancer and depression.

For the first time, Harris said, she was asking, “Where is God?”

“Why after we fix one problem after another and don’t fall because you help us, why is there another one after another one?” she asked KFI Jesus.

He listened and encouraged, and when the show went to commercial for a half-hour news update, KFI Jesus put Harris on hold. Saavedra picked up the line off air.

“I hate hearing what has happened to you, and I hate hearing what has happened to your family,” Saavedra said before slipping back into character and reminding his disciple that God doesn’t guarantee life will be easy. “You’ve trusted me for many years. I need you to keep doing that.”

Who was Harris trusting? Jesus?

Neil Saavedra?

Both?

Neither?

When people are genuinely hurting they need the touch of the real Savior, not some guy in a studio admittedly playing a role.

The real Jesus,

not KFI Jesus,

said this:

“Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them.” (Luke 21:8)

Sadly, “The Jesus Christ Radio Show” demonstrates not only the level of spiritual confusion, but the amazing tolerance of what could generously be called “religious role playing” in our day.


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