Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Easter Message

We are approaching Good Friday. We will imagine--the best we can--Jesus carrying His cross, resolutely following His Father's will to undergo torture, pain and death to redeem us.  We have Easter before us. It's the day where we proclaim, "He is risen! He is risen indeed!"

What about Saturday?  We have no name for that. 

I do. I call it Silent Saturday. Death is quiet. The tomb is silent. 

But it was silent beyond the tomb. It was silent in the court of God the Father. 

Throughout eternity, God was in loving fellowship with His Son. They created the world together: "Let us make man in our own image..." They laughed at the antics of the animals swimming in the seas, and rejoiced in the song of birds. They loved to watch the horses run across the fields and smiled at the beautiful wings of a butterfly.  They smiled at the man created from the dust, and enjoyed the praises that fell from his lips.  

Never was there a time when the Son was apart from the Father. Except on Silent Saturday. The Son's laughter had stopped. He no longer smiled. No more words escaped His lips. The Father, for the first time ever, was alone. 

Earlier, the Son talked to His Father on the cross, anguished that He felt His Father had abandoned Him.  Matthew records His last words as being, "Father, into Your Hands, I commend my spirit." John records His last words as being, “It is finished.”  

Both were said. 

An obedient Son, an observant Jew, He commended His spirit to His Father, but only after having declared that redemption's work was finished. Jesus was following His Father until His last breath. Then the Son fell silent.

The Father was alone.  But the Father waited. Anguished, pierced to the heart, alone, but the Father waited. For the Son would not stay silent. The heavens would ring once more with the Son's laughter and His praise to His Father. 

Perhaps you are in Good Friday, with pain that pierces you to the heart with a sense of abandonment. Perhaps you are in Silent Saturday, alone and waiting. This is what He meant when He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

He told His disciples exactly what the week before His death would bring, with its final devastating conclusion. They would quickly forget, in the midst of their confusion, astonishment and fear that He also told them of His triumph.  Our overwhelmingly painful Fridays, our silent Saturdays, cause us to forget the triumphant Sundays promised to us by our Savior.  

The stone will be rolled away.  The sun will rise.  The Son of God rises in our heart and hope is once again the air we breathe. He overcame what the world threw at Him, to show His love has no limits, and His forgiveness is just one prayer away. 

May your Easter be rich and blessed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bill Johnson's Compassionate Theology?

The quote about sickness and the gospel made by Bill Johnson of Bethel Church is everywhere on the Internet.  He has his detractors and his proponents.  I am not here to analyze Bill's theology, for others have done so.  But I have served under a pastor who listened to Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and who definitely believed in a gospel where sickness is not allowed or even acknowledged. 

Bill Johnson is quoted as saying, "I refuse to create a theology allows for sickness."  Is this a quote out of context?  In a longer clip where he says that, he then goes on to say that this gospel is the real one.  He implies the ones that disagree with his premise fall into the category of a "false gospel" as Paul declares in Galatians 1:6-10: 

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

"Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."

The question here then is, what is the true gospel?  In other words, is the gospel we are preaching one that honors God or ourselves?  The one that honors God is what He has already revealed in His Son.  The one that honors ourselves makes us feel good and those who listen to us feel good.  We all bask in human approval. 

I believe Bill, like some false teachers, are not motivated by personal gain and deception.  He seems to want a more "compassionate" gospel, one that faces illness and says, "be gone."  He wants his listeners to feel good.  Sickness and death make us feel uncomfortable, and like Job's friends, we want to distant ourselves from that reality, lest it befall us. 

So, deeply hidden in this more "compassionate" gospel is fear.  Job's friends were trying to find out what Job did to avoid falling into his trap and ending up like him.  Their seemingly compassionate advice was predicated on a fear that said, "You must have done something Job.  'Fess up!"  Then once Job confessed his fault, his friends could say in their hearts, "Now that we know what he did, we won't fall into that same trap!"  Fear leads to pride. 

"Look at me!  I don't and I won't get sick!  I have figured out what causes believers to fall prey to illness, and I will avoid that (pardon the pun) like the plague!"  The focus is on me, my formula and my success.  I then enter a world filled with suffering and I go forth, banishing sickness by decreeing its removal.  All the while I am feeling good about myself and those who think as I do. 

This deep inner pride is pernicious.  This pastor I served under once said, "I never get sick," implying he was far more spiritual that anyone else.  He refused to comfort those in our church who became sick, and when one of our members died, he would not go and comfort the family. 

Why?  Those that are sick haven't found the kind of faith I have; I want to be compassionate, but my pride will take over when those I pray for do not become well.  I will begin to see them as spiritual losers.  I will shake the dust off my feet and move on, all the while my heart is hardening against those who don't fit my formula, and give me the approval I desire.  

Thus, a more "compassionate" gospel leads to disillusionment from the very ones we are called to serve.  Does service always mean healing?  Only if God says, "Heal them."  Our service can be meals, prayers, cards, and time spent crying with those who hurt.  But that's not very spiritually exciting.  Does God always say, Heal them!"  According to Bill and those who think like him, yes.  But is that the mandate from Jesus? 

Look at one of His parables about the sheep and the goats:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’" (Matt. 25:34-36) 

Look at what people call "The Great Commission":

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'” (Matt. 28:16-20)

I don't see healing as an essential part of serving Him.  Yes, it is part of our service to Him, but not each and every time. 

Bill leads off his teaching where the quote is, by saying that in Hebrews 1, the prophets were "for them" and the Son is for "now."  He suggests that yesterday's anointing is "not for today." 

That right off is problematic.  Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, not cast them out as an old anointing.  The only Bible Jesus had was the very Testament that Bill implies need not be heeded  today.  Today demands a new anointing appears to be Bill's message, which includes healing sickness.

Bill seems to want a gospel that is more humane, more compassionate.  Understandably--sickness and death are aberrations of God's original design.  Life in the Garden didn't have either of those horrors--Adam's sin brought them in and Jesus came to redeem us from the curse of sin and death. This more "compassionate" gospel and the gospel of Jesus seem to lose common ground when it comes to atonement.  Did Jesus' death on the cross redeem us from sin and death but also from illness? 

It sounds very spiritual to make that claim.  The key Scripture that my pastor and many others use is,  "By His stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) But, wait a minute... wasn't that yesterday's anointing?    According to Bill, we need new manna, new anointing.   Peter was inspired to use the old anointing for his argument about how to endure suffering: 

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

'He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.'

"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.' For 'you were like sheep going astray,' but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:21-25) 

The immediate context here is not suffering for doing wrong--that should happen--but suffering for doing good.  Jesus did good and He suffered.  So will our lives.  The even larger context Peter was writing in was to those scattered in the pagan world and who were suffering.  He says their suffering is as fire to their faith--refining it and showing the beauty of Christ in their lives. 

How would Bill's more "compassionate" gospel play out in the third world, with the voice of the martyrs crying out in prisons as they are beaten and tortured?  It's fine to preach a gospel where sickness is not allowed with hospitals, ambulances, antibiotics and medical procedures are available and become Plan B.  

In the third world, there is no Plan B.  There is only Jesus and His compassion.  

Bill starts his talk by citing Hebrews 1.  Let's go a bit further in that book and see what is says about a gospel that includes suffering:  

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  (Heb. 4:14-16) 

The King James Version translates the word for "weaknesses" as "infirmities."  Strong's Concordance gives this definition of the Greek: 

ἀσθένεια asthéneia, as-then'-i-ah; from G772; feebleness (of mind or body); by implication, malady; morally, frailty:—disease, infirmity, sickness, weakness.

Jesus suffered as we suffer, and that would imply all kinds of suffering.  

Our bodies were subject to the Fall and thus lost their pristine condition.  Our DNA miscodes, bacteria and viruses invade and we are subject to all kinds of maladies.

What was Jesus' response?  He was recapturing the creation from the Fall, one soul at a time.  Everything groans under the curse and He demonstrated that He was the D-Day invasion from heaven to this war-torn planet (thank you, C. S. Lewis for that analogy!).  

Wars and war zones are terrible.  We can stand in our safe streets and cry, "Peace Now!" and march against war's injustice.  Or we can acknowledge that this planet needs to be rescued from sin and death.  We can't do that.  Only Jesus can.  So, carrying Jesus into the streets and preaching the Good news of the Gospel won't make the war go away--but it will redeem those caught in its crossfire.  

We can bring Jesus.  The Kingdom will come only when the New Heavens and the New Earth are given by the Father's hand.  Until then, we pray and follow our Savior's example:  we will suffer but as we do, we proclaim the hope of Christ.  

Next time, let's discuss whether Jesus healed everyone in His ministry.  

Monday, February 25, 2019

The American Dream Infiltrates the Church, Part I

In America today, we measure the success of a church by its size, influence and popularity.  As someone put it, we have Americanized the church.  We have taken the values of the American Dream and applied them to church.  The American Dream is not hostile to Christianity, but it is not Biblical and the Bible alone is our measure for how we go about the Lord's work. 

What is the American Dream?  Its values, as I see it, are: 
  • Work hard for you will be successful
  • Don't stand still, keep moving forward with new ideas, new paradigms
  • Measure success by increased influence, pay and responsibility
  • Life should be better every decade
  • Cars, houses, country clubs, disposable income are accurate indicators of success
  • Hide the bad and display the good--success covers all areas in your life, right?
  • It's ultimately up to you and about you; a few broken relationships or cut corners are just part of moving on up--ends do justify the means
I watched my dad embody these values his whole life.  He served in Korea and when he returned, he climbed the corporate ladder with no looking back.  He gladly obliged society's expectations.  Two broken marriages, an estranged drug addicted son and an alcoholic wife later, he still didn't look back.  No regrets.

When I asked him to tell me his greatest accomplishment in life, he said, "I joined a country club."  My dad grew up during the Depression and remembered having only 83 cents in a drawer to his family's name.  So, he was certainly a poor kid who made good, with his expensive cars and country club membership. The American Dream gave him tangible values that translated into lifelong goals.  

But my dad was not a follower of Christ.  He accepted Christ on his death bed, as he lay dying of melanoma cancer.  He said he was "afraid," and we prayed together.  He passed soon after.   

I saw the bait and switch in his life.  The American Dream and its values were a kind of religion for many of his generation and beyond.  He worked hard, made the grade and then was reduced down to a man dying of cancer.  All the material acquisitions meant nothing; his son would have nothing to do with him; his third wife could not emotionally cope with his decline, and his friends and co-workers were nowhere to be found.

The bait said, "Do this and you will be HAPPY!"  The switch was, "You will have lots of stuff, but your life will be lonely, without true meaning and a sense that you have not quite arrived, 'cause  there's always some guy ahead of you with more!" 

The truth is quite simple:  The American Dream was no substitute for a relationship with Jesus Christ.  A person's purpose is not material success but a heart filled with peace, sins forgiven and a power to affect change wherever God leads.

How does this tie in with false teachers?  Many of them truly are wolves, knowing full well they are fleecing those who follow them.  How they justify it is beyond me.  They will have to answer to Christ.

But many leaders today are using models that while not openly hostile to Christianity, will, once implemented in the church, lead to man-centered definitions of success.        

The American Dream is not a worthy model for the church.  Why?  Because it is not centered in God.  It is a man-centered value system.  Let's break down the values and see how they are contrary to Biblical values, not because they are inherently sinful but because they keep man front and center.

Work hard for you will be successful:  OK.  Not a bad idea, and it plays out most of the time. 

But, you must figure out what "hard" means.  Late nights?  Six days a week?  Hire more staff?  Pay more?  Pay less?  More contemporary music?  More tech?  How many churches today have staff and pastors working longer and longer hours to meet the needs of an ever-growing congregation?  They believe that if they word hard (defined by the organization) they will see more success (again, defined by the organization) for the God's Kingdom.  

But is this the model Jesus offered?

Jesus heals one man at the pool of Siloam.  One man.  He doesn't set up a Pool Healing Ministry. 

He doesn't go around and touch a bunch of people and then ask them to contribute to His ministry. 

He doesn't set up a small gathering area near the pool and share His words of comfort and healing. 

He heals one man. 

To most churches today, He wouldn't be deemed as "successful." 

After being accused by the Pharisees of working on the Sabbath, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed." (John 5:19-20)

Jesus' ministry was centered solely on His Father and His instructions.  The need was great, but Jesus' obedience to His Father was greater.  

Jesus, in His teaching about Him being the Bread of Life, says, "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38)

No more and no less. 

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)

Churches today tout bigger and better programs!  More tech!  Theater seating!  A sanctuary is now an "auditorium!"  See how many people are hearing about Jesus with highly entertaining and high-tech sermons!  Of course, this is God's will!  How could it not be!  Look at all those people!

But we need to be  humbled by this verse.  

God must be at the center of all we do, large or small.  How many churches, if the staff sat down and really called upon God, really read His Word, and really sought His will humbly and earnestly, would look with some horror or consternation on how their church is operating?  They would see how they have metaphorically taken over the "Pool of Siloam" and gone big!  Tent revivals, bottled water and monogrammed towels (for a fee, of course) would be available to one and all!  Lots of traffic, lots of people getting saved (how deep this really goes or how deep the commitment really is, no one asks) and lots of statistics about growth are everywhere!  Posters of vision statements and mission statements are happily hung near the pool.  We now hear about a new church Pool Ministry plant coming to a city near you!  

Wow!  This is huge!

But is it God's? 

Indulge me while we have a quick interview with our Lord about that day: 

Why just the one man, Jesus?

That's the only one my Father wanted Me to heal today.

But look at all that need!  So many people!

But I did not come to just heal the bodies of people.  I came to seek and save the lost.  The one man's heart was ready because My Father told me it was.  I came to do only His will.  At that moment near the pool, that is what I did.  Later I found him and warned him to stop sinning.  That was the real reason I came.  Sin and death separate My Father from His children.  I came to change that forever.  

Oh, OK.  We would have done more.  No offense, Lord, but we have a go big, or go home mentality.  Somehow, we are at odds with You, but I don't know why.

I do.  Working in My name and truly knowing Me are two different things. 

We will continue to explore these ideas in the days ahead.  

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Final Woes

Jesus is going through a list of seven woes, aimed at the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. We are on the final stretch. Because the prideful human heart does not change, no matter the era, these woes absolutely ring true with false teachers today. If you think Jesus is being harsh, remember, Jesus knows all too well the nature of the human heart: "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." (John 2:23-25) 

Jesus knew the verses in Jeremiah 17:5-10:

"This is what the Lord says:
'Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.'
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
'I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.'”

Do you notice how a person who relies on others to lead and guide him will end up in the desert, as it were?  The council of the flesh will give people a sense of confidence on what they hear or see.  They move in a world of sight--not faith-- and their strength comes from what they receive from others.  

Why then rely on the Lord when I have someone telling me how to go?  The teacher tells me if I do this, then this will happen... This teacher has verses to back up the teaching, so why not?  The teacher is teaching me to depend more and more on the teacher than on the Lord, because, well, this person is so spiritual and it's a whole lot easier to just tune in and watch!  This teacher knows his Bible way more than I do!  The more I learn, relying more and more on externals, the more distant God becomes, and I have to rely on what I know, rather than on an developing an increasingly intimate relationship with Him!
Jeremiah teaches that the such people will not see true blessings when they come, because they are so focused on themselves.  He later, after contrasting those who rely solely on the Lord, sees the heart as "deceitful."   

Full of deceit.  That is what characterizes a false teacher in spades.  It also characterizes those people who abdicate their personal responsibility to seek God and wait on Him for guidance.  It characterizes who trade in their Bible for a "Bible teacher."

Both parties are deceived because their hearts have turned away from the Lord.  But Jesus zeroes in with these passages on the teachers, who should know better, because they have the Word right at their fingertips. 

Here we go:  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." (Matt. 23:23-24)

Plucking some herbs to tithe is no big deal and takes little effort. But justice, mercy and faithfulness?  That takes work!  The Scriptures brim with passages on those topics, but it takes an honest personal evaluation to say, "Have I been just?  Merciful?  Faithful?  Uh-oh.  No.  I must seek the Lord's forgiveness and make amends to those I have wronged."

How often did the Pharisees do that?  They probably more often than not said, "Nah.  I don't have the time.  My herbal tithe should be good enough."  For who?  You?  But we are not here to please ourselves.  We are to serve God in the beauty of holiness.

A modern false teacher would argue that his or her focus on healing, prosperity, or some other single item focus is biblical. 

But what about justice?  Are you funding organizations that promote justice in those parts of the world where it is sorely lacking?  Rescuing those caught in sex trafficking?  Providing shelter, food, potable water and other basic human necessities rather than buying yet another jet?  Or a bigger house?    

Do you serve with mercy?  Are all those who seek you in a healing crusade healed, or do you shun those whose illnesses might call into question whether or not you actually heal people?

What about faithfulness?  With all that money you collect, do you further the work of God's kingdom, or do you benefit yourself?

In other words, do you honor the whole Word of God, not just cherry-picking those verses that benefit you?

Next up:  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." (Matt. 23:25-26)

Blindness seems to be a drumbeat through these verses.  Blindness to the reality of who these teachers were inside.  Blindness to the real need of others.  Blindness to the real attitudes that God desires and how we are His hands and feet, enacting justice, being merciful and being faithful to Him, no matter the cost. 

Do you not see how your version of Christianity is a satanic ploy to discredit it?  You will go and tell everyone it's their biblical right to have wealth, health and prosperity.  You will preach it, live it, demonstrate it and for many, such a belief will merit credence.  You will make your followers hunger and thirst after this world, but not after righteousness.  Then year after year, when the healing doesn't come, the bank account does not overflow, and life seems to be unceasingly hard, people will give up:  their love for God, their love for each other and their commitment to seek the Lord.  The road to prosperity will be littered with bitterness, unbelief, heart-wrenching disappoint and pain.  Your followers will be crying.  Satan will be laughing. 

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matt. 23:27-28)

Satan brings death. I bring life--abundant, overflowing, fulfilling life. I demonstrated how that abundant life works: I utterly surrendered to My Father. His will brought Me joy as I fulfilled His will, spoke His words, and touched humanity with His love. I sought Him each morning, asking Him how I should walk in His ways this day. One day came, and we both cried. But it was the day for which I came. I showed what true surrender looked like My whole life, even when it meant death on a cross. But it also meant resurrection. The same power that brought Me to life is the same I give to you. I am the greatest gift you could ever have. Moths, time and thieves destroy what the world gives. I will never leave nor forsake you.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation. (Matt. 23:29-36)

Self-righteousness, grandiose displays of supposed wealth from My hands, no humility and no honoring of My Father and His Word, will lead to judgement. You won't listen to My people who long to take you back into the Word and show you, in love, the errors of your ways. You have your own gospel, laced with pride and deceit. You will not allow opposition in your own organizations. You surround yourself with people who labor with a "touch not the Lord's anointed" mentality, which is just another way of saying that you and you alone have the truth. Whose truth? The prophets of old, whose words still ring true today? Sages? People whose knowledge of the Word utterly dwarfs your own, but you will not listen, for you are convinced of your own superiority in such matters. Your failure to allow the whole counsel of God to live in you will bring judgement.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matt. 23:37-39)

Judgement will come, because My Father is righteous, faithful and just. My words are His mercy to you: to guide, warn and bring life. If you choose death, by glorifying the self, the stones of your ministry will fall, crushing those who have supported you. I come in His Name; I ride into every city of the heart, and greatly desire that you honor Me in everything you say and do. But, sadly, those whose greed, ambition and deceit pervert My Word will one day receive My words, "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt. 7:21-23) 


Friday, January 25, 2019

The "Woes" Continue

Jesus is powerfully listing the qualities found on a false teacher's resume. While false teachers and leaders do not advertise their intentions, we must be discerning as followers of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 23, Jesus denounces the Pharisees with a list of seven "woes." It is interesting that He uses the number seven, for I am sure their egregious failure to lead God's people exceeded that number. One article commented, "Seven is the number of completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual). It derives much of its meaning from being tied directly to God's creation of all things." (https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/the-number-7-in-the-bible/)

I surmise that Jesus deliberately choose the number because it rang of the seven days of creation, and how His Father's design was "good."  Yet, the Pharisees have, with their teachings, defiled the beauty of the Creator.  How?  By leading people into a world of works, duty, obligation, hypocrisy and lies.  In essence, they have re-created the world in their image.  

The word "woe" is aimed at the Pharisees, because it is in the dative case, according to Strong's. Jesus is not, as I understand it, saying "woe" to everyone listening.  It means "alas" and carries with it a denunciation along with grief.  

It is clear why Jesus said, "woe" and then showed them to error of their ways:  in the future, the very Temple they claim to represent will be destroyed.  In the near future, the very Torah they uphold will be twisted to kill the Messiah.  In the near future, they very Gentiles they despise with all their ungodly ways will become partners in crime, and the King of Glory will be killed in a very Roman way.  

Let's listen in, and apply His words to our study of false teachers:  

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to." (Matt. 23: 13-14)

You, church leaders, are actors, who wear a mask and claim to be someone you are not. The very meaning of the Greek word "hypocrite" (hupokrités--"stage player") is played out in what you teach and do. Your followers see you from a distance, as they sit in your “theater” and you seem real to them. But behind the scenes, where your followers will never be allowed to go, you are fake. When you leave the stage, and your mask comes down, you are committed to deception for personal gain. You prepare your followers for hell and despise anyone who tries to remind you of the Truth.  You will be held accountable for leading people into the abyss of false teaching. 

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matt. 23:15)

You want to have people follow YOU, to reinforce your belief that you teach the truth. If you have followers that means you can’t be wrong. But Satan has more followers than you can imagine. Does that make him right?
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.” (Matt. 23:16-22)

You hand out pledge cards, donation buckets, request credit card numbers and promise people that if they donate to you, and do so abundantly, they will be blessed. It’s as if you teach I am compelled by your followers’ faith to enrich your ministry. But I own the cattle on a thousand hills. I have deep riches in My Son. I do not need anyone’s faith to release My goodness; My unfailing love and mercies are new every morning, long before you utter a word. My Son is the greatest gift I offer mankind. But you want money placed on your altar, into your temple, into your life. But I give a far greater gift, My Son and His salvation, Who calls forth dead souls and brings them to life. 

Gold disappears.

Altars decay.

Temples fall.

But My Word is eternal.

You forget that in your frenetic grab for temporal things. 

Jesus is not just denouncing the false leaders of His day; He grieves for them as well: "Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’" (Ezek. 33:11)

God wants His children to see the error of their ways and return to Him: “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!" (Ezek. 18:30-32) 

This is the beauty of what Jesus is offering. In Ezekiel, God promises a heart of flesh for a heart of stone: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezek. 36:26)

The New Covenant, one of grace and sacrifice of God's own So, stands before the false teachers of every generation and says, "Repent and live."  

The Pharisees desperately needed to hear it.

Our false teachers desperately need to hear it.  The days are darkening and time is running short. 

We will continue with the next verses soon.  Bless you!

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Woe Unto False Teachers

False teachers do not wear a t-shirt that says,

"Hey!  Like my sheep suit?"

"Lyin' With Wolves is my Indian name"

"Love sheep.  Especially with mint sauce"

You get it.  So, the burden of identifying a wolf is on us.  We seek the the Holy Spirit's wisdom as we  dig deeper in the Word.

Jesus left us with clear markers of someone who is not following Him.  We have focused a lot on Paul in these blogs, but Jesus is very specific as well.

Jesus excoriates the Pharisees, thereby providing us with solid markers of false teachers with their attitudes and methods. You might argue that the Pharisees are of the old covenant, so of course they missed the mark.  Yes, but human nature does not change.  Leaders throughout the centuries have misled others for their own gain, fostered by prideful hearts. 

Pride and its destructive effects are chronic.  Give me a decade or a century and I will show you the aftermath of pride's ride.

Jesus encountered the effects of pride's ride in His own generation.  The Romans were problematic, but He didn't spend time railing against their sin and godless empire.  He commended the Roman centurion for his faith, and spoke mightily about what is God's and what is Caesar's.  That's about it. Why?  Because they did not know better.  They did not have His Father's Word.  

There were Romans who loved the Jewish people, but Roman society overall was in another spiritual universe.  Of course, Jesus knew about a man named Paul who would go forth someday and bring the Jesus' light to the Gentiles.  But until then, Jesus focused on His own. The Jewish leader knew better.  They had the Word.  But, and this is key, they did not know His Father.  They served another master, and Jesus wasted no words on pointing out to them where their inspiration came from: Satan. 

Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come. (John 8:19-20)

Later Jesus minces no words:

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me!" (John 8:42-45)

Happily for the Kingdom of God, there were, even in the midst of such deception, men whose hearts were tender: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. 

So, let's look at deep deception of the Pharisees and notice how today's false teachers are no different.  Our scripture comes from Matthew 23.  Then I will comment and draw a comparison with the leaders of today. 

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” (Matt. 23:1-4)
The pastors of today love their position of authority. They have sermons that have something new, something fresh about them. You listen and believe that these pastors must be doing something right, because look how many people attend their churches! Look how big their churches are! These pastors rarely read out the Bible—why should they? They quote Scripture occasionally, but their stories are inspiring! Hilarious! Memorable!

You follow Pastor So & So because he seems to have it all together.  Don’t.

He wants you to live a life that he does not live. He wants you to not abuse drugs or alcohol, but secretly will not address his own addictions. He rails on and on how bad porn is, but won’t stop viewing it himself. He talks about God’s riches, which he displays gleefully: jets, cars, expensive houses, lavish lifestyles, but you struggle each time you tithe to his church, thinking about the financial hardships you are enduring. He appears free from sickness due to his amazing faith; you have medical issues that will not go away, and the bills to show for it. Faith? You try and try and try to believe. This pastor seems to have no trouble with faith and his material abundance shows it. You cheer yourself up thinking you can be like him some day. 

 He doesn’t know you and he doesn’t care to know you. He wants your money, which you are happy give, showing how much you believe in his ministry.  Don’t.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.” (Matt. 23:5-7)
It’s all show: the lavish lifestyle, the deference they demand from staff, the mega-everything: houses, cars, churches. They love to be invited on talk shows to peddle their non-offensive gospel that seems sincere, but doesn’t honor Jesus or His death on the cross for the sins of mankind. They emphasize the love and grace Jesus offers, but not the sins that drove Him to the cross. They want to been known as "pastors," "church leaders," "evangelists" and "preachers," but their hearts are far from Jesus. Their motivation?  Pride and selfishness. 

Pride is packaged as piety.

Greed is repackaged as grace.

Love for self is repackaged as love for Jesus. 

They want you to follow, admire and support them.  Don’t. 

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:8-12)

Who is the true Head of the church? The Holy One, I AM, the one true God, the Messiah, the King of kings. He sent His Holy Spirit to teach you and lead you into all righteousness. He sent His Spirit to help you discern truth from error as you open His Word, testing what you are being taught.

Where is the servant heart of the one who claims to follow Jesus?   Jesus modeled it every day of His life.  He washed the feet of His followers, acting like the lowliest of slaves. He humbled Himself to the point of being beaten, tortured and killed. He taught what the life of a servant looks like.  He lived it, to the point of death. 

He showed love and humility, the true hallmarks of one who truly loves God.     

But, these leaders, because of their authority imparted to them by power, money and control, can afford to array themselves in the finest of wolves’ clothing.  They delight in fleecing the sheep.

They come not to serve, but be served.

They come to gain, not love.

They come to create revelations that are not in Jesus' Word, and thus can make any desire they have seem respectable to those who follow them.

Servants? No. 

Salesmen?  Yes.  They sell Jesus as the quick (but oh so respectable and pious!) road to fulfilling the lusts of the flesh.

Servants? No. 

Serpents?  Ones, who like their father, look at their followers and asked, “Did God really say that?” They preach another, accursed gospel. 

Avoid them.

We will continue unpacking Matthew 23 next time.

May God bless you in this New Year!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Are We Bored With Jesus?

Gold dust.  Angel feathers.  Smoke machines.  Jewels.  Fire tunnels.  People laying all over the floor.  "Sunday Experience" instead of "Sunday Worship."  Churches with names that don't sound like churches.  New revelation.  Progressive revelation.  Branding.  Logos.  Stage lighting.  Healing ministry.  Deliverance ministry.  Big time buildings.  Big time budgets.  Big time pastors.    

Have we in America become bored with Jesus?  

When did He manifest gold dust, or any other "heavenly" props?  When did He create "experiences" for His listeners?  When did He speak with any other label other than what the Old Testament had named the Messiah?  When He speak without the Old Testament as THE reference?  How did He succeed other than by word of mouth?  When did He have an event that singled out one area of ministry, and did only that, such as healing?  

For someone like Jesus, who did not have a "place to lay His head," He was far from big time anything.  His one worldly possession was gambled over by His executioners:  a tunic.  

We follow Jesus, but do we really FOLLOW Jesus?  Are we so spiritually immature and inattentive that the only way to get us to attend church Sunday after Sunday is to up the entertainment ante? 

Would we be bored if Jesus entered a church, sat down and started teaching us?  No lights, no camera, no action.  Just Jesus.  Just the Word. 

So, what do false teachers do? Look at these verses in Timothy about false teachers.  I have summarized them:  

A.  1 Timothy 1:3-7: don't allow people to teach false doctrines; they promote endless discussions, not advancing God's work; "The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." They engage in "meaningless talk;" want to teach, but don't know what they are talking about

B.  1 Tim. 1:18-20: "whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel"

C.  1 Tim. 6:3-5: does not agree to Jesus' teachings and God-centered teaching; "conceited"; no understanding; preoccupied with being controversial; all sorts of divisions occur; people constantly vying for power, who are not interested in truth but use the faith for "financial gain."

D.  2 Tim. 4:3-4: People don't want "sound doctrine;" listen to those teachers who tell them what they want to hear; don't want truth; "myths" are preferred

So, what do these verses have in common?  Where is the Word?  It seems that these folks want to talk about everything but the Word. The teachers want to be center stage stage and known for what they do. It may be in the name of Jesus, but Jesus is so far away from the ideas they teach that they have not noticed He's left the building.  

In A, false doctrines and a lot of spiritually empty talk rule the day.  Purity of heart, a clean conscience and a sincere faith are set aside, because that means the teacher is not the focal point but what they say.  When you compare what they are saying to the Word, the difference is obvious.  

In B, the Word is not the source of the doctrine.  In the previous verses, Paul uses the Law as a starting point of what is not considered godly behavior. He moves from the behavior to the ideas that allow such behavior to be allowed. 

In C, the Word is not considered to be the truth, and in their arrogance, these teachers are stuck on themselves, wanting others to listen to them with their wild claims.  Of course, in order to gain followers, one teacher's claims have to be more wild than the other teachers' claims, because power means money.  Truth?  Nah.  That's for losers.  Money, power, control.  That's the endgame here. 

In D, "sound doctrine" is boring. It doesn't appeal to our pride as followers and it doesn't appeal to the pride of the teachers. The word for "myths" is translated "fables" or "inventions."  Teachers just make up doctrine.  But because they are in positions of authority, people listen.  And because people listen, the teachers continue to make things up, because it keeps the people coming back and wanting more.  

When we are centered in the Word alone, pride isn't welcomed there.  The Word must be central:  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16) 

It's not as fun as going out with youthful enthusiasm and seeking to heal everyone you encounter.  

It's not as exciting as going to a graveyard and raising the dead.

It's not as fun as watching others fall to the floor and lay there shaking.  

It's not as novel as having a prophetic puppet. 

It's not as overwhelming as a loud concert environment for worship. 

But the Word reins us in, and teaches us what God approves of and wants us to carry out into the world.  It shows error, and how to live righteously, so we can be true servants of God, not representing ourselves but representing Him alone.  The works consequently done are fruitful and not faddish; productive and not experiential, and ultimately bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

One last, sad thought: 10 years from now, when all these young followers of these disturbing trends  and self-centered teachers are adults and life hits them hard, the teachings that they have stood on will be sand. Their faith-houses will be washed away because they did not build their house on the Rock--Jesus and His words.    

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