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.    

Monday, December 24, 2018

One of My Favorite Christmas Carols

We all have a favorite Christmas carol.  I have several and it's hard to pick just one.  But with the state of the world, the pain and suffering, and the worrisome anger and hatred that plagues our country, one comes to mind. "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" is based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I present the poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Wow. He wrote it when our nation was being tried to its very soul: the Civil War. Longfellow wrote it on Christmas day in 1863.  

For America, this war had turned into a nightmare.  Divisions were everywhere: brother against brother, family against family, region against region, race against race.  Even churches divided against each other, over slavery and racial equality.  The number of wounded, dying and dead were overwhelming, and in the years to come, would come to be almost unbelievable to that generation.   

Was this a sentimental, "God is on our side" kind of poem that appears when major conflicts arise?  No, I don't think so.  Isaiah speaks of a Child to be born to us, in familiar words (thank you, Mr. Handel!):

"For a child is born to us, A son is given to us; And the government Is upon His shoulder; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." (9:6) 

A child--one of us.  A son--a member of the family.  But He is not just a precious child, and beloved son... He is the Ruler of the universe and of mankind.  Only He can promote a sustainable justice and mercy, due to who He is.  Who is He?
  • "Something wonderful, admirable, a miracle of God" who will "devise, guide, purpose"
  • "the strong" and "one true God" 
  • "the everlasting, perpetual" who is the "God of His people" 
  • "Ruler, keeper, governor" of "completeness, soundness, welfare, peace"  
Wow.  This is why, at the end of the poem, the bells, like the angels flying in the skies over the heads of the shepherds, could ring out such exuberant praise.  God has not vacated the throne of the universe, despite all the madness going on around us.  

So, this carol, echoing out of the past, stills extols the glory of God.

We need to do so as well.

Merry Christmas, dear readers.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Satan's Logic, Part II

Satan is a master of deception, and those who follow him have bought into his lies.  We use the word "deception," or say that such false teachers and their followers are "deceived."

What does "deception" mean in Hebrew?  According to Vine's, its basic meaning is "deceit, deception, malice, falsehood."  Also in Vine's, Eliphaz in the book of Job, says, "Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return." (15:31)

Let's go to the Greek.  The word means, "that which gives a false impression, whether by appearance, statement or influence, is said of riches...of sin..."  (Vine's)

Vine's cites 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 as indicative of the definition: "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved."

Vine's also cites Colossians 2:8:  "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces [or the basic principles] of this world rather than on Christ." (footnote from BibleGateway)

Other words cited by Vine's is "a bait, snare" "wandering (from the right path)" and "'self-deceit,' a sin against common sense," and "leading into error, to seduce."

Wow.  Let's summarize the meaning of deception:
  • lie
  • malice
  • worthless
  • false impression
  • "signs and wonders that serve the lie"
  • unwillingness to love the truth
  • human traditions of thought 
  • a bait
  • wandering away from the right path
  • self-deceit, ignoring common sense
  • "leading into error"
Why does deception work in the first place?  We look back today at the Nazi era and say, "How terrible.  The people were so deceived.  How could they believe Hitler?  He was so obviously evil!" Ah, hindsight.  But watch the films of his speeches carefully, as the camera scans the crowds, whether at a rally or at the Reichstag:  the people are utterly enthralled.  Swooning, screaming, Seig Heiling every few seconds...the enthusiasm comes through those black and whites images even today.

Why?  The simple answer is Hitler offered the German people what they wanted.  He explained the catastrophic loss of World War I.  He claimed the Communists and the Jews at home had  undermined the war effort at every turn, and thus were traitors, deserving severe punishment. He offered a nationalism that boasted the racial superiority of the German people to counter the degradation they felt after being blamed by the Allies for the war and then having to pay for it. He proposed a plan for a German that was pure, shiny and bright:  all inferiors would be removed, and Germany's borders would expand, allowing it to rightfully take its place as the world leader.  

In other words, Hitler appealed to the pride of the people.  

Pride is Satan's domain, and it is an open door that he slithers into and begins working to further his agenda of destruction.  He, as Jesus powerfully defined him, is a thief who comes in to "steal, kill, and destroy." If you want a simple definition of World War II, I can't think of a better one.  The theft,  murder and killing, and the destruction of that war left 58 million dead.  It also included industrialized murder on an unprecedented scale that still defies imagination.

Pride in human beings allows Satan to create a predatory pack that releases all the is evil in us.

Let's explore Jesus' definition of Satan a little further. I hike the mountains in my Idaho home, and see lots of evidence of drama going on when the sun goes down:  bones, fur, hooves scattered about or tucked under a thicket; a single small skull, sometimes with a small amount of fur still upon it; a single bone, long separated from its skeletal cohorts. 

Whoever took the animal (coyote, mainly, sometimes wolf or bear) had to first steal the prey away from its herd. Then to silence its screams and get to work, the predator killed it.  Then, in an orgy of feeding, the prey was dismembered, its bones left in chaos.

That is what he tries to do to us.

That is what he tries to do to the Word.

That is what he tries to do to the Son.  

Satan appeals to our pride to separate us from the truth of God.  God has revealed Himself in His Word and in His Son.  Both get targeted, questioned, dissected, reinterpreted, and redefined beyond all recognition.  Once unrecognizable, it's easy to discard the Word and the Son, for they have no longer have any meaning.  The truth is replaced with "your truth."  Biblical "bones" are scattered on  the hills of cultural irrelevancy.

Look at it this way.  You cannot deceive me if I pursue the truth with vigor and wherever it leads.  If I weigh the evidence, looks carefully and sets pride aside, then the lie will fall flat.  Whoa!  There is the key element: pride being set aside.  I can't be deceived if I am not trying to gain something from whatever is before me.

Lies work because the liar and the "liaree" equally want something.

If I tell you God wants you rich, and all you have to do is give me money, I am appealing to your pride that says you can gain wealth with little effort, and that God is all about you.  You are special as you follow my ministry.

If I tell you I have a new revelation, I appeal to your pride that you now have new or unique knowledge; you are superior to those who don't possess it.  You are special if you follow my teachings.

If I entertain you, all in the name of Jesus, I appeal to your pride that your church is progressive and cutting edge; that new is always better than old and that lots of people involved means God's blessings.  Don't bother with small.  Or simple. You are special because you belong to a happening church.

Feeling special is balm on an insecure heart; a heart that doesn't know the Father as deeply, and a heart that longs for something.  Satan loves that "something."  He will counterfeit it for he knows that that "something" is unbridled fellowship with the Father, Son and precious Spirit.

That "something" will be a lie, an error, ignoring common sense, and a rushing head long into something that is worthless.  Eventually, you will be left marred, angry, broken or deeply ensnared.  That is the point of Satan's logic: because in the word "believe," the word "lie" tucked in.

But in "believe," with a careful look, is the word, "live."  Take out the need to "be" in control, and take out the "e" (ego) and you find Jesus: He is our Immanuel, the One who is God with us, and who brought us His way, His truth and in His life.


Friday, November 30, 2018

Satan's Logic, Part I

Trust me.  Satan uses logical thought in order to seduce us.  Satan uses our emotions to confuse us.  He wants us in a situation that is contrary to God and eventually leads us away from God altogether.  Satan targets God's people and misleads them any way he can.  One of his favorite tactics is to use a biblical idea, and lace it with a lie.   

We are looking at false teachers, whom Satan uses to further the confusion.  If such teachers were completely batty, most people would say, "Oh, that person is clearly mentally ill.  There is no rhyme or reason to their ramblings."  Exactly.  Incoherence would not win someone over.  But if the person presents neatly logical ideas, makes an appeal to our emotions, and sets our pride in motion, we can become quickly ensnared.  The ideas contain just enough truth to woo us into thinking the overall teaching is sound. 

Think about the some of the ideas around Christianity that echo from churches, stadiums, seminaries, and online:

  1. It's all about you!
  2. God wants your best life!
  3. Let's not call it, "sin" but a mistake, a poor choice; that word is too dismissive!
  4. What are your felt needs?  We are here to minister to them!
  5. Your happiness is the goal of  life.  How can we help?
  6. Jesus is your Life Coach.  Bring Him in and your life will be so much better!
  7. Ask Jesus anything, and if your faith is strong, He will grant you your prayer and more!
  8. Heaven?  Yes.  Hell?  Well, that's such a negative way to think about God.  Emphasize the positive. 
  9. God's will is so inscrutable that whatever happens, happens.  You are powerless to change it. 

OK.  Isn't there some truth laced into these statements?  Yes, but the Word is not completely compatible with these statements. 

What does the Word say?  "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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God." (John 3:16-21)

Statements 1-5:  God does love each and every one of us.  But it's not about you and your life here, it's about your life in eternity.  We are here for only a short while.  Have we fully surrendered to the Son of God?  Or does our will recoil at the full surrender that following Jesus requires?  Do we downplay our sin, the cost that Jesus paid, and how we just can't help ourselves?  Or is it not sin at all?  Have we assigned a new word that sounds more tolerant and loving, not recognizing that sin and death are our greatest enemy, and keep us from the presence of God, now and for eternity?  Our primary need is for the salvation offered by Jesus Christ.  All other needs are secondary.  We were created to walk in fellowship with God--it is only when we receive Jesus that we find our true purpose in life.  Everything else is gravy. 

Statement 6:  Jesus is the Savior, the Blessed Redeemer, the Son of God, the great I AM.  Anything that makes Him just a bigger us, is an affront to His majesty.  He is to be loved, clung to and revered, yes and yes!  But if we make Him less than He is, so we can relate to Him, we have failed to honor Him.

Statement 7:  God is not at our beck and call.  Your faith pleases God, but we live in the light of His will and love.  We pray requests and not answers.  God know our hearts and its desires, but He may not take us where we want to go, for we don't always know what is best for us.  He loves us, but He does not indulge us.  He is working on our character every day and in every way; our prayers may be a hindrance to us walking in a more mature way in Him. 

Statement 8:  Hell is real, for if people live rejecting God in this life, the afterlife will be no different.  Downplaying hell as being incompatible with a loving God fails to understand a fundamental truth:  We choose our afterlife's location based on whether or not we choose Jesus.  John 3:16-21 is clear on that.  The ultimate sin is our unbelief and loving the darkness of our will over the Light of the World.  If we choose darkness now, then darkness will be our eternal home.

Statement 9:  We live in a war zone.  Pure and simple.  The day Adam and Eve sinned was the day they handed over this planet to Satan, for he is called the "prince of this world."  But:  Jesus is still the King of kings.  He is superior in every way over Satan.  But ascribing the results of living in a war zone--tragedies, pain, suffering, loss and disease to God's will fails to understand the fallen nature of all of creation.  Only God can rescue us, and use the tragedies that befall us to bring beauty out of ashes.  But as along as we remain here, the bombs will fall on the just and the unjust.

Now, while there is truth in all of the above statements, I sincerely believe they fall short of the purpose for which we were created: to glorify God.  Are all of these ideas from Satan?  No.  But let me use an analogy here to clarify my point.

We have all seen frozen lakes.  The frozen top of the lake seems akin to concrete:  sturdy, unbreakable and if you choose, you can walk across it.  Invariably, in every movie where there's a frozen lake, a truck/person/horse/car manages to break through a seemingly impenetrable surface.  The fear of falling into freezing water is real; the fear of not being able to find the hole and being lost under the ice is even more terrifying.  Sometimes help arrives; other times, the person is lost. 

The breaking of the ice is not pleasant, but the cold water beneath is the real danger, and how long someone is in that water can prove lethal.

My point?  Lots of ideas seem perfectly biblical; there is enough Scripture to make them appear "impenetrable" to analysis and evaluation.  But when the real trials of life hit people, the ideas that  believers stand upon prove thinner than they appear to be, and cannot support the weight of tragedy, suffering and loss.  The "ice" breaks, and down into the frigid water the people fall. 

Now, the danger is the longer they cling to biblically unsustainable ideas, the more likely their faith will freeze (become inert) and eventually die.  It wasn't on the surface of their lives that the ideas were suspect; it was in the deep waters of soul-shattering challenges just how weak the ideas really were. 

It is in the cold waters that Satan lurks.  He is the coldness and death underneath unbiblical ideas.  The lie under the surface is not evident until a person is desperate for answers and the ideas fail to provide them.  A person's heart grows increasingly cold and through the dark waters comes the whisper,

God has left you here.  He has failed you.  He actually ordained this, and as you suffer, rejoice in His loving will.  Loving will?  Not.  He is distant, cold, and hard to figure out.  So why bother? 

That is the whole point of a biblical idea laced with a lie: It is to lead you into dark waters.  Your faith starts to freeze and your walk with Jesus disappears underneath the ice. 

I have been told so many seemingly biblical ideas over the years only to watch the proponents move further from God, not closer.  The Bible is light and truth and points to Jesus, who is Light and Truth.  God's whole enterprise is to conform us to the image of His Son.  That takes deep intimacy and love.  The only way that kind of intimacy and love can grow is staying in Him and His Word, and letting the Spirit lead you away from the dark and into the light. 

False teachers are Satan's tour guides, who lead us out into the wilderness, and claim the frozen lake's surface will hold.  They disappear when we fall in and start to thrash around in the frigid water.  Why?  Because the Bible is not truth, but a tool to use for their own aggrandizement. 

Next time, we will unpack how Satan is very logical, and uses just enough of God's Word to derail us from the truth.  We will look at how false teachers benefit from being Satan's soldiers in the war against our soul. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

But Who's Watching the Shepherd?

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." (Acts 20:28-30)

Wow.  Nothing like Paul to make a sunny day cloudy.  We trust our pastors.  We assume if they are following Jesus, as we are, they are confessing their sins, seeking Jesus every day and want to grow deeper in Him.  So, reading Paul feels almost disloyal to the pastors and teachers we look up to and trust.

But that is the point.  The wolves know the sheep stick together and desire to belong to a flock that is vibrant and loving.  The wolves know the sheep love Jesus, and are trusting those who call themselves Christians.  They also know that leaders have a special place in the heart of the sheep.  We expect the world to not be trustworthy; they don't have a regenerate heart.  So why wouldn't the sheep trust the one who is leading them?  

We trust our shepherd because he's out ahead of us. He is further up the road than we are.  He has studied the Word more than we have; he knows more of the Bible, its history, language and meaning than us; he is called to his position by God; he serves Jesus with his whole heart; his sins are not hidden but confessed; he is accountable to other shepherds; and he genuinely knows and loves his Lord and His Word.    

Does that mean he is better than the sheep?  No.  He is a brother in Christ, and just because he leads us doesn't means he is better than us--the same Jesus that lives in him and empowers him, lives in us and empowers us.

Paul, as a pastor, experienced first hand the snarling of the wolves throughout his ministry, just as Jesus warned anyone who followed Him would: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also...  (John 15:18-20)

Jesus is addressing the Pharisees specifically in these verses, but notice one thing: The Pharisees were of the same faith as Jesus.  They studied the same Torah; they went to synagogue and knew the prophecies regarding the Messiah.  But their fangs came out when Jesus taught the multitude.  He exposed their pride, their jealousy of Him, their twisting of the Scripture and their self-righteousness, all parading around in the name of His Father.  

The greatest fear a false teacher has is exposure. Jesus did that.  Paul did that. We must do that if the Holy Spirit calls us to speak truth in love to an erring brother.  

Paul, in these verses from Acts is speaking to the shepherds themselves--wisdom that needs to be heeded.  But, we as sheep can ask ourselves, "Is our shepherd aligning with God's criteria?"

1.  "Keep watch over yourselves:"  First things first. Is our shepherd making sure his behaviors and teachings match his Lord and the Word?  Is he earnestly seeking to remove the log in his eye before he even attempts to remove the speck in one of the sheep's eye?  

2.  "and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers:" Is our shepherd genuinely looking out for his flock and not using them to fulfill some hidden agenda?  Is his ministry one of edifying the saints, or is it to edify himself at the sheep's expense?  Is our shepherd called and commissioned by the Holy Spirit?  Does his attitude toward the Body of Christ display his commitment to the One who called him?

3.  "Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood:"  Jesus paid a dear price for His bride.  His blood flowed down a cross to cleanse her and array her in white garments.  Does our shepherd love the bride as well?  Does he fully understand that the bride is Christ's and not his?  Does he serve the Lord with a love for others, a willingness to stand on the Word and every success, every victory he ascribes to Christ alone?

4.  "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock:"  Does our shepherd understand how angry the world is with Jesus, and how a shepherd is as much wolf chow as a sheep?  He is not exempt from temptation.  He is not exempt from struggles.  Does our shepherd humbly understand that because a shepherd leads a flock, he may be the first to go when the wolves start to pick off its members?  Because of that, our shepherd needs to be vigilant about his walk in Christ.

5.  "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them:"  Has our shepherd picked a godly group of men who watch over him and who themselves follow the Lord without compromise?  Is he accountable to them, confessing sin, seeking prayer and being teachable?  If he has to choose between an erring brother and his walk in Christ, will he compromise and allow the brother to continue?  Does he know the Word well enough to know when the truth is being twisted in order to justify some unbiblical action, and will not stand for it, either in himself or in someone else? 

6.  "So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears:" Paul never stopped praying for the shepherds who oversaw the churches he planted, for he knew the wolves never rest.  Does our shepherd pray for the safety, sanctity and souls of his sheep, as well as for himself?

It is hard to keep an evaluative eye upon your shepherd, because you want to trust him.  You want to be free to pursue Jesus under his leadership.  

But if any of the above criteria is repeatedly violated, you must ask the hard questions: Why am I still under this shepherd's leadership?  Is he meeting an emotional need of mine, at my spiritual expense?  Am I comparing him to others out there, and because his failures are not as egregious as others, I keep making excuses for him?  (The standard is Jesus, not other shepherds.) Am I afraid that friends and family won't understand, so I keep everyone happy by ignoring how my shepherd is not aligned with the Word?  Am I afraid of offending the shepherd and unwilling to face his anger, I remain silent?  

Being a shepherd is a dangerous, beautiful, amazing and serious calling.  

Being a sheep is a dangerous, beautiful, amazing and serious calling.  

Jesus and Paul prayed for those who lead and for those who followed.  We must do the same.    

Thursday, November 1, 2018

False Teachers: Success Ain't Blessed

"Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets." (Luke 6:26)

That's a rather sobering statement from Jesus. Don't we want others to see our light and bless our Father in heaven? "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16)  

But the key word here is "everyone."  The world has its standards for success and the Kingdom of God has its; so, if the world thinks you are all that and a bag of chips, the question must be asked:  What did you compromise?  Did you tone down the idea of hell?  gay marriage?  God's wrath?  (just to name a few).

Did you act as if Jesus were not the only way?  That the Bible is good here and there, but has some really outdated ideas?  That the church needs to be more modern in how it approaches the culture?

It's easy to forget the holiness of God in our rush to be relevant.  

It's easy to forget He is the Lord of the Universe and our Savior who laid down His life for us in our rush to make Him a cosmic Buddy.  

That's the point that perhaps Jesus is making.  If everyone likes you, you have offered a different version of who God is--one who appeals to our human nature and who doesn't challenge us to our very core.  One who doesn't call out our sin, who minimizes it and makes us feel good about ourselves.  

But the Word of God says differently: we are sinners, in need of a Savior. The Word of God is just that--if it were the Word of Man, it would be no problem getting everyone on board. 

But Jesus knew how quickly the tide of public opinion could turn when Truth collided with hardened hearts: "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) 

Signs and wonders caught and held the attention of the crowd.  But Jesus knew that a deep, heart-felt commitment was essential in following Him; the signs confirmed the message but they were not the message.  In fact, Jesus taught the end times would be especially perilous, for "false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect." (Matt. 24:24)  

Jesus was talking about counterfeits.  Satan can counterfeit the work of God, and he does it all the time.  There is power in pagan practice; if there were not, the followers over the centuries of various gods, goddesses and cults would have not believed so strongly. 

People want to see what they believe in; thus, a false teacher, with Satan's power, will "show" the people what they came for: to be shocked and awed by the display of power.   

In fact, the demand for signs and a show of power caused Jesus to refer to this as "adultery": 

"Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, 'Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.'

"He answered, 'A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah."  (Matt. 12:38-39)

Do you see it?  If we are looking for anything or anyone other than God Himself, we are committing spiritual adultery.  That is why false teachers are so seductive.  They promise no effort--we just come, sit down and watch the spectacle.  We are amazed.  We hunger to see more and more.  Our heart lusts for a display each and every time, and like a husband who looks at other women and commits adultery in his heart, we are not faithful to God.  We are faithful to our craving for excitement.

False teachers know how even God-fearing Christians can be taken in.  Jesus reminds us in Matthew 24:24 that false teachers will have power (but not from God) and the ability to deceive even those who follow Him.  A false teacher leads the unsuspecting down a road to a spiritual affair, with all the counterfeits of spirituality that Satan can muster:

Satan can quote Scripture.

Satan is powerful and knows just how to wow us.

Satan knows our weakness for the easy road, and if he provides it, we willingly go down it. 

Satan knows how much we love the Lord, and if he can convince us that we can serve Jesus and the world, with no damage to the relationship, he will.

So, if even we can be duped, is there no hope?  Is the Body of Christ just a collection of unsuspecting sheep who are scheduled to be guests at the wolves' next banquet?

"And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not."(Malachi 3:18)  Getting duped by a false teacher is not the unforgiveable sin.  But, once we see the incongruity between that person and the Word, between what that person says and does, and how the Word is reinvented to accommodate the sin that this person proposes we adopt, we must walk completely away.  

In other words, once we see past the smoke and mirrors, and realize that this teacher is false and is serving Satan (even if the person doesn't realize it) we need to speak the truth in love, if this is possible.  If not, we need to stick to the truth in our love for Jesus.  

Faith is not easy, comfortable or quick.  Faith requires the burden of knowing His Word, and using it constantly as the measuring stick for what others teach.  

A false prophet appealed to the fleshy nature in his listeners when he told them that prophets like Jeremiah were not right in saying that God was calling down doom on His chosen people for their egregious sins.  But judgment came.  

A false prophet loves to take a few verses of Scripture, build a whole theology and then teach how his or her interpretation is the only correct one. 

False prophets use their supposed power to benefit themselves primarily, with signs and wonders to keep their followers coming back for more, and for giving the "ministry" more. 

Even the world can be amazed by a false prophet, and gain respect and support.  When the hard questions are asked, the false prophet always has a rather nebulous answer, offends no one and so maintains a presence in the public limelight. 

Eventually, the line is drawn in the sand:  Jesus made it very clear that a student is not above His master; if people hated Him (and they did, enough to put Him to death) can we expect anything less?

Let me end with Jesus' words on how we will not be popular and well-loved by the world if we follow Him:

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also." (John 15:18-20)

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