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)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A False Teacher's Resume

Nobody ever shows up and declares, "I am a complete and utter fake."  No.  The person either:

1.  Knows that what they say and do is false, but enjoys deceiving others (a liar)
2.  Believes what they say is true even when faced with contrary evidence (a deluded person)
3.  Believes the ends justifies the means (a pragmatist with a twisted morality)
4.  Needs the approval of others to function (a broken person)
5.  Has two agendas: appear upright to others but cultivates a sinful life (a hypocrite)

It is hard to tell which kind of person you are confronting here.  The common denominator is a level of deception, either to oneself, to others or both.  But if we understand the person's true motive, does it really matter?  Deception is deadly to one's faith, walk in Christ and maybe even their salvation.  Deception was at the core of Satan tempting Eve:  "Did God really say?" (Gen. 3:1)  This was not a mere inquiry to the nature of God's instructions to Adam and Eve.  It was a loaded question, designed to lead Eve down a path of questioning the truth of God and then to deceive her about the truth of God.

Satan's tactics have not changed:  deception and death are always the endgame.

But sometimes we are mystified about what is driving the person to teach and behave the way they do. Our feelings are not always a good indicator, for even if our feelings are positive, we are still stepping into the lion's den.  Or maybe our intuition says, "Red flag!" but we talk ourselves out of it, for we feel guilty seeing this person in less of a positive light.  Or we know the Scripture so well, we can clearly identify when the teachings are wrong, but we like the person, and so we don't know how to approach them to correct their error. It's easy to castigate a false teacher on TV, but when you are faced with someone who actually believes that person on TV, it's another matter.

Again, let's go to the Word, and see what it says about false teachers.

Jeremiah 23:16: "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes.  They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.'"

"False hopes" is a perilous form of deception, for when those hopes are too delayed in coming, or don't appear as if they ever will come, then a person's faith is rocked, maybe even shattered.  But that is Satan's goal.  He doesn't want you to simply be disappointed.  He wants you to ultimately reject God. 

Prophets spoke in God's name; so if what they said didn't come to pass, it would be very simple to equate God's word with a lie.  But Jeremiah is saying that just because someone claims to be a prophet, does not make them one, even if what they say seems right.  (If the words were so obviously wrong, no one would regard the prophet as such, and would cease to listen.  There will be just enough truth to give credence to the prophet's claim, but enough lies to deceive the listeners.) 

Deuteronomy 18:18-22 sets the standard:  "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”  You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed."

There.  If the prophet is deluded about on whose behalf he speaks or is manipulating others, it matters not:  He is deceiving the people as to what God would have them know.  If a "word from the Lord" leads to a wrong action, wrong belief, or to the start of a person falling away, God is just in His wrath against such a person who perpetrated the lie.  

Prophesy is still a part of the picture in the New Testament: "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,  to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines." (1 Cor. 12: 7-11) [emphasis mine]

Look at the word "prophecy" and its meanings as outlined by Strong's:   

Old Testament:  "a discourse emanating from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden; esp. by foretelling future events"

And when the New Testament writers spoke of the prophets in the Old, here is what they meant: "of the prediction of events relating to Christ's kingdom and its speedy triumph, together with the consolations and admonitions pertaining to it, the spirit of prophecy, the divine mind, to which the prophetic faculty is due"

So, if the OT prophets were ultimately speaking of Christ, then there can be no lies tainting their words.  Hence, the utter strictness of God's standard in Deuteronomy 18.

If the NT writers saw the OT prophets as speaking of Christ, they accepted their utterances as truth, for only truth can point to the ultimate truth:  Christ Himself.  He even said that He was Truth itself.  

That is why deception is so dangerous, for it leads us away from the truth and from The Truth.  

Satan steals us away by leading us away and he doesn't care who he uses.  His goal?  To destroy and kill us. (John 10:10)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Spiritual Warfare: Why Do People Fall In With False Teachers?

Excellent question.  The word "cult" is offensive only to those on the inside; if you are on the outside, it's a comforting word that allows you to pridefully declare two things.  First:  "I wouldn't be so stupid or naive to join such a group."  Second: "Why do people stay in such groups when they find out that it's wrong?"   

Fair enough.  From the outside.  How you respond to such a revelation that this group is wrong, cultic and you need to leave depends how deeply your needs are being met, and whether you think you can leave that all behind. 

False teachers tap into deep scars, wounds and needs that maybe no one knows about.  They exploit that connection with you.  How do they know?  They do, for their knowledge is coming from the one they serve. 

If God reveals a hidden wound in someone to you, the last thing a Christ-like person would do is exploit it, manipulate it or use it to meet their needs. 

Satan can reveal things to people, too. 

For me, the pastor that I was taken in by tapped into my daddy wound.  I never had approval voiced by my father.  I was an excellent student, obtained a Masters in college, and had a successful marriage.  He never took me aside and said, "Well done."  It was only on his death bed did he express an appreciation for who I was.  But forty-five years of craving approval had done its damage in how I saw myself. 

This pastor made me feel special, complimented me and made me want to please him.  I went out of my way to do so.  He returned the favor and let me do a bunch of different things in the church that I love to do:  teach, lead worship and participate in Bible studies.

After a year of this, and my self-esteem bolstered by all this attention, things began to change.  I was no longer invited to do certain tasks.  He would shut me down in front of others with disparaging comments.  Instead of growing angry, I would question myself:  What did I do wrong?

The point of no return was when I told him I felt God was calling me to a church plant.  I had served for eight years in this church and almost two under him.  The time was right to move on. 

The reaction was swift and severe.  He became emotionally distant from me.  He told me not to tell anyone for fear it would be depressing to the church.  He blamed me for some changes that were not my idea.  I finally went to his house to make amends.  He was so angry, I could feel it emanating from him.  I tried to make small talk and his wife walked out of the room.  WHAM: He let me have it.  I couldn't get a word in edgewise and I gave up.  He finished and I left, feeling even more stupid, for others had warned me not to try to reconcile with him. 

People who loved me figured him out long before I did. 

It's taken a lot of pain, time and love from the Lord and others to get a hold of why this went so wrong.  Now, if this pastor had started out mean, then I would have left immediately.  One of the church members, who left way before I did, said, "Either he is the most spiritual person I know, or he is a fraud." 

I saw things early on in him that raised flags for me, but I wanted to believe that this man was sent by God and would help me grow. 

He did.  I grew in a lot of knowledge of the Word.  I explored the area of spiritual warfare under his leadership.  But I also learned that wolves will eat salad for a long time before they clamp their jaws on you.

This man had great teachers and he was able to share their teachings with us.  But after a year, his  well ran dry.  Left to his own devices, he started recycling the same basic messages over and over.  He didn't seem to have the vibrant life in Christ that he presented when he first came to our church. 

His teachings became less and less predicated on the Word and more on his personal practices.  He opened the Bible less and less.  It became more and more about him. 

That was the undetected problem at the very start of our relationship:  He was centered on himself.  He was happiest when his needs were being met; when you ceased to meet his needs, you were discarded.

So, what did I learn about why people fall in with false teachers?

A false teacher will meet your deeper needs: Perhaps you are looking for a daddy-figure; a strong man; a kind man; a compassionate leader; a buddy; a good friend; a knowledgeable teacher or an inspirational Christian, who seems to have it together.  Or, yes, all of the above.  That teacher will be there for you. 

A false teacher will make you feel special, unique, chosen:  You will receive such positive affirmation that you will begin to act and feel better about yourself than you have in a long time.

A false teacher will have strong Biblical knowledge, but it will have other elements blended in:  These other elements will raise a red flag, but because the teacher's Biblical knowledge is the larger percentage of what is taught, you ignore the flags.  You are hungry for the Word, and thus you will sift through the teachings.

A false teacher has an answer to every question:  Even if you sense it is not all Biblical, you enjoy the confident glow around such a leader.  Your own questions don't seem so pressing; you bask in the glow of someone who has figured it out. 

A false teacher will make you part of his family:  Your church will have a strong sense of community, and you are placed smack-dab in the middle of it.  Others will not be in the middle with you, but that's OK.  The teacher makes you feel part of an inner circle, and you feel safe and valued there. 

A false teacher will appear successful, happy and in control:  In a world of just the opposite, a leader that emanates these qualities is refreshing.  You want to be a part of this!

A false teacher will have an "us versus them" mentality:  You are so glad to be a part of the "us" that you do wonder why the "them" don't see life the way the leader does.  You are concerned for them, but feel a deep sense of pride to be an "us."

A false teacher will soon confuse you by acting differently than before:  You will seek to correct the problem; after all, everything started out so good.  If something went wrong, it's you.  The leader has it all together, after all. 

A false teacher will have reasonable explanations for the inconsistencies that eventually arise:  The leader, unbeknownst to you, has well-rehearsed reasons for why things go wrong; you just see this as the leader being very confident in the face of problems.

A false teacher will have reasonable explanations for why other people cannot get long with him:  This will cement your bond with him; you determine that you won't act this way, therefore you will not be cast aside.

A false teacher will have reasonable explanations for why things start to fall apart, people leave and what was once a vibrant community comes tumbling down:  Actually, the facade of a vibrant community comes down.  Whatever was real was small; the unreal, the manufactured, the manipulated was the stronger element, and the truth comes out eventually. 

A false teacher doesn't want the Truth; he wants his truth:  That's the great divide.  Truth as revealed in the Word, or a truth created to keep a person in control: that is where the rubber hits the road.  You have to make a decision in face of such compelling evidence about the foundation upon which the leader has built. 

Now, briefly take these points and enlarge them.  These are why so many cults flourish.  These are why so many people, even faced with compelling evidence that what they believe and who they follow are not in line with the Word, still carry on. 

I have learned a lot during the past few years.  Instead of standing Pharisee-like and excoriating followers in thus and such cult, I get it.

The Holy Spirit led me out.  For that I am grateful.  My prayer is that He will lead out those still caught in the net. 

I will next focus on what the Word says about false teachers.  I have sat in church for over 40 years and have never heard a pastor preach on how to detect  false teachers.  I sadly had to go through the school of hard knocks to understand the danger and damage such a false teacher can cause.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Spiritual Warfare: False Teachers

Spiritual warfare and Satan exploiting our natures to gain access is real. Equally real are those people who come as sheep in wolves' clothing to purposely mislead and exploit other people. Their teachings ultimately assassinate God's character by misrepresenting His mercy, love and justice. Their teachings leave a debris trail of broken faith in those who were seduced by their false teaching.

Christianity's history is fraught with those who claimed the Bible allowed them to proceed with their interpretation and inaugurate a new order. Witch trials; the Inquisition; persecution of the Jewish people; cult leaders; slavery; oppression of women; abuse and new "revelations" replacing Biblical teachings, have far too many examples. People held the same Bible in their hands as we do, and yet were able to use it to further Satan's kingdom, not God's.

It is only the tender work of the Holy Spirit and His brilliant truth flooding into souls throughout the ages that Christianity has been able to survive the onslaught of the wolves.

But Jesus warned us.

Let's go to the Word: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matt. 7:15-23)

Wow. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that: False prophets and teachers will show up, using His name to give their ministry respectability.

They will have the outward appearance of humility and being a follower of Christ.  What you cannot initially see is their motive, which is the exploitation of the flocks' faith in Jesus for personal gain. Whether these false teachers crave money, power, prestige, control over others or all of the above, it matters not.

But you can evaluate such teachers by how they live their lives and the kind of results that follow them.  Their hearts are saturated with fleshly desires and Satan's influence, whether they know it or not.

Their lives give away what is hidden in their hearts. What is darkly invisible eventually comes to the surface.

They entice the sheep to focus on them. They "stand in" for Jesus. That's why John uses the word "anti-Christ," for it means not only against Christ, but in place of Christ. When things do not work out accordingly, the teachers blame the sheep and the sheep blame God.

They will be able to do "Kingdom" work. They will use Jesus' name in everything they do. They will speak forth the truths found in the Word; drive out demons, and perform miracles. Or, they will have the appearance of doing so, and will be so convincing that other sheep will swear up and down that these people are the real deal.

They don't know Jesus intimately. He does not live deep within their hearts. They are not fully repentant and surrendered.

Thus, any "good" (or maybe it is good, only a while) they do is not of Jesus; it is of Satan and must be repudiated by the sheep, even if it looks real.

Their hearts, steeped in sin, effectively asked Jesus to leave, and to not interfere with their ministry; Jesus will say the same words back to them one day.

The will of the Father--as revealed in His Word--is clear. It is the standard by which the sheep evaluate what they hear. They are led by a diligent and trustworthy Shepherd. No earthy person can ever be a substitute Jesus in all His glory to the sheep. Teachers are to relay Jesus' words with all integrity and love. The sheep need to learn His voice, and follow only that.

Jesus made an interesting comparison between sheep and a wolf in sheep's clothing. How do you get clothing from a sheep? You kill it, skin it and put it on. You are not sheering it, and making a costume from its wool. You wear its body on you. From a distance, it moves, makes noise and looks like a regular sheep. But you gotta get close. That's why I think Jesus switched to fruit.

It is hard to dash across a pasture to get close to a sheep, especially if you are not the shepherd. The sheep will flee in fright. Your inspection will not go well. But, trees are another matter. You can stroll into an orchard, and get so close as to pick the fruit and examine it closely.

I believe Jesus is saying, "Look. I know that sheep are hard to track down and get a close look. Do not, however, use that as an excuse to not evaluate what someone is teaching. You may not meet them personally or talk to them. You certainly cannot get close enough to see their heart and what is motivating them to say what they are saying. But, their lives will show the kind of sap that is flowing into the tree and feeding the fruit. Out of the abundance of their hearts, their mouths will speak.

"It may take months or years to see the fruit hanging on the branches. But the fruit will come. It always does and it will show you the heart of the teacher. The sheep can flee and you will never get close enough to see who's under the wool.

"But you can approach the tree and see what's under the leaves.

"The standard for evaluation? My Father's Word. I, as the Word, do not contradict any thing He has said or ordained. I only do what He tells Me to do and I only speak what He tells Me to speak. Trust Me: Satan will do everything he can to counterfeit Me, My work and My kingdom. Measure everything taught by the written Word--the Bible. Measure the life by the living Word--Me. My Holy Spirit will guide you. But you must be diligent."

You may not know that it's a wolf until you smell the sheep-flesh on its breath. That is why we will be studying what false teachers do and behave like. We will equally be studying what sincere teachers do and behave like.

Join me.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Stronghold Starter #10: Self-Righteousness, Hypocrisy & Denial: Only My Truth Counts

Self-righteousness is an excellent way to allow Satan to slither his way in.  Just listen the self-righteous person's  musings:

I have all sorts of facts, observations, stories and personal knowledge as to why I am right and you are not.  I am superior in my knowledge and my conclusions, and if you want to be more acceptable,  you must think like me.  If you throw in biblical knowledge on top of all of this, I am the one in church with the answers, and I am entitled to look down on everyone else when they don't get in line with my conclusions.  I dominate Bible studies and I love to argue.  I love to keep score on how I silence my opponents, even if they are brothers and sisters in Christ.   

Hypocrisy is an equally excellent way to allow Satan entrance.  Just listen to these musings:

I am above the law.  Whatever the law may say or demand, or wherever its values are applied, I am above it.  Why?  Because I am, well, me.  Rules and regulations are for other people.  They need the corral of correction...I am free to run unhindered, because I control myself.  I am a law unto myself, and if I don't think something is a problem, then it isn't, regardless of what the law says.  But, I will make one concession:  I will act like other people, even though I am certainly not other people.  I will smile and then go home, and do want I want.  

Denial is another way:

I don't see a problem.  I have faith there is no problem.  If the "problem" (your name for it, not mine) persists, then I will have a ready answer:

1.  The problem doesn't exist because my faith says it doesn't exist.  I walk by faith.  You don't.

2.  You don't have the faith I have, so no wonder you still consider this a problem.

3.  I will confess only positive things, because my words shape reality.  I say, "There is no problem."  
     So, there isn't one.  But, please, do not correct me or speak anything contrary to me; your 
     negative confession could ruin my reality.  

4.  Hey, I cope, don't I?  This is how I cope.  If I didn't engage in denial, I would have to face pain, 
     suffering, other words, reality.  Reality bites; my reality is where I am in total 
     control. My words, my beliefs, my, my, my...I do it so I can live my life.  I do it so I can be in

The common denominator of all these is pride, with control being the essential operating principle. 

Self-righteousness means I control the conversation by what I know, what I believe, and I don't have to listen to others.  I know what I know.  I enter the room and leave the room unmoved by the less-informed opinions of others.  I don't grow in my knowledge; I stagnate.  But I don't care.   

Hypocrisy means I control my interior life by my own definitions.  I equally control the image others have of me; I present well, so others consider me legitimate.  Little do they know, and that's fine by me.

Denial means I control reality to fit what I believe.  It's not just enough to believe something: I put it into practice by telling everyone what my reality is; how my faith makes it so, and how it will come to pass.  Even when reality is continuing to be the opposite of what I tell others, I just speak more:  I talk of my faith, my words, my relationship with God.  Others question me silently; when someone dares to question my reality, I strike back, quickly and without mercy.  I cope with life this way and no one, not even God, is going to tell me how to proceed.  I can't trust Him; I can't trust others.  But, I can trust me, and so I am in control.  Who better than me?   

How then to not allow this kind of thinking to provide access for Satan and our flesh to zone us off for castle construction? 

Jesus came to show us how to be utterly dependent on God.  We surrender our will, look to Him for guidance and purpose, and walk in faith in Jesus, not in our interpretation of reality. 

Jesus shows us the way to be dependent, for that He the way He lived.  He doesn't ask us to do anything that He did not first do.  Listen to Jesus: 

"Jesus gave them this answer: '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) 

In another passage from John, Jesus draws His identity from His Father alone, and from doing what His Father commands:

"Who are you?” they asked.

“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.”

They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many believed in him. (John 8:25-29)
[emphasis mine]

If anything moves us away from God, to be independent of Him in any way, that is our pride speaking.  Our pride is the foundation from which the castle is begun by Satan.  Every day, we should be moving more and more towards Him, in what we do, say and who we are.  

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Stronghold Starter #9: Offense, Blame, Anger & Hatred: I Only Give People What They Deserve

Whew.  Now that's a list from the pit of hell.  Even if we think we are basically good people, any one of those items will quickly dispel that notion. 

It is no coincidence that the first act out of the Garden of Eden was murder:  one brother to another.  We all know the story of Cain and Abel.  But do we know how God tried to intervene and warn Cain of where his anger would lead? 

"Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast." (Gen. 4:2-6)

We can clearly see a rivalry between the two in how they obey the Lord's instructions for an offering.  Abel understood that the firstborn of his flock had to be sacrificed, not just any animal he decided would do.  The fat portions--sweet and aromatic--were the selected parts, not just any portion that he decided would do.  

Leviticus 4 lists what constitutes a sin offering, and how the fat portions are to be burned: "They shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar as an aroma pleasing to the Lord. In this way the priest will make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven." (4:31). 

What are the sins that such an offering covers? Leviticus 4:1 says, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites: "When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands..."'"

Yes, the Law was not formally given yet, but I find it interesting that this sacrifice with its fat portions was meant to propitiate for sins unintentionally committed at first, but later the person realizes a sin has been committed.  

How must I confront sin on this side of the cross?  I must be spiritually humble. I must listen to the quiet voice of God, and when I sense His sadness and displeasure at my thoughts and actions, I react with grief. I must maintained an earnest desire to be right with God all the time and not rationalize what I have done.  I seek forgiveness immediately in Christ and He grants it.  

If I struggle with this, I ask Christ to empower me in this process.  

But it may require a sacrifice--walking away from a friend, leaving a job, or rethinking how I act.  I am not talking works here--I am fully forgiven as I confess my sins to Him, but He may ask me to place my lamb on the altar. 

But Pride says I can carry on regardless.  Yes, I hear God's convicting voice, but, hey, compared to so and so, my sin isn't so bad, and certainly not worth taking away one of my valued "sheep" for it. 

In fact, Pride will go further:  

I am offended that the Bible calls what I did sin;

I blame ______________ for what I did, for I am basically a good person; 

I am growing angry the more I think about it, that people would dare judge me--look at what they do!

I am beginning to hate those who would call me out and make me look less than them!

Let's go back to Cain to see this progression of Pride:  

"Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.'” (Gen. 4:6-7)

God was giving Cain time to reflect on how his thoughts were heading towards disaster.

Let's break down how the Lord approached Cain.  The Lord saw the anger stirring in Cain's heart because his offering of produce was not viewed favorably by the Lord.  Why?  It is not what the Lord commanded for a sacrifice.  Fruits and vegetables always appear in abundance.  One plum is no different than another; one tomato is easily replaced by another.  So produce does not have any real value.  But a firstborn lamb is valuable.  It is unique and costly, because it takes time to obtain another one.  You can't just swap it out with another lamb down the birth order. 

But Cain's pride told him that one sacrifice was as good as another, and that the Lord was being, what?  Overly demanding?  Too particular?  Out of touch with Cain's life?  He tilled the soil after all; it wasn't as if he was a shepherd like his brother. 

Oh, wait a minute!  Here's the deeper problem:  Cain would have to go and ask his younger (!) brother for a firstborn lamb.  Uh-oh.  By asking Abel for one, Cain is admitting (albeit tacitly) that he has sinned and that he needs to offer a sacrifice.  His request is immediately a blow to his pride; his younger brother having the goods is another, and his younger brother knowing that his older brother has sinned is more than Cain can endure.

Thus, the anger and downcast face of Cain.  Cain had taken offense somewhere along the way.  Offended by what?  Abel's attitude?  God's demands?  Having to be humble and asking his brother?  Feeling judged?  

Offense is our pride being prickled.  Thus the progression begins.  

Cain, having been offended in some way, has opened the door to the enemy of his soul.  Feeling offended attracts Satan like a pit viper to a warm-blooded prey.  Satan senses offense and the prickling of pride, because that was his problem:  Satan was offended that he could not be worshipped as God was, for he saw himself as being equally capable as his Creator.  

God gave a strategy to Cain for overcoming his anger:  Do what is right.  He could have u-turned his actions and obtained a lamb. God states He will accept Cain by his change of direction.

If not, "sin is crouching at your door." Who does THAT sound like? The roaring, devouring lion of 1 Peter 5:8: "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour." Yup.  Satan is waiting at the door, sniffing and knowing that Cain had a choice of which way to go.  

But, his anger was growing.  Therein lies the danger: "For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." (James 3:16)

Cain blamed Abel for his feelings; his anger is growing, and hatred is seeping into his heart.  Satan desired to have Cain; Satan was building a stronghold, as long as Cain allows pride to dominate his heart.  

Hatred wins the day.  Abel is slaughtered like one of his lambs; Cain ducks out of the killing field, thinking all of his problems are over.  

Hatred is the castle in plain view in a person's life.  The progression of pride is subtle, interior and hard to detect sometimes in someone.  But once those stoney walls are erected, and you run into them, you know this person, or yourself, has a stronghold.  

John goes as far as to say that harboring hatred and being in God's presence are incompatible:  

"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (1 John 4:16-21)

Emphasis mine.  Amen.  

How to demolish the stronghold?  "Rule over it" in the power of Christ.  Confess it and dispossess it. 

Now possess Christ's love.  He will take the stronghold down, stone by stone.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Hey Wonderful Readers! Want to Review My Books?

This is the book from which I took the last series of blog entries on spiritual warfare.  It's about who we are in Christ and how we are the face the evil we see all around us.  It is full of Scripture, to train us up as good soldiers of the Lord's and to more fully understand our mission and position in Christ.  If you would like a more complete overview of the book, go to Amazon.  There is a workbook that accompanies it as well, for personal study or group study.  It is also available on Amazon. 

If you want to know the demonic agenda for the Christian church and the US, you just need to read these emails, sent from a reigning demon to his protege, Wormwood.  Yes, the same Wormwood that you may have read about in The Screwtape Letters.  He has been given a second chance to take on the Western world to prepare the stage for the Kingdom of Darkness' Man of Action.  It's a "novel" approach to understanding the spiritual warfare that is confronting us everyday.  For a more complete overview, go to Amazon. 

OK, readers...I would like to send you a copy of either one of these books, with the promise that you will read it and review it on Amazon.  I just want to get some traction with these books, for I believe the message is important. 

My email address is
Make sure that you give me your mailing address.    

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Stronghold Starter #8: Childhood Wounds, Physical & Mental Health Challenges: I Am Who They Say I Am

We are exploring how pride is at the core of allowing Satan to start an incursion in  our lives.  He whispers into our darkness, our hidden places, and with his lies, he starts to build his castle in our hearts.  If our pride is operating, that's an open door for him to slither in and start working.

Wait a minute!  My childhood wounds, my physical and mental challenges have no pride component.  

I didn't ask to be sexually abused.  

I didn't ask for M.S.  

I didn't ask for bipolar disorder.  

I wouldn't wish what I have or struggle with on anyone.

Agreed.  This is not about blame.  It's about bondage. 

Take a moment here to consider Paul.  He says in Philippians 3:4-6: "If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless."

To someone on the outside, this looks impressive.  But how much does Paul actually choose?  Circumcision?  No.  To be Jewish?  No.  His tribe?  No. 

What were Paul's actual choices?  To become a Pharisee?  Yes.  Persecuting the church with vigor?  Yes.  Following the Law to the letter?  Yes. 

So Paul is a combination of many things: his past, present and the choices he made with his history in mind.  But, if you had heard Paul before he was knocked off his donkey, his resume would have been recited with pride.  Even though much of his life was not of his choosing, he would have acted as if he was the greatest thing since Pop Tarts. 

But after his list, look what he says, "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith." (Phil. 3:7-9.) [emphasis mine]

Did you catch that?  His life, his past, his choices--all "garbage."  The original word in the Greek is actually "dung."  What do you do with garbage/dung?  Throw it away.  It has no value.  It is the salt that is worthless, only to be thrown out and trampled under foot. 

Whatever defined him, whether of choice or imposed, was equally tossed onto the garbage heap. 

Why?  He is now defined by Christ.  His life, his past his choices: now are for Christ, of Christ and by Christ.  Who he was, who he was called, how he saw himself, is now taken from the life of Christ.  

Look at the next verses: "I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  (Phil. 3:10-14) 

His sense of who he is and his purpose of life is to get to know Christ more deeply, more passionately, and to become, in this life, more and more like Him, through His power.   Paul's  humility shines, however; he knows he is not there yet by any stretch, but he presses on.  

What does this have to do with bondage?  Look at some other verses where Paul identifies his adherence to the Law as bondage, full of fear:  "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." (Rom. 8:14-17) [emphasis mine] 

Paul is now defined as a child, free, adopted, an intimate with God, heir and co-heir, and beloved participant in His divine plan. 

Wow.  No more garbage.  No more bondage.  No more defining himself.  

Wait, hear comes Satan.  

His whispers are scalding, devious and mocking:  Yeah, OK, Paul.  Fine.  You were a Jew of Jews.  Big whoop.  Not much to leave behind, I suppose.  But, they are all snickering behind your back, though... "Paul the Wacko Christ Follower.  Who'd want to follow a crucified self-proclaimed Messiah anyway? Pharisees get respect, and even the Romans stay out of our way."  OK, take on a new title.  But let's focus on the murder part of your past.  You persecuted the church, not just with words but with stones and blood.  You relished dying followers of that deluded rabbi, and you enjoyed the respect and prestige that such a zealous defender of Judaism received.  But you have blood on your hands, Paul.  Forever.  Yup, you followed the Law all right.  To the point of killing Christians.  No god is that forgiving.  Go tell that to the victims' families.  I can hear it now:  "Hey guys!  I am a Christian now!  You lost your brother, but hey, not my problem now, 'cause I am no longer that guy!"

But Paul is no longer identified with what he did--zealot, murderer, high and mighty teacher--he is now identified with Christ.  His chains are gone.  He is free in Christ. 

Paul's identity, once given to him by his heritage, his actions and his life, is now given to him by Christ.  

So, our diagnosis, our past, our challenges are not who we are if we know Christ.

Do we press on?  Yes.  

Will we need help along the way?  Yes.  

Will God use counselors, friends, pastors, medications and His love to help us heal?  Yes.

Will Satan try to derail us in our progress?  Yes.  Count on it.  

Will pride try to tell us we are who we are, and we should take identity in that?  Yes.  

Will pride tell us we are survivors?  Yes.  

Will pride tell us it's the society that is messed up and not us?  Yes.  

Will pride tell us we should not have to change to some outdated biblical standard?  Yes.

As our pride speaks, in slithers Satan, and we start to blame others for our deep pain.  Then the bondage begins.

But, let us counter our pride and Satan's incursion with Paul's declaration of freedom: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." (Rom. 8:1)

Emphasis mine and amen!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Stronghold Starter #7: Doubt & Confusion: "Did God Really Say..." (Gen. 3:1)

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’” (Gen. 3:1) [my emphasis] 

Can you hear it?  A subtle whisper, an insinuating comment, a moment when, surrounded by God’s good creation and loving provision, Eve heard evil…  She had never seen it, heard it or experienced its potent sting.  But there it was, coming from a fascinating creature, slithering in the dappled sunlight around a branch.  Or perhaps he was moving smoothly along the ground, in control and mesmerizing to watch.

Isn’t that sin at its “best”?  Fascinating, potent, acting in control and smooth.  

Isn’t that Satan at his “best”? 

Confusion was the result of this encounter.  Because Eve has not hid the words of God in her heart so she might not sin against God  (Ps. 119:11), she opened herself to another gospel, if you will.  Look what Paul says and apply them to Eve (with my commentary):

"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: (Why are you listening to this creature?  How could his words have any merit?  He is a creature, not the Creator.)  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. (Unless the words fall from the Creator’s lips, they are suspect.  Anything other God’s very words are to be avoided.)  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Even if Adam gets it wrong or a lovely snake entices you to ponder his seemingly innocent words, God is not to be doubted.  Look around you Eve:  All you see is the result of God’s love for you.  Why would God then speak falsely?)  As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Run, Eve, run!)  For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (You can’t be in fellowship with anyone or anything that mocks or insinuates that God is not truthful.  Light and dark were separated at creation; God wants it to stay that way, whether in the heavens or in your heart.)  But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. (You have direct access to God, Eve, in this Garden. Go to Him to clarify and understand His words.)
 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Adam was taught by God Himself and you have God Himself for fellowship as well.  I say it again, Eve:  RUN!) (Gal. 1:6-12)

We have God’s Word as well.  We have the fellowship of God in our hearts, because of His Son’s sacrifice.  The Holy Spirit reminds us of God’s truth. Satan loves to still sow the seed of doubt, which leads to confusion. 

Have you eve watch a squirrel cross a busy road?  From the curb, the road looked safe.  Or that tree on the other side is so enticing that a confidence in speed will overcome fear.  So, out it goes.  The reality of cars strike doubt into the squirrel, and now with its heart racing, it is confused as to whether to continue crossing or run back to its starting point. 

Now, if it makes it back to the curb, it will be emboldened to try this again, at a later date.  Nothing happened to dissuade the squirrel from its quest this time.

If it doesn’t, the magpies gratefully come down and dine on its carcass. 

We are squirrels in this fallen world.  But Jesus promises us His presence to navigate this world: “ I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”  (John 14:18).  

So, with Jesus’ presence, we have the very Truth of God.  So, when Satan insinuates to us about God’s capacity to lie, counter that with:

“God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)

“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4)

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1)

There’s the progression of the satanic quest to disparage God’s character:

1.  Claim God lies or misrepresents truth.

2.  Deceive people to serve another “god” whom appears more reliable.

3.  Seek out those teachers who think now like you do, who are in fact perpetuating the lie.

Away we go down an ever-darkening road.  We trade the light for darkness, the truth for a lie and pride for peace.  

But, we are children of the Light.  Flee from the darkness and cling, without reservation, to the Light, to His Word and the to hope that is within you.    

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