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.

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