Friday, November 30, 2018

Satan's Logic, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2018

But Who's Watching the Shepherd?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 1, 2018

False Teachers: Success Ain't Blessed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jesus knew how quickly the tide of public opinion could turn when Truth collided with hardened hearts: "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man." (John 2:23-25) 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Satan can quote Scripture.

Satan is powerful and knows just how to wow us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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