A Relevant Church!

-The Times We Live In!

I find the times we live in, right now, to be incredibly curious times for the church. The numbers are staggering! Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches, in the United States, are closing every year. That means that between 100-200 churches will close this week alone! So, who’s to blame? Many church leaders are trying to convince us that the secular culture & the liberal politics are to blame. But, I don’t believe that! Not for 1 minute do I believe that; and I base that belief on what we see in the book of Acts.

-Outside Forces & Culture!

If outside forces & culture are to blame for the church’s decline, there would be no churches anywhere! The church would have died in the Book of Acts! Yet, the greatest period of church growth began 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection on the Day of Pentecost & it’s recorded, in detail, in the Book of Acts for us! If you read through the Book of Acts, you can’t help but notice how adversarial the culture & the government were toward the church; and, yet, it prospered! Despite persecution that scattered the church; and even the killing of its leaders, the church just blew up with growth!

-New Believers “Multiplied”!

At first, adding new believers to the church by the thousands, but then the number of new followers of Jesus “multiplied” the book of Acts records! Isn’t the contrast interesting? That at a time when the government & culture were antagonistic toward the church, the church just went about her commission to make disciples & grew in unprecedented fashion; but today, many in the evangelical church have become hostile toward politics & the culture, and, we’re shrinking in size and relevance. Just an observation! Not a statement! I’ve mentioned in the past that the only good thing about growing older is the perspective it gives me. I mean no disrespect toward those of you that might be half my age, but I’ve simply had more time to observe how our country & the church have trended!

-The Days Of The “Moral Majority”!

You can read the history, but I lived it! I clearly remember the rise of Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority in the 1970s. I was a card-carrying member; and I firmly believed that we— the church & the Moral Majority— could change the spiritual trajectory of our nation by voting the right people into office & changing legislation. Like many of my fellow believers, I became politically active. More than once, someone asked me if I would consider running for political office; and I almost did. I watched the church impact the political landscape during the 1980s and much of the 1990,; and we rode that wave into the early 2000s. But if you haven’t noticed, the last 20+ years have not been kind. All that momentum from the 1970s is gone & as the dust continues to settle, here’s what we see— a church that has mostly become irrelevant & a nation that’s become increasingly secular!

-We Quit Making Disciples!

The church in America has mostly become irrelevant because it quit doing what Jesus created it to do! Our sole purpose; our only reason for existence, is for the making of disciples. That’s what we were commissioned to do! If Jesus was about political clout, He had every opportunity to act on it! Israel was ready to make Him king IF He would only throw off the restraints of Rome & lead a rebellion against their occupation. But, that was not the way of His Kingdom! He told His disciples to “…render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s & to God the things that were God’s…” So, when the church quit making disciples her mission in the 1970s & made politics her Savior, she began to shrink in size & lost whatever “Moral Majority” she might have had. Simply put, we’re in a bad place! There’s only one thing to do! It’s what we always must do when we’re guilty of disobedience! Repent! Judgment must begin at the house of God!

God, Jonah & A Big Fish Too!

-Trying To Run From God!

If you’re at all like me, you have a hard time passing up the story that is the book of Jonah. I find myself identifying with Jonah in several ways! Not in the most obvious, of course; I’m not a prophet in the Jonah sense of the word! I’ve never received an oracle from the Lord! I’ve never been thrown into the sea by a bunch of sailors; or, swallowed by a big fish! But, I have tried to run from God! I have been reluctant to go to a new place of ministry!

-Leaving The Deep Roots!

Sara & I were almost newlyweds when we moved across the country to do ministry in Denver, CO. We started our family there; and, for the next 20 years we did youth ministry, adult ministry; and, we owned 2 different businesses! But, the Spirit of God began to stir a desire in my heart to sell the business and become a lead Pastor at a local church somewhere. So, we began to pray about where IN DENVER the Lord would have me to pastor; because, I was very reluctant to leave Colorado! After all those years we’d developed some deep roots. I loved Colorado— I still do— but, God had a way of preparing us to go where He was leading! Once He depleted our savings, God broke my will; and, moved us here, to Sioux City, IA.

-Feeling Too Comfortable!

So, in a small way, I get Jonah’s response, in v.3, of the opening chapter:  “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.’ However, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the Lord’s presence”.  In Jonah’s mind, there was nothing great about the city of Ninevah for many reasons! He was comfortable where he was; and, clearly, he wasn’t on the same page with God on this one! God would have some work to do in Jonah to change him. We need the message of Jonah; because, if we’re all being honest, we all look a lot like Jonah! And, the same kind of “spiritual surgery” that Jonah needed, we need!

-God’s Sovereign Directive!

Jonah’s story reveals how God includes us in His disciple-making work; and, then prepares us for it! Until we submit to God’s Sovereign directive, for our lives, we’re going just keep getting swallowed up by one big fish after another, like Jonah. So, let’s talk about God’s Sovereign will & plans for you. The greatest fulfillment you will ever realize, in your life, comes only from obeying Him! We tend to operate life with this weird idea that God’s plans for us just aren’t going to be as satisfying as our plans are; like, obeying Jesus and sacrificing everything for Him will be a drag & a burden to us.

-His Commands Are Not A Burden!

The Apostle John addressed that sentiment:  “For this is what love for God is: to keep His commandments. Now His commands are not a burden” 1 John 5:3. It’s no burden to love God & obey His will for your life. God has created you! He has downloaded the best path for your life into your heart by His indwelling Holy Spirit; and, your plans will never offer you the meaning in life that you long for! The best path for Jonah was the road to Ninevah; NOT, the boat ride to Tarshish that he chose for himself! And, because he rebelled, God would need to apply some pressure to get him back to the best place possible for his life; which, was the center of God’s will. Jesus has commissioned us to make disciples; and, we’re living in disobedience if we’re not doing it! And, the blessed life you’re looking for is realized, in part, in the obedient investing of your life in God’s work in other people! We’ll talk more about Jonah next post!

Don’t Harden Your Heart!

-Heading Out On A Little Vacation-

-Next Post: August 25th-

-God’s Intentions Are Good!

God is benevolent toward us! That simply means that He is well-intended! His intentions toward us are good! It is in His very nature that He is loving, gracious, and merciful! His benevolence is not only intended toward us as individuals; but, also toward the nations of the world! However, while He is well-intended toward us— the people of the world— He holds the Sovereign right, as Creator, King & Lord over His creation, to withdraw His intended blessings from us as individuals; or, as a nation, when we fail to listen to His revealed Word!

-It’s His Sovereign Right To Judge!

He holds the Sovereign right to act toward us in the judgment that our actions deserve! And, listen, friend, you don’t wanna go there! God often warns us, in His Word, not to test Him! He often railed on Israel, His chosen people, for their constant testing of His resolve! He will judge! He will punish! It’s not what He wants to do; but, it is what He will do! Over the last several posts, we’ve considered the parable, in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, about the “potter and the clay.” In the parable, God is said to be the “potter”; while, we are His “clay.” We’ve discussed God’s Sovereign right to make of each individual lump of clay what He wills to create! We’ve also discussed how gracious God is to “remold” us after we’ve lived a life of rebellion that did not conform to His will! If we’ll confess our sinful & stubborn will, He will put us back on His spinning wheel and make of us a remolded piece of pottery!

-God’s Sovereign Right To Cast Us Aside!

In this post, we want to point out, from God’s parable in Jeremiah, that God also has the Sovereign right to cast us aside when we become hardened against Him:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Go, buy a potter’s clay jar. Take some of the elders of the people and some of the leading priests and go out to the Valley of Hinnom near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate. Proclaim there the words I speak to you. Say: Hear the word of the Lord, kings of Judah, and residents of Jerusalem. This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on this place that everyone who hears about it will shudder because they have abandoned Me and made this a foreign place. They have burned incense in it to other gods… you are to shatter the jar in the presence of the people traveling with you, and you are to proclaim to them: This is what the Lord of Hosts says: I will shatter these people and this city, like one shatters a potter’s jar that can never again be mended” (Jeremiah 19:1-10). Those words are terrifying! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God! Don’t mess with Him! Yes, He is loving, gracious & merciful! But He is equally just & righteous; and, He will punish those who harden their hearts against Him! If you harden your heart against God’s Word, He has the Sovereign right to cast you aside!

-Submit To The Designer’s Will!

We are a lump of clay in God’s hands! We are like clay, which has little value, until we are molded, by the Master Potter, into Jesus’ likeness! God has a design for you; and, in the eternal sense, it’s the same for each one of us! He intends to mold us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. “For we are His creation,” Paul wrote the Church of Ephesus, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). There’s a story told that when Michelangelo was asked how he could fashion his masterpiece, of King David, he’s reported to have said:  “It wasn’t that difficult. I just chipped away every piece of the stone that didn’t look like David.” That’s what God, the Potter, is doing in your life. He’s forming you! He’s shaping you into the image of Jesus. Sometimes it hurts a little as He’s forming us; but, He always works on us because He loves us & His plans are best for us!

Lessons From The Potter!

A Parable From The Lord God!

In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, God gives the prophet a parable to deliver to Israel’s leaders:  “This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  ‘Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do” (18:1-4). The concept that God wanted Israel, and us, to grasp— from this parable— is that He is the ultimate Sovereign over every life! That God has the absolute authority to do whatever He wills to do with His creation in the same way that a potter has absolute jurisdiction over the creation he fashions out of the clay!

-A Lump Of Wet Dirt!

Without the potter, the pottery fashioned is nothing more than a lump of wet dirt; and, that’s true of us as well as Israel. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God continues:  “The word of the Lord came to me:  ‘House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay?’—this is the Lord’s declaration. ‘Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel’” (vs.5-6). When God is said to be the Potter, it means He has a definite plan for our lives in the same way that a potter has plans for his lump of clay; so, when we fight against God’s will, we’re foolishly hurting ourselves because His design for everything, including our lives, is flawless! We’re foolish to think that our plan, for our lives, is better than His.

-The Greatest Meaning In Life!

He knows ALL! He knows what is BEST! We will never find the greatest meaning, for our lives, by disobeying God! Only when we obey will we find the greatest satisfaction in life.  And, when we repent of our rebellion against His will, He promises to withhold His judgment. Israel had sinned! They had sinned severely! That’s why God had directed Jeremiah to write the words in his book! They had rebelled against God’s Sovereign plan for them; but, God makes it clear that because He is the Potter, He can withhold His right to judge Israel if they just repent and get back in alignment with His Sovereign plan for them:  “At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy it. However, if that nation I have made an announcement about turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the disaster I had planned to do to it” (vs.7-8).  He is a gracious and patient God! And, we are different from clay because we have a will! Though we may be resistant to God & unpliable, we have a will to repent & return to Him! If the nation God has pronounced judgment against repents; or, changes their mind about their sin; that, it’s not okay, then God will also change His mind & withhold punishment from them!

-He Makes Us Useable Again!

There’s another principle here; actually, back in v.4 again, that’s related to repentance:  “But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do.”  The text doesn’t tell us how the clay became flawed; but, it was not beyond use! So, the potter remolded it and used it in another way. Clay can lose its plasticity and its strength! Plasticity means it’s flexible to the Potter’s hand to mold it the way he wants; but, it has to have the strength to hold itself in the way that the potter molds it. So, sometimes when it lacks plasticity & strength, the potter has to introduce other materials so it once again is flexible enough to hold and shape. That is such a beautiful picture of God’s great desire to use us, despite our flaws! Despite of our sins! Don’t ever think that you’re beyond repair or beyond God’s ability to use you! Repent! He will remold you!

What A Fool Says About God!

-The “Angry Theist”!

Do you know what a fool says about God? A fool says that God doesn’t exist! That’s the claim of the Old Testament book of Proverbs:  “The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist” (Proverbs 14:1). He’s a fool because he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know! And, most often, in my experience, I’ve found that the person who claims to be an atheist is just an “angry theist.” In his heart he knows there’s a God; but, he’s mad at Him over something that happened in his life; and, he blames God for it. So, he refuses to yield to God’s Sovereignty.

-Authentic Wisdom!

Authentic wisdom grows as we learn to fear God! So, the fool, who doesn’t believe God exists, can never become a truly wise person! “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; but, fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7). Let’s talk about the fear of the Lord; because, unfortunately, I’ve found that it confuses some people. Keep in mind our word “fear” is translated from the original Hebrew language that the Old Testament was written in. And, sometimes, in translation work, there just isn’t an adequate word in one language to properly express the meaning in another. That’s the case, here, with the word “fear.” This is not the kind of fear we might have of a snake; or, going to the dentist or doctor; or, of some extreme danger. This “fear” is more of awe or reverence of great respect!

The Fear Of God!

If you play a little basketball, to “fear” LeBron James is to have such awe or respect for who he is & for his incredible abilities that you couldn’t bring yourself to stand beside him on a basketball court.  To “fear” God means you’re awed that He has such power that He could speak the world into existence! To “fear” Him is to honor Him with such respect that you want to know Him! You want to know what He’s said in His word so you can be in proper standing & relationship with Him! When you truly come to understand what it means to fear Him, you’ll no longer fear anything or anyone else! He’s that awesome! The more you humble yourself before Him, the more you’ll desire to learn from Him!  And, in that way, you’ll grow in wisdom according to the book of Proverbs! The authentic wisdom, of God, will expose you, however, if you’re a fool! If you’re an unbeliever! If you deny His existence! Because, remember, that, “…FOOLS despise the wisdom & discipline…” of the Lord, Solomon says (1:7).

2 Kinds Of Wisdom!

There are only 2 kinds of wisdom! There is God’s wisdom; as recorded in the words of Scripture! And, there is the “wisdom” of sinful man which is always contrary to God’s wisdom. If God’s wisdom says, “don’t cheat, steal, lie or sleep with someone you’re not married to”; the world’s “wisdom” says, “Go ahead and cheat, steal & lie… just don’t get caught.” Oh, and, “sleep with anyone you want to! It’s okay as long as you love them.” The absence of God in the so-called “wisdom” of the world is ultimately its fatal flaw! The world’s “wisdom” is always a moving target! It changes with the times & societal more’s. But, the wisdom of God is immutable; like, He is! It never changes because He never changes! He will always be what He’s always been! Wisdom is not just a “way of life”; it’s the way “to life”— to life everlasting with God! In His wisdom; and, His love for us, He speaks His gospel of peace to us:  “Quit your rebellion,” He says, “confess your sin to Me! Quit fighting & waging war against Me! I offer you peace through the blood of Jesus & His work on the cross for you! Don’t be a FOOL any longer! Come to Me! I give you love, mercy & grace!

Finding Your Way Back To God!

-The Bible’s Longest Chapter!

The longest chapter in the entire Bible is Psalm 119. It has 176 verses; by far, the longest chapter in all of Scripture. The last verse arrested my attention when I read it! Just look at v.176. The writer admits how vulnerable he is to wandering away from God; and, he makes, what to us, may seem like an unusual request; and, then concludes the Psalm with a significant statement. He says, “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands.

-A Buzz Without A Shock!

Recently, I read a story by an individual who trains Doberman Pinschers. They’re a highly intelligent & independent breed of dog. And, they love to run when he takes them out to the forest! Especially, when they discover deer! And, because it’s difficult to control them when that happens, he uses an electronic shock collar to train them for their safety. The transmitter has 2 buttons—one that sends out a very quiet “buzz” sound; and, the other that sends a very mild shock! He trains them by administering 3 “buzzes” followed by one mild shock! He never shocks them without buzzing them first! The method, to the training, is that the dogs will eventually learn to respond to the “buzz” without the need for a shock.

-God’s Quiet Little Buzz!

I think that in more ways than we care to admit, that we resemble his dogs! We tend to run wild & to chase after things & wander away from God. So, God sends out a quiet “buzz”— He’s warning us about the dangers of living sinful, selfish lives! But, when His warnings fail to get our attention, He has to shock us! We experience the painful consequences of our decision to rebel against all the safeguards and the protections that God has revealed to us in His Word! As we grow, in spiritual wisdom, we’ll learn to respond to God’s “buzz” without the need for a shock!

-We’re A Lot Like The Prodigal Son!

These next couple of posts are about finding your way back to God! We tend to be a lot like the prodigal son, who was shocked to his senses! He realized what an awesome, loving Father he had wandered away from! He returned to Him in confession & humility & found that the Father’s love, mercy & grace was all he needed! We find our way back to God; and, experience spiritual growth only as we remove all the masks of hypocrisy & become transparent before God! The word “only”— in that last statement— is perhaps the most important in that sentence.  You will experience genuine spiritual growth only as you remove the mask of hypocrisy & become transparent with God and with others!

-Stop Pretending!

There can be no spiritual growth in your life so long as you hide your sin & wear a mask, pretending to be someone you’re not! The writer, of this Psalm, confessed; and, he put it in writing for the world to see:  “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands.” So, how do you make your way back to God from your wanderings? First, regularly confess that you tend to wander from God. That is the writer’s true confession as he concludes the longest chapter in Scripture. “I wander like a lost sheep,” he says. Can you identify with that confession? Can you admit that to another person? “I wander like a lost sheep!” He’s confessing his brokenness, isn’t he? “I’m not going to lie to you,” he’s saying, “I tend to wander like a lost sheep.” Can you say it with me— ”That’s what I resemble! A lost sheep!

Don’t Dismiss God’s Warnings!

God’s Not Trying To Kill Your Fun!

God’s warnings are never designed to kill your fun! But, rather, to offer you greater blessings & more fun! Pure fun without the shame and guilt that the “pleasures of sin for a season” may offer us! Don’t forget this truth:  “It is because God is love that He punishes us to bring us to brokenness so He can redeem us.” He warns us because He has compassion on us! Because He loves us! And, how does God respond to His people when they confess their sin & return to Him? He restores them, doesn’t He? That’s what He did with Adam & Eve; with, Abraham & the patriarchs; and, with Israel on multiple occasions!  He would bring revival to their souls & their lives were blessed!

-God’s Patience Can Be Exhausted!

But, when individuals & nations continue in their rebellion, there comes a time— and, only God knows that time; so, don’t sin presumptuously, calculating how far you can go in your sin before God has had enough— there comes a time when God’s patience is exhausted; that, in order to accomplish His purpose, in your life, that He punishes! This is place where Israel’s sin had brought them in 2 Chronicles, chapter 36, “But they kept ridiculing God’s messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the Lord’s wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy” (v.16).  Those are haunting words— there was no remedy! All that was left was God’s wrath! Only punishment!

-God’s Strange Work!

It was the only thing left that God could do to turn Israel around! There’s an incredibly revealing verse of Scripture in Isaiah that’s often overlooked; but, I think the message is powerful! Isaiah— one of the very messengers that 2 Chronicles 36 referred to— says, “For the LORD will rise up as He did at Mount Perazim. He will rise in wrath, as at the Valley of Gibeon, to do His work, His strange work, and to perform His task, His disturbing task” Isaiah 28:21. Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, Isaiah says that God’s judgment is His strange work! His disturbing task! God, Himself, finds His judgment & punishment of sinners to be disturbing because it’s not His will that any would perish!

-Why Continue In Your Sin?

When you sin against God & His Word & you ignore His warnings, He will punish you because He is Holy & Just! But, know, that it disturbs Him to punish you for the great love & compassion that He has for you! So, why would you continue to turn against Him & go your own way? Why do you spurn His love for you & choose all the cheap substitutes that sin offers you? None of those things will satisfy! None will bring you joy & fulfillment!

-Forgiveness For The Prodigal!

Why endure punishment when God willingly offers all prodigal sons forgiveness! When prodigal Israel repents of her sin & returns to the Lord, to accomplish God’s purposes, He redeems them! Let me tell you what it means that God redeems them! There are at least 3 words, in the original languages of Scripture, that are translated “redeem.” in the Bible! One means “to buy or purchase”; and, it’s used in the context of a slave who is bought to be owned as property! At the time that God redeemed Israel, they were enslaved to Egypt. Here’s the point— we are all enslaved to somebody! We are either enslaved to sin, which is a cruel & destructive task master! Or, we are enslaved to a God who loves us with great compassion & willingly meets every need we have according to His will! But, once you’ve been redeemed by God, He will begin a work in you that’s redemptive! He reforms you to make you willing to obey Him & love Him!

Leadership Principles!

-Preparing Joshua To Lead!

In my last post, I introduced you to the Old Testament ministry team of Moses and Joshua. We talked about how Moses invested himself in training Joshua to succeed him in leading the nation of Israel into the land God had promised them. Today, I plan to share a few leadership principles that Moses passed on to Joshua— some intentionally, some not! Each of these prepared Joshua to lead; and, I hope that in each principle, you’ll also find that it applies directly & personally to you.

-Don’t Mess With God!

From Moses, Joshua learned that God will not tolerate the rebellion of men against Himself. In Exodus 17, Joshua observed how the Amalekites attacked Israel. Their attack was a rebellion against God’s right to rule over all of HIS worlds! As Creator, God had the right to remove the Amalekites from the land they occupied because of their rebellion; and, give it to other people. The principle Joshua learned? Don’t mess with God! There’s another leadership principle that Joshua learned, from Moses, in this very same battle against the Amalekites. He learned that God is the power behind the leader and the sword!

-The Power Behind The Leader!

As Israel’s General, Joshua led Israel on the battlefield; while Moses, Israel’s preeminent earthly leader, intervened spiritually at the top of a hill.  As long as he kept his hands raised toward heaven— symbolizing Israel’s dependence on God— Israel prevailed in the battle. But, when his hands dropped the Amalekites would gain ground. Interestingly, after Israel defeated Amalek the Lord told Moses to, “…write this down for a memorial in the book as a reminder & RECITE IT TO JOSHUA” Exodus 17:14.  Do you see the significance? It was God who delivered Israel! He was the power! It wasn’t General Joshua or Moses! It was God who fought for Israel; and, Moses needed to rehearse that with Joshua!

-God Delivers Victory!

Can we apply that to our church faith community? I’m pretty sure we can! Did Israel have to fight? Yes! Did Joshua have to lead bravely & courageously? Yes! But, when it was all over, God was the One who delivered the victory! If we desire to see God work in our city; if we want to see people disciples & our church grow, we have to put in the work & effort! But, it only happens when God does it! Like Moses, with hands lifted toward heaven, we have to pray & seek God’s help even as we do our part & work! But, there was another principle that Moses clearly wanted Joshua to learn.

-Seeking God’s Glory!

In Exodus 24, when Moses went to the top of Mount Sinai to meet with God, it says, “So Moses arose with his assistant (or APPRENTICE) Joshua and went up the mountain of God” where v.17 says they saw, “…the appearance of the LORD’S GLORY.” And, in his training with Moses, before the Lord’s Glory, he came to understand that God’s Glory must always be sought rather than one’s own personal accomplishments. As church leaders, God’s Glory must always be our passion; not, personal accolades or attention. Joshua learned another valuable leadership principle (Exodus 32) from Moses as they came down from Mt Sinai, carrying God’s 10 Commandments. As they came into the camp; and, observed Israel’s idolatrous activity worshipping a golden calf, Joshua watched Moses’ righteous indignation toward their sin! He learned the principle that God blesses leaders who love what He loves & hate what He hates! Godly leaders hate sin!

 

Don’t Be Deceived!

-How To Approach Your Faith!

To beware of something is to be wary; to be cautious; to be careful! It means you can’t assume anything! You take all the necessary precautions. And, that’s how Scripture tells us to approach our faith! Beware that you’re not deceived! Be aware of the genuineness of your faith. Be sure it’s not counterfeit.  “Test yourselves,” the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians,  “to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you fail the test” 2 Cor. 13:5. Put your faith to the test, Paul says! Examine it! Compare it with Scripture! Does it match up? Is it authentic?

-The Holy Spirit’s Work In You!

The Apostle Paul also wrote the Church of Rome and told them, that, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” Romans 8:16. God’s Holy Spirit indwells every believer! I know when He’s there! You know it too! And, He Himself will convince you that you belong to God because you’ve denounced your own worthiness & you’re clinging to the righteousness of Christ to save you! Numbers 16 unpacks the story of Korah; how he incited rebellion against Moses because of his desire to hold a more prominent position of leadership in the Jewish nation. This raises a red flag in regard to the genuineness of his faith.

-Desiring To Lead!

A desire to lead is, in itself, not evil! It’s not necessarily evil to be a leader! In fact, one of the qualifications, of an Elder in the church, is that they hold a “desire” to actually be a leader. It’s really the rest of the Biblical qualifications that either confirm or deny that the person is fit to be a leader in the church.  What is the motive behind that desire to obtain a position of leadership? That was Korah’s issue!

-Rebellion Against Leadership!

The Scripture gives us a peek into his motives in the first 3 verses of Numbers 16:  “Now Korah son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took 250 prominent Israelite men who were leaders of the community and representatives in the assembly, and they rebelled against Moses. They came together against Moses and Aaron and told them, ‘You have gone too far! Everyone in the entire community is holy, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?’” Korah sought a higher level of leadership by rebelling against the legitimate leader; who was God’s choice to lead— Moses! His desire, for Moses’ position of leadership, was illegitimate! It was motivated by a lust for power & a desire to be recognized! His evil motive was exposed by his methods!

-Undermining Legitimate Leadership!

And, then it says he set off to undermine Moses by gathering 250 prominent men, who were also leaders in the camp. Rebels always seek to gather a crowd when they oppose leadership because that gives the appearance that they’re right & the legitimate leader is wrong! No doubt he did so by whispering, spreading rumors & back-biting the current leadership. But, the one true God is more than capable of righting the wrong; and, He will right all wrongs Romans 12:19 tells us! Moses doesn’t defend himself! He puts the situation in God’s court (vs.6,7); and, God judges Korah severely! The earth opens up and swallows up Korah and all 250 rebels with him! That’s intense! The application? It tells us to submit to God’s sovereign plan & to submit to those leaders He has placed in our lives!

 

Beware Of Yourself!

-Evil Appears As A Friend!

Philip Yancey is a popular Christian author who used “Chinese Opera”— in his book, A Skeptic’s Guide To Faith— to help illustrate a point.  “In Chinese opera,” Yancey points out, “Heroes wear a certain color of face paint with a few simple strokes, while villains wear a different palette in complex patterns. In real life,” he continues, “unlike Chinese opera, we cannot always tell the heroes & the villains by the color of paint on their faces. More often, evil appears as a friend with a smell like perfume.” In real life, he said, it’s not always easy to tell who the hero is and who the villain is.

-Heroes & Villains!

When we read through the book of Numbers, in the Old Testament, we’re introduced to Korah, who rebelled against Moses until God opened up the earth and it swallowed up he & his followers! We also read how Moses struck the rock, to produce water in the desert when God had commanded him to speak to the rock; and, how Israel failed to fully trust that God would go before them, into a battle & the consequences of their disobedience. We also read about the Prophet Balaam’s talking donkey; or, more accurately how God used Balaam’s donkey to speak to him because he wasn’t listening to God. In each of these instances, there was a hero & a villain; and, the text of Scripture is pretty forthright about who was who!

-Blindly Believing We’re Right!

Today, I’d like to encourage you to look at each one of these stories through a little different lens. I want you to look at them through the eyes of the villain! Here’s why! Because each of us has more in common with the antagonist, in the story, than we really want to admit. I don’t believe that any of them started out being the scoundrel! But, they deceived themselves! And, just like each of them, we have the ability to deceive ourselves! We can blindly believe that we’re in the right; and, everyone else, in our story, is in the wrong!

-Worthless Religion!

Let me tell you why self-deception is such a critical subject for us to talk about— because God has included multiple Scriptures to warn us about deceiving ourselves! In other words, it’s something we sinful humans are prone to do! We are prone to deceive ourselves about a lot of things; but, we’re especially inclined to deceive ourselves spiritually! In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked those, who were listening to Him, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I tell you?” And, James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” In other words, you can deceive your heart about your faith!

-Not Everyone Who Calls Him Lord!

Jesus also said: “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 in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me” Matthew 7:21-23. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words— the person you are most easily deceived by is yourself! Beware of yourself! That’s what Jesus is really saying there, isn’t it? Self-deception is so serious that you can think you’re a believer & a follower, of Jesus when you aren’t; and, by the very definition of “self-deception,” you wouldn’t know it because you’ve deceived yourself into thinking you’re saved! But, the truth will one day be revealed!