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April 28th, 2010 | Author:

All Christian bloggers are invited to participate in the Word for Wednesday meme.  Click the WFW tab above for details. Even if you don’t post, your comments are very welcome.

After a couple weeks of addressing other issues, today I return to my review of  the Olivet Discourse and what it may mean for Americans in 2010.

But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:13-14)

But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

In the verses just previous to these, Jesus told us that at the end of the age – which we surely are living in – there would be a great falling away, that many false prophets would arise, and that the love of most people would grow cold.  These are the things we must endure in order to be saved.

  • We must find our way through an anti-Christian culture, without falling away ourselves.
  • We must hold to the truth, despite the popular, but erroneous, teachings of many who claim to be Christians.
  • We must love.

Some tall orders, eh?

I could at this point pull various scriptures out of context as reminders that God is faithful (1 Cor 1:9); that He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able (1 Cor 10:13); and that Jesus promised that no one will snatch us out of His hand (John 10:28-29).

But in this sermon, Jesus did not provide such reassurances and neither will I.  The disciples asked Him what the End of the Age will be like, and Jesus gave them the unvarnished truth.  He didn’t gloss over the difficulties they would have to face.  I believe He was trying to prepare them, to encourage them to take these things seriously, so I will leave it as He did.

This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

This gospel.  Some time ago, I noticed that Jesus didn’t say “the gospel.”  If He’d said “the gospel,” we would think he was referring to the good news of His first coming and the salvation He made available to the whole world.  But He said “this gospel,” and I have to believe that in this case, He was referring to all the things He had just said, all the difficult things, all the things that we’d really rather not hear.

In many churches today, you won’t hear “this gospel.”  You won’t hear that Christianity entails suffering and sacrifice.  You won’t hear that it comes at a price.  What you’ll hear instead is how Jesus will make your life better and easier.  I think that the preachers who appeal to the flesh in this fashion are generally not making true converts, but instead are deceiving people who will later become disillusioned and are probably part of the great “falling away” that Jesus warned us about.

But that’s just what I think.  Be sure to check out the other WFW posts in Mr. Linky this week to see what other people think.

April 07th, 2010 | Author:

If you’d like to participate in the Word for Wednesday meme (and I wish you would!), click the WFW tab above for details.  If not, I still welcome your comments.

[cont'd from The End of the Age 3.31.10]

As I continue my examination of the Olivet Discourse, looking for the words of Jesus that can be applied to the world of today, we come to Matthew 24:10-12:

At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.

“Fall away” in this context comes from the Greek skandalizō, G4625, meaning to “scandalize” or to entrap, that is, trip up (figuratively stumble [transitively] or entice to sin, apostasy or displeasure): – (make to) offend.

It’s hard for us as Americans to visualize this falling away.  It’s hard to understand that many who now proclaim to be Christians, when pressed by difficult circumstances, will “scandalize” and betray one another and hate one another.  As I wondered what our reaction to this situation should be, I remembered another verse from the Sermon on the Mount, where skandalizō is translated “to stumble.”

If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

While Jesus is trying to prepare us for hard times by telling us what it will be like, I think His solution to the problem is to literally throw out anything, including body parts, that would cause us to sin.  If a TV show leads us into temptation – throw the TV out.  If a friend entices us to tread a wrong path – avoid that person.  Based on Jesus’ advice, nothing we can do is too drastic if it keeps us from sinning.

Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.

There are so many false prophets and teachers in the church today, it’s hard to find the real deal.  It’s so bad in my area, that I would be hard-pressed to recommend any church to a newcomer to the faith or to the area.  In today’s passage, Jesus’ doesn’t offer a way to avoid being misled, but in another He promises the only answer I know:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

If we have not received the Holy Spirit of truth that Jesus’ promised, then I think it will be impossible for our feeble brains to avoid being misled.

Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.

It’s hard to love criminals.  It’s hard to love those who hurt others, especially when the hurting are close to us.  The more crime and hate we see, the harder it is to love the criminals.  But love we must, or we will be among those whose love has grown cold.

When I come across someone who is hard to even be around, no less love, I remind myself of who I was and what I did before I accepted the forgiveness of Christ.  I remind myself that God loved me even in the worst of my sin.  I didn’t deserve forgiveness any more than the worst person I’ve encountered.  And then I realize that, unless I want to be a hypocrite, I must offer that same love and forgiveness to everyone I meet.

(27)  “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
(28)  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
(29)  “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.
(30)  “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.
(31)  “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.
(32)  “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
(33)  “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
(34)  “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.
(35)  “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
(36)  “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
(37)  “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.
(38)  “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure–pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:27-38)

March 31st, 2010 | Author:

[cont'd from The End of the Age 3.24.10]

As I continue this review of the Olivet Discourse, I was curious whether recent war death tolls differed greatly from wars farther back in history.

The only list that I found was on Wikipedia, so take it for what it’s worth, but it seems that man has been very good at killing man throughout history.  While 72 million died in World War II, 100 million died during the Mongol Conquests from 1207 – 1472, so I don’t think we can use Jesus’ first warning in today’s passage as a sign of the end times.  Wars have been continuous throughout history.

The same thing appears to be true of earthquakes and famines and other natural disasters.  While the death toll in Haiti is estimated at 233,000, four other earthquakes going back to Antioch in 526, eclipse that number, so again, I don’t think it’s a “sign of the times.”

(Matthew 24:6-8) You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Jesus advice on how to deal with all these things is simple: See that you are not frightened. This is a common refrain to God’s people throughout the Bible, and the verse that seems to speak to my heart most clearly on this is Matthew 10:28:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

When we fear what man can do to us, I think we have lost our perspective.  We have given man way too much importance, and God way too little.

(Matthew 24:9) Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.

This is the verse that has jumped out at me this week, particularly the last phrase:  you will be hated by all nations because of My name. As Christians in America begin to feel twinges of hate from our secular culture, it occurred to me that this truly could be a “sign of the times.”  If all nations will hate Christians, then there can be no refuge anywhere in the world.  Jesus has told us that America, too, will turn its back on Him and us.

[to be continued]

March 24th, 2010 | Author:

[cont'd from The End of the Age 3.17.10]

When I finished last week’s WFW, I thought I was done talking about Jesus’ warning to avoid being misled by false prophets and false teachers.  I was wrong.

Since then, I’ve been having discussions with someone I know very well who has just left a charismatic/pentecostal-type church.  As a result, this week I’m going to look at one particularly-damaging doctrine that is perpetuated  in some of those circles.

Who’s Your Covering?

This is the question that is asked of individuals and ministries, but it would more accurately be stated, “Who are you submitted to?”  Among these churches, there are several networks where one church or ministry is in submission to another.  Members of a given church are submitted to their pastor, who is in turn submitted to another pastor (or bishop or prophet or apostle) and so on.

Some of the more well-known names in these circles, although there are many others, include C. Peter Wagner and the New Apostolic Reformation; Rick Joyner at MorningStar Ministries; and Dr. Bill Hamon of Christian International Ministries.

What people are told – what my friend was told upon leaving his church – is that he needed to be submitted to the pastor of a Bible-believing church structure or he would be “out of God’s will” and God “cannot” bless him.

This is a doctrine resurrected from the shepherding movement of the ’70′s and early 80′s led by Bob Mumford, Derek Prince, Charles SimpsonDon Basham, and Ern Baxter.  As stated in wikipedia, the emphasis is on control.

The movement gained a reputation for controlling and abusive behaviour, with a great deal of emphasis placed upon the importance of obedience to one’s own shepherd. In many cases, disobeying one’s shepherd was tantamount to disobeying God.

The Shepherding Movement, in turn, has its roots in the origins of the Catholic church, which usurped the authority of Jesus Christ by creating a hierarchy of priests and bishops and popes, who stand between Jesus and the people.

When Paul speaks of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, he speaks of many members attached to The Head. He does not speak of a neck that stands between Jesus and the rest of this body, but that is what this “covering” doctrine promotes.

In short, it denies the authority of Jesus Christ, it denies the concept of servant leadership, and it obliterates the freedom found in Christ.

I have seen and experienced the damage done by this “covering” doctrine.  It teaches Christians to take their problems to their “cover” instead of to Christ.  It teaches Christians to trust their “cover” instead of the Bible.  And it teaches Christians to doubt the leading of the Holy Spirit and the love of God.

If you are in a church that promotes this lie from the pits of hell, I encourage you to run.  Run as fast as you can  into the arms of the Great Shepherd who loves you more than you can know.

But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. (Galatians 2:4-5)

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds. (2 Corinthians 11:12-15)

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  (John 8:31-32)

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12)

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Matthew 20:25-28)

March 17th, 2010 | Author:

When Christians talk about the return of Jesus Christ, they often make reference to hard-to-understand prophecies, usually in Daniel and Revelation.  The problem is that they rarely come to the same conclusions.

Take the rapture, when all God’s people will be taken from the earth in the twinkling of an eye. [1 Cor 15:52]  The “pre-trib” crowd says Christians will be raptured before the Great Tribulation and not have to suffer through that time.  The “mid-trib” crowd says Christians will suffer through part of the Tribulation, and the “post-trib” crowd says we’ll suffer through it all.

All of these positions can be supported biblically – but they can’t all be right.  [There's even a crowd that says there won't be a rapture, but we won't go there today.]

So when I was a new Christian and trying to understand all this, I made a decision.  While I would read the whole Bible and try to understand it all, until that understanding arrived, I would base my beliefs on the words of Jesus Himself.

Regarding the end times, the best place to do that is on the Mount of Olives. Known as the Olivet Discourse, it was here that Jesus explained privately to His disciples what would happen at the end of the age.

As I’m convinced that these days are fast approaching, I’ve decided to do a review of Matthew 24 – 25, in the hope that God’s people will be better prepared to face whatever comes their way.

The Olivet Discourse

(Matthew 24:1-5) Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus started with a warning about deception.  As one who was deceived shortly after I was saved, it’s a subject that’s held my interest ever since.  One thing that I’ve noted is that Jesus is not talking about being deceived by the world, although that can certainly happen.  He’s talking about spiritual deception in the church – your church and my church.

Did you know that the New Testament contains over 25 warnings against false or deceitful workers?  Do a search yourself and see what you come up with, because I honestly don’t know of one church that is truly holding to biblical Christianity.  I know, I know.  Your church is just fine.  Your pastor would never tell you something that wasn’t true.  But I have to ask – how do you know?  Is your pastor infallible?  Does your church have the perfect doctrine?  If you are relying on your church or your pastor instead of the Bible and the Holy Spirit, then you’re already deceived.

If deception is a hallmark of the end of the age, as Jesus warned us, then there’s no doubt that we are living in it, and I would encourage every Christian to heed Paul’s words: Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

If you’d like some more food for thought on deception and discernment, I addressed this in a sermon a a couple years ago.

[to be continued]