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The Big Easy Lie

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2 Timothy 3: 1 – 5   “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.”


     This is not a very flattering description of  society in ‘the last days’.  Yet who would argue that the world is not beset by the actions of proud, brutal and abusive people.  One glance at a newspaper will confirm this sad situation.   Moreover, history tells us, time and time again, that even civilized societies are capable of atrocities of horrific proportions;  many genocides have occurred in the 20th century.  The world is what it is – without God’s Spirit, life gets ‘Darwinian’ very quickly. Indeed, without God’s Spirit, life gets worse than the simple natural brutalities of ‘survival of the fittest’; evil takes over and life moves beyond nature towards a hellish parody of the natural world – ‘survival of the fattest’! Yet, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary people believe that humanity is basically good.  People believe that education and a decent living wage will solve a lot of the problems that we face today.   People are seduced by the BIG EASY LIE that human beings are good and as we evolve and become more ‘enlightened’ things will get better.


     Why do I call this view of humanity THE BIG EASY LIE?   Because a lot of people believe this lie.   It is appealing.  It is hard to go against what the majority of people believe.  It is a lot easier to go along with this lie than to stand against it.  Yet the Bible tells us that the heart of humanity is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).  Jesus himself says that only God is good (Matthew 19:17).  The apostle Paul knew human nature well and honestly assessed his own ‘goodness’;  “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”  (Romans 7:24).  If you don’t believe the Bible, look at history – wars, atrocities, betrayal and the conquest of the weak by the strong.  Nothing has changed – nothing has gotten better.  If anything has evolved it is our ability to wreak havoc upon one another.


     A few years ago I spent a week in a church with a young Rwandan man who had experienced the living hell of genocide in his country.  He had no illusions about the basic goodness of mankind.  The Big Easy Lie operating in the world enables people to forget history, be blind to current events and so live big easy lives of consumerism and false optimism.   The fruit of THE BIG EASY LIE in secular society is insensitivity to violence, moral decay and indifference to others. 


     Once I believed that 2 Timothy 3:1 – 5 was a description of the world excluding those in church communities.  Some commentaries reference the world with respect to this scripture, others reference impostors in the church;  “A form of godliness, a profession of Christian faith without a godly life, often is allowed to pass, while open profession of the truth as it is in Jesus, and resolute attention to the duties of godliness, stir up the scorn and enmity of the world.”  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary)  Church going people are not immune to being taken in by THE BIG EASY LIE.  Rather, church going people are particularly susceptible to THE BIG EASY LIE.


     A weakness of religion is that it can encourage people to consider themselves better than their fellow human beings.  It is hard to think of yourself as a ‘bad person’ when you’re sitting in church on Sunday looking your best while your ‘sinful neighbour’ is out mowing his lawn or sleeping off her hangover.   Not only do you judge outsiders, you start judging your friends – when you go to midweek Bible Study, you begin to feel more holy than those who never come to Bible Study.    The religious form of THE BIG EASY LIE is that ‘we are basically good, the rest of humanity isn’t’.  The end stage of this malignancy becomes self-righteousness;  ‘I am basically good – you are not’!  


     As the dark power of THE BIG EASY LIE works the predominant view of those deceived by it becomes; ‘I am better than you’.  The Power of the Gospel is completely emptied out of a person who is self-righteous.  The fruit of the BIG EASY LIE is a church where it’s members have a form of godliness but deny the Power of the Gospel.   To judge yourself to be in a superior moral state (being good) is to denigrate the Power of the Gospel in your life.  Heaven isn’t  full of good people – its full of FORGIVEN people.  A church may be full of good people but how many in that church fearfully cling to the Gospel – salvation and forgiveness for their sins?  How many work out their salvation on a daily basis with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).


     There is a saying, ‘only the desperate are delivered’.  Those who feel that they are not ‘that bad’ simply aren’t drawn to the Gospel.   Life is good, they’re good and getting better who really needs Jesus.  They have no great need for forgiveness.   Here is another saying, ‘only the desperate can deliver the Gospel’!  A church of self satisfied, complacent, morally superior people simply can’t deliver the Power of the Gospel to a dying world.  Why?   Because such a church is part of the world.  It has become bewitched by the BIG EASY LIE.  Any desperate person will tell you that they can sense when people are insincere, when people are just giving lip service to an ideal.  You can’t walk the talk if you don’t believe what it says about you!


     What kind of desperation will deliver the Gospel?  The Power of the Gospel flows through those who are honest about themselves – those who know they desperately need the Gospel because their heart is desperately wicked.  The apostle Paul’s was desperate;   “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. ” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)  Paul was not under the influence of the BIG EASY LIE.  He understood; “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not.”  He was honest about it.  Paul’s power was the Power of the Gospel; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth …”  (Romans 1:16) 
 

Don’t lose your perspective.

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1 Timothy 1:15 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

     Immediately prior to this statement Paul described himself as having been a blasphemer and a violent man.  This was his past and he readily acknowledged it.   Paul knew what he was and he knew his character;  “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19)  Paul wasn’t bemoaning his past or looking for pity; he was being realistic about himself.

     One commentary points out; “He understood human nature well, not wanting to risk losing the proper perspective that Christ had given him at the beginning. Rather than carry it about as a burdensome load of guilt, he used it as a realistic recognition of his indebtedness to Christ for what he had been forgiven and what had been accomplished since that time.” (Forerunner Commentary)

     How easy it is for me to think that I’m a good person.  Any sins I may commit or have committed aren’t really that bad (at least the ones that I want to remember).  I don’t get drunk or go to bars or throw rocks at my neighbour (although my neighbour’s cat is not safe in my yard).  I am respectable (on the outside).  How easy it is for me to believe that I’m OK.  I’m way better than Paul.  I was a pretty good guy before I was introduced to Jesus and He just made me better!  This kind of thinking is the easy wide road to HELL.  The collector lanes are all well marked; ‘Self Righteous Stay to the Left’.  It’s a well kept road with lots of fast paced traffic.  Hey, did I just pass you?

     In His discussion with a Pharisee, Jesus describes the heart wrenching attitude of someone who truly knows how close they came to eternal wreckage (Luke 7:36-50).  He then sums up the attitude towards God of the self righteous in one neat comparative statement; “Therefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (Luke 7:47)  If you don’t think you much of a sinner, you’re not looking to be forgiven for much.

     God told His people as they were going in to possess the promised land that all would work out;  ” . . .  if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you to do them — to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave unto Him . . .” (Deut 11:22)  These are the exit ramps off the FREEWAY TO HELL.  Love God first – before yourself, your car, your possessions and social status.  Walk in all His Ways – trust Him, stop the judging, show some mercy.  Cleave unto Him – Jesus saved you, show it by being obedient to His Word.

     Remember what Jesus said;  “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”  (John 14:23)  Praise the Lord!

   

Avoid superstition – test everything!

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1 Thessalonians  5:20-22  “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject whatever is harmful.”


     This message was for the church.  It places the responsibility on every person to line up everything that is said and done within a community of believers  with God’s Word.  This is a job that can’t be left to others.  Everyone has to practice it and become competent in the practice.  It’s part of growing up and maturing  in your walk.  To not do this is to leave yourself in the position where you  believe what others tell you because ‘they said so’ and not because of what God says in His Word.  To not do this is to walk on the shifting sands of personalities and superstition – the way to idolatry.
  
     According to my dictionary, superstition is ‘a belief or practice founded on ignorant fear or mistaken reverence.’    Superstition feeds idolatry in two major ways; 1) being based on ignorance it leaves a person susceptible to opinions forced upon them by aggressive people as opposed to Biblical principles  and 2)  it creates a false reverence for magical thinking and magicians  – those who steal what isn’t theirs by deception and show.  Magical thinking is any kind of thinking that ignores reality, fails to remember past patterns and  relies on the power of persuasion rather than the power of God’s Word.  Superstition and cults are closely related social pathologies.


      One commentary  states; “There are few more important rules in the New Testament than the one in this passage. It shows what is the true nature of Christianity, and it is a rule whose practical value cannot but be felt constantly in our lives. Other religions require their votaries to receive everything upon trust; Christianity asks us to examine everything.” (Barnes Notes)   Scripture requires that authentic believers test everything for themselves!  You can’t rely on the elders or the pastor to do your testing for you.  Nor can you pass on your responsibility to only accept that which has been tested.  Today, we must do as the early Christians;  “they were carefully to examine everything proposed for their belief. They were not to receive it on trust; to take it on assertion; to believe it because it was urged with vehemence, zeal, or plausibility.” 


     What are the tests will show us what is worthwhile and true? Any prophecy must line up with the Word of God. If it doesn’t, if it contradicts God’s Word it is worthless and harmful. Jesus said; “`Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Luke 4:4) If a persons statements don’t line up with God’s Word then they cannot sustain us. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we are told; “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”


     James 3:17 tells us the characteristics of wisdom; “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” This is an excellent checklist to use when testing the statements and claims that others would have you accept. Wisdom must have the purity of the Gospel’s purpose. It should lead to repentance and redemption. Wisdom brings peace and not strife. Wisdom is open to questioning. Wisdom does not cater to the privileged and has no hidden agendas. 


     Manipulators and deceivers cannot fool this checklist – use it!

Being smart isn’t always being right or righteous!

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Colossians 2:8  “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

Sometimes intelligence and ‘sophistication’ just adds to the confusion.  Overdoing anything, including analysis and rationalization doesn’t help; it hinders.  Have you ever had to listen to someone who just loves to argue and doesn’t really care about the subject under discussion.  In those situations, you quickly realize that the ‘philosopher’ loves himself way more than his philosophy.  When complexity and convolution move to the forefront clarity and accuracy have to take a back seat. In Paul’s day, Greek philosophy and Hebrew religion was contending for legitimacy within the Gospel and in the process was robbing the Gospel of its power and scope.

Today worldly philosophy and scientism (superstitions about science) seeks to deny the truth of the Gospel.  One commentary points out that  worldly philosophy cannot see God and starts with the conclusion that God doesn’t exist.  This conclusion is in itself a profound theological assertion.  The commentary concludes; “Because man’s philosophy does not consider God, its very foundation is faulty.”  (Forerunner Commentary)

     What secular philosophers (who wouldn’t call themselves theologically based) rarely admit is that by starting with the conclusion that God doesn’t exist places all their succeeding claims on the same epistemological basis as arguments based on the contrary proposition – that God does exist.  The superstition that has evolved around science in our time hasn’t helped.  Much of science is based on what has never been observed and what simply can’t be observed by human beings.  Yet this ‘shortcoming” of science is rarely admitted or even discussed in the debate.

     In my desire to shed the cumbersome sophistication picked up in my travels through this world I have adopted a new ‘epistemological’ measuring stick – “The proof of the pudding is in the eating!”  In all the ‘knowledge’ that comes at me in this confusing difficult complex world, I accept as true wisdom those statements that help me live my life in a gentler, kinder way.  I’m afraid that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, although high sounding and smart as hell, doesn’t make me any less of a jerk.  But Jesus’ teaching;   “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) goes a long way to making my world and the world of my neighbour a far better place.  This is a way better philosophy than ‘survival of the fittest’ and the practical outworking of it – “nice guys finish last”.

     The truth is –  the Gospel makes me a better person, science or secular philosophy doesn’t.  What about you?

Self Interest will kill you!

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Phil 2:21  “For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.”

     This was a sad statement on the condition of some in Paul’s time.  It is important to note that Paul was not talking about pagans or non believers.  He was talking about the church.  Barnes commentary states that Paul was referring to those Christians in Rome including ministers (Barnes Commentary).  This commentary wisely urges us not to be harsh in judging them as we fall into the same patterns of self interest all too often and all too easily, at least I do.  Putting aside self interest is a constant battle.  Yet as Jesus said many times and in many ways it is a battle for our very own life;  “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it. ” (Mark 8:35)

     Looking out for yourself to the exclusion of all others will kill you.  Paul puts it very plainly; “For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (Phil 3:18,19)  The world’s wisdom always urges us to look out for yourself, pay yourself first, if you don’t love yourself no one else will, nice guys finish last. The list goes on and on.   How many times have I bought into the world’s wisdom and lived as an enemy of the cross?  Many, many times.  How many times have I quoted Mark 8:35 and lived the opposite?  Many, many times.  Oh, I have given good lip service to the gospel, done my mechanical tithes and duties.  I have done no wrong from a legalistic perspective.

     The truth is, a righteous life is a life lived by faith – a life lived where each step is made by trusting Jesus.   I am like the rich young ruler who thought he was good. But when Jesus asked him to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor and follow Him, the fellow couldn’t do it.  Jesus asked for the fellow’s trust.   The man couldn’t as he trusted in his own (self)righteousness.  This incident (Luke 18:18-27)  dramatically shows the difference between self-righteousness and true righteousness.   The good news for me, in this scripture is when the disciples ask; “who then can be saved?”  Jesus replies;  “. . . The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18:27).   God, please save me because I can’t save myself!!!!

     Even though I have no true righteousness of my own and now I realize that my self righteousness (which I have plenty of) will never get me anywhere worth going – I’m not quiting.   I DON’T WANT TO DIE!   I have confessed that I don’t measure up but I’m not giving up hope.  I will trust Jesus because He will give me the strength to make each step in that trust  (Phil 4:13). 

    Paul’s confession exhorts and encourages me; “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ”  (Phil 3:12-14)

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