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Is it too much to ask?

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Ephesians 4:1,2 “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

    Humility, gentleness, patience and upholding are all marks of a person who lives his life worthy of the calling he has received.  Scripture gives us a standard by which to assess ourselves and those around us.  Not to judge, but rather to provide a standard of practice and behaviour to aspire to and be accountable to.  Jesus said; “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34,35)

     When the world gauges leadership it looks for forceful, effective leaders with ‘charisma‘.  Yet Jesus has taught us to see with different eyes; “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” (Matthew 20:25,26)  If you want a leader who is a true disciple of Jesus, look for that humble attitude of service.  Don’t be fooled by counterfeits.  Don’t be fooled by someone who talks the talk but walks in his flesh and is given to ‘fits of rage’.

     It falls upon us all to lead someone;  perhaps a child, sometimes a friend in need or any person who needs a hand.  Let that leadership be with ‘no strings attached’.  Let that leadership help a person out of a pit not into deeper bondage of a different sort.  Don’t be fooled by charismatic types who preach up a storm about themselves and prey upon the confused;  “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.” (2 Peter 2:3)  Such false preachers will experience God’s judgement.

     In every person’s life there comes a time to speak up against wrong.  For some, the time to speak comes early,  for others it comes later, but it comes for all.  Silence, although  it is the smarter thing to do in the world’s eyes, raises a sour stench of retreat from those who would do evil, all the way up to heaven.  The Lord’s host of saints and angels stand in witness of such fearful self preservation on the earth below.  Edmund Burke said; “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”

     Is it too much to ask that we heed the call to stand up for the truth?  Is it too much to ask that we speak out against those who use religion or ‘good deeds’ as a cover for exploitation?  Is it too much to ask that integrity should be more than appearances and shallow gestures?   Is it too much to ask that courage in the face of evil is the reality rather than indifference or self-righteousness.   Is it too much to ask? No it isn’t but don’t expect it.  Scripture tells us; “This is the judgement, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”(John 3:19)

      Paul, who knew something of conflict and opposition because of his speaking out for the Truth tells us; “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” (Philippians 1:27,28)

     When people hate us for telling the truth, we are in good company. Jesus tells us; “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 the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18-20)

Praise the Lord!

A false doctrine of sudden destruction

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Some misguided or unscrupulous people use a false doctrine of sudden destruction as a method of hindering people from leaving their group.   This false doctrine is a technique of mind control and it preys upon vulnerable people.  The New Zealand Cult list web page cites this as a reason people tend to not leave cults; “Cults teach their members that only the cult offers salvation or the truth. Leaving the cult is the same as leaving God, and no relationship with God will ever be possible if they leave.”    The International Cultic Studies Association points out that:  “Fear that what the cult said would happen to them if they left actually might happen.” is a common issue in post-cult recovery.wolf unmasked

Any false doctrine of sudden destruction will unfold something like this;  ‘If you leave our group then you are going out of God’s will for your life.  If you’re out of God’s will for your life then you’re heading for sudden destruction.  You will die and go to hell!’ This kind of doctrine inflicted upon a vulnerable person leaves fear especially when the person takes the courageous step of leaving the cult group.    The Exit and Support Network website cites a number of common emotional difficulties when people leave a high demand controlling group including – fear; “‘What if I am wrong?’ ‘What if harmful events actually do happen? ”I can’t ever be happy outside the group.’ ‘What if I run into a present member?’. . .  and fear of going crazy.”

When counselors and religious leaders push a false doctrine of sudden destruction on those they claim to serve they are committing a terrible form of spiritual and emotional abuse.  ” Deceptive ministers distort the Bible (heavily using the Old Testament Law) to enhance their control on the unsuspecting and vulnerable. Due to the implementation of these deceitful tactics, recruits often suffer a loss of identity, will, and the ability to think critically. Members may no longer control their own life due to the reasons mentioned above; instead, following the loss of their critical thinking skills, they surrender their life to the authority and direction of the authoritarian leader.”  (Exit and Support Network website)  The damage done to vulnerable individuals is lifelong.

Some false prophets claim they are watchmen and style themselves right out of Ezekiel 33  claiming that they are accountable for the fate of those who are in their church; “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’” (Ezekiel 33:6)  The twisting of scripture involves the claim by the ‘watchman’ that since he is accountable for the person’s blood he must warn the person AND the person must do as they are told.  Yet the verse simply states that the ‘watchman’s’ responsibility is to watch and warn (blow the trumpet) only!

If the person accepts the distortion of the twisted scripture – that the ‘watchman’ has say over his life then the false prophet can proceed to the next deception.  If the  wicked refuse to do as they are told by the ‘watchman’ ,  they will die for it;  “But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.” (Ezekiel 33:9)  This twisted mind control leaves people at the mercy of those who want to enslave rather than help people to freedom.

Of course the ‘watchman’ or false prophet will claim to be the only one who knows God’s will for those under his ‘care’ and ‘authority’.  God’s will becomes his will on every detail of the person’s life choices at all times.  The group think becomes; ‘If you don’t check with the prophet you’re not in God’s will!’  Scripture tells us what God’s will is; ” For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.  For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness.  Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)

The telling mark of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that he always puts himself first and between his flock and God as a mediator.  In this way he denies Jesus.

When a false doctrine of sudden destruction is combined with attack/confrontational  therapy a particularly nasty kind of hell develops where people are broken, condemned and sentenced to a life of abuse or sudden destruction if they leave the group.

It is time to declare a final moratorium on the use of harsh, humiliating confrontational techniques in addiction treatment. It is time to lay to rest once and for all, the arrogant notion that we should or even can dismantle other human beings and then put them back together in better and wiser form. With impressive consistency, research tells us that authoritarian confrontation is highly unlikely to heal and may well do harm, particularly to the more vulnerable among those we serve. Within this context, such confrontational treatment is professionally unethical, and is doubly problematic when used with coerced populations such as court-ordered or employer-mandated populations.   (William R. Miller, PhD and William White, MA in Confrontation in Addiction Treatment)

Sadly the wolves in sheep’s clothing who preside over such destructive environments in the guise of ‘Christian Rehab’  don’t read on to the next chapter in Ezekiel; “The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them.”  (Ezekiel 34:4)

A proverb tells us that after a long process of trying to help a person see reason, that person if they continue in their stubbornness will come to a bad end; “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”  (Proverb 29:1)  Jesus’ view on sudden destruction was that in this world bad things can happen to anyone and we all must be prepared to stand before God; “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?  ‘I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'” (Luke 13:4)

Jesus knew that in a broken world  misfortune and good fortune falls on everyone; “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”  For Jesus, it wasn’t about sudden destruction but rather patience and love in action.  Jesus urged the opposite of those that would doom and curse with this false and terrible doctrine of sudden destruction.

The Bible tells us that sudden destruction will come on the entire world at the end; “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.  While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:33)  Sudden destruction is clearly an event that will happen to the world when Christ returns.  Jesus said; “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man:  they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.”  This kind of sudden destruction is predicted to fall upon the world and not some poor individual who has had enough and decides to leave an abusive group.   And when this day arrives,  Jesus told us plainly what God’s will was; For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)

What false prophets tend to ignore in the Bible is that sudden destruction can fall on them; “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.  By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.”  (2 Peter 2:1-3)  Such false prophets and their followers will do a lot of damage.

They will reap what they sow. “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. The stalk has no head; it will produce no flour.”  (Hosea 8:7 and Galatians 6:7)

A foolish finish?

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Galatians 3:3 “Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?”

     You can start at something one way and end it quite another way.  God made us so that our spirits are always inclined toward His Spirit. When life ends, a man’s spirit returns to God.  Our flesh is another matter.  Our flesh, being born to death and decay is always inclined toward the religion of self justification.  Both flesh and religion come from dust and return to dust. “Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”(Ecclesiastes 12:6,7)

   How is it that a person can start in the Spirit and end caught up in his own flesh?  We might just as well reverse the question and ask; how can a man start in the flesh and end following the Holy Spirit?  The answer to both questions hinges on choice.  We are free to choose how we respond to any situation.  We are as free to indulge our appetites as we are to live in the discipline of God’s Word.  It is in the thousands of little choices that the pattern of a man’s life is laid down.  Each choice is the outcome of a little bit of yeast in our heart that ferments our inclinations; “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:9)

     In Jesus Christ, we have freedom.  In that freedom we must make choices that reflect His rule in our lives. Some, so called, religious leaders require their followers(victims) to humiliate themselves in order to demonstrate their allegiance.  Is this a choice that reflects Jesus’ rule over anyone’s life?  Jesus clearly 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, . . .” (Matthew 20:25)  What bitterness and pain is left in someone who has been humiliated in that way!  Jesus has not been served but rather some petty despot’s bloated ego.

     Paul warned us about such false preachers; “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” (Romans 16:17,18)  How does a person become corrupted to such an extent?  Worldly wisdom tells us; “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

     Jesus knew long before our day that power is a drug like any other.  Some are addicted to it and like any addiction it progresses to complete the destruction of the addict.  Scripture tells us how this power addiction disease process ends; “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18,19)  That is why Jesus demanded that His disciples serve rather than become little lords.

     Any one who claims to be called to lead in Jesus Christ’s ministry,  indeed any person who claims to follow Jesus because we all lead by example,  must keep in step with the Holy Spirit. The telling marks of such a walk is; “. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22,23)  How is this done?  Scripture tells us; “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:25,26)  Keep your pride in check.  Do not pick on others, especially those you are called to serve.  Live for God, not trying to get what you think others have, whether that is power or money or both.

     To finish well means to finish in His Way not our way.   At the end of our days we all want to hear Jesus say; “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:23)  A return to obedience to the Holy Spirit is only one decision away and it must involve the very thing the spirit of power addiction cannot tolerate – humility.  The Gospel Good News for a leader gone astray is that he is only one decision away from rescue; “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

     Praise the Lord!

The truth is a choice!

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2 Corinthians 13:8 “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.”

     The truth is a power to be reckoned with.  Deception is the easy way that appeals to many a corrupted person.  But to choose deception over truth is to empty your ministry of His authority and power.   One commentary paraphrases Paul on the point by saying; “Our apostolic power is given us that we may use it not against, but for the furtherance of, the truth. Where you are free from fault, there is no scope for its exercise: and this I desire. Far be it from me to use it against the innocent, merely in order to increase my own power (II Corinthians 13:10).”

     Sadly, when the use of deception is boasted on in a church and rationalized on the basis of ‘best intentions’ with no repentance there is little room available for the Holy Spirit to work; “As we are the apostles of God, we cannot bring to you any false doctrine; and, as we profess to be under the influence of God’ s Spirit, we cannot do any thing that is opposed to that truth, or which might be prejudicial to it.” (Adam Clarke Commentary)  When we combine lying preachers with congregations that are unable or unwilling to confront sin in their leaders a toxic brew of abuse grows and fouls the ministry.

     As always those who take the easy way of deception and sin will howl and snarl victory over those that struggle to follow Jesus and adhere to His truth.  Jesus assures us; “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  Jesus was very clear about who His followers are:  “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46)  When sin is left unchecked and there is no repentance a spiritual disease progresses much like addiction does, until those who revel in it succumb totally to it.

     Deception leads to death.  Jesus confronted the false priests about their choices; “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) Jesus calls out to us; “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

     Jesus tells us plainly: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13,14)

     Which way will you choose?  The easy way of deception or His way?

     Praise the Lord!

   

When the light isn’t His

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2 Corinthians 11:14,15 “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.”

   What is more important – the message or the messenger?    When it comes to the true Gospel this question has but one answer.  Both are just as important because the messenger and the message are one in the same.  Scripture tells us; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Jesus said; “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

     Marshall McLuhan made a famous assertion; ‘the medium is the message’.  Many believe this statement originated with McLuhan and do not know that it is an important concept in Christian faith written into our Gospel.  Mark Federman comments; “Thus begins the classic work of Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, in which he introduced the world to his enigmatic paradox, ‘The medium is the message.’ But what does it mean? How can the medium be its own message?”

     The question of how the medium can be its own message is a mystery of God and is understood not by reason but by revelation.  To approach this question using worldly wisdom can only lead to confusion.  That being said the question underscores a crucial linkage between the medium or messenger and the message that provides an accurate test of the authenticity of the messenger.

     Any messenger who brings a message that doesn’t point to the likeness of Jesus Christ is a false prophet bringing a false message.  Scripture warns us; “. . . there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:7,8)  An honest preacher points to Jesus; “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

      A telling mark of a false messenger is that he and his message point to the world or his place in it and not Jesus;  “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18,19)

     Listen carefully and if you hear the likeness of Jesus Christ in the message then you are hearing the Gospel.  To know the likeness of Jesus is to know the Word of God.  That is why reading and living out the Bible in your daily life is so important.  Satan can quote scripture but like any impostor he can’t keep track of all his lies so they will creep in and foul his message.  Jesus said; “Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:43,44)

     If you know His Word you will be able to tell wisdom from above and Satan’s worldly fake message; “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:13-18)

     The messenger is the message and His name is Jesus.

     Praise the Lord!

Be sorry or be sorry!

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2 Corinthians 7:10 “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

     What’s the difference?  Sorrow is sorrow! Scripture tells us otherwise.  One kind of sorrow leads to change and another kind leads to death.  We experience both. Sometimes our past actions will pierce our hearts with the realization of our own wrong doing we may be overcome with grief in one of two ways; we may be sorrowful because of how our actions have hurt others or we may be sorrowful because of how the consequences of our actions are hurting ourselves.  One sorrow is selfless, the other is selfish.

     I’ve worked with men who have experienced a lot of worldly sorrow.  They have wasted years drinking and drugging, going to jail and living lives of petty crime to support their addictions.  They regret the wasted years, the lost opportunities and the emptiness of their lives after they have discarded their relationships of family and friends and then being without the comforts of their addiction as they start recovery.  Their sorrow starts out as pure selfishness.  It’s all about them.

     Cain exhibited this kind of selfish sorrow when he was downcast over what he perceived as God’s inordinate favour towards Abel quite forgetting that his own casual attitude towards God was the real problem; “Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6,7)  Cain couldn’t get over his self-centeredness and his attitude brought him to murder his brother.

    For some men, as they move through recovery, their sorrow doesn’t stay selfish.  As recovery proceeds and the fog of a drug beguiled mind lifts an even more painful realization sets in.  A person begins to realize the hurt they have brought into other lives – the lives of those who love or loved them.   They start looking back and begin to appreciate the wreckage they have caused.  The pain of broken relationships, disappointment and betrayal of parents, spouses and children cut through their tough selfish hides and create the first stirrings of feeling for others.  They begin to have Godly sorrow.

     Paul lays out the signs of selfless sorrow; “. . . see what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.” (2 Corinthians 7:11)  This kind of sorrow produces repentance and a desire to change.   One telling mark of this kind of sorrow in a man is that his thoughts are not all about himself.  Rather Godly sorrow brings a deep seated concern for others and a desire to do the right thing by them.

     It is in this upheaval of the soil of a man’s heart that the seeds of the Gospel can grow and bear much fruit.  “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)  Those that sow God’s Word with encouragement and love into such hearts take part in His work.  Those that sow curses and condemnation into hearts made vulnerable by Godly sorrow will reap the bitter mercies of their own tongues; “For with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Matthew 7:2)

     Worldly sorrow doesn’t produce real change or growth in accordance with God’s will.  Yet, every man who experiences Godly sorrow will hear with gladness the message of the Gospel; “Therefore, if anyone in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

     Praise the Lord!

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