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Identifying The Enemy

Lesson #13: To win a battle you first need to identify your adversary.

For certain individuals whose condemnation 
was written about long ago have secretly 
slipped in among you. They are ungodly 
people, who pervert the grace of our God 
into a license for immorality and deny 
Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. 
Jude 1:4

About 10 years after I started at my first professional job out of college, I decided I needed a new experience.  So, I accepted a job at one of our vendors.  I was worried that I wasn’t as experienced as the other professional staff because I had only worked at one job.  But almost instantly I was able to identify the warring factions.  

You see, the fire I went through starting a new public relations and marketing department at the age of 21 prepared me in more ways than I had realized.  While others at my new company struggled with office politics I already knew how to work around the “up, in your face, dragon lady” and the “she speaks sweetly to your face and then stabs you in the back.”  These two women were powerful forces who worked solely for their benefit and at the expense of others.  Had I not quickly assessed the situation I would’ve been tossed about in turmoil like the rest of the staff.

They are wild waves of the sea, 
foaming up their shame; wandering 
stars, for whom blackest darkness 
has been reserved forever. 
Jude 1:13

A number of the letters written by Jesus’ disciples include warnings to churches about the enemies within their midst.  It’s appropriate that our next mini-letter, written by our LORD’s half-brother Jude, is a call to arms against the infiltrators.  Why? Because it also is the last book before Revelation.  It’s almost a final warning to secure the gates, gather the brethren, and stand strong against the enemy before Christ comes.

These people are blemishes at your 
love feasts, eating with you without 
the slightest qualm—shepherds who 
feed only themselves. They are clouds 
without rain, blown along by the wind; 
autumn trees, without fruit and 
uprooted—twice dead. 
Jude 1:12

So how, as Christians, are we to discern who the “blemishes” are in our churches and protect our hearts and minds from them?

Let’s first state that every false teacher, every apostate comes from Satan. He is the enemy. As the Great Liar, Satan has plenty of fodder to create chaos in our midst. When our motivations stem from fame or popularity, greed, lust, and more, Satan is quite happy to make us like yeast — using us to spread his lies about God and Jesus.

I am currently looking for a new church.  But I’m going about it much differently than in the past.  For the first time I’ll be able to truly evaluate whether the teachings of a church are biblically based.  It’s amazing how what God has led us through in our lives always serves to prepare us for the next trial.  I could never had known that starting a small Bible study over a year ago would be one of my greatest weapons against falling prey to apostasy.  

apostasy uhpos-tuh-see ]

a total desertion of or departure from one’s religion, principles, party, cause, etc.

When I first started going to church, we selected the church of my husband’s family.  I trusted my in-laws’ choice and therefore felt comfortable with attending the same denomination.  As for the theological ins-and-outs, I really didn’t understand them or care to know much about the details.

And there lies the dangers.  Satan loves when we are ignorant about God. Sometimes we take more effort dissecting the ingredients in our cereal than what is taught to us from a pulpit.  We think, “Hey, they’ve got training and approval from someone higher up so they must know what they’re talking about.”  And for the most part that’s probably true.  But there’s plenty of churches that have few ties to standard, accepted, religious teaching. There are also all the authors, TV and radio preachers, podcasters, Instagrammers, and yes, bloggers.

Dear friends, do not believe every 
spirit, but test the spirits to see 
whether they are from God, because 
many false prophets have gone out 
into the world. 
1 John: 4:1

My younger daughter was mentoring a new, young member of her church.  This young woman was distraught and thought she had failed God.  Why? Because she couldn’t speak in tongues.  Her church, in which she had grown up, taught that every single person who truly is a follower of Jesus speaks in tongues.  In one short conversation based on scripture this woman’s life was changed.  Because of the truth of the Bible. 

My parents are in their 80s.  I find that when they speak to their doctor, they treat what he says with almost reverence.  They don’t question a word any doctor says.  I keep telling them that doctors are just people.  They also don’t always have the best bedside manner.  So, questions go unanswered.  And fears and missteps with their health abound.

The same is true with faith leaders, be they pastors, priests, elders, deacons, Bible study leaders, famous authors, or church committee members.  They are all people.  Yes, they may have at some point received a calling but they are still people.  And people sin.  Some get greedy.  Some lie to protect themselves.  They all make mistakes.  It’s our responsibility as Christians to know the Word of God enough to question if something doesn’t sound right.

The short letter of Jude has an emphasis on sexual immorality and its promoters who have burrowed into our Christian lives.  How many of us are willing to say to our pastor search committee that our applicants must not be living with someone outside marriage or can’t be homosexual?  In fact, our major denominations have decided neither of those is a “big deal.”  And I ask, is that biblically based?  

If we want to escape the (Christian) struggle we have but to draw back and accept the currently accepted low-keyed Christian life as the normal one. That is all Satan wants. That will ground our power, stunt our growth and render us harmless to the kingdom of darkness.

A.W. Tozer

The struggle, the battle, the enemy.  The Christian life is not a playground.  Yes, we have peace in the fact that Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit have our backs.  They direct us and empower us.  But to truly live a complete Christian life is to face the enemy.  We are to be always on watch for those that would twist the Word of God.  

It sounds harsh to say but according to the renowned Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe an apostate is not a true believer who has abandoned his salvation.  Instead, it is a person who said they accepted the truth but then turned away from the truth.

These are the people who divide you, 
who follow mere natural instincts and 
do not have the Spirit.  
Jude 1:19

As Christians we want to live by Jesus’ admonishment to love one another, especially our brethren.  But at the same time, he called out the “den of vipers.”  Jesus has never asked us to forgo the truth in the spirit of getting along.  Our first steps are to be honest as to who our adversaries are and to acknowledge that Satan is always at work creating chaos.  Only then can we pray for direction and preparation for any battles that may ensue.

Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, Christian women, Faith, Jesus Follower, Uncategorized

Unburdened Your Heart

Lesson #7: Forgiveness of others brings us the blessings of Christ

It is as none other than Paul—an old 
man and now also a prisoner of Christ 
Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son 
Onesimus, who became my son while I was 
in chains. 
Philemon 1:9-10

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness.  It keeps popping up in various Bible studies and readings.  And when that happens, I realize God is trying to tell me something.  So, the other day while in my “She Shed” – where I do my Bible reading and mediation – I just sat and did an inventory of the people in my life and those no longer in it.  My question for each face that popped in my head was “Is there something I haven’t forgiven in this relationship?”

There are people whom I actively must work at forgiving.  There’s one person in my neighborhood that, each time I see him I need to remind myself I no longer harbor ill feelings toward him.  It’s fascinating however, to pay attention to my whole body and mind when he enters my sphere.  I remind myself I have forgiven him yet my body wants to remember the hurt feelings.  It’s a brief little battle that, thankfully Jesus and the Holy Spirit help me to win.   In fact, the last time I saw him I thought it was a different neighbor and I waved.  When I realized who it was, I did a mental flip – “Ugh, why did you wave to him of all people?  You’re just not supposed to think anything and move along!”  But waving gave the impression I was happy to see him.  I suddenly realized in my mini battle that it was again the Holy Spirit forcing me to step out of my comfort zone and not just be “neutral” but be kind.

That individual aside, I came to an even greater realization about my need to forgive.  These days I can’t think of a greater forgiveness need in me than to forgive my church.  Actually, just about all churches who have shuttered their doors during such desperate times.  

But let me back up a bit.  Today, we jump into the little book of Philemon.  Paul, currently imprisoned in Rome, writes to a wealthy Christian friend in Colosse concerning the slave Onesimus.  Onesimus took off from Philemon’s household having stolen from him.  Onesimus found himself in the company of Paul and was converted.  And now Paul humbly asks Philemon to forgive his slave and allow him to return.

I remember as a child my mom talking about converted prisoners.  She scoffed at the idea that murderers and thieves could “find Jesus” and change their lives.  She thought it was all just a ploy to get out of jail earlier or to garner forgiveness without truly repenting.  And she may be right in some cases.  Who is to know the heart of a sinner but God?   

I wonder if Philemon thought the same?  To Onesimus’ benefit he had the great apostle Paul standing up for him.   How often have we held out forgiving someone because they didn’t meet our list of requirements for forgiveness?  The person in my neighborhood that I must remind myself to forgive frequently?  He hasn’t ever asked me for forgiveness.  He’s never acted in a way that showed he even knows he needs my forgiveness.

My church, who locked their doors and turned me away from praying at the outdoor steps of the sanctuary, doesn’t see any need for me to forgive them.  The elders and pastor who either ignored my pleas for help or worse, said hurtful things, have not asked for forgiveness.  So why should I forgive them?  Why should Philemon forgive a man to whom he gave so much and then stole from him?

I once was in a discussion about forgiveness during a Bible study.  The leader, who also was an elder in the church, said to the group, “You can’t forgive someone unless they have paid a price or asked for forgiveness.” (There’s that Biblical truth issue popping up!) Now, I’m working on my path from being a “baby Christian” to a mature one but even I know that’s just not sound Jesus teaching.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive 
my brother or sister who sins against 
me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, 
“I tell you, not seven times, but 
seventy-seven times."
Matthew 18:21-22

The thing I like about this conversation in Matthew is he deals with a real world situation.  So many of us keep doing things that need forgiveness from others.  And Jesus says to keep on forgiving – each and every time.

I was reading about forgiveness and came across this list of spiritual characteristics of someone who forgives:

  1. Concern for his place with God
  2. Concern for people
  3. Concern for fellowship
  4. Concern for knowledge
  5. Concern for glory
  6. Concern for blessing

My response to the Bible study leader was that if her “rules” about forgiveness were true then how can we forgive people who have already died but negatively impacted our lives?  Or how can we forgive people that either don’t have anything to do with us anymore or have no idea they did something wrong?  Under her idea so many of us would live with a horrible burden of pain and hurt and anger.  And Jesus doesn’t want that for us.  He wants to shower us with that glory and those blessings listed in the “forgiver characteristics.”

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Mark 11:25

Against anyone – for any reason.  But the most important part of the forgiveness lesson?  “So that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  I want to be forgiven because I know I have a lot for which I need to be forgiven.  Therefore, I need to search my heart and truly forgive our churches.

I’ve learned a lot this last year about compassion and our human tendency to live in fear.  And although our pastors preach to have faith rather than fear, we fall back into the flesh so easily.  I do it, you do it and our church leaders (who are just humans too) do it.  It doesn’t make me feel good to see our churches closed but I also don’t want to have the burden of unforgiveness on my heart and soul.  I realized I can be sad and still forgive.

I like that in this letter to Philemon, Paul doesn’t demand that the slave Onesimus be taken back into the household.  Paul wields a lot of authority.  He could’ve just said, “Take him back and don’t be mean to him.”  But God wants our hearts.  Jesus and the Holy Spirit work on our transformation.  That’s why each time I see what was previously my “nemesis” in the neighborhood I know the Holy Spirit is working in me.  My hand was purposely lifted up to wave at him – not the mistaken neighbor.  To help my heart be free of any last morsels of unforgiveness.

Friends, I have seen the miracle healing of forgiveness in others.  I have felt it in myself.  It’s there for the taking for you.  Let’s be like the father of the prodigal son – from a long way off he saw his son returning.  He didn’t know why his son was coming back.  It could’ve been to ask for more money.  Instead of looking out the window and thinking every bad thought, he ran to him. (Luke 15:20) He tucked his tunic between his legs and ran to hug him in front of the townspeople.  He might’ve needed to forgive him a few more times in the course of their lives, we don’t know.  But the joy he had with that one action has given us the lesson for the ages.

Bible, bible study, Christian, Christian Church, christian encouragement, christian men, Christian women, Faith, Jesus Follower, Uncategorized

A Tiny Message #2

So, what do we do when a prominent member of our church or a Christian friend has fallen off  Jesus’ path?  First, let’s remember that every single person sitting in a church is actively sinning in one way or another.  As Christians, we acknowledge that Jesus didn’t come to save us so we can keep on sinning.  He came to create a new covenant – that by stating our faith in Him we are saved from eternal damnation from sin.  And through that faith we are to work daily being the best example of His people as possible.   (Eph. 4:22-24)

When the teachers of the law 
who were Pharisees saw him eating 
with the sinners and tax collectors, 
they asked his disciples: “Why does 
he eat with tax collectors and 
sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus 
said to them, “It is not the healthy 
who need a doctor, but the sick. I 
have not come to call the righteous, 
but sinners.” 
Mark 2:16-17

If it’s ok to say to a Christian friend who confesses their issues they have with pride that we love them, then it’s also ok to say to a church leader who has an extramarital affair that we love him as well.  And just like our prideful friend, we are challenged to help that church leader find his way back into the truth of God’s Word.  

Notice that Jesus says He came to be a doctor of sorts. He didn’t say He was just going to ignore sin and allow it to grow like a cancer. We should be surrounded with loving people who remind us of our place in the covenant with Jesus.  We are our brother’s keeper.