Sunday, March 30, 2014

False teachers and the end times

originally posted March 3, 2013 as "Leaders who deceive"

I've been a Christian for decades, and so I have done my share of timelines and studying Revelation. I've listened to arguments over whether the church will be raptured before the Tribulation, mid-Trib, or post-Trib. Sometimes, it all gets jumbled in my head: the Tribulation, the battle of Armageddon, the rapture, Jesus returning. I am not an engaged scholar on these matters.

There are a few things I'm sure of. The "end times" exist. Just as destruction came in the days of Noah, so judgment will come on the earth. Jesus, Paul, and Peter all said that there is a suddenness to the end, a surprising element for those who think that things will always keep on they way they are now (Matthew 24:42-44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3, 16:15). Christians should not be surprised that this age has an end. When Jesus taught His disciples about the Holy Spirit, He explained that the Spirit would teach us about things we need to understand about sin, righteousness, and judgement. The world in general does not understand nor like to think about judgement. Christians do, because it gives meaning to how we live.

Aside from Revelation, there are several passages that speak about the end: Matthew 24 (parallel in Mark 13, Luke 21), 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 2 Thessalonians 2, 2 Timothy 3, 2 Peter 3, and Jude. In many of these passages, the author is writing about false teachers, as if a discussion of false teachers, who have been in the church from early days, automatically makes one think about the end. In 1 John 2:18, John says, "Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour." The end and false teachers go hand in hand.

So here's a question: what does a false teacher look like? These passages give many specific examples, but step back with me for a moment. Jesus said that at judgement many people would approach the throne and say, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?" (Matthew 7:22). These people, whom the Lord told to leave Him, that He never knew them, had successful ministries. If you claim to have driven out demons and performed miracles, it is likely you have really seen something like this happen in your ministry. It seems likely that these ministries might look valid and good to an observer.

Jesus said, "False messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time" (Matthew 24:24-25). When we see huge earthquakes on the news, don't we think perhaps it is the end times? However, when you hear of miraculous things happening in a ministry, do you consider that this may also be a problem? The church in Revelation is persecuted; the false prophet performs great signs and is exalted and popular. Many popular church people want to say that the church looks mighty and great--well, the antichrist comes from the church, yes, you hear a warning bell?

"Watch out that no one deceives you," Jesus says in Matthew 24:4. We, possibly even those of us who really know Jesus, are in danger of deception. We're in danger of persecution and, worse yet, mistaking something for Jesus when it is not.

In Mark 13, Jesus says, "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah! or, 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it." I have always had a hard time imagining people claiming to be Jesus, and anyone telling me I should go check it out. And yet in my day, I have seen revivals erupt where Jesus' power is supposedly at work, that cause people to buy plane tickets and go there, to encounter Jesus.

I feel convicted to build on solid rock. I need Jesus to stir my heart and engage my mind. I am in danger of being deceived by religious things that I might love, things that might compel me because they are powerful and look like God.

In the end times, we will not be able to avoid persecution. We will not be able to avoid war and natural disasters. Relationships will be strained and painful. The world may fall apart, and I may suffer, but this one thing I know: we have been warned about deception. If Jesus told me to be on my guard, then He does not intend for me to be trapped.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The unbeautiful losers claim the winning ticket

The other day I was leaving Panera after meeting with a friend, and I caught my reflection in a mirror. Our pastor had been preaching on Saul and David, how mankind emphasized outward looks, but the Lord looks at the heart. I thought, "I am not very pretty," but my friend and I had just been encouraging each other in the Lord, in the midst of unpleasant circumstances, and I knew that when the Lord looked at my heart, He saw beauty there. Not because of anything inherent in me, but because of His Spirit in my life. He does indeed make all things beautiful--even me.
(photo by Jesse Millan)

In Luke 14, Jesus tells a story about a man who threw a wedding banquet for his son. All of his invited guests--the pretty people, the ones you thought would accept an invitation to the Oscars--made excuses. The master said, fine (he was pretty angry), and sent his servants out to gather in the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame. The beautiful people have their own agendas, their own source of confidence. It is the point where you know you have nothing that you realize you do indeed need God.

I saw a Facebook page the other day called "Hookers for Jesus." This page was an invitation along the lines of Jesus' story: come as you are. Don't wait to clean up and make yourself beautiful; you need Him now. The banquet is ready, and your seat is waiting.

I was once helping a pastor with a group game at a church event. We were playing a trivia game and awarding prizes, and for some reason, we needed to select a second group apart from the obvious winner. I said, "Choose the table with the lowest score," and the pastor rebuked me with the comment, "No, Angie. We don't reward losers at this church."

Too bad. God loves losers. It's often the losers who bother to listen to Him. I should make a Facebook page called "Losers for Jesus."

We do not need to revel in our sinfulness, but don't paint it over and pretend it's not there. Jesus died for us because we are weak and we fail. Our weaknesses qualify us for His table. Bon appetit.