Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Counterfeit Sermon Series Week 4 - “Unknowable Knowable God”

  My favorite genre of fiction is mystery. I especially prefer movie and tv mysteries. I grew up on shows like Murder She Wrote and Perot, and the black and white Sherlock Holmes movies. As a kid I even got a Sherlock Holmes hat and pretended to solve mysteries around my house. The last couple of nights, Marika and I have been watching the BBC’s Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch.

I love these, because I love to watch for all the clues that are given to you. And, in my opinion, what makes a great mystery, is that they give you everything you need to know to make a conclusion. But the worst, are those that throw you a curve at the end, just to through you off, because when that happens, the fun, or the game as Sherlock Holmes would say, has no meaning to it. To know the unknowable of a mystery is an exhilarating experience that challenges us to be more aware of what’s going on in our own lives. This is why I teach my children to answer their questions first by watching and listening, before they ask.  

But it’s this idea of knowing the unknowable, that brings us to our fourth week in our counterfeit series. So far in our series we have looked at how counterfeit teachings are not only all around us, but they can sometimes, seep into our own understanding of God. And so, one of the first things we talked about was how we need to be willing to have God root out counterfeit teachings that we believe. We cannot have any sacred cows, or tightly held to beliefs about God, that are not from him, and the willingness to have our lives searched by God to get rid of such teachings, is the beginning of being able to realize what counterfeits are. Because it’s only when we are well aquatinted with the real, that the false can easily be seen.

In our second week of our our counterfeit series, we talked about being on guard to recognize the false teachers that want to move us away from God. In recognizing these false teachers, we looked at four biblical clues that can help us do so. The clues that we talked about were: falser teachers make false predictions, or they call people away from God, or they make predictions that come true, but they are still false if they call people away from God, and finally, if they deny the physical work of Jesus. And so, when even one of these clues occur in the ministry of a pastor or evangelist, or teacher who claims to be speaking on behalf of God, we must reject their ministry as a false one, even if it’s sprinkled with biblical truth. 

Then in our third week, we talked about how the slight twisting of Scripture is the oldest work of satan. This is what false teachers do, they slightly change passages or meanings of words to fit a predetermined belief. And so, using the Progressive Church, we saw how this is done. And so, we came away from last week with an understanding that we need to allow the Scriptures to change us, rather than trying to change them to our own predetermined beliefs.

With all this in mind, let’s begin to dive into false teachings from the Progressive Church, as our case in point, and compare them to what God actually teaches through the Bible.

Let’s talk about a foundational teaching, the concept of who God is. From the Progressive Church, I think this teaching can be summed up in the progressive writer, Randall Wehler’s comparison of fundamental and progressive Christian views. He states about who the progressive god is, by writing, “God/human monotheistically one (https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/comparing-fundamental-and-progressive-christianity-one-persons-view/).” What Wehler is saying is that since humans are one individual, God is not a Trinity in the theological sense, but rather one individual god. In a few weeks we’ll see how this effects who Jesus is in their beliefs. 

But to add to this, in his book, What does Progressive Christianity Believe?, Delwin Brown writes, “…we ground our progressive Christian vision in the bold good news of the Christological councils, taken to its logical conclusion. The divine is at one with the cosmos and all that is in it. God is in and with the world. God is with the rest of creation, too—fully God, fully world, fully one.”

In other words, there is a sense that there is a blurring of the idea of God with his creation. Though Brown would also write, “God is not reducible to the world; ‘God’ and ‘world’ are not synonyms…”, he does write that, “God’s place in this imperfect place, and it's destiny and God’s are joined.”

This type of framing of God’s link to the creation leads to other teachings such as, God is within and throughout creation, and it reduces Jesus as we’ll later see.

In fact, Randall Wehler would also say that, “God as present panentheistically” and “God [is] within and throughout”. In other words, the god of the Progressive Church is more inline with the eastern pantheistic religion Hinduism, than it is in the roots of Judaism. See, in a pantheistic religion, god is in all and is all. The goal of which isn’t so much to connect with god, but rather a realization of our personal connection as a portion of the cosmic god.

Yet, the God of the Bible, is very different from how the Progressive Church views him. Let’s look at three ways, the God of the Bible is different than the Progressive Church’s god.

First, the God of the Bible is not in all and is all, but rather separate from his creation. In theology, the term contingent and non-contingent is used to help us understand beings that are in need of other things to survive and those that are not. You and I are contingent beings, meaning we need other things in order to survive. We need food, water, human interaction, air, and a whole host of other things to live out our lives. This isn’t true of God. God is a non-contingent being. He doesn’t need anything, because he is self-sufficient.

In his sermon in Athens on Mars hill, Paul says this in Acts 17, “22 People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else (22-25).”

In Psalm 89, the Psalmist Ethan writes, “For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? 7 In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him. 8 Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.”

God is need of nothing, and his creation is separate from him. If we flip over to the book of Genesis, there is one thing that is universally understood from Genesis 1, when it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We’re told, without being told directly, that God is outside of his creation. 

This is the otherness of God. He is not like his creation. He is the one complete unique being in the universe that is need of nothing. And so, when God does something it is never because he has to, or because he needs to, or because he is compelled to do this or that, it is because God choses to act. God chose to create the universe. God chose to create humanity. God chose to give humans a free will choice. God chose to die on the cross. God chose to extend salvation to humanity. 

When we conflate or join God together with his creation in a way that blurs the line between the two, we diminish God, and elevate ourselves. This is exactly what the serpent did with Eve in Genesis 3. For those of you who were here last week, we talked about how the serpent twisted the words of God right from the beginning and Eve corrected him by saying, “2 We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”. But following that correction the serpent said this in chapter 3 verses 4 & 5, “4 ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. 5 ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”

The serpent sought to diminish God, by elevating the creation to be on equal footing with it’s Creator. And what happened? Adam and Eve both embraced the false teaching and ate the fruit. We must not buy into the lie that God is all and is in all, but rather he is not like us, and therefore separate from us. God is other, and unique. 

But just because God is separate, doesn’t mean that he is absent. Just because God is unique, doesn’t mean that he is uninterested. In fact it’s just the opposite. God cares for his creation deeply. In Genesis 3, we’re given insight into God walking in his creation, “…in the cool of the day…(v.8)”

Hagar in the desert encounters God, and in Genesis 16:13 we get this, “13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’” An absent god would not see anyone, but the God of the Bible does.

To Moses in the burning bush, God calls himself this, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. (3:6a)” An uninterested god wouldn’t take time and speak to each of these people, but the God of the Bible does.

In the well known verse from John 3:16, Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” A god that was completely detached from creation would leave it to it’s own devices and not take time to do anything, but the God of the Bible does.

And in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus gives us an insight into God when he says these words, “But while he [the son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)”

God is other, he is separate from his creation, but he is not gone. He is desiring to be in relationship with his creation, especially humanity. And so both are true, God is other, and God is near.

This brings us to our final aspect of who God is. When we describe God, what is the first word that comes to mind? Most commonly it’s love. 

In fact, we just stated one of the most popular verses from the Bible which is, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

In the Progressive Church, the love attribute is the core attribute of who God is. From a publishing arm of the Progressive Church called churchpublishing.org, you can read this, “Progressive Christian understandings of God begin with the conviction that love is God’s fundamental character. Love is vulnerable, and the vulnerability of God leads us rapidly away from the concept of a cosmic monarch.” (https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/what-does-a-progressive-christian-believe/whatdoesaprogressivechristianbelieve-pointsforreflection.pdf)

And so, I asked the question of the Scriptures, what is the most common attribute that God says of himself? In the 686 times that love is used in the Bible, 304 refer to God. The most common by far, use is by humans expressing how good God is in his love. Phrases like, your everlasting love, are common in this. But there are three uses of love that actually speak to attributing love to God as one of his core attributes. 1st John 4 contains all of these three instances. 

The first two come in verses 7 & 8, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

The third comes from verse 16, “16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

This gives us a working understanding that Scriptures reveal that a core attribute of God is his love, but one thing that is missing is that God never defines himself this way. Yes, he tells us he loves us, but he never outright says, because I am love. 

This is interesting because there’s another core attribute that God does use of himself. The term holy is used 551 times in the Bible. Most of these are references to God making things holy. Out of those, 197 times God is referred directly as holy, with the majority of these being titles, or references by others about God being holy. Like in the case of Psalm 99:3-5, “3 Let them praise your great and awesome name—he is holy. 4 The King is mighty, he loves justice—you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right. 5 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.”

But what’s interesting is this, out of those 197 times that holiness is referenced of God, 26 of those times God calls himself holy. God says things like this in Leviticus 11:44-45, “44 I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. 45 I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.”

Or like in Isaiah 43:3, “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.”

No where in the Bible is one attribute so overwhelming stated by God as being who he is, other than holy. Except for the Holy Spirit inspiring the Apostle John to reveal love as a direct attribute of God, there’s no direct statement by God claiming to be love, but there is of the attribute of holiness. This leads me to conclude that, though love is a foundational way that we experience God, and is a core attribute of him, God wants us to understand his holiness as his primary attribute. This is key, because if we start with love as the foundational attribute of God, as the Progressive Church does, we miss the call of God to repentance for sin, which we’ll see next week that the Progressive Church does. 

So all of the calls of God to repent both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, mean nothing. The first words of Jesus’ ministry of, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. (Matthew 4:17)”, means nothing, because Scriptures like 1 Peter 4:8 that read, “…Love covers a multiple sin…” are easily twisted to dismiss the repentance God calls us too.

Yet, if we realize that God’s primary attribute is his holiness, then everything begins to make sense. God’s otherness makes sense. God’s nearness makes sense. His call for us to repent makes sense because a holy perfect God cannot allow sin to continue. His acts of love, primarily Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf, makes sense, because in light of his holiness, Scripture says in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God, “…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

But we need to understand God as he reveals himself to be, and not as we want to interpret him to be. We need to understand that God is not like us, he needs nothing. Yet even though he needs nothing, he desires to be close to his creation, to interact, guide, and now because of sin, save. This is because the foundation of who God is, is his holiness. His perfect otherness, from which stems his love, love that took God the Son out of heaven and put him on the cross to bring us back to himself by destroying the power of sin. 

This is how much God desires to be with his creation, though he is holy and perfect, he became like us to bring us back to himself. And this is what we must do, we must repent of our sin. Those things that we do that God calls evil. By choosing our sin, are way fo doing things, over God, we condemn ourselves to spend eternity in separation with God, which we cannot begin to imagine the suffering that will occur from that.

Yet God calls us to repentance. To turn from sin, embrace that we cannot fix our sin, and instead accept Jesus’ free gift on the cross, that says, the punishment and destruction of the power of sin in our lives, was dealt with there. We need to turn to Jesus and follow him. And it begins with words that recognize our sin, and God’s free gift of breaking that sin. And if you would like to speak those words, I would like to speak with you after we’re done here today. Or if you have more questions about what this all means, I would like to speak with you as well.

This week I want to challenge you to take each one of these three aspects of God and mediate on them. Take a day and just think of the otherness of God. Think of the vastness of our world, the universe, and all that is in them. Put yourself into perspective against all of that and how tiny we actually are in comparison. Then the next day, think about the closeness of God. Though he creates all this, he knows the hairs on each of our individual heads. That’s how close he is. Then finally, think of what it means for God to be holy. What it means for God to be perfect, un-needing of anything from us, yet because of that, God moves to show us his love, because we are separate from him due to our sin, and his love is shown best in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins.

We worship God, not because he is a God that we can fully understand, but because the unknowable God, reveals himself to his creation so that we may begin to know him as he desires to be known, as our Father, our Savior, and our friend. Amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Counterfeit Sermon Series Week 3 - “Sola Scriptura”

  When I was in high school, I went out for the football team. They were trying a new freshman only squad that would play on Thursday nights against other freshman squads in our conference. I had never played tackle football, but when the coaches heard I was a pitcher, they had me work at quarterback. Why they put me there I had no idea, because, as I was told by the head varsity coach, they rarely passed the ball. 

Instead he showed me the varsity playbook and told me, we’re a running team. He told me that I needed to learn every play in the playbook, because if I was going to play varsity someday, everything I needed to know would be in that book. Well I lasted about halfway through the semester, because I was ineligible to play due to my grades being so bad. I never played another minute of tackle football. 

But that playbook being the end all for that team has always stuck with me through the years. And it’s this idea of having everything you need to know and to execute what is required of you in one book, that brings us back to our fall series on the Counterfeit teachings that surround us. 

In our first week we simply brought up the fact that there are many counterfeit teachings out there about the Christian faith. We laid some ground work in talking about how these counterfeits shouldn’t alarm us, because Jesus stated that many would come in his name, yet not be from him. And so, we came to the conclusion that the best way to know that a teaching is counterfeit, was to know the real teaching from Scripture. Counterfeit teaching needs to stop with us first, so that we can be on guard for when it comes again.

In our second week, we laid a little more ground work for our series by talking about the clues God has given us to recognize false messengers when they present themselves. These four clues were: they make false predictions, they call people away from God, they are false even if their predictions come true yet they call people away from God, and finally, if they deny the physical work of Jesus. These four clues will help us see through a false messenger’s facade.

As we now make our way through these next seven weeks, we are going to deconstruct the teachings that are coming specifically out of the Progressive Church, and bring to light the Scriptural teachings that are in opposition to these false ones.

But in order to deal with these false teachings, we have to go to the core of why people fall into them. The main reason that there are so many false teachings around us, is because instead of allowing the Scripture to transform us, what instead happens, is people try to transform the Scripture to themselves. 

What I mean is this, there is a term that is used in theology called Sola Scriptura, it means Scripture alone. The Progressive Church’s view on Scripture is a source for guidance, rather than the source for God’s revelation. Progressive writers such as Dawn Hutchings communicates it like this, “I grew to understand the nature of myth and I gave up my child like understanding of Scripture as the literal word of God.” She goes on to say, “Sure, I gave up taking the bible literally decades ago. I moved on to a more nuanced understanding of the Scriptures (https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/moving-beyond-doctrines-of-original-sin-the-fall-and-maybe-even-the-doctrine-of-grace-so-that-we-can-embrace-our-role-in-the-evolution-of-humanity-a-sermon-on-genesis-38-15-for-pentecost/).”

The Progressive Christian writer Delwin Brown writes, “We follow the reasoning of the dominant voices—Paul and the theologians behind the Gospels. We listen to them and we agree, or modify, or sometimes sharply disagree. They are good teachers . . .who help us think for ourselves in our times and cultures (https://fpcmurray.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Brown-What-a-progressive-Pian-belives-March-2018-Head-and-Heart.pdf).”

And in his comparison of Fundamental Christianity to the Progressive Church, writer Randall Wehler, writes of the Scriptures, that there are “Various spiritual expression forms…” and that “God revealed multiple ways… (https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/comparing-fundamental-and-progressive-christianity-one-persons-view/)”

The Scriptures are diminished when we try and conform them to ourselves, rather than allowing them to conform us to God. 

But this is nothing new, throughout the very Scriptures that Progressive Christianity and others who hold this diminished view see as only one in a sea of divine guides, we can see that God has dealt with it before.

In the book of Jeremiah, multiple times God speaks of people not heeding the words he speaks through his prophets. In Jeremiah 26:4-6 God says, “And you are to tell them that this is what the LORD says: ‘If you do not listen to Me and walk in My law, which I have set before you, 5 and if you do not listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have sent you again and again even though you did not listen, 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth.’”

 In Jeremiah 29:19 God states, “For they have not listened to my words," declares the LORD, "words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either," declares the LORD.” 

To the prophet Isaiah, God speaks this in the 30th chapter, “8 And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever. 9 For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; 10 who say to the seers, ‘Do not see,’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, 11 leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.’ 12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, ‘Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, 13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; 14 and its breaking is like that of a potter's vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern (30:8-14).’”

Jesus says of the Scriptures in Matthew 5:17-19, “17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

So God is very clear that his Word, which we refer to as the Scriptures or the Bible, cannot be disagreed with or modified, because it then becomes man’s word. This is exactly what the serpent does in the Garden with Eve, in Genesis 3:1, where his question slightly distorts God’s words. It reads, “….He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden”?’” What God actually says, comes from Eve in the next verse, “2 …We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

It was the serpent again who said to Jesus in the wilderness in Luke 4:9-11, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ 11 and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus responds to the serpent by saying this, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

In both situations the Serpent had to be corrected for twisting the words of God. It is no different today. Time and time again, we will see the Progressive Church, and others who hold a diminished view of the Scriptures, alter the words of God to align with their pre-concluded doctrine.

But at the same time as realizing the need to be true to the Scriptures, we must remember that they are a collection of words that point us to life in Christ. Jesus said this to the religious leaders of his day in John 5:39-40, “39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

We cannot make the Scriptures an idol to be worshiped, but they must be the foundation on which our understanding of God is based. Knowledge of God alone isn’t what saves us, it is the work of Jesus who does this. Only in the light of Jesus, do the Scriptures make sense. Only through his sacrifice on our behalf, do the Scriptures come alive with truth. Jesus speaks of this in John 8:31b-32, “…If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Throughout John’s Gospel the connection with putting into practice Jesus’ words happens again and again, and is summarized in this phrase from John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

But why should we hold onto the Scriptures, and not change them to fit ourselves?

Here are three reason why:

First, God’s Confirms that the Scriptures are Trustworthy. What I mean by that is, that we can trust that through the centuries, God has handed the Scriptures down to us as he intended them. In Luke 11:51-52, Jesus confirms this by referencing the first death in the Old Testament which is in Genesis 4, to the last death of the prophet Zechariah, when he spoke these words, “51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52 Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” 

Not only do we have Jesus’ words to give us assurance, but discoveries of manuscripts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, let us know that the Old Testament Scriptures have been unchanged for thousands of years.

Concerning the New Testament Scriptures, we know it’s trustworthy because we have around 5,000 Greek manuscripts, about 20,000 manuscripts in other languages, 32,000 and quotations from the early Church fathers that existed before the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. We know what the original manuscripts say, because we have more documentation about the New Testament than any one other ancient collection of books. In fact the average set of ancient manuscripts on any given subject is about 4ft high, or roughly the size of a standard podium. Comparatively, the amount we have for the New Testament is roughly 6,600ft, or four and a half Empire State buildings. We can trust that what we have, has traversed the centuries in-tacked.

Second, God’s Word Gets Things Done. God says of his Word in Isaiah 55:10-11, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Look around the world that we live in. In places where the Gospel has taken root, or from the influence of countries where the Gospel has taken root, things like slavery were abolished, human rights for people were established, and high amounts of individual freedom are seen. Now are the places utopias? No, because this world is still enticed by sin, and won’t fully break free from it until Jesus’ return and his final judgment is carried out. But we can see, when godly men and woman carry out God’s Word, things get done.

Third, God’s Word Transforms Us. Paul writes in his 2nd letter to Timothy, “12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (3:12-17).”

Many things have changed in my life since I became a believer. I am not always doing good, but have seen that when I hold onto God’s Word, life is more fulfilling and freeing. Joy happens when sorrow should, peace occurs when chaos surrounds, and hope conquers when hopelessness should crush. This hasn’t happened in my life because I am strong, but because the Scriptures continually point me back to God who is my strength.

Yet there is a point of caution we must address. While holding onto the unchangeable Word of God, we must not lose focus on having God transform us by that same Word.

The Scriptures tell a coherent story from front to back. It is a story of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. The story shows God’s work to bring about humanity’s reconciliation with himself, by showing us that the only way this can happen is through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Scriptures we hold, are thousands of years of that story playing out in real time. True the cultures in which it was written are different than our own, but the lives of those who trusted or denounced God, contained with in the pages of the Scriptures, could be our own. And the joy of knowing that we cannot will ourselves to God, but only by his loving work through Jesus are we brought back to him. And now, we live by God’s Word, not in fear of not being good enough, but in love as a child lovingly embraced by their parent.

This is why familiarity with the Scriptures and the allowing them to transform us through the power of the Holy Spirit is so vital for us as Jesus’ disciples. Because when we begin to see the work that God has done through the centuries, we begin to see the work he is doing today. 

And so my challenge for you today is this, do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God? Is there anything in there that you struggle to trust or believe in? Are there things in there that you haven’t put into practice? 

This week I want to challenge you to bring before God your struggles. To research and ask what does God mean by this, this thing you’re struggling with. Ask God how to put into practice the things he says to do.

We need to follow Paul’s instructions in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

There’s a promise there, that if we have God transform us then we will know God’s good and pleasing will. This transformation comes through his Word. So then let us cling to every word that God has spoken in the Scripture, trusting the Holy Spirit to transform us by it. Amen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Counterfeit Sermon Series Week 2 - “Well Dressed Wolves”

  Every once and-a-while someone will leave notes at the front door of the Church. Most of the time they are left in the afternoon when know one is here, and so, I never get to see the person’s face who leaves them. This past July, one of those notes was left. Whereas most notes are tracks, flyers, or some sort of advertisement, this one was different. This one was a written prophecy. In the first two paragraphs the writer tells of God’s judgment on America because it has rejected him. The writer points to Covid-19 and what has happened since March, as the beginning of God’s judgment.

But it’s in the third paragraph where the prophecy happens. This what the writer states, “The Lord Jehovah has issued this warning. America has less than four months before a massive earthquake will devastate the State of California and there will be more destruction to follow.”

So the prophecy is that, by either the end of October or the end of November, depending on when the four months starts, there will be a massive earthquake that will devastate California and more destruction will follow. 

It seems to be a pretty specific prophecy: four months, massive devastating earthquake, located in California.

If you went through our summer series in 1st Corinthians, you should know that I believe what the Scriptures teach, that all gifts are give by the Spirit at his discretion, that includes the gift of prophecy. And so the question must arise, how do we know that this prophecy is true, and that the writer is indeed speaking on behalf of God?

It’s this question that brings us back to our current sermon series, Counterfeit, where we’re learning to see the counterfeit teachings around us, and that are specifically coming from the progressive or woke church. 

Last week, as we began this series, we talked about the need, especially today, to be on our guard for unbiblical teachings that would call us away from God and his Word. To do this, we came to an understanding that the best approach to recognizing counterfeit teachings, is to know the real teachings of Scripture so well, that we can easy tell the difference when a false teaching comes into our life. 

We also talked about how combating counterfeit teachings must start with us. Before we can truly dive into combating the counterfeit teachings that surround us, we must ask God to root out anything that we believe of his Word that isn’t found in it. Because if we’re not willing to have ourselves face the crucible of being changed by God’s Word, we will fall to the counterfeits that desire to draw us away.

But before we dive into the specific counterfeit teachings that are making their way throughout churches, let’s take this week and focus on those people that would draw us away. The false prophets, teachers, and as John puts it his first letter, the antichrists that go out from among us.

To really understand those who are false prophets, teachers, and antichrists, we must understand God’s simple standard by which to judge such people. The person who left the letter containing the prophecy of the massive earthquake in California at the entrance to the church building, puts themselves in a position of speaking future events on behalf of God. Will it happen? We will have to see. But let’s look at three passages from the Bible that speak to the clues that God gives us in determining if a person is speaking on God’s behalf or their own.

First let’s take a look at Deuteronomy chapter 18 verses 15-22. Moses is speaking to the Israelites about prophets that come after him. In fact, the point of the passage is to talk about a specific prophet that will parallel Moses in many ways. Let’s read about this prophet in Deuteronomy 18, starting in verse 15.

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name.

This is future prophet is fulfilled in Jesus. Now we cannot go into all the details of why, but here are a few. Both Moses and Jesus were saved from the infanticide carried out by a king. Both Moses and Jesus were brought out of Egypt. Both Moses and Jesus spoke from a mountain giving commands from God. Both Moses and Jesus performed miracles in front of God’s people. And in Moses’ ministry things like the serpent being raised for people to be healed, and Jesus’ death through crucifixion parallel each other. 

In fact this is why Jesus says in John 5:39-40, 45-47, “39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life…45 But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

And so, Moses’ prophecy of a future prophet like him, is fulfilled in the life of Jesus. But then what about false prophets? False speakers on behalf of God. As we continue reading, we are given our first two clues as to how to distinguish a false representative of God from a true one. Let’s keep reading in verse 20 as Moses continues to relay to the people what God had said to him.

20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.

The first two clues that we have from this passage are these. First, a false messenger makes prophecies that do not end up happening. Who remembers Harold Camping, who predicted the the rapture in May of 2011? Billboard signs were all over the US, warning people, that Jesus was soon to come. But it didn’t happen. Yet if we knew that he had predicted similar things back in 1994 and 1995, the Church would’ve not even have blinked at him, because we already would have known that he was a false prophet. Why? Because he had made future predictions, on behalf of God, that didn’t come true. Now, are you ready to hear some names that have made predictions, on behalf of God, that never came true? Pat Robinson of the 700 Club fame, predicted in 1976 that the world would end in 1982. Ed Dobson who was a Dean at Liberty University, who led the group the Moral Majority, and was a pastor for a number of years, predicted that Jesus would return in 2000. There are more, but these were Christian pastors making future predictions, on behalf of God, that were not fulfilled. In biblical times, those men would be taken out of the camp and stoned to death. But today, they and men and women like them, sell books, telling us when the world will come to an end, and when it doesn’t, they wait, and try it again later, telling those around them, that it was a spiritual coming, or a spiritual destruction. 

Should we take seriously future predictions? Yes, in fact Jesus in Matthew 24:42 states this, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

We as believers, must always be prepared for the hour of Christ’s return, and we must take seriously every claim from those that say they know of something that only God would know of. Because if it comes to pass, we can praise God, because we were already ready, even before the prediction. And if it doesn’t, we know that the one who spoke it was not speaking from God, but from themselves, and we should not give them room to continue in their false ministry. 

The second clue that a person is a false prophet, is that they speak in the name of other gods. That means that they are speaking as if other gods are telling them to do it, or to point us away from the God of the Bible to other things. 

In the ancient world, this was literally pointing to the worship of idols of stone and wood. In our modern world, we can see this when teachers or speakers use pop-psychology as a basis for their teaching. Need based sermons that make us feel good about how God is going to take care of us, and make sure nothing happens to us. Or sermons that are more interested in helping us achieve the best life now, with riches of monetary and physical value. 

Today the gods of comfort, ease, and wealth in this world are the gods that some pastors preach, and who live in homes that would make the most wealthy of ancient kings wonder at. People like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, and Jim Bakker to name a few. Though recently Benny Hinn did repent and ask forgiveness for not preaching a biblical Gospel.

Listen to what Peter says about such false teachers in his second letter, “1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping (2 Peter 2:1-3).”

This is why I say that the modern gods, are gods not of a religious pantheon, but of greed for the things of this life.

Let’s look at two more clues in two other passages of Scripture. The first of these and our third clue, comes from Deuteronomy chapter 13, in the first 4 verses. Moses relays this from God, “1 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.

Our third clue comes out of our first two. In the first clue, God tells us an obvious way to tell when a prophet is false: if their prophecy doesn’t happen, they’re not from God. The second clue, is if the prophet speaks in the names of other gods, then they’re not from God. We might think, these are simple to recognize and reject. But what if the prophet says something will happen and it does? Well, God also gives us a clue to recognize if that prophet is from him or not. And it’s a simple question, does the prophet point us to God and call us to repentance before him, or does the prophet call us to worship other gods? 

See this is the slippery slope, we see the signs of the prophetic word, and we say, it came true, then we must follow what this person says. Cultists and Mediums work on this very thing. They make, usually, a mild prediction that could happen at anytime. Something vague, like a heatwave in Arizona, or an earthquake in California, or a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. And when it comes true, people flock and believe anything and everything that person says. 

People want the flashy predictions and miracles so that they can know that what they believe is real. This is why, in an interaction with some Jewish leaders, Jesus is quoted saying this in Mark 8:12, “He sighed deeply in his spirit and remarked, ‘Why do those living today demand a sign? I tell all of you with certainty, no sign will be given to this generation.’”

But even if the prophecy comes true, God gives us a way to recognize, if a person is truly talking on his behalf. If they make the prediction and it comes true, and then they point us back to God, they are from him. But, if they point us to other gods, then they are not from God and should be treated as a false prophet and teacher. This is why, in the vision that God gave us as a church here, the last part of it is to point everyone back to Christ’s life. Because that’s our job, to point others back to Jesus and his work.

The final clue that we’ll talk about today, comes from 1st John chapter 4, verses 1-3, “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. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”

This final clue to know if someone is a false prophet or teacher is that they deny the physical work of Jesus in salvation. This denial comes in several ways. They might deny that Jesus was a historical figure. They might deny that Jesus was physically human, believing instead, that he was just a spirit masquerading as a human. They might deny that Jesus died on the cross. They might deny that Jesus’ work on the cross was complete for salvation. They might deny Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead. Or they might deny Jesus’ physical return one day.

In other words, they are rejecting the core of the Gospel. This is why earlier in 1st John, John writes these words, “22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (2:22-23).”

And so, from the Scriptures we can glean at least four clues to see if a person is falsely representing God. They make prophecies that don’t come true, they call people to follow other gods, then there’s the possibility that they’re prophecies do come true but they still call people away to other gods, and finally they reject the work of Jesus in it’s totality, picking and choosing what they desire to follow, rather than what God has said.

And so, when someone says they speak on behalf of God, we must look for the clues to see whether they do or not. This is why I make the pledge to never make a prediction on my own accord, to never call you away from the God of the Bible, and to never diminish or deny any part of the Gospel message. 

We need to be on guard for the false teachers and prophets in this world that would desire to expand their own kingdoms rather than the kingdom of God. We need to hold accountable those that speak presumptuously on God’s behalf, so that the truth would not be seen in disrupt in the world’s eyes, as the Scriptures say in 2nd Peter 2:3. We must vocally speak out and reject those that speak on behalf of God, yet are found to be a false prophet and teacher. 

So, this is my challenge for you today, we all have our favorite pastors or teachers we follow that build us up in the faith. This week, apply these four clues to distinguish a true speaker of God from a false one, to your favorite pastors and teachers. Apply it to me as well, because I am not a perfect teacher, and you need to keep me accountable in that. But if you find one that fulfills even one of these clues, reject their teaching and influence in your life. Because, though they might make you feel good and might speak godly truths, they’re slowing creeping in counterfeit teachings into your mind that is distorting the Word of God in your life. There are many good godly biblically based teachers out there, let us reject those that are not. Don’t hold on to ones that are peppering their teachings with counterfeits, getting fat of their congregations. Instead hold tightly to the unchangeable Word of God.

Because if we are willing to examine those that we follow, then we will be better at knowing the godly from the false, when they speak. Let us be people seeking godly teachers, those that God has raised up to help us seek him deeper. Amen.