Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Simon the sorcerer and other False Christian leadership

I felt led to take one of my Bible studies that I'm writing and turn it into a blog.  I plan to not do this often, but I feel like many people have been hurt by false believers in the church, both in and out of leadership.  It was not my plan to write two blogs in a row about false believers, but I hope the Lord blesses this and heals hearts through it.  And also encourage people to come to church despite its hypocrites. 

Acts 8:9-25

Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.
14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”
24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”
On reading this passage, I observe that Simon the Sorcerer started showing signs of believing in Jesus when his followers started following Philip who did signs and wonders.  With money, Simon wanted to buy the ability to give the Holy Spirit to people.  Peter was offended because Simon thought he could buy out God.

Simon the Sorcerer’s name is now used in the word “simony,” the act in which people try to buy church positions, which happened notoriously in the Reformation era.  He went on to be known in history as Simon Magus, or the Magician, and he led many people into a false Christianity based on health and wealth.

Luke tells Simon’s story in Acts because Christians need to know that there will be people who call themselves Christians who do not really believe.  They may be attracted to the church because of the people or the music or the good programs, but if they do not truly get to know Christ, then they are false believers, and true Christians need to be aware of them.

Jesus's first two parables in Matthew 13 deal with false believers in the church.

Verses 1-23 deal with the parable of the Sower and its meaning.  What kind of people are described by the path that received the seed/Word? (People who never got the word because it got eaten away by the devil)

What kind of people are described by the rocky soil? (People who got the word, but who did not stick around when times got tough)
What kind of people are described by the thorny soil? (People who like the church but are worried about the things of this world)
What kind of people are described by the good soil? (The people who hear God’s word, become true believers, and grow in the Lord)

The parable of the Sower shows that the church will have many people come and go.  The church is where people hear God’s word, and different people react differently.  Among those hearers are people who will look like Christians and appreciate different aspects of the church, but because they to not place their faith in Jesus, or because they love the things and attention of the world more than the Lord, they will eventually leave and not return.  But before they leave, they will come to your church, get involved in the ministries, and seem like genuine believers.  They may even hold leadership positions.  Let’s read Jesus’s next Parable.

He tells the parable in verses 24-30 and then explains it in 36-43.  Here is the text:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
In agriculture, wheat and tares look identical when they sprout.  But when they reach maturity, the wheat produces a fruit that can be made into bread while the tares become a poison to the wheat and produce nothing beneficial to the farmers.  What did the owner say to do with the weeds in verse 30? (Let them grow together until harvest)

The Church as we see it today will have true and false believers sitting next to each other until Jesus returns.  And some of those weeds will come into leadership positions and hurt the congregation causing people to leave the church.

I once knew of a man who went to church and then went into business with a trusting friend.  He seemed to love the Lord, and he wrote songs and told about how much he cared about people and God.  But years went by, and he embezzled from his friends, and many affairs, and soon showed that he was not a true believer.

There was a well-known preacher in the Atlanta area who used his position to tell the women in his congregation that it was the Lord’s will for them to sleep with the pastor.  This created a huge scandal and caused many to leave the church.

What is a person to do when people in the church and even in its leadership hurt other people? (rhetorical question)
The first thing is to pray for the hurt people, that they do not fall away from the faith on account of the false believers.

The second thing is to pray for the abuser.  They are people who need the Gospel of Jesus to save them from their sins.  The blood of Christ forgives all kinds of people from their sins, including abusive church leaders.

The most important thing, however, is to continue to follow Christ and belong to his Church.  You go for Him, and not for the people.  You go for the message, not the messengers. 

Jude 17-23
17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.[f]
Verse 23 is the crux: Stay in God’s covenant community because outside of it, there is no hope for salvation.  And wait for Jesus to either change their hearts the way he changed all who believe or to bring his justice upon them.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

When false teachers pass away

It's been since March since I blogged last.  I am sorry.  I probably won't blog much since I've been writing Bible studies for our local pregnancy center, but when I do have something to write, I will write.

In recent weeks, a woman who I consider a false teacher in the church passed away.  Although I did not agree with anything she said, I was sad at her passing and that thought that she may or may not be with the Lord and has lost that opportunity forever.

But that's not the point of this blog.  This morning I dreamed that I was having dinner with her and a some other people.  Toward the end of the dinner, we had really bonded as friends and she gave me a huge hug.  I had realized in the dream that it was the week before she would pass away that Friday, so Thursday, I resolved to send her an email to share the gospel.

I woke up with tears in my eyes.  I sat and wondered, what if some of the women who I really love died and were lost forever.  There are certain people in your life that you become more than friends with, that you even develop those in-love feelings for.  How can I love them if I don't care for their souls or constantly share the Gospel with them even if they already know it?

And I know of at least one relative that I was close to who lapsed into each popular anti-Biblical lie one by one until I could no longer follow her on Facebook because I hate arguments and arguing, even though I end up doing it.  I think the feeling was mutual.  I'm saddened by that because we aren't guaranteed tomorrow.  We could die any moment and realize that maybe the Bible really was to be interpreted the way it's been interpreted for at least the past 2000 years.

So here's the Gospel plain and clear.  We have a Holy God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He created the world and created humans as his image, little copies of him that would spread his praise all over the world.  We betrayed him by sinning, and we brought death into the world.  There was no death or pain before that, therefore, the world cannot be that old. 

Our sins separate us from God, and if we die apart from God, it will be permanent.  But God sent Jesus to die in your place.  If you accept his Son as your Savior and substitute for your punishment, then he will send you the Holy Spirit to change you to be more like him, and when you die, you will live forever with God in happiness and joy.

Don't believe the lie that there is no hell.  Hell was not made up by the church to get your money and to control people.  If there is no hell, then all the horrible things people do to each other will go unpunished, and God would not be just.  Either we will die for our sins, or Christ died for them.  But sin, must be punished, and we need that accountability so that we don't keep destroying each other.

Don't believe in evolution theory or long ages.  You can be a Christian and believe those things.  I was once before I understood that science doesn't actually prove old ages.  The evidence is what you make of it.  But if the Bible is true, then true science won't contradict it.  But if we evolved from animals through a long process of death and rebirth, then there is really no sin or death for our Savior to save us from.  And then, there is no Gospel.  But God made humans special and separate from the animals, and there was no death or pain before humans sinned really fast, and I'm so happy to know that death will be defeated when Christ returns and was not a part of his original creation.

And also don't believe the lies that you can have sex outside of a marriage between man or woman or that God didn't know what he was doing when he made you one gender or the other.  Love is not sex and sex is not love.  The secular world has painted a very one-dimensional view of love that only exists to satisfy carnal lusts.  Our God has given us a much better world where we can love people deeply in many ways.  Those feelings you have for your friend aren't a sign that you were called to a romantic relationship.  They're actually better: an intense friend love that exists for God's glory and for their uplifting.  The main idea is to get to know God, and if he brings you someone of the opposite gender to marry, then rejoice.  Until then, love God first and love your friends by getting to know them, not their bodies. 

And finally, pray that I can be bolder to share the Gospel with people and to love the unlovely.  And never, ever rejoice when someone dies away from the Lord.  Apart from his grace, I would be there, too.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Thoughts on Rutter's Requiem

John Rutter wrote a Requiem in 1985.  I think in 2005, I sang it with Dr. Cierpke's choir at Trevecca.  It's one of the greatest oratorios I've known and I listen to it often on YouTube.  I loved it enough to hear a choir sing it in Gastonia, NC in the spring of 2009 just before I served an internship at First Presbyterian Church that summer. 

Historically, requiems are funeral masses.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but they are prayers for souls who have died and are possibly in Purgatory and are to help them through that process.  As a Protestant, I don't believe in Purgatory.  Christ finished the atonement for those who will be saved once and for all on the cross.  There is nothing left to be done.  If you are saved in this life, all your sins are taken care of, yea, were taken care of before you were even born.

Also, as a Protestant, I love the Requiem composed by John Rutter.  Perhaps because in this life there are lost souls still living that God has called us to pray for unto salvation.  We pray they will come to Christ and escape God's judgment before it's too late.  Perhaps, I like the Requiem because even as a saved believer, I still have sin, and I suffer for my sins and the original sins of Adam and Eve.  If ever there is a soul purging, it's here in this life and not after.  Anyway, I'd like to explore three movements within the Requiem.

The first is the second one, "Out of the Deep."

It's Psalm 130 set to music.  The tune speaks to the agony within one's soul as they go through living nightmares.  Maybe they've lost jobs.  Loved ones are going through cancer.  People they cherish are turning their backs to the Lord.  The opening cello part tears through my soul as I listen to it and just long to cry over all that is wrong with the world. 

It is also comforting to know that in Holy Scripture, God has included Psalm 130 so that out of the deep we can cry to him for comfort and anxiously wait for him to come and correct everything.  We know Jesus is coming back and that injustice will not slide as he comes to judge the living and the dead.  And it's a judgment we will not dread if we know him as our Savior, but without that salvation, nothing is more horrifying.  You must turn to the Lord, and out of your anguish, you must cry to him whenever there is tragedy, even if it seems to come from the Lord himself.  He can or could have stopped it.  You must go to him.

Next is movement 4, "Agnus Dei."

"Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest."  Salvation is found in no other than Jesus, and he must completely save anyone who is lost.  This prayer is no use for people who have already died, but it is imperative for those who are still living yet still away from the Lord.  And then, there is Jesus, who did not spare his own life to save such as those.  There is no more loving being in the universe than our Lord, yet the only one who is truly just.  Even if you are in dread of what is to come, don't dread, because our gentle Savior knows what he's doing and he came specifically for all who will be redeemed by name.  He is the resurrection and the life and those who believe in him will never perish but have eternal life.  And there will be no sadness in that life.

Finally the fifth movement, "The Lord is My Shepherd."

Rest in knowing that your shepherd will leave you behind to go after that lost sheep that you love.  Even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will fear no evil, for Christ is with you (and seriously, that part of the movement in its minor key is so chilling), and not only Christ, but all the rest of the Church, past and present.  Even at your lowest, you are never alone.  Rest in that.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Judges 19

It took me a while to get to this story because I can't stand it.  It's the story of Judges 19.  I won't even retell it here but merely ask you to read it because it is so hideous.

There are many glorious stories in the Bible where someone was in trouble and God came through just in time to rescue them.  Daniel was rescued from the mouth of lions.  David was spared many times even when his troubles were his fault.  Isaac is my favorite.  God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, and at the last minute, God said no, here is a ram instead as a substitute.  It prefigured Christ who was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, the only time God said "no" to his only Son.  His people's sins needed to be punished, and Christ was the only one who could survive it.

Then, there's the story of Judges 19.  In Genesis 19, Lot almost gave his daughters to be gang raped, but angels blinded the crowd and saved Lot and his girls.  This was not the case in Judges.  A young concubine was released to the wolves and when morning came, she was dying on the door stoop of the house.

And we think of all the people not saved in this life: the babies not rescued form abortion, the children not saved from sacrifice, the Jews not saved from the Holocaust, the girls and boys not saved from sex trafficking, and we wonder why?  As the world turns its back on God and his laws, people become more violent, and this is how God sends his judgment?  By destroying the most innocent ones?

But there is one situation more unfair than this, and it was when the only innocent man ever gave his life to save me from my sins.  Jesus came as a baby, grew to be a man, didn't sin once, and then both the religious Jews and callous Romans had him crucified.  He could have called angels to have it stopped, but he loved his Church way too much to let them perish forever under God's wrath.  And he died not only for my sins but the sins of the rapists, abortionists, heartless politicians, Nazis, and more.

All I can think of is this song by Caedmon's Call called "Petrified" where they wrote the woman of Judges 19 into a song and compared her to Christ, torn for the twelve tribes.

We won't know all the answers, but we can still trust that God has a place for the victims and and even hotter anger for the ones who never repent.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

SS: David Spares Saul

This is the gist of my Sunday School lesson this past Sunday from a curriculum that had a pet theme.

Read John 10:17b-18, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Do you know that we are more than pets to Jesus?  Even though he calls us sheep (and it’s not a compliment), we are his special friends who he chose to save.  We were lost in our sin and were going to die apart from God, but God sent Jesus to take our punishment for our sins on the cross.  Nobody took Jesus’s life.  He gave it because he loves us.

Now, I’m going to share a story of someone who lived long before Jesus, in fact an ancestor of Joseph, his earthly dad.  David did something a lot like Jesus would have done in his situation.

Then, we read the account from 1 Samuel 24.  David hid in a cave from Saul with his many man.  Saul wandered in there because he had to go to the bathroom.  David's men said, "Yeah, David, go kill him since he's been trying to kill you."  David cut off a corner of his robe, but then decided not to kill him.  Then, he said, "Saul, I cut off a corner of your robe and could have killed you, but I didn't."  Saul was sorry and decided to not kill David that day.  This actually happened twice.  Both times, David did not kill Saul because God had made Saul king, and he had mercy on Saul.

David knew
that God had promised to make him king, so David could have killed Saul and become king immediately. But what did David do? (Had mercy on Saul, didn’t kill him) That’s right! David didn’t kill Saul because he wanted to show mercy.

What is mercy? (It is not punishing someone, even though they deserve it.)
How is it different from grace? ( Grace is giving someone a privilege that is not deserved.)

He also knew that God had made Saul king although David would be king someday.  David showed respect by trusting that God would make him king one day and by being kind to King Saul while he waited. Just like David, God wants us to be kind and show mercy to others, too!

In just the same way, we have sinned against God and deserve to be killed in his anger.  But God showed mercy on us and sent Jesus to die for our sins.  David risked his life by having mercy on Saul.  Jesus laid down his life to have mercy on us.  By doing thus, God took away his anger from us that we deserved (that's mercy), and allows us the privilege of living in heaven with him and serving him now which we don't deserve (that's grace). 

I also gave scenarios where a kid would have to show mercy.  A kid hit you.  He probably deserves to be hit back.  How do you show mercy?  By not hitting him (which isn't allowed anyway) and telling the teacher.  How do you show grace?  By asking him to be friends and to play with you.

The people at lunch are making fun of your best friend and you stick up for her.  Then they start calling you a baby and accuse you of watching baby shows.  How do you show mercy? By not making fun of them in return.  How do you show grace?  By still sitting with them.  (This really happened to me.  And you know those baby shows that they made fun of me for?  The next year they were like, you should watch these shows!)

And lastly, someone accidentally trips you in the hall.  How do you show mercy?  By not getting made and tripping in return.  How do you show grace?  Helping this person.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Judges: Micah and Danites following their hearts

And I finally get gumption to continue my study of the Judges of Israel.  We come to a bizarre story just before the most horrifying story.

In this account of Judges 18, a man named Micah sets up an idol and randomly hires a Levite to be his priest.  A troupe of guys from the tribe of Dan discover Micah's religion and start a war over it.

The text says that Dan's inheritance had not been set up yet.  Perhaps this happened when Joshua was still conquering the land and they couldn't wait to be established.  It had to be before Samson's time since he was from Dan and established that tribe pretty well. 

It certainly happened when the Word of God was not as available or widespread.  But any good Jewish boy would know the second commandment, that you don't worship the true God with images.  He should know the story of the golden calf during Moses's time and the disaster that caused.

Also, Joshua always emphasized that you were not to have a private religion and come to God on your own terms.  You were to come to God on his terms which was to meet at the tabernacle with the sacrifice to atone for your sins.  Before Jesus came to die for our sins, you could not meet with God without having first dealt with your sins.  You are too unholy to survive a holy God on your own.

So, God actually had mercy on Micah by not killing him right away like he did Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10.  He just let him end up in some bizarre skirmish.  This is a rare moment when Israel isn't fighting some oppressive foreigners.  They are fighting each other which is a prelude to the more ghastly story that occurs in chapters 19 and 20.  In those days, there was no king and people did what was right in their eyes.

So, we live in the New Testament now.  Jesus has come and died for our sins and we can come to God because Jesus's blood has atoned for your sins.  Do we still make the mistakes of Micah and the Danites today?

When the Word of God is put on the back burner and people follow their hearts, then yes we do.  We start studying books people wrote in church rather than compare it directly with the Bible.  And then we start reading stories of members of the Trinity portrayed as women who say that God cares too much about free will to call people to justice and that all people will be saved.

Again, the second commandment tells us to not portray God in ways he has not portrayed himself.  He did send Jesus, but he is not to have an image assigned to him.  He's God, so his will is way freer than ours, and if he did not tamper with our wills, then we would not repent and come to him.   And we must never believe that he will save everyone because the letters to the Thessalonians and Revelation say that people who never repent will die in their sins.  And we must never act this way because then there will be no reason to witness to people, share the Gospel, or care for the poor and oppressed or care about justice because God won't punish anyone anyway.

But if people follow this thinking, then they start accepting perverse lifestyles and saying that it's okay to kill unborn children and destroy the women who were their mothers.  And then people start influencing children to change their genders, making permanent decisions they will regret later.  And ultimately, God's name is profaned, and he will not let it slide.

We must get back to reading the Bible in its entirety.  Old and New Testament.  The bad news and the good.  The parts we don't like or understand along with the more common verses.  We have to know God and study his Words as a group and not start our own ideas.  Let us repent and turn to him.  He is so forgiving.  Even perverse lifestyles and permanent mistakes can be forgiven if you would just turn to the Lord to be saved.

Monday, December 24, 2018

SS: Light of the world

Has anybody ever been to Ruby Falls?  In the caverns that go to this underground waterfall, there are lights and interesting rocks that look like steak and potatoes.  I don’t think they really do this anymore, but at some point when you get to the falls, the tour guides would turn the lights off to see what it was like when Leo Lambert discovered it.  What would you feel like in a cave with the lights out?  I already feel nervous being underground because of fears that the ground above me would fall and I’d be crushed.  But in the dark it would feel scarier. 

Leo Lambert must have been a strange and brave guy.  Do you know why we have lights up at Christmas time?  Because in John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

At Christmas, we celebrate him entering the world as a baby.  He is the light.  If he is light, then what was it like before he came?  Dark.  Why was it dark?

I’ll tell you another story.  Greek mythology has the story of Sisyphus, a man who had made the gods mad.  As his punishment, he was doomed to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity.  Once, the rock got to the top, it would roll back down and he would have to start all over.  He would never be able to escape this punishment and please the gods.  The job could not be done.

Now, back to reality.  Who are our first parents?  Adam and Eve.  They were the first people God created and the parents of us all.  God placed them in a perfect garden for them to enjoy and care for.  He gave them one rule.  What was it?  Don’t eat from the tree of Knowledge.  What did they do?  Eat from the tree of Knowledge.  Since then, they had to leave the garden and God took away their privilege of living forever.  They died and so will we one day.

But even sadder is that all of their children and grandchildren born after them are born outside of God’s will.  We are all people who love ourselves first.  We want to sin because we want our way more than God’s.  And when we disobey God and sin, we have a punishment.  Death and separation from God forever. 

How do we solve this problem?  For the Old Testament believers, God formed the nation of Israel and said you can have someone die in your place.  So they would take a lamb or a goat and sacrifice it at the temple.  But what would happen after that?  Leviticus 9:7 They would sin again and need to do it again.  They needed something better than an animal to take their place.

So God sent Jesus as a baby who would live the only perfect human life, and then as an adult, he was killed on a cross by the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, and doing that, he suffered hell for us so that anyone who believed in him would be saved from their sins and live with him in heaven after they die.  Hebrews 9:11-12

After this we acted out the Christmas story, reviewed the lesson, and played bingo.