Sunday, August 9, 2020

Spiritual Journey: Have you been to Cloud City? The Great Leap

"Though his warrior father had carved out a kingdom for the crown prince, it was not big enough. This prince had a voracious appetite that could never be satisfied. That craving for more would send him to the ends of the earth in a never-ending quest that still astounds the world some 2,500 years later.

The crown prince was only twenty years old when his father was assassinated. After rounding up and ruthlessly executing all of his rivals, the boy conqueror began his long march across planet Earth. His army of some thirty thousand warriors blitzkrieged from the Balkans to India in less than thirteen years. They covered some ten thousand miles on sandaled feet.

The statistics of that amazing odyssey seem almost impossible. Its empire stretched from the Aegean to the Himalayas, across three continents. The conqueror’s rule spanned more than two million square miles of earth by the time he was thirty-two years of age.

When he reached the Indus River, his weary army refused to take on the war elephants of India. The troops wanted to go home. The ancient historian Plutarch wrote that Alexancer wept like a baby because there were no more world to conquer.

With an unsatisfied hunger that still gnawed at his restless soul, Alexander marched back to Babylon, where he drank himself into a stupor. In June of the year 323 BC, he died at age thirty-two. The cause of his death is still mysterious. Most likely it was typhoid fever, but some suspect that his generals, who carved up his empire after his death, might have poisoned him.

Alexander was a man for whom the world was never big enough. His tutor, Aristotle, often lamented that young Alexander could conquer the world, but he was never able to conquer his own passions.

Pascal was right when he said that there is within us all a God-shaped vacuum as infinite as God himself. We can possess the whole universe and all that it contains and still not fill that vast emptiness within. If you have a soul hunger, you might want to remember this: When too much is never enough, give yourself to the infinite one, who is more than enough." -Quote from The One Year Book of Amazing Facts

And that today is what this message is really about. When it’s just never quite enough.  We all face down this reality of wanting more and more, and eventually facing addictions of various kinds.  The Bible calls them sins. 

The enemy’s goal is to get us hooked on sins.  The enemy wants us always searching to fill that empty feeling with stuff in the world.  And never wants us to look to God to satisfy us.

So let me ask you this question, which is the title of our message: Have you ever been to cloud city?

Cloud City, the mysterious city, from Star Wars the Empire Strikes Back.  The city in the clouds, where Han Solo, Leia, and Chewy are taken captive by Vader and the empire.  And Vader sets a trap to bring Luke Skywalker there, to try and destroy him.

Cloud City reminds me of what it’s like to get sucked in by addiction, by sin.  It seems fun at first.  It seems beautiful. It’s glorious.  It’s exciting.  The colors, the clouds, the beautiful architecture, the magnificence of it.  But soon you realize something isn’t quite right. Something is just a little off.

How does Vader get Luke to come to cloud city?

He captures his friends and tortures them. Luke can actually feel their pain in the force, and leaves to attempt to rescue them.

First point, the enemy will attack our family when we serve God, to try to hurt us.  He will attack our family. And he will use circumstances and situations to harm us.  I can sense it in my gut, when I’m in a potentially compromising situation.  Maybe I’m hanging out with the wrong people.  Or I’m in a place that puts me in front of temptation.  

Recognize this friends, cloud city is a trap and a prison.

Let me ask you this question: What is your cloud city?

For me it was drug addiction. And that primrose path soon turns into a nightmare. I promise you that.

For you it might be relationship addiction, it might be cigarettes, maybe its gossip, or constant lying, or stealing or sexual addiction, or overeating, selfishness, rage, refusing to forgive, or self destructive behavior. Maybe it’s something you do repeatedly without even realizing it.

Cloud city is the trap we all face.

But cloud city is a mine, did you know that? A Tibanna gas mine.  As beautiful as the clouds, the shining sun, the mysterious buildings, the cream colored hallways, it’s a trap.

It’s a mine. Many of us labor in those mines. The addiction is no longer satisfying anymore but we’re trapped in the mines, swinging the pick axe., serving the addiction, and it’s miserable.

But you can be free. You can escape the city. It starts with calling on one name, the name of Jesus Christ. When I was scared as a child, alone in my room at night, maybe I just had a nightmare, or I could just sense that something was wrong, I would say the name Jesus Christ out loud, and I knew that it was powerful.  And I felt safe.

So Luke Skywalker goes to Cloud City.  And Vader sets a trap for Luke.  Luke lands and begins searching the city, and he’s led to a dark chamber.

What happens when Luke meets Vader at cloud city? They fight, and slowly as the fight continues, Luke gets weaker and weaker, and Vader gets stronger and stronger.

This is how it goes when we try to battle our addictions without God’s power. 

If you recall Yoda and Obi-Wan Luke’s mentors told him not to go to cloud city.  But he went anyway.  And he was told that if you choose to face Vader now, you’ll do it alone.  But Luke didn’t listen.

When we fight addiction without God’s power, we lose.  We get weaker and weaker and the addiction gets stronger and stronger.

As Luke fights Vader they go deeper and deeper into the bowels of cloud city and you see this place is actually pretty scary, and evil, and you begin to get the feeling that Luke is trapped, and can’t escape. 

Have you ever felt trapped, like there is no way and no one to help you?  The enemy likes to corner us, and make us feel helpless.

And eventually in this battle we reach the final catwalk. We’re trapped. Exhausted at every level. Broken and defeated. 

And the enemies total power over you is made manifest, when your fighting hand is cut off, and you are disarmed and defeated.  Just like when Vader finally cut off Luke’s lightsaber hand. 

At that moment, rock bottom, you learn the awful truth.  If Christ is not your savior, it means something quite terrible. It means Satan is your father. You serve him. Horrifying to realize.  Like when Vader said, “Luke, I am your father.”  Luke discovers a nightmare about his life. His own father is the evil Darth Vader.  And Vader offers to let you join him and he’ll give you wealth and power and sex and women, whatever you want.  Sometimes people will take that offer, and stay with Satan at the moment of decision.

Luke is at a moment of decision here.  What do I do next?  Join Vader, or take a leap.

For the rest of us, we finally surrender to God.  We take that leap of faith.

Like when Luke let’s go.  And drops down. I like the version where he actually screams out, that’s just what it feels like, a cry of confused despair at the moment of the fall.  Reminds me when I cried out to Jesus.

The cloud city betrays you one last time, drops you out the garbage hatch. Your left hanging upside down nothing below you except a bottomless pit. Only one option left, death, hell, nothingness, or cry out to Jesus Christ. 

Hanging upside down with your hand cut off outside the bottom of cloud city.  If cloud city is a dreamy state of drug addiction, a merry-go-round, an after hours carnival turned dark and evil, well, then the guy hanging upside down with a hand cut off is me.  Eventually that cloud city of addiction will consume your soul, steal your heart and your life from you, rip apart your body, and then drop you out the bottom like garbage into a trash bin. Done with you, on to the next. 

But if we cry out to Jesus… we find help. The Lord sends us help. Friends maybe, the holy spirit, forgiveness, the millennial falcon, to rescue us.

And we end up on the medical frigate, the church, where He heals you, binds up your wounds, and frees you from addiction. Eventually he gives you a new lightsaber, and your sent on a new mission.  But we’ll talk about that next week.

I waited patiently for the Lord;

    he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,

    out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock,

    making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,

    a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,

    and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes

    the Lord his trust,

who does not turn to the proud,

    to those who go astray after a lie!

You have multiplied, O Lord my God,

    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;

    none can compare with you!

I will proclaim and tell of them,

    yet they are more than can be told.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Five Archaeological Discoveries that Verify the Biblical Timeline

This is an ancient Babylonian tablet dated back to 1750 BC. Do you know what it says? This is history’s first negative google review.
“For those of you who don't speak Old Babylonian, the gist of the message is that a dude named Nanni was promised "fine quality copper ingots" from a dealer named Ea-nasir. Unfortunately, the quality of the product wasn't up to his standards. He relays in hilariously dignified tones just how offended he is by the transaction and complains that the messengers he's sent through enemy territory to get his money back have all returned empty-handed. Yeah, working for Nanni was not fun.

The best part? The whole reason Ea-nasir stiffed Nanni was because Nanni owed him money in the first place. Nanni openly admits this in his complaint but argues that "one (trifling) mina of silver" shouldn't stop him from getting the star treatment. And they say this generation is entitled.”-Cracked article

It's quite fascinating what you can uncover in the Earth through the science of archaeology. Archaeology by it’s definition is “the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.”

I can’t tell you how many times someone has said to me, that they don’t believe in Greek myths, or the tooth fairy, or the Easter bunny so why should they believe in God? Well, like we talked about last week, recorded history matches with the Bible. And now today we consider the topic of archaeological discoveries. Do they prove or disprove the Bible?

We’re going to dig into a few examples from the historical record. First of all we consider the Tel Dan Inscription:

1.Tel Dan Inscription

“In 1993, excavators at Tel Da uncovered an inscription with the word BYTDWD on it. They convincingly argued that the word means “house of David” and dates to the ninth century BC. The inscription had been sealed by a later Assyrian destruction layer firmly dated to 733/722 BC. An ash layer is an archaeologist’s dream. Anything sealed beneath it must be dated earlier because there is no possibility of intrusion by later artifacts. Pottery directly beneath the destruction level dates to the ninth and eighth centuries BC, and from this period the so-called House of David inscription must have come. “ -John D. Currid (PhD, University of Chicago) is the Carl W. McMurray Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary.

For many years there was no evidence that King David from the Bible ever existed. Until 1993 when archaeologists discovered the Tel Dan inscription. It proved King David was real.
Next there is the famous Gilgimesh inscription:

2. Epic of Gilgamesh

“In 1872, George Smith announced he had discovered an Assyrian account of a flood among tablets stored in the British Museum from excavations of mid-seventh-century-BC Nineveh. Called the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story comprises 12 tablets, with one tablet containing a tale of a great deluge.”

It’s absolutely fascinating how different cultures from around the world all have recorded histories of a “great flood” that occurred long ago, and swept away the world, aside from one man and his family. Modern scientists dismiss these accounts as “flood myths” because it doesn’t fit their ideology. But it’s amazing to see all the evidence for a biblical flood as recorded in Genesis.

3. The Siloam Pool: Where Jesus Healed the Blind Man
Next, we consider the famous pool of Siloam. “During construction work to repair a large water pipe south of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, at the southern end of the ridge known as the City of David, archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron identified two ancient stone steps. Further excavation revealed that they were part of a monumental pool from the Second Temple period, the period in which Jesus lived.”

The pool of Siloam, where Jesus famously healed the blind man, was discovered in fall 2004, accidentally by a sewage repair team. Once again, we see clear evidence that these places and events really took place. They are real historical truth.

4. Augustus Caesar

Sculptures and coins found of Augustus Caesar are shown here. If you recall in the gospels, it’s recorded that Augustus Caesar declared that a census would be taken. And that was one of the reasons that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, because his parents had to return to their home city to participate in the census indicated by this guy, Augustus Caesar.

Busts of Augustus Caesar have been found, several in fact, one in Meroe, Nubia shown here. This simply confirms another historical marker that indicates the bible is real history.

5. Pontius Pilate
And finally from the new York times, Pontius Pilate Seal Ring
“The name of Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator who interrogated Jesus and then ordered him crucified, has turned up for the second time in the archaeological record. The first time his name and title were found engraved in a stone discovered in 1961 in secondary use at Caesarea Maritima. Just a few weeks ago, scientists announced that a seal ring excavated in the late 1960s at Herodium, a desert palace just outside of Bethlehem, also carried the inscription “of Pilates.”

If you recall when Pilate questioned Jesus, Jesus said to him all who obey the truth listen to me. And Pilate replied, “What is truth?” I imagine he said it in a sarcastic way, because it says next that he simply walked away. And sometimes we do the same thing. We look at the Bible and say, “oh who can really know? Where is the evidence?” Well, here is the evidence. And there is a ton of evidence. You could spend weeks, months, studying the archaeological evidence for the Bible, there's so much of it. But sometimes it’s not that we really want evidence. We just want an excuse to keep living our own selfish lives. Well I’m done with that. I’ve seen the evidence, and it’s powerful. God is real. The Bible is real. Jesus is real. And I need to give my life to God.

All this evidence, and guys this is just the tip of the ice berg, I found dozens of articles, just by a simple google search, there must be thousands and thousands of discoveries around Jerusalem and the middle east that prove that the bible is historically accurate. This is proved through archaeology.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Prejudice and Racism: Examining our Hearts & Taking Action in the World

I remember in my life before I knew Christ, I was quite a troublemaker. And I used alcohol and drugs heavily. My drug of choice, the one I used most frequently was a very powerful drug that made it very obvious from your appearance, your face, your eyes, and your voice, that you were high. I dressed in all black in those days, in fact I still dress in all black, but I would also dye my hair blue black. And you notice, when your high, and dressed the way you are, hair dyed, people look at you differently. People judge you. I recall it quite clearly. People would give you these glares, and looks of revilement, even hatred. And in fact, one of the key ways that I came to Christ, was that I met a Priest that looked at me without judgment, indeed in his eyes I saw the love of Christ.

That is the closest in my life that I’ve come to experiencing prejudice or bigotry. But people looked at me that way because there was something wrong with me, I was messed up on drugs, and they could tell. But imagine people looking at you that way, but there isn’t anything wrong with you. You aren’t high on drugs, you aren’t dressed in a strange way, you are an average person, the only difference being is that you have a different skin color than others.

That is the issue we discuss today, that of racism.

Today we’re starting a new series, in which we’re going to look at important topics and issues within the Christian faith. We’re going to consider a lot of different topics, that we want to be well armed with truth as to consider. We’ll address topics like the sabbath, spiritual gifts, human sexuality, human trafficking, baptism, and so on. But today we address the important topic of racism.

We see this topic of race and racism playing out on a national level in various ways, but today I want to bring this issue home and consider how we as individuals and members of a faith community ought to deal with this issue of racism.

Our scripture today, Revelation 7:9-17 said, “After this I looked, and there was an enormous crowd—no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood in front of the throne and of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 10 They called out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb!” 11 All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures. Then they threw themselves face downward in front of the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Praise, glory, wisdom, thanksgiving, honor, power, and might belong to our God forever and ever! Amen!”
-Revelation 7:9-17 GNT

Here in revelation we see the end of the story, God’s picture of how humanity ought to look, all peoples, languages, and cultures standing before God, looking to God, united and ready to step into eternal life, paradise, in the new city of God.

This is the goal, the dream, the hope of for the future, that we as Christians around the world, from every country, and speaking every language ought to stand united before God, a new family, to inhabit the new city, the New Jerusalem, our eternal home. So keep this picture in your mind, this glorious image, as our goal and our future community.

But I’d like to draw your attention now from the last book of the Bible, to the very first book of the Bible, Genesis.

We saw that God created man and woman in his own image, but man fell away from God. Murder and division entered the world, when Cain murdered his brother Abel. And things got worse and worse, until the entire world was destroyed in the great flood.

One family, that of Noah, his wife, and his sons, and their families survived aboard the ark. Which makes all of us, all people, all of nations, descendants of Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Isn’t that interesting?

But once again after the flood, Noah’s descendants began to cause trouble once again. It says in Genesis 11:1-9: “11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.-Genesis 11:1-9

It’s a fascinating saga. You see humanity united, but unfortunately united in the worst way possible, to try to build a tower to heaven, and make themselves gods. So we see sin at work once again. So God scatters humanity, into tribes, based around various new languages, and so these humans spread across the whole Earth, settling on the various continents, Africa, Europe, Asia, North America and South America. And depending on where each people traveled to, depending on the climate, and the conditions, and exposure to sunlight, various differing features and skin tones began to develop over the centuries.

And as various societies flourished and grew and developed technologies and more advanced forms of travel, various people groups began intermingling more and more, as faster and easier forms of travel developed. And thus came about this issue of racism, this sinful, foolish idea, that based on someone’s features, or the amount of melanin in their skin, that somehow this means someone is better or worse than another.

Fast forward to the present, and we still see racism play itself out in societies around the world, in various forms and in various places. It plays itself out right here in Owosso Michigan. It plays itself out in our city. So I’d like to consider three questions today. First question, How does God view this issue of racism? Second question, How do we ourselves view this issue of racism? And thirdly, what can we do to be change agents, building toward a better society?

First, how does God view racism? Several scriptures come to mind. 1 John 2:9 ESV says, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”

Any hatred God sees as sinful, so sinful in fact that scripture indicates this sort of hatred proves we are not walking in the light of Christ.

James 2:9 ESV But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Showing partiality, that is favoring one person, or one type of person, or one race over another, is sinful. We must show no partiality, but instead treat people equally.

Many times when Jesus Christ our savior walked on the Earth, he would speak in terms of parables. And how often Jesus would use examples of people like Samaritans, a group of people the Jews hated, to prove a point about love, or truth or justice. And how often Jesus went and ate with people who were considered outcasts, like tax collectors, or prostitutes, or foreigners. Jesus was willing to love those who society deemed to be unimportant or evil.

And if you recall, when Paul was on his missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts, there was a question, should the Gentiles also be offered salvation along with the Jews? And of course the Lord made it clear, salvation is for anyone, Jew, or Gentile, slave or free, anyone, anywhere.

So we see that God is indeed holy. God is merciful and full of love. This evil concept of racism, that treats people as inferior because of the way they look, must indeed be a sin that God hates greatly. Racism is pure evil, to the Lord.

Second question, How do we view racism? I try to think about it myself. What must it feel like to experience racism? I don’t really know, I’ve never experienced racism. But I asked some of my friends about racism, and what it feels like, and what they’ve experienced. And it’s quite telling. Imagine yourself, as a child, realizing that people look at you differently, sometimes. You even realize certain people glare at you, and they give off this attitude like they don’t accept you. Imagine being stopped more often by the police, because of how you look. Imagine having others reject you, and not want to spend time with you. What would that feel like? What would it feel like to realize, they don’t like me because of how I look. I’m not accepted because of who I am. What a horrible feeling that must be. It must feel like… I’m not welcome. I’m not accepted. I’m not part of. What a horrible feeling. I imagine it would fill me with anger.

But then again, thinking to long ago, what must it have been like, when people of care drove through Owosso Michigan, to see signs that said, “whites only within city limits after dark.” Owosso used to be a sundown town, with signs in and out of town declaring that whites only are allowed. What a disturbing thing. Glad that those signs were torn down.

If you’re a parent, driving with your kids, and you see a sign like that, how do you explain that to your children? I imagine that would fill me with rage. But then I thought to myself, maybe it would fill me with something else… determination. Desire, for justice. A dream… a dream that someday things could be different, someday if I fight, and others fight with me, things could be different. And there could be justice, and truth, instead of prejudice.

Now one might claim, well those are things of the past, they don’t exist anymore. Is that really true? Because just this last Christmas, two people of color, who bell rang for us here at Owosso Citadel, wonderful people, they were at a bar in town, and someone walked over to the jukebox and played a racist song. Certain remarks were made.

So maybe racism isn’t gone. Maybe we need to stand up, and make sure that we are challenging racism, when we see it. But before we consider what others may be doing, I want to encourage each of you to examine your own heart. It’s easy to say, oh look at what that other person is doing. But what about me? What about you?

Stop and look at yourself. Look at your own heart. And I’m going to look at mine. What’s going on in here? Many of us were raised in families where racist remarks were made. Many of us grew up hearing those kinds of slurs. Well, today you’re a Christian.

And let me ask you this, as you examine your heart right now, Do you need to repent of the sin of racism? God looks at the heart. You may try to hide your own thoughts and feelings, but maybe it sneaks out here and there. A sinful attitude like racism, prejudice, isn’t something we can remove from ourselves. It’s something where we need to go to the throne of God, and ask for God’s forgiveness, and and ask God for a new heart. A changed heart. A heart that loves all peoples, and that hates no one because they look or sound differently from us.

You may be sitting there thinking, I don’t have a problem in this area. But I challenge you, pray about it. Ask God to speak to your heart.

Change begins my friends, with you and me. And looking within. It’s easy to look at others, but let’s look within. God please change us.

In a moment we’re going to have some time to respond, and speak to God one on one, but now let’s address that 3rd question, how can we be change agents in society? Well like we’ve talked about, it starts by looking within and crying out to God to change our hearts, and sanctify us. We must confess, and repent, just like we would with any other sin.

God may remove it immediately, but it may also be a temptation you struggle with for the rest of your life. Like with alcoholics, sometimes God will instantly remove that tendency, and it will be gone forever, I’ve see that with people who just up and quit. For others, probably more so in fact, God says, go to Alcoholics Anonymous, join Celebrate Recovery, and it’s a battle for the rest of your life, to stand firm against that temptation.

So after looking within, we look outside ourselves. What if someone you know, a family member or friend makes a racist remark? I would challenge you to speak up, in love, and say, hold on a minute, you may want to rethink that. You better pray about that comment, because it’s a sinful comment you just made. We don’t want to scream at them, or go into an angry tirade. We want to be wise in how we correct others. But call it out. Don’t just let it pass.

Another question, when is the last time you got to know someone who is truly different from you? This is a great thing to do! Get to know some people who don’t look or act like you. Listen to their stories, and become friends. I remember when I went to training college in the salvation army in Chicago, I met people from big cities, small cities, who spoke different languages, people who looked differently than me, even a Vikings fan, I met. And I even learned to love Cubs fans. So you see how powerful it can be when you connect with people you wouldn’t normally connect with.

Follow up number three, make a better world. How can you stand up against racism in our society? In Owosso? In Michigan? I’m sure you’ll learn and develop unique ways to be a blessing. But don’t ever have the attitude that you are going to help a poor weak person who needs your help. No, that’s not biblical. We stand shoulder to shoulder with people of different languages and nations, as equals, shoulder to shoulder, fighting alongside one another. As friends, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and as those who family, a family who will one day live together forever, in the New Jerusalem, the new city of God, a humanity re-united, not to build a tower of babel, but to have ascended to heaven by the gift of Jesus Christ, unique, diverse, yet united forever, one family of humanity, loved forever by Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Book of Jude: Standing up for Truth & Speaking against False Teachers

The year was 320 AD when an elite regiment of Roman soldiers marched across the frozen tundra of Armenia. This was the elite thundering regiment that had formed a line of defense protecting the Roman empire from the invading Persian army.

But a new threat came against the roman empire, and this threat was Christianity. The emperor, fearing this threat decreed that all soldiers of Rome must sacrifice to pagan gods. The order came to the thundering regiment, and all obeyed, aside from 40 men who refused.

Their superiors cried out, how dare you refuse, you bring shame upon this elite unit. But they replied, it would be worse still if we were to bring shame to Jesus Christ.

These men were taken and beaten with whips, and hooks. Still they refused. The forty men were then stripped naked and sent out onto a frozen lake. Tubs of hot water were placed on the edges to tempt them to recant. None of them would give up. Then suddenly one of them ran naked to one of the tubs and jumped in. The shock to his system meant he died instantly.

So there were only 39. But one of the legionnaires, moved by their courage, stripped off his armor and ran naked onto the lake to join them. Again, there were 40. They were left on the ice overnight, and the next day the commander ordered their frozen bodies to be burned.

They were shocked to find one man still alive, but he still refused to recant. So they burned the last man alive, with the rest who were frozen.

The witness of the 39 brought one to salvation. The story of this courageous event spread across the empire. And four years later Constantine I, disgusted by the barbaric treatment of these men, ordered the emperor who did this be executed. Later, moved by these events, Constantine became a Christian, and Christianity became the favored religion of Rome.

A single act of bravery can change the course of history. We as Christians are called to be humble, bold, and able to contend for the faith. Today in our world we as Christians must be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves. There is so much chaos and struggle in our world. Yet there is also great reason for hope.

Open your bibles please to the book of Jude. Long ago there was a man named Jude, the brother of Jesus and James. And he writes this short letter to the early church about two thousand years ago, and it’s just amazing how it speaks to us today. The word of God is timeless like that.

Jude writes to Christians around the ancient world, and indeed to Christians today, and he refers to us as called, loved, and kept. Jude had been planning on writing this letter to talk about all the gifts and wonders of salvation in Christ. But instead he saw a grave threat to the early church and decided to address that concern instead. He perceived the threat of false teachers, who had slipped in stealthily into the church, using the church as a vehicle to promote their own ungodly ways. They had slipped in among the believers, and then moved to take charge, and change the church to serve themselves.

Jude first speaks to accountability. He warns the church to not be led astray by these false teachers, by referencing several Old Testament examples of divine judgment. God will not only hold false teachers accountable, but he will hold all people accountable.

Jude first references how God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt. A great miraculous deliverance, but he also tells how the people turned away from God in the wilderness, and lost their blessing. Jude then references how the angelic beings who joined Lucifer’s rebellion were sentenced to chains in darkness, after having failed in their rebellion. 3rdly he mentions Sodom and Gomorrah, two ancient cities that were destroyed by God, for their acts of sexual immorality and perversion. And Jude writes that these three examples remind us that we serve a God of justice, a God who will hold us accountable.

So today we’re going to consider what is a false teacher, how they manifest themselves in modern times, and how we should respond.

So how do you identify a false teacher? Very simply, they are teaching things that are contrary to the word of God.

In verse eight of Jude we get a picture of four ways in which they conduct themselves. Jude refers to them as “dreamers.” These false teachers will often proclaim that they’ve had a new revelation from God. They will proclaim that the Bible isn’t actually correct about some issue, but they know better. Secondly it says they defile their flesh. So false teachers will tend toward sexual immorality. We’ve often seen in recent times, megachurch pastors exposed in the media, due to some scandal or affair. 3rdly Jude indicates that they reject authority. They have no regard for scriptural authority, or church leaders over them, or the witness of church history. And fourthly, it says they blaspheme God. Their actions and words, though they may claim to be following God, actually are outright rebellion against God, and mockery of God.

False teaching came in many forms in the times of the early church. Certain leaders would teach that you had to be circumcised to be a Christian. Others taught that you had to live by the Old Testament law of Moses to be saved. Others taught that it was good to engage in sexual immorality & idol worship. Others still, taught that the physical body was bad and only the spirit was good.

And how little things have changed over the last two thousand years. Today we see many within the churches of the west who teach unbiblical theology and false doctrines. We see it all around us, just as it’s been a constant problem for the church over history. We see many leaders today who teach a false gospel of prosperity and wealth; That God exists to simply give you everything you want. We see some who teach that Jesus wasn’t really God, that he was just a man. Others teach that Jesus is just one of many ways to God, that Buddha, Muhammad and other gods are acceptable alternatives. You see others who change the Bible to fit post-modern ideology. We see others that emphasize social justice above anything else. We see others that celebrate sin openly, and teach that sin is good, and that God is changing to fit the times.

And sadly many of us in the pulpits today, though we don’t preach outright false doctrine, instead we preach a watered down gospel where all we talk about is love and grace, which are good things, but we fail to mention sin, and repentance, and heaven and hell. But without those things, what need is there for Jesus, who died to deliver us from sin and death?

The theological and spiritual battles we face are fierce today. We live in a time where many churches are polarized, divided. Church denominational splits are taking place. We see growing divides between those who teach biblical doctrine and those who teach worldly ideologies.

So how do we respond to all this? What is the proper response when dealing with false teachers and dangerous false doctrines? Well we see that time and again in the New Testament Christian leaders spoke out against false teachers. They spoke up, whether it was Paul or Peter or John or Jude, they all had this in common: They spoke out against false teachers. But today too many sound, biblical Christian leaders are silent. They are afraid to offend anyone. They don’t want to seem mean. They want to appear to be loving.

But is it loving to not speak when someone is lost in sin? Of course not. It’s not loving at all to sit there silently. We have to speak up, even if it means risking our relationship with that person to do so. It may seem “nicer” to be silent and just let them drift off into sin. But it’s not. Love warns those who are lost in false teachings and sin. Just as much as I would warn someone if they were jogging toward a cliff.

Sometimes it seems like the evils in our world are so big, so expansive, and so strong that they can’t possibly be defeated. We see false ideologies mass marketed, through the news & media, through academia, and through powerful corporations with deep pockets. And we think, what can we poor lowly Christians do against such giant megaphones?

This reminds me of the story of a man named Telemachus. He was a monk who resided in Rome during the reign of Emperor Honorius. As you know during these times there was the barbaric sport of gladiator fighting in the Colosseum. It was an extremely popular sport, with many arenas around the Roman empire. Hundreds of thousands gathered to watch people forced to fight to the death. But one day this monk named Telemachus came into the colosseum and saw what was happening, slaves forced to fight each other to the death. And he cried out, “Stop this madness, stop this madness, and he ran down into the arena, and came between the two slaves with their swords and shields ready to fight, separating them, demanding, “Stop this madness, stop this!” The crowd went crazy at this boisterous divisive monk trying to ruin their good time. How intolerant of him! How impolite of him to disrupt the event! This was politically incorrect. The crowd jeered angrily and began throwing rocks at him. He was pelted by hundreds of rocks and bricks, until he was dead.

Did he fail? No. You might think he did. But word of what he had done spread. And people were horrified at what had happened. Pretty soon thousands and thousands of people were talking about this lowly monk named Telemachus who dared to speak up. Word eventually reached the ears of Emperor Honorius, who was so moved by the story of the monk’s cries for justice, that he abolished the practice of gladiator fighting forever.

You may think that it’s hopeless, that you can’t possibly make a difference, I assure you, you are wrong. Speak up, and God will bless you, and send out your call, and bring about great change in the world. Speak. Up.

Soldiers, adherents, and friends of The Salvation Army, please be aware that we also in our denomination struggle against false teachers. They are out there, pushing their destructive ideologies. Pray for them. Love them. But also speak the truth, boldly. It will not do for you to be silent. Too much is at stake.

Of false teachers Jude wrote, “Woe to them! For they have traveled in the way of Cain, have abandoned themselves to the error of Balaam for profit, and have perished in Korah’s rebellion.”

If you recall Cain murdered his brother, because he was jealous of him. Balaam encouraged Israel’s leaders toward sexual immorality and idol worship. Korah’s rebellion was a group that rebelled against the leadership of Moses during the time that Israel wandered in the wilderness. And they were destroyed as a result. We see that false teachers throughout the centuries are ones who habitually walk in this path of Cain, Balaam, and Korah, the path of rebellion and destruction. In verse 13 Jude refers to them as “wandering stars for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved, forever.” In other words, they have spots reserved for them in hell.

Then we see in verses 14 and 15 this quotation from Enoch about the last days when Christ will return. It says, “Look! The Lord comes, with thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict them, of all their ungodly acts that they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things ungodly sinners have said against Him.”

Jude points us directly to the last day, the day of the Lord, judgment day. For those of us who believed in Jesus, and lived for Christ, we will be rewarded on that day. But for those who rejected Christ, and for those false teachers who spread evil, there will be accountability. There will be judgment, without mercy. Brothers and sisters may we tremble at this, and live in reverent fear of God, loving Him with our whole hearts and serving him with our whole lives.

In conclusion, Jude writes how loyal Christians should live: verses 20-25: “20 But you, dear friends, as you build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. 22 Have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; have mercy on others but with fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”

It says keep yourselves in the love of God. Remain with Jesus. Expect the mercy of Jesus that is coming. Have mercy on those who doubt, how important that is, we don’t want to become arrogant pharisees condemning people who disagree with us. Have mercy on them, showing them the way to freedom. And it concludes this way, “Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time now and forever. Amen.”

In the end, we as believers in Jesus are destined for this day, when we will be presented blameless in the presence of God the Father, by Jesus Christ our savior, who is our King forever. He is able it says, to protect us from stumbling, and to present us before God’s glorious presence on the last day, blameless. Hallelujah. Glory to God. False teachers ought to tremble at what awaits them, but for us, we know that we have great hope for eternal life in heaven.

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