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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Why I am a Christian Mystic

What is a Christian mystic? A Christian mystic is a follower of Jesus who believes in and experiences the supernatural realities of relationship with God.  I would like to convince you today to join me as an authentic Christian mystic, one who fully engages in the spiritual realities of relationship with God.

I come from veins of Christianity that are exceedingly doctrinal. I certainly appreciate the need for strong, logical doctrine.  I love theology and apologetics.  Knowledge is a key foundation of the Christian faith. But the experience of God is more than doctrine.  

To live in relationship with God delves into the three realms in which we experience life. These are orthopathy, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy.  Orthodoxy is correct doctrinal belief.  Orthopraxy is correct practice of Christianity.  And orthopathy is correct affections, correct emotion. 

The mystical comes in the relationship with God. Now please recognize the definition of mysticism I'm using here. We are not talking about adding to the Bible, or creating new doctrines, or believing superstitions, but instead we are making the case for the reality of supernatural experience within the Christian relationship to the Triune God. 

To know God and walk with God is to experience the supernatural.  It means to sense God's presence. It means practice spiritual gifts. It means to have the Holy Spirit minister through us. It means to experience dreams, and visions.  It means to discern the will of God.  It means to live a life in concert with God, following the paths He reveals to us. 

It means conviction of sin.  It means battling the flesh in the Spirit. It means joy and peace in struggles.  It means praying and seeing the world change, as God responds to those prayers.  It means being taught by God.

Sometimes we can become so doctrinally rigid that we begin to force out and discount the supernatural, because it can be perceived as a threat to correct doctrine.  

Not that I think we have a great concern in Christianity for our doctrine being "too correct."  More so the opposite.  Modern Christianity is often an exercise in anti-intellectual belief, in which anything goes as long as it makes us feel good. Brothers and sisters, this is not good! 

Yet on the other end, we do see the cessationist gang, eager to discount the supernatural.  Many of which, though I so greatly admire their adherence to doctrinal belief, outright reject the messy supernatural realities of Christian life.  In stark contrast to that, I would encourage a highly mystical walk with God.  

We should experience God in real ways. We should fast and pray, and delight in the relationship with God. We should sense God's love. We should even sense his anger and wrath.  We should sense a call on another's life. We should sense God's power at work (or oddly missing) from our churches. We should discern wisdom and knowledge from God. But of course we must always always test any experience, any insight, and any delight and impulse we experience in our mystical relationship with God against the sharp edge of scripture. 

The height of foolishness would be to embrace some whim that we believe is from God, when it quite clearly goes against His word.  How easily fooled we are at times, when we allow emotions to be our chief guide. One might recall the man who is completely certain that God is calling him to be with a fine and beautiful woman, the only catch being that this woman is married.  And thus adultery becomes a necessity as the will of God.  Of course it never is, but how our emotions can play tricks on us!

How so many respond so powerfully and emotively to political trends, social trends, and various ideas and movements in the culture, which elicit a strong emotional response, a cry for love or for justice, but discover that the ideas behind these trends are contrary to scripture.  And thus we are so often swept away by our emotions.  

The scripture is a check and balance against the emotive experience of God. And the scripture is a check and balance against the practice of living for God, and the praxis checks and balances the scripture and the emotion.  It works quite well.  But if we remove a piece, or overemphasize one piece, we begin to have a distorted perception of God.

To walk with God means to experience the edgy spiritual realities of life.  It means the insane beauty of a sunny beach, or mysterious winter night. It means such a picturesque bright green forest, or gurgling river, that for a moment we can't believe what we are seeing. Yet it also means the horror of a dead animal on the side of the highway.  It means angry arguments. It means gritty spiritual battlefields.  It means looking into the eyes of your new born baby and knowing the Father's love for you for the first time, as you experience that same love toward your own child, made in your image, as you are made in God's image. It means love so strong that it pulls our minds out of this world for a split second, giving us a taste of the infinite. Eternity cries out from the shadows, the canvas edges of this life, calling us to another. And the horrors and evils of the world, in all their gritty, rusty, sharp edges makes us long with broken hearts for redemption, and freedom from sin. All life is filled with the spiritual and supernatural.

So that is why I'm a Christian mystic.  I experience relationship with God in a supernatural way.  I expect to see miracles.  I expect to see lives changed.  I expect to encounter the presence of God.  I expect that I might one day experience a dream or vision from God.  It's supernatural.  It's beyond the normative.  And yes, it may pose what may appear to be a threat to orthodoxy.  But in the end I discover it is not a threat to orthodoxy, but a natural part of spiritual perception in the amazing, provocative and beautiful experience of having God as our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ as our savior, and the Holy Spirit within.  

How the News Media Manipulates National Meta-Narrative

If there is one thing I've learned over the past few years, and particularly the last few months, it's that the power of the news media is greater than any other institution in our nation.  The news media holds the power of the meta-narrative. Friends, beware the narrative.

What is a meta-narrative?  To break down the phrase, meta means going beyond, or a higher transcending viewpoint, and narrative is a story of events.  The power of the news media is to control the meta-narrative of our country, and even, of the world.  Most people, most Christians don't have or take the time to really delve into news.  So we look to news outlets to help us understand what is going on in the world.  

The narrative is the key.  The narrative is the larger overarching story that appears from the hundreds and hundreds of hours of television news reports, and the thousands of pages of online articles, magazines, and newspapers.

A narrative begins to take hold in the national mindset.  Let's consider some of the key narratives that have taken hold from time to time in the past.

Many will recall the narrative of the Watergate scandal, and how it took hold.  Many would recall the narrative of the 1960s, the radicalism, the protests, the free love, the drugs, and so on.  Others would recall the narrative surrounding Westboro baptist church promulgated by the news media.  Another key narrative particularly of the 80s was the Cold War, the Reagan era, and the Aids epidemic.  

Today we have many narratives being put forth by the mainstream news media. Of course we think of the recent corona virus pandemic, and the sensational reporting surrounding it.  We think of the intense 24/7 coverage of police violence toward people of color.  We think of the coverage of the protests and the riots, and how it's framed for us.  We think of the continuous battle between the press and President Trump.  We think of the Russia scandal, the Supreme court, LGBTQ issues in our day and age, and the transgender debate, along with issues like abortion, human trafficking, and various other concerns that appear in the narrative.

I would make the suggestion to you today that there certainly should be a national narrative, which ought to reflect the ideas, perceptions, political movements, causes, and concerns of a nation.  But I would also indicate to you today that the mainstream news media has increasingly taken to manipulating that narrative, instead of just reporting on it.  Our news media has increasingly weaponized the narrative of our nation, twisting it to suit those they favor, and twisting it to attack and minimize those with whom they disagree. 

So what are some ways that the news media in the United States manipulates our national narrative?  Here are a few of the tactics: 

Emphasize Certain News Stories - This may be the single most powerful tool.  CNN or NBC can run a single news story about say, corporate corruption, give it a few minutes, but that means it will never take hold as part of the national narrative.  But, if they take a single news story, such as a police officer hurting someone, and they focus on that, 24/7 continuing coverage, endless discussions, panel discussions, interviews, and keep harping on it day and night, it will take hold in the mind of the nation.
Even if studies have shown that a bias in police conduct simply doesn't exist in statistics.  And the scary thing is, it will take hold even if it's an isolated incident.  It will be shown so often that people will assume, without checking the statistics and facts, that it represents the whole, that this is an extremely common thing, even if it isn't.  Scary isn't?  Imagine if the news reported on every single car crash with a fatality, just endless, continuing coverage day, and night, 8 dead today from car crashes, interview the families, with tears in their eyes, how long would it take before the whole nation would be screaming for car driving reform of some kind?  That's the insidious power of taking isolated incidents and representing them as the whole. 

Ignore Certain News Stories - This to me is nearly as powerful as emphasizing selective stories.  This is the power to completely ignore events that don't fit the narrative the news network is pushing forward. 
One example would be the increasing violence and genocide against Christians in the middle east.  Hundreds of thousands of people have died. But the news media never talks about it. Why? Well, because it doesn't fit the narrative.  In the news narrative, churches and Christians are generally portrayed as colonialist, imperialist oppressors and anti-LGBTQ haters. So stories, even if they're true, that portray Christians as victims can't be allowed to see the light of day.  Another example would be mass shootings prevented by lawful citizens with person firearms.  These stories happen more than you realize, but they are rarely reported on, because they don't fit the media narrative that says guns are the problem.  That is the power of ignoring stories, by the news media.  When Planned Parenthood was caught selling aborted babies body parts to the highest bidder, there was a near total media blackout on the incident. Imagine if the media had covered it honestly, and given it the prominence it deserved. It could've changed the entire country's perspective on the issue of abortion. But it never saw the light of day.  It was ignored by the news media, strategically.  It didn't fit the narrative of oppressive religious people trying to steal vulnerable women's healthcare.

Spin a News Story - Have you ever heard the saying "Be careful because the press will have you believing that the victim is the criminal and the criminal is the victim?"  Well, it's true.  Think of the 1996 Olympics, when the
Richard Jewell a security helped to save lives from the bombing.  What did the press do? They portrayed the situation as if Richard Jewell had committed the crime, and an innocent man's life, a hero, was turned into a villain.  Though eventually he was exonerated. Think of the confirmation hearings of Justice Kavanaugh, or Justice Clarence Thomas, for the Supreme Court.  The news media gave intense overage to the accusers of Kavanaugh, who one by one after he was confirmed, came out and indicated they had invented the charges, and they were baseless. The same thing was done to Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings.

Repeat Falsehoods - Gas Lighting - The last few times when my mom visited me she said she heard a train going by near my house.  I told her I never heard any train.  But I few times I did hear the train. And it became a joke between us, I kept saying there was no train, even though there really was a train.  And I heard it.  This is done sometimes in abusive relationships by sociopaths, not as a joke, but seriously, to manipulate someone's perception of the world.  They call this "gas lighting."  The news media, when they repeat falsehoods, are engaging in this practice of gas lighting. An example of gas lighting by the media would be when
President Trump came out against white supremacist hate groups numerous times, but the press kept repeating the lie that Trump had shown support for white supremacist hate groups.  A larger meta-narrative example would be the Russia scandal, that went on for four long years, of gas lighting by the media, which in the end turned out to be smoke and mirrors. There was nothing there.  But they kept that narrative going for years.

Minimizing the minority - This is done a great deal during things like pride month, or now during the BLM protests, the media reports on it like everyone agrees with pride month, and the BLM, refusing to show that there is a minority out there that doesn't agree with these agendas.

Code Words - Have you heard this phrase used?  "Oh that's code word for racism."  Or that phrase is a
dog whistle for hate groups?  This is taking an innocuous statement like, we need to stand up for western civilization, and then saying there is a hidden meaning behind it, that is actually bigoted, racist, sexist, and so on.  So someone say almost anything, and it can be twisted to be a "code word" for something nefarious or evil. Conspiracy theorists are good as this as well, watching for little signs, like a triangle, and that infusing it with tons of code meaning, that probably doesn't even exist.

Firing those who depart the lockstep - have you heard of the growing tide of cancel culture?  Those within organizations and businesses, such as Google, or major universities who depart from the lockstep, can often end up losing their jobs.  Think of the Google employee,
James Demore, who tried to speak up about the ideological echo chamber at the business. He was fired.  Many scientists who dare to question Darwinian evolution have lost their jobs, catalogued in a documentary by Ben Stein called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed."

For many years there had generally been only one narrative, the narrative of the mainstream news media, produced by the main outlets like the NY Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, and so on. This narrative tends to bend toward a more left-leaning perspective on the nation and the world at large.  Many felt that this narrative left out much of the truth, and strangled out the viewpoints of those with dissenting opinions on issues of the day.

So increasingly we see a second narrative taking hold promulgated through outlets like The Wallstreet Journal, National Review, Fox News, The Washington Times, The Daily Wire, Breitbart News, The Daily Caller, and so on.  Talk radio is a big component of this counter-narrative as well, by hosts such as Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh.  This narrative also tends to gather on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and so on. 

So I think the big take away from all this is to recognize that the news networks you watch or read have an agenda.  In the past I think many of us regarded news as fairly unbiased. But that is simply no longer the case.  We should be careful when formulating opinions, and consider various sources before getting too excited and hyped up about issues.  We should ask ourselves: Have I really been told the truth?  What do the statistics say?  What is the narrative here?

Hopefully, we as Christians can begin to take hold of the media narrative in more serious ways to help get the truth out there.  Because the news media has little trouble demonizing Christians as bigots, haters, and judgmental jerks.  But we know those things aren't really true.  They are narrative.  Most Christians, not all, but most Christians really do love people and seek to share the gospel in love and truth.  

Be aware of the narrative.  The narrative is powerful. It can make people think you hate them.  It can make people think you love them.  It can control the entire mood of the nation, and right now the media narrative is in the hands of people who do not like or support Jesus or Christianity.  Don't let the narrative sweep you away.  Think for yourself.  Check both sides.  Form your own opinion, don't just follow the crowd.