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False Christs

Try this:  Have a friend who does not know Jesus write down the first 5 words they think of when they think of the name “Jesus.”  What image do they have?  Is it a false Christ?

At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible.
Matthew 24:23-24

Even the elect?  I’ve always been shocked at that statement!  I guess just because they are “the elect,” does not mean they are infallible, and it does not mean they are “foolproof.”  I’ve seen kids raised in Christian homes join cults…because they didn’t know the real Jesus. My very first teaching job was at a Christian school-replacing the former science teacher who left to join a cult because she didn’t know (so how could she teach?) the real Jesus.  When I was a new Christian, I almost got sucked into a cult because I didn’t know enough about the real Jesus.

This passage is not necessarily about prophecy.  To me, it is about spiritual abuse and wrong teaching.  It is our shepherd teaching us about “stranger danger.”  Ironically, the words “Beware of false Christs” were said by the actual Christ.  Why would He say such a thing?  Because, as the apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:11

“…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
2 Corinthians 2:11

Schemes?  What schemes?  Well, much like those crazy mirrors in the “house of mirrors” at most carnivals that are designed to make us appear differently – stretch us, shrink us, make us really fat, skinny, and just plain out-of-proportion…Satan tries to do that with peoples’ image of Jesus.  And one of the best ways he does that?  In unhealthy churches.  Peace, be still – I am not going rebel on you!  I am not saying “Don’t go to church!”  I am saying to go to a good church!  A church that preaches the real Jesus of the Bible, not the Jesus of other peoples’ bad experiences with life.  Just because the speaker is angry, does not mean Jesus is!

When Jesus first began to reveal Himself to you, what was He like?  I can tell you how He FIRST introduced Himself to you because He tells us how He did:

 The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”  –Jeremiah 31:3 

Let me tell you a cool story I recently witnessed.  Majed El Shafie was a Muslim born in Cairo Egypt.  He was a very rigid man brought up in the custom of Islam and all of its rules and harshness.  He was very well set to rise into the power brokers of Islam with an uncle sitting on the Egyptian Supreme Court, and another uncle sitting as Vice President.  He had a childhood friend born in the same hospital as he, raised in the same neighborhood as he, and attended the same school as he.  They were best friends.  One major difference:  His friend was a Christian.  But Majed never stopped to focus on that.  They were just friends.  They grew up together, laughed together, played practical jokes together, were normal together.  As he grew older he began to notice that people made fun of his friend – Tamir, and were even mean to him.  In college Majed was studying law and had always been curious why Christians were persecuted.  Though his friend Tamir was a Christian, and Majed did not sense any strange things about him – no third eye, no protuding horn, etc.  He wondered what was so bad about them that Islam hated them such, so he asked his best (and Christian) friend.  Tamir gave Majed a book that he said would answer all of Majed’s questions – a Bible.

Truly seeking answers, Majed flipped the book open – you know, one of those “random” opens where nobody knows where it will land.  Of all the places in the Bible where it could open, the Lord made sure it opened to John chapter 8.  The first story ever read by Majed, and the first experience Majed ever had with Jesus was when He encountered the woman caught in the act of adultery.

Majed was spellbound.  He knew rules and laws.  He knew exactly what would happen in Egypt if this were to happen! As he read the passage, he identified with the religious leaders as they waited for judgment to be passed, and the immediate execution of this infidel.  But it didn’t happen!  Majed was shocked by the response of Jesus.  Compassion.  Wisdom.  What sticks out in Majed’s mind is that Jesus told the anxious crowd of religious leaders who were ready to murder, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…” Majed automatically knew that there was only one person in that crowd who was without sin – and He was not casting any stones.

Religion needs stones. Jesus doesn’t use them!

Equally interesting to Majed was the lack of preaching, discipline, or threats by Jesus. He did not force her into slavery, or servitude. No beating (The Koran, in Surah 4:34 says husbands are to beat their wives if they even fear disobedience) No manipulation.  In fact, what Jesus said only takes up a line or two in a Bible,

“Neither do I condemn you.”

Wow.  The last thing Jesus told her was

“Go now and leave your life of sin.” – John 8:11

Of all the ways Jesus would choose to reveal Himself to Majed, it was with that story.  Grace.  Love.  Mercy.  Wisdom.  Peace.  Protection.  Truth.  Forgiveness.

Think about just SOME of the Bible’s names for Jesus found in Isaiah 9:6 – this is OLD TESTAMENT!  You know this passage!  It is the old “For unto us a child is born.  Unto us a Son is given…

And he will be called

  • Wonderful Counselor (you mean He cares enough to help, guide and heal us?)
  • Mighty God (He never backs off of His power – Mighty to save!)
  • Everlasting Father (His love never fails, never give up, never runs out on us!)
  • Prince of Peace (I can think of a lot of titles to put after prince, but peace?  Yep!  He especially loves to take on your life’s storms!)  Then there is this really interesting, seemingly non sequitur word in the next sentence of that passage.  Peace is such an integral part of who Jesus is that it is actually part of His government:

7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7

Of the things that God tells us to sing about in the Old Testament, we are told one of them is His love:

I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 59:16

I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.  Psalm 89:1

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O LORD, I will sing praise. Psalm 101:1

It’s kind of a big thing.  Apparently, it is important to Jesus that we know He loves us.  If we are representing anything other than the graceful, loving, merciful, and forgiving Jesus, then we are perpetrating a false Christ, and Jesus tells others to stay away from us!

I think I know what some of you are thinking – “What about when He disciplines us?  He’s kinda mean THEN isn’t he??”  Let’s let the same Bible tell us about God’s discipline:

The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
Hebrews 12:6-7

The words discipline and love are so close to each other in that sentence they are nearly right next to each other!  His love never goes away – even when He is developing us, and teaching us!  Even when we have messed up!

Rest in the arms of a loving, graceful, merciful, and “in-loving-pursuit-of-you” Jesus!  Ask Him to reveal His true self to you.  He is faithful!

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Finished…?

USS Shaw Exploding in Pearl Harbor Attack

 I was amazed at this picture of destruction in Pearl Harbor as I am every year at this time.  Agony, burning, explosions, death, destruction, mayhem….scars.  But here is what is most interesting:  this ship – the USS Shaw – was actually repaired and served in the rest of WW 2 in the Pacific.  When I first saw the picture, I thought, “Wow – that ship is done for! Can’t rebuild that one!!”  And that is what the enemy would like for us to believe as well for our own lives!  In spite of the Hope of Glory, if satan can convince US that there is no hope of rebuilding, that we are done-for, and to just give up, then he wins!  Remember, satan’s words are all lies.  Smoke and mirrors!!  Jesus told us that in John 8:44 –

“Why is my language [what I say] not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning…there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Wow!!  Jesus said that to the religious leaders of that day!  Makes me wonder what religious leaders I should be following today?  I guess those who espouse and worship Jesus as Savior and Lord are a pretty good bet – which is what THOSE religious leaders did NOT do!  So we must keep that in mind as we hear satan’s whispers in our ears and heart.  Lies like, “You have REALLY messed up now!  Why bother!  You can never be fully used of God now!!” or how about this one that resonates with many young people, “You were born out-of-wedlock – see!  You are not even supposed to be here!  You are an ACCIDENT!  You need to exit so that this place can be put back into the correct balance…”  Or how about this one – “Yes God loves people – but not you.  You are a screw up!  You have pissed Him off so many times now that He is done with you!  You might just as well give in and do what you want – have all the fun now cuz when you die, it is all going to be over!”  [If you want answers to those lies or any of the millions of others, please write to me so I can help you know the truth!]

So, a lie implies that the opposite of what the liar said is actually what is true.  So, if we are told we are an accident, then we must NOT be!  The Bible makes that clear!  The truth is in Psalm 139:13-15 –

“…For you formed my inward parts;  you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works;  my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,  intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance;  in your book were written, every one of them,  the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them…”

There is no special “condition” or “exception” in that statement!   We cannot even be here without God’s permission!   If He made you, then you must NOT be an accident.  If He formed you, then who and how you are when you are redeemed and set free is who and how He designed and intended you to be.  If we hear the lie, “You have really done it now, there is no hope for you.  God is so mad at you – He is just done with you!  Give it up!”  Then try this on for size:

Romans 5:20, ” …where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…”

Here is what is awesome about that verse:  the word “increased” and “abounded” are from the same root word in the Greek language – which is what this passage was originally written in.  It is the word ἐπλεόνασεν, transliterated as “epleonasen”  which means  “increase, make increase, grow.”  The Word “increase” is merely that basic word.  But when God has Paul write the word “abounded” – He has Paul use another word: ὑπερεπερίσσευσεν, which when transliterated is hypereperisseusen (again same root word, but with a prefix on the front of it!) which means “be very abundant, cause to abound greatly.”  So the idea is “You sinned?  Okay, Wll my grace is bigger than your sin!  So get over it!  Press onward!”

Are you getting the picture of God’s heart?  It doesn’t matter what you do.  God’s grace will always be even more abundant than our screw up. God is NOT done with us!  HE promised that!  Philippians 1:6 tells us that

“…And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ…”

Let me leave you with this final word.  One of my favorite passages in 2 Corinthians 4 (which is actually Paul’s 4th letter to Corinth, not his 2nd as many think).  I have learned that God’s economy is always above and separate from whatever is happening in this world.  If Greece is bankrupt, God’s economy is flourishing.  If Washington is corrupt, God’s economy is always full of integrity.  God’s ways are simply above and beyond our ways (what did Buzz Lightyear say…”to infinity and beyond!”).  So what we see with our limited eyes is not the final word – like ships exploding and burning.  Because our eyes cannot see the God of the universe at work behind the scenes…but we know He is there…He tells us He is!  Look at 2 Corinthians 4:7- 11

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

Where Jesus is, there is Life.  Even in the midst of death and destruction, sin and filth, violence and mayhem – Jesus brings healing, peace, life, grace, forgiveness, order, and purpose.  God never promised a life without pain, or alife without trouble.  But He DID promise safe delivery OUT OF them! 

“…Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all…” (Psalm 34:19 ESV)

 That is why a few verses later we are told where to focus our thoughts and attentions:

“…So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

If you are hurting, pray and invite the “unseen” God – the Holy Spirit into your hurt.  Invite Jesus there.  Take Him back to the source of that hurt and pain.  Invite Him there.  He actually WAS there in real life, but invite Him there in your memory and in your spirit.  Ask Him to bring healing, peace, life, grace, forgiveness, order, and purpose in those memories, thoughts, or experiences.  He is so faithfully loving and gentle.   And because that’s how God is, like the USS Shaw, you WILL sail again!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ4hgnfhRvY

(The above song was written by Steven Curtis Chapman when he lost his daughter…)

By the way, want “the rest of the story”?  Here is what happened to the USS Shaw (Copied from the US Naval historical records as recorded at http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-s/dd373.htm):

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Shawwas in drydock at the Navy Yard there. Enemy bombs set her afire and her forward magazines exploded, severing her bow and wrecking her bridge area.

However, Shaw‘s midships and stern portions were still essentially intact. Following temporary repairs at Pearl Harbor, in February 1942 she went to the Mare Island Navy Yard for a new bow and general overhaul. When this work was completed in late June 1942, Shaw spent several months in training and convoy escort duties. Sent to the South Pacific in October 1942, she participated in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands late in that month. While supporting the Guadalcanal Campaign, she ran aground at New Caledonia on 10 January 1943, requiring a trip to Pearl Harbor for extensive repairs.

Shaw returned to the war zone in October 1943 and took part in operations around New Guinea and New Britain. She was hit in an air attack off Cape Gloucester on 26 December 1943. After repair of that damage, she operated in the Central Pacific, including participation in the invasion of Guam. From October 1944 into 1945, Shaw escorted Western Pacific convoys and help liberate Luzon and other parts of the Philippines. When the Pacific war ended in August 1945, Shaw had just completed another overhaul, including major enhancement of her anti-aircraft armament. However, she was too old for retention in the post-war fleet and was sent to the U.S. east coast for inactivation.

Most would have thought that the Shaw was done for at the first attack.  But because of her designer she was repaired and went on to endure several more major catastrophies, and was still used in the American naval service!  We too are still useful to God in His plan.  NEVER give up!

For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  (Romans 11:29 ESV)

Not Home Yet…

"Do I Belong Here?"

I was engrossed by the headline.  A child had found her own biological mother years after being stolen from her hospital bed at just a few days of age.  The thief was never caught – and the child was never recovered…until recently.  How could  this happen?  As the child grew older, she just had this feeling that “she didn’t belong with the family raising her.”

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/41163230/ns/today-today_people/t/kidnapped-girl-finds-her-own-mom-after-years/

Ever had the feeling you that you didn’t belong where you were? Felt like you were meant for something so much better?  You were!  Just like in the article above – this place we call home – it really isn’t our home!   Designed to be born into God’s Kingdom of love, instead, we were given over to satan’s kingdom at birth because of Adam and Eve’s choices:

Rom 5:19 tells us that “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made [members of satan’s kingdom].”

I know.  I have often struggled with that verse as well.  We would like to say, “But I never made that choice!  How can I be held accountable – even guilty – for a choice somebody else made?”  Apparently, good ol’ American values don’t line up with those of the rest of the universe!  God – and satan – think generationally.  Always have.  But, there is good news too!

Romans 5:15 “But the free gift is not like the trespass…  For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ…Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

There are times where generational consequences don’t do us any favors.  Satan knew if he could win my paternal grandpa over with alcohol, and have him die from a swimming accident due to his drunkenness, then that blow would sink the rest of his family for generations.  Indeed!  Furthermore, if he could do the double whammy of getting my other grandfather to be abusive to his family, then become an absent father, and then commit suicide after terrorizing his family, surely satan would put that family into a tailspin from which they could never recover, right?   Except God.

Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in  the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind…”

This is my favorite part of the passage…

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus…”

So here is my question:  How many leaders do you know who are willing to “show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us”? Drawn by God’s amazing grace, we were born into the household of God.  Now, you can tell a lot about a King, by looking at their kingdom.  The picture below is a fine collection of some of this world’s most powerful dictators in this century, along with a measure of the health of their fine kingdom.

The numbers under their name  represent the number of people killed under their regime and with their blessing.  Why?  They didn’t think exactly  the same way as their leader.  Some were caught sneaking into the kingdom.  Others (most) were caught trying to sneak out. Then there were those who dared to have a different skin color, or religious (or athiestic) beliefs, or culture.  Penalty for any of these great acts of disobedience?  Death.  The above passage in Ephesians was exactly correct!  Those people were children of wrath, dead in their trespasses in their respective kingdoms – just as we are if we are in satan’s kingdom.  But God…

Don’t believe me?  Ever known a partier who tries to quit the party scene?  What do their friends do?  Try to get them back!  Ever known an alcoholic who tries to quit?  What do their friends do?  Ever known an addict who tries to quit?  What do their friends do?  The kingdom of satan cannot (and will not!) handle loss…But God…

Now of course, there is always the criminal element as well.  What do you do with murderers and rapists, thieves and violent types?  Well, let’s take a look at the “law” book that governs God’s Kingdom:

1 Corinthians 6:9, “…do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor  drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  11 And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Forgiven.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on us who fear Him (Psalm 103:13).

Who is your daddy?  In whose kingdom do you belong?  If we have given our life to Jesus, then the answer is simple.  Do you know Him?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX_7j32zgNw&feature=related

Our true citizenship is in heaven.  That might explain a few things!

That is why Jesus told us what He did in John 15:19,

“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

And again Jesus confirms this in John 17:14,

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world…”

Philippians 3:20 tells us “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…”  Not only is our citizenship in heaven, that is where our true family is as well, as Ephesians 2:19 tells us:

“…you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…”

Hebrews 13:14 “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

Here is what is awesome…are you ready for this?  Because we are members of God’s Kingdom, we are here on this earth as ambassadors.

2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us…”

Legally, ambassadors are not under the law of the land they are in – they are governed under the law of their citizenship. Do you understand what that means for us?  Everywhere we set our foot, we represent the grace and kindness of our God.  We EMBODY the grace and kindness of our God.  Every where we walk, every person we talk to, God makes His appeal through us.

And what is His appeal?  Earlier on, He tells in verse 18 that “Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…”

We truly do not belong in this place.  But while we are here, we live for Christ.  We are not home…yet…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=od3Ws-0WZuo