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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!

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.”

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?

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…