March 29, 2011

False Teacher Traits, 3

These are grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. Jude 16

Sometimes you have to hit a nail several times before you’re really confident it will hold. You want the nail driven extra, extra deep because whatever it’s holding simply must not fall down. So, if you’re hanging your great-great-grandmother’s family heirloom decorative mirror, you’re probably going to make sure the nail that holds it in place is driven extra well. You’re going to hit it several times.

And sometimes the Bible is like that, too. Sometimes the biblical authors seem to hit the same nail again, and again, and again. Because there are certain biblical concepts that simply must not fall to the ground. And so the authors hit the same nail and say the same thing over, and over, and over again. And such is the case with Jude. He keeps coming back, time after time, to the false teachers and their characteristics. For, evidently, he really, really wants his readers to get it. He wants to make sure they can see and smell a heretic from a mile away. This biblical concept simply cannot fall to the ground … for, if it does, then some of Jude’s hearers will fall into hell, having been tripped up by the snares of the false teachers who have crept in among them.

So, with that in mind, bear with Jude as he hits the same nail a third time; as he rattles off another list of ways we can recognize the false teachers. Here in verse 16, he gives five of them. Let’s think each trait over, briefly ...

First, false teachers are characterized by grumbling. “These are grumblers” Jude says. They complain. They murmur. Why? Because they want everything their way. They are self-seeking divas. They are building an empire for themselves, not for God. And so, when things don’t go exactly the way they want; when people don’t fall in line, the whining begins!

Second, false teachers are characterized by accusing, or “finding fault”. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. When things don’t go according to their master plan, it can’t possibly be because they themselves are at fault; or because God is simply not blessing their heresy. No, it’s always someone else. And the offender has to be found out, so he can be rooted out or brought into line.

Third, false teachers are characterized by lusting. They follow after “their own lusts.” Again, the whole reason they are in ministry is to build a personal kingdom. Because, if you have power over people, then you can usually get what you want – the right car, the right salary package, the right women, and so on. And, yes, there are pastors that do this today! They have turned their pulpit into a throne … and are able to get away with opulence and even sexual sin because they have built an empire in which they are above the law.

Fourth, false teachers are characterized by boasting. “They speak arrogantly.” This is all part of the propaganda. In order to build up their control and authority; in order to increase their personal capital with their hearers … sermons, church events, anniversary celebrations, and so on are carefully contrived to make the pastor more and more of a celebrity; more and more of a demigod and a superman. Sometimes it’s his gifts that are accentuated. Other times it’s his learning. Sometimes it’s his ‘command’ over the spirits that is flaunted. And things like clothing and appearance all come under consideration as well. ‘How can I make myself appear to be as superhuman as possible?’ is the question these men are often asking themselves, even if subconsciously.

Fifth, false teachers are characterized by flattering. Some people won’t fall in line and worship the pastor simply because he appears to be almost a demigod. No, they’re not going to fall in line that easily. And what they need is a little flattering; a few extra pats on the back. And false teachers are almost always glad to give it. But this is not a pastor encouraging his people. It’s “flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage.” Because, again, the false teacher’s goal is often to build a little kingdom for himself. And if he has to butter a few people up in order to do so, so be it!

Now what’s the summary? False teachers are in it for themselves. That’s why they boast and flatter – to gain the adulation of their hearers. That’s why they grumble and accuse – to make anyone who dares oppose them look like either a buffoon or a renegade who opposes ‘God’s anointed.’ All of it is because of lust – a lust for power, and praise, and fame, and all the sensual pleasures that come with such things. So be careful of celebrity preachers. And be careful, too, of men who are not so famous … but whose actions and attitudes make it very clear that they’re dying to be so. God’s teachers build God’s kingdom. False teachers build their own.

March 21, 2011

Black Darkness? Really?

"… for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him." Jude 13-15

Last week we said that purveyors of false gospels are heartless, spineless, fearless, loveless, and fruitless. Today we add to that list the word hopeless. For that is what Jude says about the future prospects of these men and women. “Black darkness” is reserved for them … a darkness that can be felt, apart from the gracious presence of God, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. And, says Jude, these men will squirm in that torment “forever.” There is no escaping the lake of fire. And, whatever our sins, that is good reason to repent … today! Hell is forever.

But sometimes, when we talk about hell, or the lake of fire, or the “black darkness” as Jude calls it … it can seem a little harsh. For instance, someone may read the book of Jude and say to themselves: ‘OK, Jude. I understand why you’re uptight about false teachers. We want to get the Bible right. We want to get the gospel right. So we should be careful, no doubt. But “black darkness”? Just because a guy got his theology a little crossed up? Doesn’t that seem a little bit harsh? I mean, we’re all probably a little bit confused about some things.’

But remember what Jude says in verse 15. The Lord is not so angry because somebody didn’t quite get all his i’s dotted. No! The problem with false doctrine is that it defames God. It speaks “harsh things” against Him. That is why it is so damnable. False teaching distorts God, and makes Him out to be less – far less – than He actually is.

For instance, when someone begins claiming that the Bible is filled with mistakes, and that the miracles are simply myths, they are saying two things. One, that God is really not powerful enough to raise people, bodily from the dead, or to part the Red Sea, or what-have-you. And two that this same God is either incompetent or dishonest … because He allowed the Bible to be written with so many mistruths inside! So you could see why God would be irritated by such bold and blasphemous claims!

Or when someone comes along and says that we must be saved by faith in Jesus, plus some other set of works – be they penance, confession, baptism, or whatever it may be … what that person is really saying is that Jesus is not enough. But can you imagine looking God in the eye and saying that? ‘God, you know I like Jesus quite a lot. But His finished work on the cross was clearly inadequate. In fact, when He cried out “it is finished”, He surely didn’t mean what He said. For “it” wasn’t finished until I came along and added my two cents.’ That’s blasphemy, is it not?

And when someone pronounces that Jesus Christ was ‘just a man’ or ‘just a good teacher’, the sacrilege grows. So that, again, we might ask what God might say to such a person who is so bold-faced as to determine, two thousand years after the fact, that they know better who Jesus was than Jesus Himself! Indeed, to call God a mere man is, I think, very near the height of arrogance; the height of the “harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”

And that is why God cannot tolerate false doctrine! It’s not that He is enraged if your understanding of the end times is a little off track; or if your view of baptism is askew. Those things are important. And it is sin if we misinterpret the Bible. And all sin is punishable by fire, apart from the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. But false teachers go several steps farther than the person who is just a little bit confused about a few less obvious biblical points. False teachers take the very plain teachings of the Bible and distort them in such a way that God Himself comes out distorted. They make Him less than He is. They make Him out to be a liar. And they undermine and eschew the very good news about Jesus that might have saved them! And that is why God is so angry.

March 16, 2011

Tsunami Relief

Check out CRASH Japan, an evangelical disaster relief organization on the ground in Japan

Also, Samaritan's Purse is heavily involved, too.

March 14, 2011

False Teacher Traits, Part 2

Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. Jude 20-23

Back in verse 8, Jude began compiling a list of ‘character traits’ that describe false teachers. He’s already said that they are dreamers, that they are men of unclean character, that they reject authority, and that they are proud and arrogant. But now, in verses 11-13, he continues the indictment. Follow along as he adds four more items to his list of False Teacher Traits:

In verse 11, he reminds us that false teachers are heartless. I believe that is part of the point of comparing them to Cain, Balaam, and Korah. We haven’t room for the details here, but search the Old Testament and you’ll see that each of these men were willing, in their selfishness and pride, to destroy other people. “Cain” murdered his own brother (Genesis 4). “Balaam” convinced God’s people to worship idols … resulting in a deadly plague upon the camp of Israel (Numbers 31.16). And “Korah” tried to bring down Moses, and ended up, in his arrogance, bringing his whole family to its death (Numbers 16). And what was the common denominator between these men (and the false prophets to whom Jude compares them)? They all got people killed! And that’s Jude’s point. The problem with false teachers is not that they just get a few things wrong … but that their errors are deadly! And they really don’t care. As long as they get what they want, who cares about you? And yet people still get sucked in by these Balaam’s! Don’t let it happen to you!

Second, Jude informs us that false teachers are spineless. Most of the time they don’t come right out and make their beliefs plain. Instead (Jude 12) they remain “hidden” within the church. They try to lull people into their confidence. They are sneaky. And they are, therefore, spineless – unwilling to just come out and say what they really believe. So we must be on guard! We must pay very careful attention to what we’re taught!

Third, Jude says that these men are fearless. They “feast with you without fear” (v.12). In other words, they are not really bothered by Paul’s warning that those who take the Lord’s Supper in a sinful, ungodly way might just be killed (1 Corinthians 11). Because, remember, they are arrogant. They think they are God’s untouchable anointed. So why should they be afraid? Soon enough, they will find out, Jude will go on to say at the end of verse 13! So make sure you don’t join them!

Next Jude tells us that false teachers are loveless. As we said already, they couldn’t care less what happens to you, so long as they get the prestige, or money, or power they are after. They care (v.12) only “for themselves.”

And finally, says Jude, these men are fruitless (v.13). They’re like clouds that never produce any rain, and like trees that never sprout any fruit. In other words, they do their thing, and look the part … but nothing good ever comes of it. No one is helped. No one is moved closer to heaven. No one is converted to Christ. No, the whole thing is just one giant house of straw. Their entire life’s work will come crashing down at the last day … just like a farmer eventually cuts down and burns the trees that take up space in his orchard and never produce any fruit! Such will be the fate of the false teachers. Such will be the fate of so many of the familiar, smiling faces on TBN and in the so-called emergent church. They have built quite an empire for themselves here on earth. But they will have no reward in heaven … because they cultivated empires instead of fruit trees!

So watch out for these men (and women). They’re very good at sucking people in. As Phil Collins sang: They’ll ‘take your heart but you won’t feel it.’ So guard that heart. Know the truth. Love the Scriptures. And cling to the biblical Jesus!

March 11, 2011

Two reasons to Pray for Japan

Japan is suffering right now. It is also one of the least reached nations on earth. So there are two reasons to pray. Here they are, from Matthew 24 ...

4And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. 5For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will mislead many. 6You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. 9Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. 13But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

In other words, the earthquake in Japan is not further evidence that we should just hunker down wait for Jesus to come back any day. No, this is merely an early birth pang. If we want Jesus to be back any day, we must spring into action, getting the gospel to "all the nations, and then the end will come." May it be so in Japan.

March 10, 2011

Anthony, Ethiopia, and Persecution

Anthony is in Ethiopia this week and next ... hoping to train pastors in the cities of Hosanna and Jimma. But this just in from his twitter account:

60+ churches & homes have been burned w/in the last week in Jimma. So, we're unable to work there. Pray for the believers in that region.

And here's a news link. Please be praying.

March 9, 2011

Respect the Devil!

But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you”! But these men revile the things which they do not understand. Jude 9-10a

Perhaps my title threw you off a little bit. I hope it at least got you intrigued. ‘Is Kurt really saying we are supposed to respect the devil? What in the world does he mean by that?’ Well, know that I do mean what the title implies. We ought to respect the devil. Know also that I will explain what I mean as I type along down the page.

First, realize that what Jude says in verses 9-10 is a continuation of what he just said in verse 8. Remember that, in that verse, Jude was beginning to compile a list of traits that characterize false teachers. They dream instead of studying. They defile the flesh and live sinful lives. They reject authorities and often run one man shows. And they revile angelic majesties. That is to say that they become so puffed up with pride; so sure that they are God’s unique, anointed servants that they come to think of themselves as invincible. And that pride asserts itself, especially, in the way they assume they can personally ‘bind the devil’, hogtie the demons, and so on.

So that was verse 8 – four characteristics of false teachers. And, in verses 9-10a, Jude expands on the last of those points. He gives more detail as to why reviling angelic majesties is so foolish. And what he says is actually quite amazing.

Evidently, when Moses died, Satan and the archangel Michael had a giant brouhaha about who would get control of Moses’ corpse. The Bible says nothing about this, so we cannot be certain exactly why they were disputing over such a thing. And, really, it is beside the point in Jude’s train of thought. The main thing is that Satan and Michael were having a dispute. And here’s the kicker: Michael, in the midst of that dispute, was unwilling to call names, pronounce judgment, or in any way assert personal superiority over the devil. That’s what verse 9 is all about. He did not personally revile or rebuke the devil, but simply said “The Lord rebuke you.”  It was God's name and God's power that won the day, not Michael's!

Why is that significant? Because Michael (apparently the strongest of God’s angels) evidently recognized the great might and power of the one with whom he was disputing. Yes, he engaged Satan in battle (and evidently won).  But he respected Satan’s might and would not lock horns with him in his own name or strength. And that is significant! If not even Michael the archangel would personally rebuke the devil … what does that say about the men on television who venture to do so, and with Hollywood bravado?  What does it say about Christians who think they can bind the devil with a glib mantra, or wrestle him to the mat with a magic verbal formula? It says, as Jude points out in verse 10a, that these people are reviling “things which they do not understand.”

This is not to deny that Christians sometimes can (and must) do hand-to-hand combat with the unclean spirits.  There are plenty of examples of this in the New Testament.  But let the words of the seventy in Luke 10 sink in deeply: "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name."  When believers engage in conflict with (or verbally rebuke) the dark forces, it is always in the Lord's name, not by their own cleverness, bravery, or strength! That is Jude’s point in verses 9-10. Anyone who would attempt to rebuke the devil directly ought not be trusted as a Christian teacher … because he doesn’t understand even the most basic things – namely that he is absolutely helpless apart from Christ!

The devil is not, by any means, invincible ... nor should Christians should cower before him. After all, "He that is in you is greater (far greater) than he that is in the world."  Jesus will one day scoop Satan up like the lint in your dryer’s catch-basin and throw him into the lake of fire. But note well that it is Jesus who will do this! Only God Himself can effectively revile and rebuke the devil. And you and I can only reasonably engage him when we say, with Michael the archangel, “the Lord rebuke you”. So rather than personally rebuking him or reviling him, we ought to respect the devil – not at all for his character or goodness (which is worthy of our hatred); not in a servile way; and certainly not in the way we reverence God. But we ought to respect him nonetheless – not mainly as a bow to his strength (which is considerable and real), but as an acknowledgment that we are not God!

*emphasis within scriptural quotations is mine.

March 2, 2011

By what Authority?

Preached from Luke 20 tonight. Was helped to discover some practical wisdom in the way Jesus dealt with scoffers and skeptics ...

In verse 2, we find Jesus’ opponents coming to Him, in essence, with that age-old childish refrain: ‘Says who?’. ‘You’re saying a lot of incredible things there, Jesus. But what gives you the right to talk like that? What gives you the right to make these kinds of claims? "By what authority are you doing these things?"’

It’s the same thing that people say today when you present to them the challenging words of Scripture. Instead of just taking them at face value, and admitting that they just don’t like what they say … some of our friends start questioning the authority of the scriptures themselves: ‘Why should I believe the Bible? Who says that this book is any better than or different from the Qur’an, or than my own religious musings?’ And I just note that, in the face of that kind of questioning, Jesus did not feel the need to get into a long drawn out argument about the authority behind His teaching. He just demonstrated the authority of the teaching by continuing to teach … and letting God continue to work (see the rest of Luke 20)! And that is a good lesson for us.

God’s word is like a hammer that break rocks into pieces, says Jeremiah. And no one ever argues about hammers, do they? No, if your friend doesn’t believe that your hammer is strong enough to shatter a rock … you don’t argue with him about the physical properties of your hammer! You just keep hitting the rock until the hammer settles the argument itself! And so should be our first response when people question the authority of Scripture. So maybe they don’t believe it has power. But if you just keep applying it to the hardness of their hearts, eventually the Bible will prove itself!

Now that is not to say that there is no place for showing people why the Bible is reliable, and why the faith is reasonable. There is, indeed, a place for those things; a place for apologetics. But when someone is simply scoffing at the authority of Jesus and Scripture, arguing and apologetics usually serve little purpose. Sometimes it is far better to demonstrate the authority of Scripture by simply proclaiming its truth than by arguing about its truthfulness!