Recognizing a False Teaching


Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 7:15 to beware of false prophets. I wrote about the characteristics of a false prophet.

This time, I want to look at the characteristics of a false message.

The motive of the false prophet determines the message of the false prophet. In other words, the message is tailored to the motive.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV

False prophets will use Scripture to validate their message. If they didn’t, they would be at risk of losing your interest since you are wanting to hear a word from God.

But, the message of the false prophet will have to contradict scriptural truths at some point. It is at this point, that the message is revealed as false.

It is at the point of contradiction that the motive of the false prophet is revealed. Therefore, true prophecy and true teaching will not contradict Scripture at any point.

The books of Second Peter and Jude are two of the most extensive in speaking of false prophets and false prophecy or false teaching.

Jude gives us a view into the message of the false prophet:

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Jude 3-4 NIV

Then, Jude went on to say this:

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion. These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. Vs. 11-12

From verses 11 and 12, we can deduce some things about a false teaching or prophecy.

A false prophecy or false teaching will:

  1. Promote God’s blessings without true repentance.

Have you ever noticed that many teachings that are out there are what I call “blanket blessings”? In other words, they tell you to do certain things and you will receive God’s blessing, but they never focus on where the heart of the individual is! “Just do this and you will receive this”!

This is the way of Cain.

Cain brought to God a sacrifice of His goods. The Bible tells us that Cain brought “some” of his fruits as an offering, while it tells us that Abel brought the fat and the first as an offering.

Without repentance, we can bring “some” of what we have as an offering but God wants all of our heart. He wants the “fat” and “first” of our lives.

The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Genesis 4:4-5

The Lord replied to Cain’s anger this way:

“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7

A message that is a “blanket blessing” – which does not honor God through preaching true repentance and lordship as a condition of favor is a false message.

  1. Teaches that money is a sign of God’s favor or that it can buy God’s favor.

Money is necessary in this life. Following God’s principles of good stewardship and faithful sowing create a pathway to increase. Debt free living brings increase. Faithful work habits bring favor with employers which brings opportunity for promotion financially. Good service and integrity as a business owner brings new customers which creates a pathway for more finances to come in. Wise investments can also bring increase in finances.

Now, many messages don’t touch on these things at all. They simply say, “Give and you will receive”. You must receive to increase but: receiving doesn’t necessarily lead to increase  — good stewardship and integrity does!

You can make a million dollars this year and spend a million and a half. The result is still financial bondage.

Now that is out of the way, let me say this: beware of any message that teaches that riches or abundance is a sign of God’s love and favor. Finances may be a sign of God’s favor— or, it may not be at all! This is Balaam’s error.

All kinds of people are rich in this world: many wouldn’t know God is they ran into Him on the street! Consider these scriptures:

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:24-27

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. 1 Timothy 6:3-6

It is extremely difficult for an individual to keep God first when money is screaming “hold on to me” and when you believe that money is a sign that God is on your side. Put those two things together and you’ll respond like the rich young ruler if Jesus tells you to give it all away. Many who love God with all their hearts are not rich and many who are rich do not love God at all. And, you cannot purchase God’s move in your life with money. Acts chapter 8 tells us the story of Simon who thought he could purchase God’s move in his life with money. The apostles rebuked him for his folly.

  1. Promotes the teacher and his special revelations.

God gives great revelation. He deserves the glory for all we receive from Him. I cringe at our attempts to promote ourselves as having an inside into things that others don’t. Statements like this scare me: “You must buy these teachings because the revelations here will change your life”. The exaltation of Jesus will change your life and whatever revelation anyone has comes straight from the word of God which is available to you for the price of a Bible! Teachers and prophets received revelation freely so we should release it to you for free! Yes, cost of materials must be covered. But, promoting the “special nature of the teacher” is another thing altogether.

Special revelations – the exaltation of teachers: this is Korah’s rebellion.

When the children of Israel rose up against Moses and Aaron saying that all God’s people were spiritually gifted, Moses replied:

Who is Aaron that you should grumble against him?” Numbers 16:11

Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.” Numbers 16:15

Moses did not exalt his position although he had one. You can see by his response that Moses did not make himself wealthy by taking things from those whom he led.

God will put up with a lot of stuff but one thing He won’t put up with forever is someone who takes His glory.

 Remember the words of the apostle Paul:

Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 1 Corinthians 2:5-7

Therefore let no one boast in men. Vs. 21

I hope the last two blogs help you to recognize the authentic message of God.

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How to Shake the Fake Anointing


The Bible teaches us in both testaments about the existence of false prophets and the dangers associated with their teachings. Over the next couple of weeks, I’d like to look into the characteristics of false prophets and their teachings.

First, let’s look at the characteristics of the false prophet.

Jesus tells us in Matthew, chapter seven to beware of false prophets.

Beware – properly, have towards, i.e. to give full attention; to set a course and keep to it.

The best way for us to identify false prophets and false prophecy is to give our full attention to the Word of the Lord.

To learn how to recognize a counterfeit, you are taught to recognize what is authentic.

False prophets look like sheep. They categorize themselves as being followers of the Lord, but Jesus said that truly, they are ravenous wolves.

What does a wolf do to a sheep? Feed on them. Why? Because, they are hungry.

What are they hungry for?

That’s the rub! To recognize a false prophet, you discern where their hunger takes them away from the truth of the word of God.

The prophet Jeremiah was surrounded by false prophets in his day. In chapter 23 of Jeremiah, he lists some characteristics of the false prophets of his day:

  1. They commit adultery and walk in lies

To understand this trait requires some biblical knowledge. We know that the commission of adultery is a specific act. But, scripturally we also know that adultery is committed spiritually against the Lord when we put things before Him.

Peter describes these individuals:

With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed–an accursed brood! 2 Peter 2:14

Peter characterized them by saying that they:  follow the desire of corrupt flesh and despise authority. Verse 10

They profess to teach the truth but live a lie. A lie is a falsehood used to promote the desires of the speaker.

A false prophet will tailor the truth to justify the desires of his own flesh.

Their teachings will seek to justify the indulgence of the flesh and even use scripture to make those indulgences spiritual.

  1. They seek popular acclaim

False prophets want to be recognized. How do they do that? More often than not, they do this by preaching a message that supposedly leads to outcomes desirable to their listeners.

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3

Inside the teachings of the false prophet resides a very dangerous component:

An unconditional pledge of immunity from disaster.

Repentance of sin is not usually a part of their pathway to God’s blessing. To have the widest appeal, they must tailor the message to include both sincere seekers and rebels, so they replace repentance with attitude adjustments, life coaching, and commands to “do something”.

  1. They fail to distinguish their own dreams from a word from God

Since their desires are corrupted, their words are usually corrupted by their own desires. They tell of dreams and encounters that bolster their goals and often, exalt these dreams and experiences to the level of biblical revelation.

Thus says the Lord of Hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart not from the mouth of the Lord. Jeremiah 23:16

Any teacher or prophet can miss God or have to clarify where a word is coming from. The apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains examples of that (1 Corinthians 7). With the anointing comes great responsibility for its presence. Dreams/visions/words are to be tested by God’s word. Any prophet who claims infallibility is to be rejected.

  1. They steal words from one another

False prophets will seek the “wow” factor. The anointing creates what they are looking for but if they are false, they will need another source. They often are voracious readers and listeners of others. In and of itself, this is not wrong. But, false prophets are looking for manipulative words and methods through which they can make people think they are speaking from the anointing when in reality, they are using motivational speech to bolster their goals. People who seek to motivate others are always looking for new buttons to push!

In closing, Jesus said that a false prophet may do wonders, give great words, and even appear to cast out demons, but you cannot fake doing the will of God, which is contained in the entirety of God’s Word. This is what marks the true prophet of God. They teach it and live it.

Next time, we’ll look at the message of the false prophet.

What is Holiness?


Holiness is a misunderstood concept. Since the church is confused about it, then the world has no idea what it is. 

1 Peter 1:15-16: “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’”

What is this scripture telling us about holiness?

First, the scripture tells us to be holy in the same way that God is holy. How is God holy? God’s holiness is the essence of His character.

Many of us see holiness as a way that we dress or look. But, holiness is not real if it doesn’t first rule in the heart. The scripture instructs us, “Be holy for I am holy.”

It doesn’t say, “Do holy” but it says to “be holy as God is holy.” It will help to define what biblical holiness is.

Holy: Greek – hagios which means “different” or “unlike” or “otherness”

To fully describe how God is different from anything else we know would take pages and even then, I’m not sure that words can do His uniqueness justice.

One of the characteristics of God is that He is completely pure – without any hint of impurity in motive within Him. This type of purity is difficult for us to understand apart from a revelation of it from God. We are used to living with ourselves and others in the Body of Christ. At best, we still see times when motives are convoluted and responses are tainted by sin and selfishness. We get used to this being our “reality” and can forget that God is not like the best that we see around us.

Purity: freedom from adulteration or contamination.

God is the definition of purity. He is the plumb line to which we measure purity. In Him, the mixture that we see, even in believers is not present.

God could not be defined as pure if He allowed any impurity. He is the essence of purity and the force that confronts and destroys all that is impure.

The scripture tells us that we are to be holy as God is holy. So, since God is holy in character, we are called to be holy in character.

Let’s think about this a moment:

Thank God that He has covered us in the unchanging holiness of Jesus. It is the only way that we can be in a familial relationship with God. If it were not for Jesus, we couldn’t be used by God or be His friend because we would constantly be running up against His opposition to our impure, sinful nature.

But with that being said, God still calls us to possess a holy nature, not just hold a “trump card” to judgment.

That leads to point two: the scripture states that we are to be “holy in our conduct.” We don’t just go to confession, then go out and live like we want and claim that we are a new creation because of a label we carry. We are not just forgiven but changed!!

The evidence of this change is seen in conduct that increasingly reflects the character of God.

Hebrews 12:14: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”

Holiness: Greek – hagiasmos which means “progressively transformed into God’s likeness.”

A Christian who is not becoming like Christ is a devil dressed in religious garb.

If you truly know the Lord, you will be unlike you were at the time before your salvation and you will be increasingly becoming more like the One who saved you.

2 Corinthians 7:1: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Perfecting holiness means to progressively be cleansed from adulteration and contamination.

You cannot possess the Holy Spirit of God unless you are set apart to God and are exclusively His.

You are possessed by a Holy Spirit!

What does it mean to be possessed?

Possessed – to occupy with the intent to control.

Satan controls through fear and intimidation. God controls through revelation and partnered submission.

If your conduct is not under submission to Christ, then your heart is not either.

To be holy means that we are different and unlike that which is common. We are “otherworldly”; like God in heart and motive. If in any way it is revealed that we are not acting according to holy character, we quickly repent and make a conscious move toward the actions that make us like our God.

We live in two realities at once; both beautifully defined in Hebrews 10:14:

“For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”

Thank God for the perfection of Jesus! If not for that, I would remain an enemy of God. But, it is by His death and through the perfection of His Spirit that I am being molded into His image through sanctification; the removal of all adulteration and contamination of flesh and spirit by the unchanging purity of His Presence!

Is your relationship with Jesus changing your behavior and attitudes?

 

 

Changing of the Guard


When we were in Israel, we went to the Temple Institute where work is proceeding on preparations for the building of the Third Temple. We saw the solid gold candlestick among other things that are prepared for use when the Temple is rebuilt. We also saw the priestly garments that are being prepared for the high priest. The prophet Jeremiah tells us about a day in which a new covenant will be instituted in place of the old one broken by the sin and rebellion of Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

We know that this new covenant was instituted upon the birth, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. Jesus is the High Priest of the New Covenant according to Hebrews 2:17:

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. NLT

When the covenant changes, there must also be a change of priesthood.

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood–and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood–why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 7:11-17

So, if there is a change in the priesthood to accommodate the change from one covenant of salvation to another, shouldn’t there be some type of “passing of the torch” or changing of the guard? Wouldn’t that make things much easier if we could see the transition take place between the Aaronic priesthood to the Messianic priesthood?

Who was high priest at the time of Jesus’ death?

Caiaphas, a corrupt priest who plotted the murder of Jesus. He could not have participated in any type of godly transition of authority. Remember the prophecy Malachi spoke before the close of the Old Testament canon:

Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 4:4-5

Before the coming of the Lord, there will be sent “Elijah” who will fulfill the requirements and stipulations of the Law of Moses. He will be instrumental in the “turning” of the tide.

The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13

Let’s take a look at John the Baptist again.

John’s father was a Levite, a priest of the division of Abijah who was a descendant of Aaron (1 Chronicles 24:10). John’s mother, Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. He was the only priest in history whose birth was announced by an angel in the Holy Place during the priestly ministry, making direct reference to the prophecy of Malachi and saying that John would fulfill it.

What was the ministry of the high priest?

To cleanse the people of their sins.

What was John doing in the waters of the Jordan River? Baptizing the people for the cleansing of their sins.

John fulfilled all Mosaic requirements for the high priesthood. He was a man who lived a godly lifestyle – unlike the wicked Caiaphas. It was John who was the true representation of the Aaronic priesthood. So now, get this picture:

In John 3, we see Jesus coming to John the Baptist at the Jordan River to be baptized by him. Jesus said to John:

“Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”

The two priests, standing in the waters of the Jordan River – the place of endings and beginnings; the two priesthoods, the priesthood of the old and the priesthood of the new.

As the two priesthoods stand face to face, the old bears witness to the new. John bears witness to Jesus’ priesthood and ministry and declares it greater than his own.

The torch is passed. The changing of the guard is complete.

 

Not Ashamed


I remember when I was a young boy and how my mother used to teach me the Bible. Many scriptures were a part of that learning process, but there was one that seemed to have the most impact on me. It was Mark 8:38:

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

Do you know why this scripture had such an impact upon me?

Because, it placed me right in the middle of my fears. You see, I cared very deeply how I was viewed by my friends and the people around me. My whole self view was very deeply wrapped up in other’s opinions of me. We all have a need to be loved, but I had a need to be liked. To be ostracized or ridiculed by the people I wanted to be accepted by was one of the worst things that could happen to me.

Now, at the same time, I read the words of Jesus in which He states that those who are ashamed of Him in this world of those He will be ashamed of before His Father when He returns.

Wow! This placed me in a tough situation. I didn’t want my friends to think I was “weird” but I also didn’t want to go to hell. The competing desires left me stressed about what I was going to do.

The stress that I was going through is not restricted to me or to a certain period in life. Many people struggle with this stress – , older people, younger folks, kids. Fear knows no age restriction.

You see, Satan has a hierarchy of goals in your life.

The first goal is to keep you from going to heaven. If he accomplishes this goal, then he succeeds in getting you to serve him. Fear of other people’s opinions is a powerful tool toward accomplishing that goal.

If you are saved, he cannot accomplish that goal. So, he moves on to goal number two:

To make you ineffective in reaching others for the kingdom of God.

He uses many tools against the believer to accomplish his purpose. He seeks to get the believer to focus on self. If he can get you to focus on what you don’t have, then he can steal the fruit of the Spirit from your life. Without the fruit of the Spirit, you don’t have the power to reach anyone.

Satan also seeks to get the believer bound up by what other people think of them. If he can succeed in making you a man-pleaser, then he can stop you from being used by God to further the kingdom of God.

Galatians 1:10 AMP: Now am I trying to win the favor of men, or of God? Do I seek to please men? If I were still seeking popularity with men, I should not be a bond servant of Christ (the Messiah).

Notice how Paul uses the past tense when speaking of his fear of man. Paul stated that a desire for popularity with men was in direct conflict with a life that is pleasing to God. His words are so strong that the point is made that he could not be a servant of Christ and please man at the same time!

What does it mean to be ashamed?

Properly, disgraced, like someone “singled out” because they misplaced their confidence or support (“believed the big lie”); to be ashamed (personally humiliated).

Singled out for humiliation because you believed “the big lie”?

Did you notice something here?

You cannot be ashamed of Christ unless you believe at some level that what Jesus has told you is “the big lie”.

If you are solid in your faith of who Christ is; who you are in Him; and are assured that what He says is true, then you will be confident and will instead believe that those who don’t believe Christ are those who are deceived!

Yet, many of us have a goal to be liked. Oh, I know, we hide these desires behind deceptions concocted by the enemy. It would be intolerant to speak of something as the truth if someone else doesn’t want to believe it.

Well, the problem with tolerance is that it has been marketed as the loving response to those who don’t believe when in reality; it is a fearful and selfish response to the truth!

If you know someone is dying without Jesus, how is it loving not to tell them and to give them the solution?

What type of people have we become?

Our fear of man and desire to please people above all bears no resemblance to the icons and examples of our faith.

Jesus had no problem sharing the truth to the religious and the nonreligious. How strong is it to look Pilate right in the eye and defy his control over you?

What about the apostles? If they were man-pleasers, none of you would have ever heard the Name Jesus!

If God’s people doubt the veracity of His words, no wonder we are not in revival!

Now, if you are going to stand before your friends at the final judgment – if they hold your eternal destiny in their hands, then I will recant my words. We are giving people way more power than they deserve!

A funny thing happens on the way to freedom from the opinions of others – you can actually love people at a greater level than you can when you are afraid of them!

 I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. Romans 1:16

If I am ashamed, I am thinking only of myself and not those who will be lost without Jesus. 

Lord, help me to love others more than I care about my own popularity!

Mishandling the Move of the Spirit


I want to share something with you that I spoke about recently. The story is original to me but the five ways we mishandled the move of God is not original to me. They come from an article that appeared in Charisma News in an opinion piece written by J. Lee Grady in May of 2016. The truth is timeless and bears repeating so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

In the early 1980’s, I owned a restaurant in the town I lived in. Having a restaurant afforded me the opportunity to hear the “town gossip”. There was a church in town that I used to hear a lot about – most of what I heard was negative because the church was growing and disrupting traffic according to the locals. I was not saved at the time, but I didn’t really have a problem with the church attracting people. It brought business to my restaurant.

On Valentine’s Day of 1984, I walked into the office of the church I had been hearing about, looking for help with my life. It was that day that God saved me. What I didn’t really realize at the time was that I had been saved right in the middle of a move of the Spirit. As I began to attend the church, I saw hundreds of people giving their life to the Lord and saw many hungry people from churches who didn’t believe in the move of the Spirit come to the church seeking more. I received the equivalent of a “master’s education” ministering in that church and learning from the leadership.

What was happening in our church was also happening in many churches around the country. When God begins to move, Satan always seeks to corrupt the move of God by tempting and manipulating the people in the move into sin so that God has to discipline the people and remove His hand of blessing. This is what happened to the move of God I was a part of.

I believe God is going to visit again soon, so we must prepare now to avoid the mistakes of the past. I’ll begin by taking a look at a man whose zeal for the move of the Spirit superceeded the temptations Satan sent his way.

The man is Elisha. He helped Naaman the Syrian but refused the honor and gifts Naaman sought to bestow upon Elisha.

I not only love the following words of Elijah but believe they are a mantra for the next move of God:

Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants? 2 Kings 5:26

These are the words of the prophet of the double-portion of God’s Spirit. Elisha was not about to “sell out” the move of God for anything. If we are going to handle the spirit of Elijah correctly, we better have the spirit of Elisha.

Here are five ways we mishandled the outpouring of the Spirit in the last season:

  1. We exploited it.

The first attempt at quenching the Spirit’s power in the New Testament church was made by Ananias and Sapphira, who were full of greed (Acts 5:1-11). The same thing happened to the charismatic movement in the 1980’s, when prosperity preachers with dollar signs in their eyes showed up to merchandise the Spirit’s anointing. Swaggering evangelists in white suits and Rolex watches began pushing people to the floor and convincing crowds to dig into their wallets to give in “miracle” offerings. And so began the slow but steady sell-out. We didn’t realize that greed was driving us farther and farther from the Spirit’s blessing.

  1. We fabricated it.

In the early days of renewal, charismatic leaders had a sense of holy awe when they prayed for people. They didn’t want to do anything to grieve the Spirit. But somewhere along the way, some ministers realized they could fake the gifts of the Spirit and still draw a crowd. This gave birth to charismatic side shows, complete with faked healings, spooky stage drama and manipulation. God’s holy anointing was replaced by mood music and a quivering voice. If you had discernment, you knew that the Spirit had left the building.

  1. We corrupted it.

In the early days of the movement, meaty messages were the order of the day. A regular component of the preaching of that period was the fear of God. These messages demanded holiness. But if you fast forward, you will find that much of the preaching in our movement has been reduced to drivel. It is sad that people can attend a “Spirit-filled” church today and never hear a sermon giving biblical truth about fornication, adultery, homosexuality, etc. We are selling a form of cheap grace that, instead of saving people, will actually send them to hell.

  1. We denominationalized it.

When the Holy Spirit began to fall on certain groups, their leaders began to assume that the blessing of God indicated that they were “special”. Some groups even taught that all other Christians would one day come under their group’s banner because of their elite status. Spiritual pride is still pride! There are trendy new groups today that claim to have a corner on truth. Don’t let this attitude quench the Holy Spirit.

  1. We professionalized it.

In the early days of the renewal, there was a sense of childlike wonder as people discovered the power of the Holy Spirit. The meetings were Christ-centered, the sermons were solidly biblical and the fellowship genuine and sweet. We felt a deep bond with other believers, even those with whom didn’t believe as we did.

But, it didn’t take long to replace that sense of wonder and love with something colder. We began to emphasize titles. We discovered slick marketing techniques. Churches and their budgets grew. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the megachurch: We lost our simplicity. We turned church into a business. We stopped being relational and we became professionals.

I know it is difficult when a church begins to grow in numbers to keep relationships strong and to continue to be a pastor rather than a public speaker. But, we cannot sacrifice the warmth of relationships on the altar of professional Christianity or we will discover that the Holy Spirit has withdrawn from our ministries and all that is keeping the people together is the memory of a past move and a culture of intimidation toward those who dare question the absence of the Spirit.

I’m not judging those who made these mistakes because it is likely that I would have made them too. Nevertheless, we must guard our own hearts against the corruptions of success and refuse to take glory that belongs solely to Jesus!

Move Spirit of God! And as You do, keep us humble and pure so that the Presence of the Lord can find a home where it can bless the people of our churches and our land!

 

Hearing Voices


If you were to go to certain psychologists or certain psychiatrists and tell them that you are hearing voices, you could easily become a candidate for medication or hospitalization. Even in some Christian circles, you would be thought strange if you said that you were hearing the voice of God speak to you – and not just thought strange, but be looked at as either “looney” or in contact with the devil.

Jesus tells us that God is speaking to us. In the midst of that discourse, He tells us that the voice of the thief is also speaking and that the goal of his campaign is to steal, kill, and destroy.

Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. John 10:1-3

Hearing God speak is not strange but normal. Hearing the voice of the enemy doesn’t mean that you are evil, but that you are still alive! Jesus told us that His sheep would hear His voice and would follow what He says. To not hear the voice of God speaking is contrary to biblical teaching. So, you are not a candidate for medication or hospitalization if you hear the voice of God; you are a candidate for fellowship, transformation, and ministry. To hear the voice of God means that you are one of His sheep.

Let’s take a look at how God speaks and how we can verify that it is Him speaking to us.

  1. Rhema and Logos

If you start at the foundational point from which God speaks, you will be left with two primary avenues of communication:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. John 1:1

This passage of scripture is talking about Jesus. The term used here to describe Jesus is “the Word”. In the original language, “Word” is the term “logos”, which means:

“speaking to a conclusion”

Although both rhema and logos are translated from the same Hebrew word “dabar” – something being uttered, the two words have come to signify different things today.

Logos: written word of God

Christ Himself was called, “Logos”. Since Jesus is God, His spoken words are clearly recognized as the Word of God. Jesus recognized the words of the Old Testament as being words from God.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Luke 24:44

The words written by the apostles who were with Jesus – those in line with His teachings have been recognized as scripture as well.

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:15-16

The word “Scripture” used here is the Greek word “graphe” which is used 51 times in the New Testament and always refers to the written word of God.

This brings us to the conclusion found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Written word of God is the standard from which all other “words, directions, feelings, teachings” are judged as being from God or not.

Rhema: a spoken word.

In this modern usage, Logos is the “Word of God” Jesus Christ, the subject from Genesis to Revelation. Rhema is the revealed word of God, as an utterance from God to the heart of the receiver via the Holy Spirit, as in John 14:26

“… the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Rhema words or directions can come in different forms:

Dreams – Visions – Spirit spoken communication – Preaching

Whichever God uses, it is Spirit generated communication and is normal for the people of God!

Every rhema communication received must be verified by the Logos (Bible).

If the rhema communication is verified by the Bible, hold it before God for timing. If not, let it go!

  1. A “Now” Word, a “Future” Word or a “Confirming” Word.

Let’s say you get a rhema communication from God that passes the Scriptural test. Not all words are “now” words. Some words concern our future. If you receive a word for the future, you ask Him what the first step is to its fulfillment. When He shows you, do it. Then, wait for step two, etc.

Some words are “now” words meaning we are to follow them through to completion right now.

Many words are “confirming” words. A “confirming” word is one that confirms what God has already told you. Confirmation is a scriptural principle that God uses to affirm His direction to you.

 “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 Corinthians 13:1

If a word brings confusion, don’t act on it until the confusion is cleared up and you know the Word is from God!

God leads His people. It is our responsibility to know the Bible so that we will not be deceived by feelings or communications that are not from God. Trust the Lord to make known His will to you! Verify the direction through the Bible! Pray for the timing of God concerning the direction! Don’t be afraid! The Great Shepherd is leading you to green pasture and still water, even if the pathway there leads through the Valley of the Shadow of Death! Through His Word, you will reach your destination!

The Church that makes God sick!


Our final stop on the map in our visit to the seven churches of Revelation is the church of Laodicea.

The city of Laodicea was located about 100 miles directly east of Ephesus, the first city to which these seven letters were addressed. Laodicea was part of a tri-city area, closely associated with the cities of Colossae (to which the letter to the Colossians was written), and Hierapolis. Laodicea was noted throughout the Roman province of Asia for its wealth, its commercial life, and its medical practice. As the banking center of Asia, it was the most prosperous of the seven cities. Many large beautiful homes were built in this city, the ruins of which are still visible. Laodicea also had a flourishing clothing industry. A particular breed of black sheep were raised around this area, and the glossy, black wool was woven into special clothes that were sold here. The city was also noted for its medical practice, especially for its eye and ear salve. Laodicea was so wealthy that it asked for no help to rebuild the city after the devastating earthquake of 60 AD. The city had undrinkable water. An aqueduct was built that would transport water from the city of Hierapolis located about six miles away. The water in Hierapolis came from mineral springs and came from the ground hot. By the time that the water traveled the six miles to Laodicea, it was tepid – just above room temperature. In other words, it was lukewarm.

Jesus introduces Himself as the bringer of the message by saying,

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

In our modern day faith, we are used to saying the word “amen” to end a prayer or to give our assent to something spoken by a preacher or another speaker. Jesus used the word “amen” in a different context. Several statements of Jesus in the gospels begin with the phrase, “Verily, verily I say unto you”. The actual words used by Jesus in this statement are “amen”. Jesus uses this word before He is to say something that carries a pivotal truth. The following words are as true as the fact that He is the faithful and true witness and the ruler of God’s creation.

Like all other messages, Jesus references the lives of those in Laodicea. He is letting them know that He is intimately familiar with how they live. Then, He uses the following phrases to describe their lives:

You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

The church in Laodicea was not dead like the church in Sardis but it was not on fire like the church in Smyrna. It was a church that had found a niche of peaceful coexistence with the culture around it. It was able to do some good works, yet didn’t exude the radical influence of a church that lived and taught the Word of God. It was a church rich in finances and comfortable in its self centered approach to life. To the Lord, the life of the church was just like the water that was transported in from Hierapolis. It didn’t satisfy the dry and thirsty soul like a cup of cold water. Nor did it provide the healing qualities of the hot springs from which it was drawn. The church was so unsatisfying to Christ that He said that they made Him sick and that His only reaction to their faith was to vomit them out of His mouth!

These statements help us to realize that the church that is approved by the Lord is the one that is dedicated fully to His Word and Witness. The lukewarm church is in just as precarious a situation as the dead church. Neither of them display the resurrected life of Christ and are therefore not living in the power of the Spirit.

The church at Laodicea used its finances to point to the fact that it was blessed and in right standing with God. To the Laodiceans, riches equaled spirituality. Jesus told them that they were deceived and that their true spiritual condition was one of wretchedness, poverty, blindness, and nakedness.

The financially strapped church in Smyrna was much richer in Jesus’ eyes than the financially rich church of Laodicea.

Jesus’ counsel to the church in Laodicea was to buy from Him some things. This is an interesting statement. Salvation is a free gift to us, so why would they need to spend to get what they needed to change?

The idea that a walk with Christ costs something had become a foreign idea in Laodicea. The “gospel of gain” had eclipsed the “gospel of losing everything to gain Christ”. It was going to cost the Laodicean church something to walk in the Spirit and in fidelity to the word of God.

The Lord stated that they needed the true gold of a living faith.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7

The goal to live a life of comfort produces a faith that uses the Scriptures as validation that wealth and ease are products of true faith.

In the ungodly culture that the Laodicean church existed in, true faith and reliance upon the Scriptures would have caused the church to run counter to the motivation of those around it, not cause them to blend into the culture.

In itself, there was nothing wrong with the financial abundance of the church. But, remember what the apostle Paul taught the church about wealth:

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Corinthians 9:10

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1Timothy 6:17-19
Back to Jesus’ counsel:

So, they were to buy gold refined in the fire.

Then, white clothes to cover their shameful nakedness. Can you imagine how many where dressed in this church? It might have looked like a fashion show when they met, yet Jesus said they were naked. White clothes in the Scriptures refer to the purity of Jesus and the righteous acts of the saints. The people in Laodicea profited from the black wool that was spun into the garments sold in the area. A trade needed to be made: purity and righteous living for profit!

Finally, Jesus counseled that they buy eye salve so they could see. Laodicea was famous for its medical facility that housed a famous ophthalmologist. The area also produced a powder that was used in healing balm for the eye. Jesus stated that they needed some so they could be healed of their spiritual blindness!

Even though nothing good was said about the church’s spiritual life in Laodicea, Jesus did say this:

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Love, fellowship and restoration is the motive of Christ’s command.

The overcomers?

They will rule and reign with Christ and sit on Christ’s throne of authority.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!!

The Little Church that Could!


We are almost done with our study of the churches of Revelation. This is our next to the last stop in this tour. Today, we will study the message to the church in Philadelphia.

No, not that Philadelphia! The Philadelphia of Asia Minor.

Philadelphia was established in 189 BC by King Eumenes II of Pergamon (197-160 BC). Eumenes II named the city for the love of his brother, who would be his successor, Attalus II (159-138 BC), whose loyalty earned him the nickname, “Philadelphos”, literally meaning “one who loves his brother”. Lacking an heir, Attalus III Philometer, the last of the Attalid kings of Pergamum, bequeathed his kingdom, including Philadelphia, to his Roman allies when he died in 133 BC. Rome established the province of Asia in 129 BC by combining Ionia and the former Kingdom of Pergamum.

The city was located on an Imperial Postal Road. In AD 17, the city suffered badly in an earthquake, and the Roman emperor Tiberius relieved it of having to pay taxes. In response, the city granted honors to Tiberius. Evidence from coinage reveals that Caligula helped the city. Under Vespasian, Philadelphia received his nickname, Flavia. Under Caracalla, Philadelphia housed an imperial cult; its coins bore the word Neokoron (literally, “temple-sweeper”—caretaker of the temple). A small theater located at the northern edge of Toptepe Hill is all that remains of Roman Philadelphia.

As Jesus does in each message, He introduces Himself to the church. In the message to Philadelphia, Jesus introduces Himself using a scripture found in Isaiah 22:22:

He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.

The original message given through Isaiah was for Eliakim, the gatekeeper of the king’s palace in Jerusalem. Eliakim was steward of the key that opened the door to the palace of the king in Jerusalem. Eliakim’s name means “resurrection of God.” He was the master of the king’s house in the days of Hezekiah. He served during a season in which Judah was under a godly descendant of David. He was present when the military leaders of Assyria threatened Jerusalem and blasphemed the name of Jehovah (2 Kings 18:17). God sent an angel to defend Jerusalem who put to death 185,000 soldiers causing the withdrawal of the Assyrian troops. God described the ministry of the house of Hezekiah as a “secure peg” which supported the glory of the house of David.

Using this scripture, Jesus tells the minister of the church in Philadelphia that the One who holds the Messianic key to the house of David has opened a door before the church that no one can shut.

Once again, this is a church that may not have been impressive. The term “little strength” is translated from the word, “dunamis” which we understand to be used in scripture as “ability” – spiritual or physical. This reveals to us the grace of our Savior; the church in Philadelphia may not have been working on “full power” yet Jesus still opened a door before the church because of their faithfulness. The door was opened through the authority of the Lord Jesus. It was a door of ministry and victory.

A 3rd century description carved in stone described the existence of a Hebrew synagogue in Philadelphia. Jesus mentions the presence of a “synagogue of Satan” in Philadelphia, just as He did in Smyrna. Apparently, the church in Philadelphia had been persecuted by the people of this “synagogue”. Jesus states that the enemies of the church in Philadelphia will come and worship before their feet and acknowledge that Jesus loves the church.

Wow!

This is the dream of every congregation: to be seen as loved by Jesus and to see its enemies worship the one true God!

Throughout all history, the church of Jesus Christ has had to learn to be patient through God’s dealings with the world. The church in Philadelphia reflected that patience and perseverance. Jesus promises that, because they have kept His command, He will keep them from the hour of trial that is to try the whole world.

Do we know what trial this is referring to? Not sure, but it is world wide. Each one of the messages to the churches of Revelation also contain a message for the church today. For us:

This is a clear reference to what our Lord himself calls in Matthew 24 “the great tribulation” — a time of distress that will come upon the whole world, the like of which has never been known before in human history, no, nor ever will be again. This will be the worst time of distress and bloodshed that the world has ever seen. We will find vivid descriptions of it as we go on in Revelation. But the promise to the church is specifically that it is to be delivered from the hour of trial. Actually the word is not “from,” but “out of” — to be delivered out of — not just the trial but out of the very time of the trial! This is one of the clearest promises in the Bible of the catching away of the church before the great tribulation begins. It is a promise of the departure of the church, which Paul describes so vividly:

The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 KJV)

 

Jesus reminds us: Behold, I am coming quickly! We are not to sleep and begin to live selfishly and fleshly as we wait for His promise. Perseverance is the key here. Jesus commanded the church to persevere. Those who do will be kept from the unimaginable. Your crown is yours forever. Don’t let sin and selfishness take it from you!

To him who overcomes:

Jesus will make a pillar in the temple of My God. There was no temple in Jerusalem at this point. Jesus says that overcomers will be a pillar in the temple in the New Jerusalem. The poor people in Philadelphia lived in an earthquake ravaged area. They knew what is was like to see their buildings fall. They knew what it was like to have to flee the area to avoid the danger of falling debris.

Jesus promised that there would come a day in which they would no longer have to flee but would worship in a temple supported by people who are “pillars” of the faith like James, Peter, and John (Galatians 2:9).

Jesus promised the overcomers a new name.

The city of Philadelphia had changed its name several times in gratitude to some benevolent ruler. Jesus stated that the overcomers will have His name upon them and will be identified as residents of His city.

He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

 

A Church on Life Support


Let’s continue on in our study of the letters to the churches in Revelation. Up to this point, we have studied the church that lost its first love; the church under intense pressure; the church where Satan’s seat of authority ruled; and the church that tolerated Jezebel.

Now, let’s look inside the message to the church at Sardis.

Sardis was situated in the middle of Hermus valley, at the foot of Mount Tmolus, a steep and lofty spur which formed the citadel. It was about 2.5 mi. south of the Hermus. Today, the site is located by the present day village of Sart, near Salihli in the Manisa province of Turkey, close to the Ankara – İzmir highway 45 mi. from İzmir. The city was captured by the Cimmerians in the 7th century BC, by the Persians in the 6th, by the Athenians in the 5th, and by Antiochus III the Great at the end of the 3rd century BC. Sardis was the chief seat of manufacturing. The most important of these trades was the manufacture and dyeing of delicate woolen stuffs and carpets. A woolen garment called the himation (outer garment worn by men and women) was produced in Sardis. Sardis was the oldest, possibly the wealthiest, and best defended city which we will study.

The message to the church in Sardis contains no warnings against the doctrine of Balaam; no commands to stop the ministry of Jezebel; no direction to avoid the deep secrets of Satan; no message to a pastor who is in fear; no warnings regarding the existence of a synagogue of Satan. The reputation of the church was impeccable. It appeared that all was going well in Sardis. Even though there was a large Jewish synagogue in Sardis, we are given no indications of persecution. There was no poverty and no internal conflict.

Jesus begins the message by reminding those in the church that He is the One who possesses the seven Spirits of God.

The seven spirits of God are not specifically identified, so it’s impossible to be dogmatic. Revelation 1:4 mentions that the seven spirits are before God’s throne. Revelation 3:1 indicates that Jesus Christ “holds” the seven spirits of God. Revelation 4:5 links the seven spirits of God with seven burning lamps that are before God’s throne. Revelation 5:6 identifies the seven spirits with the “seven eyes” of the Lamb and states that they are “sent out into all the earth.”

There are at least three possible interpretations of the seven spirits of God. The first is that the seven spirits of God are symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The Bible, and especially the book of Revelation, uses the number 7 to refer to perfection and completion. If that is the meaning of the “seven” in the “seven spirits,” then it is not referring to seven different spirits of God, but rather the perfect and complete Holy Spirit. The second view is that the seven spirits of God refer to seven angelic beings, possibly the seraphim or the cherubim. This would fit with the numerous others angelic beings that are described in the book of Revelation (Revelation 4:6-95:6-1419:4-5).

A third possibility is based on Isaiah 11:2, which says, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” This could possibly explain the seven spirits of God: (1) Spirit of the LORD, (2) Spirit of wisdom, (3) Spirit of understanding, (4) Spirit of counsel, (5) Spirit of power, (6) Spirit of knowledge, (7) Spirit of the fear of the Lord. The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically who/what the seven spirits are, but the first interpretation, that they are the Holy Spirit, seems the most likely.

Jesus identifies Himself as the owner of the seven stars. The fact that the stars are in Jesus’ right hand indicates that they are important and under His authority. The right hand is a sign of strength and control. Jesus explains to John that the “stars are the angels of the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). An “angel” is literally a “messenger.”

Jesus is the perfect leader of the church, the final authority, the controller of the church’s destiny, and the agent that makes all things happen in the church.

Jesus tells the church at Sardis that, although their reputation is one of vitality and life, they are actually a dead body. They are not dying they are already dead in His eyes!!

Jesus command to the church is: “Wake up!!” The church at Sardis had gone to sleep just as the apostles went to sleep on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Personal comfort and need has taken precedent over the gospel. While there are a few things in Sardis that appear to be biblically functioning, they are on life support – they are ready to die. Their works – while having an appearance of function, are dead in motive and authority.

Jesus states: Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.

The people in Sardis have forgotten what it is like to be changed by the power of the Word of God.

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” Luke 8:18

The Word of God was no longer the final authority and therefore, they were having their authority and freedom taken from them. The Word of God cannot be changed; we must hold fast to its truth.

If our lives and the Bible are in conflict, what must be changed is our behavior not the Word of God.

When a church reaches this point, changing programs is not the answer. Repentance is the answer. It must be immediate and visible to the congregation so that the congregation sees the need to repent as well.

Jesus states that if they do not wake up to the call to repent, He will come upon them as a thief, and they will not know when the discipline will appear. As stated earlier in our talk about Sardis’ history, the people of this city knew what it was to be conquered – to be brought down. Jesus said that they must remember their history and repent.

Just as in most churches, there is a remnant that love the Lord and are obeying Him. These folks will not be held responsible for the sins of the church or its condition.

Note: If God tells you to stay in a unrepentant situation, you will not be held accountable for the sins around you.

As Jesus speaks to the overcomers in Sardis, He again uses a local reference to hammer home His point. Sardis was a leading textile city – a maker of garments that were popular for men and women. Jesus states that He who overcomes will be clothed in white garments that He has made – garments which represent the righteousness and purity of those who wear them. Jesus also states that the names of those who overcome will remain in the Book of Life.

It stands to reason that those who do not will have their names blotted out or removed from the Book of Life. Those who remain in the Book will be confessed by Jesus as His own before the Father and His angels.

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38