Sunday, January 22, 2012

Is God Self-Centered?

What does God love most?

I have to admit, I am one of those really annoying people who likes to ask questions that may shake up other people's worldviews. I like for Christians to question what they have always "heard" to be true. I like to see people really think about and examine their theology.

So, today, in our Bible study group I asked a question: What does God love most? The responses were interesting. 

Someone said, "Me."

Another said, "Us."

One brave soul said, "Himself."

Remember, we humans are sinful. Sinful = selfish and egocentric to the hilt. We like a religion in which everything revolves around us. We like the thought that above everything else, God is thinking of us. But, that simply is not true. God puts himself first. God loves himself most. Yes, God is self-centered.

Please, hear me out.

God's nature demands that he is self-centered. God has to be self-centered in order to be sinless. The Bible commands, "You shall have no other Gods before me." Therefore, God must be number one on His own priority list, or He would be committing idolatry. A god that committed idolatry would be sinful. A god that is sinful is not the God of the Bible.

When we are self-centered it is sinful, because we put ourselves before God. It is a sin to put anything above God. But, when God is self-centered it is righteous, because He puts nothing above himself. 

The fact that God puts himself above all else is beneficial to all of creation. He doesn't let anything stop his plans. He can love us with a pure and perfect love, because he does not idolize anything or anyone above Himself. And because He is perfect, He could die for us and satisfy his own wrath against sin. 

At first this truth is unsettling, especially if you have been repeatedly exposed to a man-centered view of God and the gospel.  However, if we really understand this truth it is actually comforting. We can rest assured that everything that God allows or appoints to happen is not about our happiness, safety, or well-being, but for His glory. We can humbly accept whatever trails we face because we know our God would only allow them to happen if they were the thing that would bring Him the most glory.

Yes, God is self-centered, but this is a beautiful and wonderful truth. When we grasp that Himself and His own glory are what is most important to God, it becomes most important to us as well.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Beware of False Teachers

False teachers. They are all around us. They are dangerous. Jesus warned us of them, calling them false prophets.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 1 Peter 2:1

False prophets are nothing to play around with but, sadly, many Christians do not know the Bible well enough to be able to identify false prophets. We trust any speaker or teacher that is successful and never examine his assertions in light of Scripture. Many of us read and quote from individuals having no idea that they are in fact false prophets. Some are in churches led by false prophets. Others say things like, "Yeah, he may not right on his views of salvation, but he's a great speaker and I like to listen to him." This alarms me.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  Matthew 7:15
Jesus called these false prophets ravenous wolves. Ravenous wolves are dangerous.  You don't go up to a ravenous wolf and say, "Oh, I know he has sharp teeth, but his fur is soft so I think I will pet him." Instead, you run.  Jesus also said these prophets bring in destructive heresies. We cannot turn a blind eye to false prophets for the sake of "getting along." We can't listen to them because they are "good speakers." We must stand for truth. 

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:15

There is no substitute for knowing the word of God. We have to be a student of the word of God, so that when a false prophet stands before us we will recognize them as false. But, they are not easy to recognize. Jesus said that false prophets are wolves in sheep's clothing. They are in disguise. They don't look like bad guys. In fact, they look like good guys. We have to be able to discern false prophets and it takes examination and comparison to the Scriptures.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Matthew 7:15-20

Fale prophets are dangerous and destined for judgement. We must carefully examine the messages we read and listen to so that we will not be led astray. All of these things have brought me to a strong conviction to share a list of some false prophet "red flags." This list is not exhaustive and is not a replacement for comparing all teachings to the Word of God.

Someone may be a false prophet if:

1) They do NOT say Jesus is the only way. This teacher may say there is another way to achieve salvation (such as different paths to the same god), or he may refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the only way.

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

A person who denies Jesus as the only means to salvation is calling Jesus a liar and is discrediting the infallible word of God. This person implies that we cannot trust Jesus or the Word of God, and, so, reveals to us that we cannot trust him. This is a false prophet.

2) They claim that they are the only TRUE church. This usually comes in the form of claims that they have had subsequent revelations (after the cannon of the Bible was closed) from an angel or a man. Sometimes they have their OWN translation of the Bible or have another book that they hold as equal to the Word of God. However, the Bible is clear on what believers should do when people (or angels) come purporting some new and different revelation.

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting.  2 John 1:10

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book Revelation 22:18

Bible believing Christians know that being in some denomination does not ensure you are a member of the true church, only being in Christ assures that. Anyone who claims otherwise, is a false prophet.

3) They say things like, "God spoke to me" or  "God told me to tell you."  These individuals are elevating their own thoughts or words to the same level as the authors of Scripture who were told by God what to write. Many times, they use these phrases to "trump" scripture, meaning what they claim God said is clearly not Biblical, but because God "told" them, it must be right.  God will not contradict himself in this way. As believers we must realize that our thoughts and convictions must align with Scripture. We realize we are fallible humans, and do not claim to "have a word from the Lord" apart from or contradictory to the message of Scripture. 

In addition, these individuals are elevating themselves to the position of High Priest. They may attempt to act as a messenger between us and God. But, Jesus is our High Priest. Because of Christ's finished work on the cross, the veil is torn and we no longer need a earthly High Priest. 

I realize that many well-intentioned individuals use statements like "God told me," but what they really mean is "God impressed upon me" or "I feel convicted that..."  In this case, they may not be a false teacher; they just don't realize the error in their choice of words. However, it is something of which we should be wary. This may be a false prophet.

4) They omit sin and God's wrath from the gospel, believe people are good (not sinful/wicked), and/or believe that Christianity is a ticket to wealth, health and success. This is a big one. This undermines what Christ did on the cross and cheapens grace. These are completely UNBIBLICAL views of salvation/Christianity. Beware, this is a false prophet.

5) They put more emphasis on experience than on the Word of God. The Word of God is truth. We should be very careful about listening to those who trust anything more than they trust the Word of God. This may be a false prophet.

6) They don't have good fruit.

You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Matthew 7:16

These teachers don't practice what they preach. This one is much harder to examine because it takes knowing the person's private life.  Women are not the wives and mothers that scripture commands. Men are not the husbands and fathers they should be and do not manage their household. According to scripture men who do not meet the scriptural qualifications are disqualified from being pastors/elders. The scriptural qualifications are very clear:

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? I Timothy 3:4-5

if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain Titus 1:6-7

I pray this list gives you some insight as to how to begin to examine the teachers to which you listen or read. I hope and pray you don't take my word for it, but that you search the Scriptures for yourself. May we stand for truth and protect ourselves and our family from false teachers.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pray Earnestly

I find it easy to pray for myself.

       “Lord, please help me through this, I can’t do it without you.”

         “Holy Spirit, please guide and direct me as I make these tough decisions.”

         “Lord, I desire this more than anything. Please, show me grace in this.”

But, it is not as easy to pray for other people. Especially, when it means praying for them something I want for myself. 

God, through scripture, brought conviction in this.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding 
Colossians 1:9

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power 
2 Thessalonians 1:11

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power.
James 5:16

Obviously, praying for other believers is a integral part of Christian unity.

It is easy to say to someone, “I am praying for you.” It is easy to shoot up a quick, unemotional, “Lord, please help so-and-so.”  But, to earnestly pray for someone - to carry their burden as if it is your own - I think that is a different thing entirely.

So, a few months ago, I began praying purposefully. I prayed for many sweet sisters to conceive. I prayed for others to hear a heartbeat at their first ultrasound. I prayed for healthy pregnancies and babies. 

And, I continue to pray. I pray that these women would realize the depths of God’s grace, which is not based on circumstance. I pray that they would cherish Christ as absolutely worthy of any pain or heartache they may experience in this life.  I pray they would want nothing more than to bring God glory with their lives. 

I would be lying to you if I said it was easy to pray earnestly in these matters. To be truthful, it is difficult. These prayers reveal the egocentric sinful nature within me. They reveal ugly jealousy, self-pity, and even reservations about God’s goodness. Ultimately, they reveal my continued need for repentance and my continued need for the power of the Gospel to sanctify me and cleanse me from unrighteousness. 

Pray EARNESTLY for others. Even when it is hard. Even when it hurts. 

May God be glorified through our earnest prayers. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Looking Forward to 2012

Last year, instead of doing the traditional summary of 2010, I did a post entitled "Looking Forward." This post was about all the things I looked forward to happening in the upcoming year. In the spirit of creating a New Year's posting tradition, I am doing the same this year. So, here is a glimpse of the things I look forward to in 2012:

Children. I hate to be predictable, but I can't help it. Stephen and I have been talking much about pregnancy, foster care and adoption over the past few months. We believe that one or more of these will be brought to fruition this year. Please, should you think about it, pray for us in this.

Honduras. I literally spend all year yearning to go back to this country. My most precious memories in life have been traipsing throughout the Honduran jungle, kissing dirty brown cheeks, and feeding hungry tummies while we share the Gospel. I have been on several trips, but took a team of 16 from our own church to this country in 2011. (Check out my posts tagged "Honduras.") This year, our church will send two teams to this country. A team of 16 will go on a ministry trip during the last week in July. A team of 10 will go on a building trip in October, to build a church for a congregation. As He has in the past, I know God will do amazing things through these trips!

Family Worship. Stephen and I have decided to be more committed to regular family worship time in our home.  We always thought we would do this once we had children, but we realized this was a priority we need to establish now, so it will already be a routine when life gets hectic with children. This was largely influenced by the book "Family Driven Faith," a book I highly reccomend.

Lifestyle.  I have been convicted many times over the past year about simplifying my living. By this, I mean being content with what I have, and living only with what I need. I must be honest, I am not totally sure all that this entails, but I am praying and seeking out ways to simplify my living. I recently came across the story of Katie Davis, and her story has deeply encouraged me to live differently. I know she will inspire you as well!

As I look forward to these things, I hold my plans and dreams loosely. I am reminded that God holds the future, and I want NOTHING more than to humbly submit to His will.  I am reminded that often times His plans are not my own, but His plans are always better than my own. 

Happy New Year!