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Matthew 16:24 (NKJV) "Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.'"
The Gospel is a gospel of self-denial rather than a gospel of self-fulfillment. Self-denial is opposed to the modern versions of the self-esteem or self-help gospels being promoted today in books, pulpits, and on radio, television, and internet. The self-help gospel is clearly articulated by Robert Schueller, one of the fathers of the modern self-esteem gospel, in his book written years ago, "Self-Esteem: The New Reformation": "It is precisely at this point that classical theology in its insistence that theology be God-centered and not man-centered...This masterplan of God is designed around the deepest needs of human beings. And what are those needs? Self-dignity, self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem. The pearl of great price is genuine self-respect and self-esteem...If we follow God's plan as faithfully as we can we will feel good about ourselves...God needs you and me to create a society of self-esteeming people."
That message "feels" so good! Many people are "feeling saved" by that message. But is their "soul" being saved or something else? Is this a gospel of "self-salvation" rather than "soul-salvation"? The difference is huge. Could it be "another gospel" that Paul warns us about? (2 Corinthians 11:4) Compare the self-esteem message with the message of Jesus: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." There seems to be a contradiction here. Are we to assume that Jesus did not "get it"? Did He not understand that the "deepest needs of human beings" is "self-dignity, self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem"? Was He too negative? The great delusion of the self-esteem gospel is that good is trapped within the human heart by negative thinking caused by negative influences. The belief is that men are by nature good but are trapped in a cycle of bad behavior because of negative thinking. They will be good if they will think positively about themselves. Is that true? Is there good trapped within the human heart? Consider Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV) “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" Are we to believe that men left to themselves without law, restraint, or consequence will do what is right? Would not anarchy rule instead? Would not men become utterly wicked instead? Consider again the words of Paul: "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells." (Romans 7:18 NKJV) Paul says there is "nothing good" in self. Was Paul wrong? Aren't there good people? Jesus said that there is none good except God. (Mark 10:18) Paul said, "There is none righteous, no not one." (Romans 3:23) The Bible teaches that there is nothing good in self. Self has no goodness by which to save itself. If it does, then the Cross was unnecessary. Jesus should not have come to save sinners but rather negative people. The self-esteem gospel is another gospel. It is a gospel that offers redemption of self rather than the soul. It offers salvation without the Cross. The self-esteem gospel fails to see self as the enemy of the human soul. It fails to see the utter corruption and deception of the self life. Self is by nature self-centered, self-promoting, and selfish. It is consumed with self-fulfillment. Self seeks to find a life of its own apart from God. Self counterfeits life as lust counterfeits love. Freedom of the human soul will never be found in the gospel of self-esteem but only through the message of the cross. Wherever self lives and reigns, the soul is lost: "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 16:25 NKJV) Therefore it is no wonder that self hates the message of the cross that confronts and destroys it. It is no wonder that self seeks a gospel that eliminates the cross so it can live and prosper. Through the message of the cross God awakens a desire in the lost human soul to follow Jesus. Self rises to resist that desire. "Self" is like a husk around the seed of the human soul that must broken for new life to begin. Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." (John 12:24 NKJV) The true Gospel is a call for men to deny self to follow Jesus. It is a call to take up the cross and die to self so that the soul might live. It is the only hope of freedom for the lost human soul.
Genesis 18:17–20 (NKJV) "And the LORD said, 'Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, 18 since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.' 20 And the LORD said, 'Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave,'" God chose to establish His covenant of redemption and blessing with Abraham because Abraham would be faithful to teach His children the way of the LORD. It is interesting that the context in which God said this is when He was about to judge Sodom and Gomorrah for their openly homosexual practices. When a society begins to openly approve and defend homosexuality including gay marriage, it is evidenced that the society has been given over to a reprobate mind and will not turn back to God (Romans 1:18-32). Outside of people turning to Christ, the only option left to a holy God is cleanse that society of the destructive consequences of its sin through judgment. When I hear that our President made his decision to support gay marriage by sitting around the table with his wife and children and being questioned on why gay couples should be treated differently than traditional marriage couples, he failed to do what Abraham did. He missed the teachable moment. He did not teach them the way of the Lord on this issue. I am not our President's judge. I pray for mercy on him, his family, and on our nation. America is no better than Sodom and Gomorrah at this moment. It has been said that if God doesn't judge America, then He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. Rather than judge our President or other liberal politicians, it is time for us to reflect upon the state of our own heart and what we value most. Our elected officials reflect the values of those who elected them. What does this tell us about us? I believe it tells us that we are a society more interested in another government handout and political correctness than it is in obtaining the blessing of God. We have made Caesar our god and ceased to fear the Lord. Where are God's prophets who will address sin and call America back to God? Where are the godly fathers and mothers who will teach their household the word of God? If our nation is to survive then it will happen when parents begin teaching their families to keep the way of the Lord no matter what our fickle culture is saying at any given moment. I am not anyone's judge. I am among those who will be judged by God. I want to be on God's side of every issue when that day comes. God wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah. He alone will have the final say on the issue of homosexuality, gay marriage, fornication, adultery and every other sin.
In Ezra 9-10 we find an interesting account of the consequences associated with compromise and mixture. The Jews who had returned from Babylonian captivity disobeyed the LORD and intermarried with pagan wives and had children. As an act of repentance, they agreed to put away their pagan wives and the children they had with them. Think about it. Putting away a wife and children must have been very difficult and heart wrenching. They had learned to love things outside of God's will. They had developed intimacy, affection, and interest in things that God were contrary to God's covenant. So it is when we involve ourselves in mixture whether of the flesh or spirit. Our involvement with mixture bears an illegitimate fruit that we love but God hates. We are resistive to put away the "ministry" or "fruit" we have born while involved in mixture. But if we are going to be true to God, God will require us to put away our mixture and the offspring of compromise. Abraham had to do with Ishmael before Isaac could take his place. Ishmael despised and mocked Isaac. So will the children of compromise (the flesh) despise and mock the true seed (the spirit). In this sense, these "children" of the flesh will resist the true covenant work of God. It is a grievous thing to acknowledge our sin and put away false ministries birthed in the flesh, but failing to do so will prevent us from producing righteous seed who can inherit and walk in covenant blessing.
1 Thessalonians 5:21–22 (NKJV) "Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil."
One of the greatest dangers warned about in Scripture is deception. "Oh, don't worry about me. I'll never be deceived!" If that is your sentiment, then friend, you are already deceived! The reality is that deceived people don't know they are deceived. If they did, they wouldn't be deceived! The most dangerous form of deception involves mixture. For instance, at one time a person may prophesy by the Spirit of God (1 Samuel 10:6, 10) and then later the same person can prophesy through a demonic spirit (1 Samuel 18:10). Many mistakenly assume that if a person speaks by the Spirit of God on one occasion then everything else they say must be from God. Remember Peter who spoke by the revelation of God in Matthew 16:16-17 and then as a spokesman of Satan in Matthew 16:22-23. In regard to mixture, if we do not "test all things", then we will react in one of two ways: blind faith or cynicism. Blind faith focuses on the good and accepts the bad. Cynicism focuses on the bad and rejects the good. Both are wrong responses that will land us in opposite ditches along the pathway of truth. True discernment involves the process of testing by the Word of God. Testing enables us to discern and accept the good while rejecting the evil (Hebrews 5:14). We are living in dangerous spiritual times because people have drifted so far from the Word of God. As a result people have embraced false prophets who introduce doctrines of demons, lying signs, and false experiences. These false prophets first seek to gain credibility and influence among the flock as they "transform themselves into ministers of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:12-15) causing the simple to say, "What these men say is true!". Only then will they unpack their insidious doctrines. They first speak the truth and then bring in error to cover their own sins which they love. The true minister of righteousness will exhibit a lifestyle that agrees with the Word of God and lips that wholly speak what is true without mixture. In order to escape the deception of false prophets, we must be completely loyal to Christ, develop a love for the truth of God's Word, and never give our hearts to men or hold them in admiration. Don't be foolish, ignorant, gullible, or proud. Acknowledge your own vulnerability to deception apart from the razor sharp discernment of the Word of God. Obey the command of Scripture to test all things. Hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NKJV) "Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil."
I see a sweeping pattern developing in some Charismatic circles today. People are running from meeting to meeting to experience strange manifestations (barking, howling, roaring, slithering, hissing, shrieking, elongated screams, vibrations, spasmatic jerking, violent shaking, rapid head rotation, unusual laughter, drunkenness, swooning, burning, angelic visitations, spirit travel, visualization, etc.). Many Christians are claiming that these strange, weird, and extra-biblical manifestations are evidence of a new move of God. But where are these kinds of manifestations supported in Scripture? Regarding being "drunk in the Spirit" some will use a Scripture like Acts 2:13 where believers were accused of being drunk with new wine. However, this accusation was made by onlookers because believers spoke with new tongues (a valid Biblical experience) and NOT because they were staggering around and acting like drunken men! People fall into such sloppy interpretations when they try to make their experience fit the Word of God. As a result, this invasion of strange manifestations into the church is producing a growing disdain for the truth of Scripture or any attempt at discernment. Even pastors and ministers are not only asleep at the gate but are also opening the gate for these things to enter the sheepfold. Ironically, accusations are launched against faithful shepherds and laymen who dare question these experiences and who attempt to follow the Biblical command to "test the spirits" (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; 1 John 4:1). They are often accused of having a "religious spirit", of being a "Pharisee", or of being guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. These kinds of accusations make it clear that we are given no option but to just accept these bizarre manifestations by "faith" without any question or testing. But my dear brother and sister, the Bible tells us that the Spirit and the Word will agree (1 John 5:7). If these things are of the Holy Spirit, then why are these experiences not found in the Bible? Why didn't the prophets foretell of them? Some say, "Well didn't similar types of manifestations occur in past revival camp meetings?" Yes they did on the fringes because of human extremes. However, once faithful believers began to test these things by Scripture, they stopped occurring. Unfortunately today few ministers are testing them, thus allowing them to proliferate in the church. If we are honest, I think we would have to admit that these manifestations have more in common with ecstatic pagan and mystical New Age experiences than with the manifestations of the HOLY Spirit described in the New Testament. The services where these manifestations are allowed have no resemblance to the order laid out in 1 Corinthians 12-14 for church meetings. In fact, many of these services are nothing less than a "free-for-all" where anything goes. Some even refer to their meeting as a "Slosh-Fest." Is the Holy Spirit working contrary to the order set forth in His own Word? Unfortunately, we must abandon Scripture and discernment in order to embrace and endorse these highly questionable things. Sadly, I have had to do some soul searching myself. With regret I admit that in times past I have seen and allowed some of these strange manifestations in our own meetings. Granted, I believe God was moving in our midst bringing people to repentance and revival, but strange manifestations polluted the stream. At the time these things were new to me. Because I was unsure, I didn’t want to be quick to judge. I was open to the possibility they could be of God but I had my concerns. I understand now that if I had followed the Scripture and trusted the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, I would not have allowed these extremes to occur. In the midst of that however, God was faithful because I wanted to know the truth and kept seeking the Scripture for discernment. Based upon what I have learned, it seems that these more recent manifestations are directly related to impartation through the laying on of hands. The trail leads back to Rodney Howard Browne meetings in the early to mid-1990's when these manifestations were transferred from one group to another throughout our nation and the world. I am not judging this man's heart, but it does concerns me that these experiences do not generally manifest among churches and Christians where there has been no direct impartation or influence. Why is that? How do we know that this is a pure impartation of the Holy Spirit? Can we imagine Jesus or His disciples experiencing or celebrating these kind of manifestations in their meetings? What did Jesus do when similar manifestations took place in His meetings? Did the New Testament church experience these things? How do we know it is a "new" move of God? Are we suppose to just accept this "new move of God" without testing the message, the spirit involved, or the Jesus being preached? (2 Corinthians 11:4) People are hungry for a move of God. I understand that. So am I. However, we must not allow our hunger for a move of God to make us vulnerable to consume whatever is dished out on our plate. We must be discerning. I do not believe that strange manifestations are indications of a "revival." Neither do I believe that they are indications of a "refreshing" because New Testament refreshing comes after genuine repentance and conversion (Acts 3:19). What we are seeing is a growing emphasis on the "glory." I do not find a Scriptural precedent for seeking the "glory." We are to seek God and that begins with getting right with Him. When people are so determined to get the "glory" that they are bypassing true repentance and conversion and bypassing the truth of Scripture, they are opening themselves up to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons. Sadly, they are more likely to experience a counterfeit glory. The Bible warns us that if we lose our love for the truth we will be given over to believe the lie (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). That's very sobering! Don't be gullible. Don't be intimidated. Don't fall in love with strange manifestations. Fall in love with Jesus. Fall in love with His truth. Love the truth enough to test the spirits. If something is not of God, get away from it. Don't be pressured by those who tell you that you are "missing out." Thank God that you are! Be assured that God will give you all of the daily experiences in His presence that you need as long as you love the truth and the God of the truth.
Interesting Documentaries on Strange Manifestations:
Shocking Documentary 1 (Andrew Strom): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBpw2oQrvMM&feature=related
Shocking Documentary 2 (Andrew Strom) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCcGaTRwG_4&feature=related
Shocking Documentary 3 (Andrew Strom) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWeUNoR30_0&feature=mfu_in_order&list=UL
Kundalini in Action: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7Hidj1OGcE&feature=related
David Wilkerson on Weird Manifestations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrpW6Xctg8Q&feature=related
Romans 12:17-21 (NKJV) “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.’”
Are you being controlled by your circumstances? Troubles and adversities are a reality of life. They come to us all. But the Bible tells us that we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. In other words, we are not to be controlled by our circumstances. Rather we are to be God’s instrument for change. Jesus declared it this way: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Throughout history, man has endured the adverse temperatures of nature. He sought shade in the summer and built fires in the winter. Eventually he invented the thermometer as a way of registering his misery. His only partial escape was to move to cooler or warmer regions. In our modern world of air conditioning, man has developed a way to overcome the limitations and miseries registered by the thermometer. Through the invention of air conditioning and heating, man can change the temperature of his environment. The desired temperature is achieved through the use of a thermostat, an apparatus that automatically controls the temperature being produced by the heating or cooling unit. Although it contains a thermometer, it uses that information to bring about change.
We are not simply called to be thermometers. Some people fall into the trap of continually registering the reality of what things are. They worry, murmur, complain, and criticize. They feel that it is their duty to continually remind everyone how miserable everything is. Although they may have some accurate assessments of how things are at the moment, they can offer no hope for relief and no power for change. Jesus had an accurate assessment of this world’s condition but He came to bring hope and change in the lives of all who would believe.
We are called to be thermostats. Like thermometers, thermostats can assess current conditions but uses that information to set the course for change. Thermostats declare a temperature that does not presently exist. Thermostats are not optimistic dreamers. No, they are connected to the power and resources to bring about that change. If the thermostat adapts itself to the current temperature, then there will be no change at all. In the same way, we have the power to adapt ourselves to a dead spiritual environment and continue the misery, or we can set the temperature of vision to the standards of God’s word and begin the process of change. In doing so we will not be victims of circumstance but conquerors in Christ Jesus
2 Corinthians 6:11-18 (NKJV) “O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections.”
Christians talk a lot about freedom. Unfortunately, the ungodly kind of "freedom" is rebellious and builds a wall between us and God. Do you find yourself hindered in your relationship with God? Do you find yourself hindered in your relationship with God-ordained authorities in your life? If so, then there is a problem. Paul said that the Corinthians had become restricted in their relationship with him because they had become unequally yoked together with unbelievers. What does it mean to be "unequally yoked"? It means to be in an ungodly relationship or partnership with someone who is not in agreement with God and His Word. Paul’s heart was “wide open” to the Corinthian saints. God had put him in their lives to help them grow in their relationship with God. However, Paul detected an obvious wall in their heart toward him. No matter how much he longed to fulfill his God-ordained role in their lives, he could not as long as their hearts were closed to him. What happened to that open heartfelt relationship they had once enjoyed? The problem was that the Corinthians had allowed ungodly relationships to form with unbelievers--those who do not believe and obey God's Word. Paul described the condition of the Corinthian believers. They were:
Unequally yoked together with unbelievers. They were aligned with others in opposition toward God and His Word.
In fellowship with lawlessness. They were in fellowship with those who pursued a freedom without rules or order.
Having communion with darkness. They enjoyed an environment void of the light of God's truth.
In one accord with Belial ("the lawless one"). They were in unity and agreement with those who live according to what is right in his own eyes rather under the authority of God.
Having part with unbelievers. They participated in the sinful activities of others.
In agreement with idols. They put other things before God
What was Paul's solution to remove this restriction in their heart? It was to “Come out from among them and be separate.” If we want to restore our relationship with God and God-ordained authorities in our life, we must separate ourselves from the corrupting influence of anyone and anything that pulls us the other direction.
Malachi 2:15 (NKJV) “But did He not make them one, having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring…”If there is any hope for America, it will be found in families turning back to God. I hear many Christians say America needs to return to God, but sadly I don’t see many Christian families returning to God. I hear many Christians lament that America no longer gives God His rightful place in our government or in our schools, but sadly I don’t see many Christian families concerned that God is not first place in the home. I am concerned for Christian families today because I see a disconnect between what we say and what we do. The evidence of what we really believe is revealed in what we do and do not do. Through the prophet Malachi, God revealed that His primary purpose for forming families is to perpetuate godly seed—godly children who will put God first in their lives and then form new families who will do the same. The responsibility lies with parents. Are we teaching our children to put God first or education? Are we teaching our children to put God first or a job? Are we teaching our children to put God first place or a career? Are we teaching our children to put God first or obtaining material possessions? Are we teaching our children to put God first or athletics? Are we teaching our children to put God first or family? Are we teaching our children to put God first or friends? Are we teaching our children to put God first place or television, cell phones, music, entertainment, and social media? Are we teaching our children to put God first by faithful attendance at regular church gatherings or do we teach them that other things are more important? We teach our children (and grandchildren) by what we do, what we don’t do, what we allow, and what we excuse. Even those who without children are still teaching children by their example. What example are we setting? What are the children hearing and seeing? If we don’t repent and return back to God at home, we should not be surprised when there is no revival in our churches, in our community, and in our nation.
Since our forefathers first landed on the shores of North America, God has favored and blessed this nation like no other nation that has ever existed. Why has America experienced such blessing? It is because the God of our forefathers was the LORD (YAHWEH or JEHOVAH). Our nation was not founded by Muslims or Hindus. Our God is not Allah or Krishna. Our laws were nor formulated from the Koran or other religious books. Our laws and our justice system was based upon the Holy Bible, the Word of God. And yet, it seems America has forgotten the secret to its greatness. French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, after visiting America in 1831, said “I sought for the greatness of the United States in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and boundless forests—and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher learning— and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution—and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!” America’s greatness will be determined by the God we choose to reverence, honor, and obey. Will we make the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob our nation’s God and the Bible our law for goodness or righteousness or will we turn our backs on God and lose His blessing? I pray that American citizens will wake up before we lose it all.
It is easy to get side-tracked by the devil rather than staying focused on the work God has assigned for us to do. Consider the following challenge by an anonymous writer:
Stick with your work. Do not flinch because the lion roars; do not stop to stone the devil’s dogs; do not fool away your time chasing the devil’s rabbits. Do your work. Let liars lie, let sectarians quarrel, let critics malign, let enemies accuse, let the devil do his worst; but see to it nothing hinders you from fulfilling with joy the work God has given you. He has not commanded you to be admired or esteemed. He has never bidden you defend your character. He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood (about yourself) which Satan’s or God’s servants may start to peddle, or to track down every rumor that threatens your reputation. If you do these things, you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord. Keep at your work. Let your aim be as steady as a star. You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded and rejected, misunderstood, or assigned impure motives; you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men. But see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being until at last you can say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do."
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