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Archive for June, 2017

THE GREATEST THREAT TO HUMANITY

EARTH 1

Recently our president withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, causing concern about our planet’s fate. Consequently, there is a worldwide clamor about the sustainability for our world. In particular it focuses on a heighten fear over “man-made” climate change. Governments and private industries are spending billions on research in hopes of discovering cleaner energies that are renewable, but neither has garnered much for this investment. Sure, our cell phone batteries are smaller and last longer, but that’s about it. Don’t get me wrong, if someone discovered how to turn seawater into clean affordable energy, then I would be one of the first to sign up. But our planet’s greatest threat has nothing to do with the energies we currently consume. Before explaining what this threat is, a quick theology about our planet is in order. God designed Earth to support human life. At the beginning of human history he commissioned the first two people to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the Earth, while also properly managing it (Gen 1.26-28). The only creatures that God commissioned to inhabit this entire planet are humans, and we are daily succeeding in making it smaller and less foreign. You don’t find penguins on the Serengeti nor gazelles at Antarctica; there aren’t any camels in the oceans and you don’t find whales in the Sahara; turtles are not found high in the Himalayas and mountain goats don’t do so well the bayous of Louisiana (probably because of the gators). While every other animal has its designed habitation, man can be found all over the face of the globe—even in the most inhospitable places. We even live for months at a time in mobile cities scattered across the world’s oceans, they are called aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. And although apes have not mastered the skies, we have.  It is now possible to take a non-stop commercial fight of more than 9000 miles, all within about 16 or 17 hours—there’s no bird that can do that. And lest we forget, the only footprint on the moon belongs to a human. God created and designed this planet for human population. Psalm 104.5 states that God “established the earth upon its foundations so that it will not totter forever and ever,” and throughout the Psalm the author described how God engineered this world to be beautifully durable. God made us in his image and called us to inhabit this entire planet, and he created it to sustain us as we set about fulfilling his will for humanity.  The Earth is our “safe space,” but instead of coloring books, God gave us a water park and it’s called the Pacific Ocean.  And instead of dolls and teddy bears, he gave us a real rock-climbing wall, which we call Everest.

Nevertheless, there is one great threat to humanity and our planet, and it has nothing to do with fossil fuels or the misuse of natural resources. Instead it has everything to do with humanity’s attitude towards the one true God. God promises fruitful lives for those who devoutly obey him. Near his death, Moses explained that if Israel wholeheartedly obeyed God then he would cause them to prosper in the land (cf. Deut  28.1-14). Even the Lord directed us to look to God for our daily provisions as we obey his will (Matt 6.8-13, 6.25-34). Moreover, should anyone assume that the promises of prosperity in Malachi 3.10-12 are reserved only for Israel? Will not God also bless any nation that sincerely obeys him? The problem is not with the availability of the resources on this planet, it is with humanity’s attitude towards God. If something doesn’t begin to change and change quickly, then things will only get worse for planet Earth.

We will continue to experience increasing environmental catastrophes, but it won’t be because we don’t drive enough hybrid cars or ride bicycles. If by tomorrow we discover how to turn sand into clean energy so that we never have to use another ounce of fossil fuels again, it will still not prevent the ecological Armageddon that awaits the human race.  The apostle John prophesied of the plagues, earthquakes, famines, droughts, and pestilences that will someday befall humanity in the book of Revelation (Rev 6.7-8; 16.1-12). We don’t know when these disasters will happen, but if we don’t take seriously the church’s responsibility to spread the gospel to every tribe and nation on earth, then they will certainly occur a lot sooner than we think.

If humanity could turn this world into a new Garden of Eden, with environmentally friendly policies and ecologically neutral cars, trains, planes, industry, and cities, it will not matter a single iota if humanity continues to reject the Lord Jesus Christ and blaspheme God. Jesus explained all this during his earthly ministry (Matt 24.4-42). The ironic thing about what he said was that no matter how hard humanity tries to live in peace or find ways to responsibly manage our planet, it will not stop the coming global strife and natural disasters that are merely “the beginning of birth pangs” (Matt 24.6-8). These catastrophes await our planet not because we don’t enforce ecologically friendly policies or provide universal healthcare, but because humanity is losing interest in the concept of a personal God while also displaying abject hatred for the name of Jesus Christ, who is Savior and Lord over all (Matt 24.9; 2 Thes 1.6-10).  And therein is the greatest tragedy. God sometimes uses geological catastrophes and ecological disasters to turn us back to him. But atheists and modern secularists are brainwashing us into believing that not only is this planet fragile, but that if we aren’t careful then we will inevitably make it uninhabitable. They want us to believe that the only important issue facing humanity is how we treat this planet instead of how we relate to our Creator.  For example, if 3 days from now we awaken to find that Mount Vesuvius has suddenly wiped out Naples, and then the next day a category 5 tornado takes out half of Kansas City, and then a day later a tsunami engulfs Sydney, what do you think the media will report? Would we be blasted with how we are harming the planet or of our need to repent before a holy God that we have ignored for far too long?  Ironically, our world will not experience environmental disasters because we have mistreated it, but because we have irreversibly rejected the very God that literally rained down manna from heaven. God is powerful enough to provide for our every need; the issue is do we believe that he exists, and if so are we humble enough to worship him through the Lord Jesus Christ.

If we are truly interesting in seeing our world flourish or if we are concerned about our families, friends, and neighbors, then the first thing we should do is commit ourselves to sharing the gospel. Jesus died not only to save us from this decaying sinful world, but ultimately from eternal separation from God and the inevitable judgment that awaits all who have rejected him. Can we save the planet? Inspired prophecy says no. Someday Earth will experience global catastrophe and judgment, and it will happen because humanity hates Jesus. But if we commit ourselves anew to proclaiming his gospel, then there is the possibility that more and more people will receive Jesus as their savior and Lord.  And as more people begin to live for Christ then our planet will become healthier and more prosperous place, making sudden universal judgment less likely. So if you are primarily worried about rescuing our planet from ecological disasters, then you’re focused on the wrong thing. I’m not saying you shouldn’t guard against oil spills, nuclear waste, and toxic dumpsites—that would be irresponsible. But if you call yourself a Christian, then your primary goal should be to participate in efforts that accomplish that for which Jesus is most passionate, which is the salvation of souls. Jesus wants us to be his witnesses (Acts 1.8), and to create true worshipers (John 4.23-26), and to make authentic disciples from all of the nations across this globe (Matt 28.18-20). Proclamation of the the gospel should be our primary concern; for only with that focus can we truly fulfill the Lord’s will for humanity.

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HOW CHURCHES BECOME WOLF SANCTUARIES

Pack Animal Wolf Predator

Wolves are a beloved figure these days. For some they symbolize freedom, strength, and the beauty of America’s untamed past. That’s because few of us have ever been attacked by wolves. Rene Anderson killed a charging wolf while Elk hunting in Idaho in 2011, and in 2010 Candice Berner was killed by wolves while jogging in a remote area of Alaska. The truth is that wolves in the wild are dangerous and unsympathetic towards their prey. If they can track and catch you, then you’re on the menu. In the ancient world wolves could be found virtually everywhere. They were a constant threat to livestock as well as the isolated traveler. The deadliest of all wolves was one crazed by rabies. You may survive their attack, but if infected by them you were dead nonetheless.

The apostle Paul once warned about wolves, but he wasn’t concerned about the 4-legged kind, instead he warned us about the 2-legged variety. He put it this way:

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, . . .”                                       (Acts 20:28-31a)

The wolves Paul was concerned about have several common characteristics with wolves found in the wild. First, they too are “savage,” and they attack with one goal, to ravage and destroy their prey. Secondly, whenever they attack they intend to spare nothing. Thirdly, they generally come in groups. And having formed a pack they begin to reproduce after their own kind. Like true believers, they also begin making disciples of themselves. However, there are also some unsettling differences. First, Paul said it is a certainty that wolves would come. Wolf attacks in our modern era are extremely rare, in fact since 1900 there have only been 10 recorded fatalities in North America due to wolf attacks. Nevertheless, Paul didn’t say that we may occasionally see a wolf, but that “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come.” He said it is a certainty that wolves will coma and attack the church. Whether we choose to believe it or not, wolves will come. However, what is most startling is where he said they would come from—stating in no uncertain terms that they would come from within the community of believers! And even more tragically, they would come from among the church’s own leadership. Somehow these people will join our fellowships and instead of becoming sheep they will remain wolves.

How can this be you may ask. Did you know that wolf pups and German Shepherds pups are almost indistinguishable? It is only as they mature that their true nature becomes obvious and their differences are noticeable. As puppies they look as cute as the domesticated dogs; nevertheless, they are still wolves. Somehow Paul knew that wolves would eventually join our churches. Maybe it is because we are so hopeful and want to believe the best about everyone, and in our optimism we tolerate “wolf pups,” but inevitably these wolves grow up and devastate our fellowships. But unlike natural wolves, these wolves don’t destroy their prey through their bite, they destroy entire flocks by attacking something more important—the truth. Paul stated that once in leadership these false teachers begin teaching “perversions” among the church body. The focus of their attack is not on individual sheep per se, but on the flock’s strength, which is its unity around the truth. Their strategy is to pervert the truth in such a way that people begin to doubt it, don’t understand it, and stop obeying it. Maybe they will promote distorted theology, maybe they will sanction perverted behavior—all “in the name of love,” or maybe they will degrade the scriptures while promoting the “wisdom” that is found in other religions and human philosophies. Regardless of what they promote, it will be perversions of the truth just the same. The ultimate goal is the defamation of the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel, and the end result will be that the flock will cease to exist. Although the sheep will survive, tragically they will be scattered, isolated, and separated from a healthy flock. It is the in the nature of these wolves to destroy “flocks.” Flocks are their prey since they are incapable of destroying sheep that belong to the True Shepherd (Jn 10.27-30). Consequently, they seek to destroy the next best thing, which is the unity derived from the truth that binds the flock together.

Having told us of the danger that will certainly come, Paul gave steps for protecting the flock. The first is that the elders and pastors must be on guard for themselves. It is essential that pastors police themselves so that they are not deceived into promoting things that pervert the faith that has once and for all been delivered to the saints. Only as the elders and pastors ensure their own fidelity to the Lord and sound doctrine are they able to take the second step, which is to protect the “entire” flock. That’s right, no more unsupervised clicks within our congregations, and no leadership clicks that insulate us from the very sheep that the Lord has called us to protect. Pastors and elders are tasked with leading “all the flock” to reject the perversions promoted by wolves. By abdicating our responsibility to guard all of the small groups scattered throughout our congregations we are potentially exposing them to wolves. Unattended sheep are always at risk.

Next, we are to remain vigilant against the presence of wolves. Twice in these few verses Paul ordered pastors to be constantly on guard against wolf attacks. And this is where American Evangelicals have pretty much left the gate unguarded. We are good at identifying wolves outside our churches, which is not hard since they are obvious to almost everybody. We do a fine job at pointing out the Osteens and Copelands of the world, but we are bad at knowing precisely what people in our own fellowships actually believe. Instead, we assume that if they faithfully attend and give, then they must be “good folk,” and then we promote them into positions of leadership. And by doing so we are unwittingly inviting wolves into positions of influence within our churches. The thing about these wolves is they are intelligent and cunning, and they stealthily maneuver into positions from which they can attack. Regrettably, these wolves will simply lie to get what they want and think little of it. They join our churches to get attention, to gain opportunities, and to obtain the authority that makes them feel important. They are not caring shepherds; there are savage wolves that to us look like sheep, lambs, or innocent puppies.

Regrettably, many of today’s modern churches have become “wolf sanctuaries.” A church becomes a haven for wolves when they are willing to tolerate everything, accept all, and promote unity at all costs. In fact, American churches are quickly becoming places where wolves are more tolerated than faithful shepherds. One of the most ignored and politically incorrect verses in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 11.19, where Paul wrote: “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” Paul actually stated that verbal disagreements and theological debates are necessary if for no other reason than to identify those that are authentic followers of Christ from those that are not. Moreover, these discussions also reveal those that can accurately interpret the scriptures from those that cannot. But that is not what happens in churches today. Today’s churches are turning into “safe spaces,” and the only ones that are becoming safer are the wolves. Certainly the true sheep purchased by the blood of Christ are not safer, and neither are the mixed livestock that are congregating with them. Our churches are quickly becoming the tending stalls of slaughterhouses, where all manner of goats, cows, and pigs are awaiting their inevitable fates.

Wolves in the wild instinctively avoid strong and well-armed shepherds because they have a God-given fear of humans. Wolves always avoid powerful adversaries. Their preference is for those that are weak, sick, and isolated. Additionally, it is rare to see wolves during the day. Wolves prefer the night. The same is true of false teachers; they prefer lurking in the shadows, awaiting opportunities to gain an advantage. They hate the light because it exposes them for what they truly are. They know that if they are found out then it is time to move on and find new territory. Let’s be clear, all lost people have the potential to become wolves, but most are not. An antichristian wolf is someone that has heard the truth of the gospel and the scriptures, and has chosen to reject the lordship of Jesus Christ. And having made such a decision they begin seeking opportunities within the church for their own benefit, as well as positions of leadership from which they can pervert the truth of God. Shepherds that the Lord has called to protect his flock should drive these people away. One thing is certain, pretending that wolves do not exist and are not in our churches is no defense against them; instead it’s a sign of naiveté and rejection of biblical truth. Consequently, while sinners are welcome to come to the church, wolves are not. Once a church receives wolves, then the destruction of the flock will inevitably follow, and in the end the Lord’s sheep will be scattered. Shame upon churches that have become wolf sanctuaries, and pity upon the false shepherds that allowed it to happen, when the True Shepherd comes there will be no place for them to hide.

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