For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God's chosen ones. See, I have warned you about this ahead of time. -- Matthew 24: 24-25 (NLT)
As a student of the political process in this country I can honestly say that it is beyond flawed. It is broken now to the point of not being able to be repaired without significant changes being made to the underlying structures. If I were to boil it down to a single sentence it would be this -- it costs too much money to run for office. The Center for Responsive Politics estimated that the 2012 election saw 6 billion dollars spent in support of either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. What this does is it chokes off the possibility of new blood entering politics and it cements the role of lobbying which means by the time someone does get elected they are already owned by the special interest groups that paid for them to be elected.
Likewise as a student of the Bible and of modern Christianity I see similar and disturbing trends that should give us all pause. The "preachers" with the most access are the ones who end up on television and they require money to stay there. The money requirements and the desire to please everyone lead to a watered down, compromised Gospel being presented. Remember when the Apostle Paul was writing to his prote'ge' Timothy he warned him to guard only two things closely -- his life and his doctrine. I hear people all the time suggest that we should just leave everyone alone. We are all on the same team. Stop being so judgmental. After all -- what's the big deal? What they are missing is that we are not all on the same team. I saw a quote from Charles Stanley this week that hit home. He said that the broad path to destruction is not difficult to find -- in fact if you are not consciously avoiding it, then you are probably already on it. There is a lot at stake beloved. I think the mistake we make is that we see everyone who sits in a pew as already being saved and going to heaven. I wish that was true. I wish that by merely attending church you could be guaranteed eternal life but it simply does not work that way.
Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. -- John 14: 6 (NLT)
That verse doesn't say he who tithes correctly comes to the Father. It doesn't say that he who attends a mega church comes to the Father. The only way is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But which Jesus Christ are you being sold today? The key verses are the Words of Jesus Himself and He says that He is warning us ahead of time. There are three quick points I want to make before we turn our attention to two examples from this morning's church shows on television. The first truth is that prosperity in the ministry does not mean favor from God. The key verse says that they will even perform signs and wonders! You may see healings and hear of glorious testimonies. You may see a church with 35,000 people sitting enthralled at the preaching. You may see sold out arenas across this country. Yet on the last day:
"Not everyone who calls out to me, "Lord! Lord!' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, "Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.' But I will reply, "I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God's laws.' -- Matthew 7: 21-23 (NLT)
They cast out demons! They performed miracles! They sold out stadiums! They were considered "America's Pastor!" None of it will matter when they stand before Jesus and here is the frightening thing -- it will not matter for those who chose to sit in the sold out stadiums either. Because the second truth from the key verses is that the success we see is actually there to deceive us! The signs and wonders are there to deceive us. The packed churches with tens of thousands of people are there to deceive us if we do not watch our lives and our doctrine closely.
Well, who is it that is being deceived here? The falsely converted. The subject no one likes to bring up. Those who said a 30-second prayer during an altar call and think that they have purchased their fire insurance policy from hell. No regeneration of the heart mind you. No different in reality than who they used to be. But they will sit in a church for an hour and a half each week to hear about how much God wants to bless them. They may even become a faithful tither and serve in a ministry. They see the thousands of people all around them each week or maybe on the television at home and they think they are secure. Lord Lord, didn't I go to church every week in Your name? Lord Lord didn't I go to the most popular church in the whole country in Your name? Away from me!
How can we be so sure this is what Jesus was referring to here in the key verses? Because the third truth is that He clearly differentiates between these people and God's chosen ones. Not only can the falsely converted be duped into a lifetime of service unto the church at the expense of their eternal souls but these same charlatans can deceive even the elect! What is the damage there? As always the answers are found in God's Word:
For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. -- Ephesians 2: 10 (NLT)
God has planned long ago for things we need to do for the furtherance of His Kingdom. We were saved at a cost and for a purpose. That purpose cannot be to come alongside a false prophet and support their efforts. It really is that simple. Somewhere out there are the works God has prepared for you to do and the longer we sit under false teaching, the less likely it is that we ever get to those works. I see many people happily singing kumbya while sitting under obviously heretical teaching. Content to plan the next Christmas play for Jesus or redefine worship to fit their own carnal predilection. This is not about me. It is not about you. It is about God and the fact that Jesus Himself has warned us to watch out for the very people we see flooding the airwaves today.
So, with eight inches of snow on the ground I decided to stay home today from church. I turned on a network station, not even a satellite channel, and sat through an hour of false teaching. I do not want to say false prophets because then everyone gets hyper-defensive of their favorite preacher. In fairness, I do not know the hearts of these men but I do not have to because the Bible says their hearts are as wicked as mine. So I want to believe that they are sincere but sincerely wrong. This way there are no personalities brought into the discussion to muddy the waters. I am sure they are both wonderful human beings who contribute a lot to their communities. None of that is the point. What they are teaching is the point.
The first example from this morning is Joel Osteen; America's most popular Pastor. Nearly 40,000 people per week attend Lakewood Church with millions more watching him on television. His message this morning was on increasing the size of your vision. The basic premise being that too many people do not see the full blessings of God in their lives because they lack a grander vision of who they can be. No mention of the sovereignty of God. No mention of the rights of the Potter:
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?'" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? -- Romans 9: 20-21 (NIV)
But that's ok because I do agree with Osteen that we can often talk ourselves into less than what God intends for our lives as well. As long as that message is delivered with a clear understanding of the sovereignty of God I think it could be very helpful but Pastor Joel did not go in that direction. Instead he continued by saying (paraphrasing) "Whatever you want, you have to be able to imagine it if you expect God to bring it to pass. It says in Genesis that nothing will prevent them from what they imagine."