Don’t Be Deceived

If we were to judge things by the sorry shape the world’s in these days we’d most likely conclude Christianity is being systematically eliminated. Satan probably thinks he’s finally turned the tide and is now winning his war to overturn God’s sovereignty. But it’s an optical illusion. Civilization has been down this rocky road before and God’s supremacy has never been vanquished. Not once. His plan continues to move forward unimpeded. Try as he may, the devil will never stop God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness from flowing into the hearts of billions across the globe. Call me an old softie but every time someone gets honored by their peers and the first thing out of their mouth at the ceremony is “I want to thank my Lord Jesus Christ…” I get a little misty. Even if their faith is as miniscule as a shriveled mustard seed I rejoice in the fact that God’s light “got to them” and the indwelling Holy Spirit has prompted them to openly acknowledge the glory of our magnificent Creator. When that happens I know without a doubt there’s at least one soul on this planet, if not thousands, who’ll be touched by their idol’s willingness to “come out” for Christ in public. Christianity isn’t dead; it’s just flying under the radar of secular perception like a crop-dusting biplane, fertilizing the seeds of truth sown by those who want everyone to know what a difference Jesus can make in their life. While unbelievers gauge the Gospel’s popularity and acceptance by church attendance figures alone (something prone to fluctuate according to the state of the economy, the proximity of terror attacks to our neck of the woods, etc.) there are myriads of Christian ministries flourishing and expanding they don’t see. Take Celebrate Recovery, for example.

If you’re anything like me up until almost seven years ago I’d never heard of it. Yet it’s been around for well over two decades and more than 20,000 churches in the USA alone sponsor or host a weekly meeting. Its step-oriented curriculum has been translated into 23 languages and dedicated missionaries are introducing it in countries far and wide. One of the main reasons it’s been so successful is because it allows plain folks to get up before a room full of broken people and tell their personal story of how Christ is changing them from the inside out – one day at a time. Nothing’s more effective in proving Jesus can rescue even the most lost of souls. Relating to someone’s testimony about hitting rock bottom and then, with the help of Christ and His followers, finding healing by reaching up and grasping God’s outstretched hand conveys more than any sermon ever can. Usually the testifier admits their road to recovery is still full of potholes and that, while their relationship with God has never been healthier, life continues to be a struggle against temptation and discouragement. When I went to my first meeting the last thing I wanted to hear was some self-righteous blowhard tell me Jesus would instantly fix every relationship I’d managed to screw up. I knew better. Momma didn’t raise no fool. Nothing about this world is perfect and to expect one’s existence to become the lone exception is delusional thinking. What I needed was the fellowship of real people who addressed real problems while informing me of the real hope only Christ can give. I’d found a safe, confidential setting where I could confess my sins without being judged or given unsolicited advice. I sensed I belonged. I also felt that, in time, I could contribute and help others just like me. And, over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of lives transformed in my modest-sized town alone. What I’m saying is God hasn’t given up on mankind. His children, like soldiers in a resistance movement during enemy occupation, are actively undermining Satan’s plans for domination.

Despite what the “enlightened intelligentsia” may want you to think, the Holy Spirit isn’t a myth. He’s as efficient as ever at doing what He was sent here to do. Folks are becoming born again every day! Souls are being justified right and left! One warning I run across in the New Testament over and over is the admonition, Don’t be deceived,” and it’s in there for a reason. Society will label you as a backwards-thinking, stodgy, unprogressive slave to outdated morals and mindsets for obeying and being faithful to God but don’t be swayed by their taunts and ridicule. When you pass from this life to the next you’ll stand before the great I AM and your accusers won’t be around. And, because you’ll be clothed in the spotless brilliance of the Son of God, you’ll be found “not guilty” of all charges. Why? Because you’ve been redeemed. 1 John 2:12 says, “…your sins have been forgiven because of his name.” Not “will be” but “have been.” Is that not fantastic news? What people are still finding out is that no matter what ugly sins they’ve committed, no matter how low they’ve stooped, if they simply surrender their life to Christ their past iniquities aren’t just forgiven, they’re eradicated! Psalm 103:12 reads, As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us.” Human forgiveness can be shallow, faked or cloaked in ulterior motives but God’s forgiveness is absolute because the penalty our sins deserve was paid when Jesus was tortured to death on the cross. Yet attending a Sunday morning church service doesn’t always alleviate the remorse we feel for sinning against the One who died to save us. That’s where anonymous ministries like CR can help greatly in dealing with guilt. Guilt can linger like an oozing wound and only through being honest with other believers can it be repaired. James 5:16 says, So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed.” CR’s gender-specific small-group setting (where people who battle the same stuff you battle can talk openly without fear of condemnation or gossip) is a place where God’s promised healing is manifested as a reality. With regularity I go into a meeting with guilt and emerge without it.

There’s nothing more attractive about Christianity than the fact that one can gain the surety that all one’s sins are forgiven and, thusly, guilt will no longer have a foothold. Forgiveness was appealing 2,000 years ago and it still draws people to Jesus today. Billy Graham wrote, “So tremendous is the weight of our guilt that the great and glorious concept of forgiveness should be shouted by every believer in Jesus Christ.” Too often, however, accepting God’s forgiveness becomes a stumbling block in our ongoing salvation process. As usual, Frederick Buechner offers a novel but thought-provoking slant. He said, “To accept forgiveness means to admit you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride. This seems to explain what Jesus means when he says to God, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ Jesus is not saying God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others. In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all, just Fair Warning; and in the second place, our unforgivingness is among those things about us which we need to have God forgive us most. What Jesus apparently is saying is the pride which keeps us from forgiving is the same pride which keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.” We rarely pass up taking something offered to us without charge, even if it’s a sample of a new Ruffles’ flavor at Walmart. So to balk at letting God forgive us of our dirty deeds and thoughts with no strings attached seems downright stupid. The devil will whisper in your ear you don’t deserve forgiveness. Don’t be deceived.

Another reason for optimism amidst the chaos is God’s still in the adoption business and business is good. When folks get tired of dragging their heavy baggage around while trying desperately to find fulfillment and happiness on their own, many of them turn to the Heavenly Father – only to realize He was waiting for them to come home the whole time. You see, when a person surrenders their life to Jesus they not only become born again, they become adopted sons/daughters of God with all the privileges that accompany it. They join a truly “royal” family. Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4-7, But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.” The invitation to become an offspring of God comes sans having to sign a convoluted contract filled with tricky “gotcha” clauses. What we tell the ragged, exasperated souls who, as a last resort, crawl into a Celebrate Recovery meeting is their whole lifestyle can change that very night because becoming a member of the body of Christ is the easiest thing they’ll ever do. While the healing process will probably take longer than they’d like, they can rest assured God takes care of His own. The genuine parental love and devotion they’ve been yearning to experience is theirs for the taking by simply saying, “I believe.”

At that juncture it’s up to God to open their eyes so they can read and absorb the truth that’s been sitting inside their dusty, unused Bibles all along. Psalm 146:6-8 says that God is, “…the one who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who remains forever faithful, vindicates the oppressed, and gives food to the hungry. The Lord releases the imprisoned. The Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord lifts up all who are bent over…” Psalm 107:13-14 states, They cried out to the Lord in their distress; he delivered them from their troubles. He brought them out of the utter darkness, and tore off their shackles.” And Jeremiah 30:17 includes a promise that God won’t break. Yes, I will restore you to health. I will heal your wounds. I, the Lord, affirm it! God comes through. Take it from one who knows firsthand. That kind of spiritual encouragement is what I needed to hear when my marriage was dangling by a thread. And to have those kinds of Scriptures presented to me by everyday people who’d stood inside my shoes and been in the same depressing situation I was in made all the difference. I didn’t need to hear an articulately-worded soliloquy from a fancy pulpit; I needed an understanding hug from someone who’d been there and back. God’s not done with this world yet. Not by a long shot. He’s gathering up His children one by one and He’s not going to stop till His kingdom comes in all its glory and grandeur.

As I said, the Holy Spirit hasn’t slowed down a bit. He never sleeps. He’s always nearby, ready to enter the hearts and minds of all who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior the second they lay their burdens down at the foot of the cross. To an outsider the Holy Ghost is perhaps the most incomprehensible, perplexing aspect of Christianity. That’s because in order to be aware of His presence one first has to believe in the resurrected Christ. But, due to their lack of faith, they can’t bring themselves to do that. They wanna have their cake and chow into it simultaneously. It doesn’t work that way. The story of the Prodigal Son teaches God will meet anyone halfway but He certainly won’t if they refuse to take a single step in His direction. Augustine wrote, “If we wished to know and then believe, we should not be able to either know or believe.” Belief – and nothing but belief – will allow the Holy Spirit to alight upon and abide in you. Before He ascended into heaven Christ said, “…I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.”

When we observe the madness, the hatred, the brutality that surrounds us it’s easy to start thinking God’s “left the building” and we’re on our own down here but that would be calling our Lord a liar. Truth is, the Holy Spirit’s the only thing standing between mankind and oblivion. If not for God the Spirit I doubt we would’ve made it through the first century A.D. In his human form God the Son was physically restricted to being with a small group of people at any given time. But, because the Holy Spirit has no such limitations, Jesus now dwells in the hearts of all who’ve received Him as Lord and Savior. A Christian has never had to take a step without Christ at their side. Paul wrote in Romans 8:11, “…if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you.” We’ve not been abandoned. Far from it. Gottfried Osei-Mensah said, “The Spirit is our Master. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit, living in us, to free us from the rule of sin in our daily lives, and to help us live the new life we share with Christ.”

The Holy Spirit’s no temporary resident, either. He’ll be an integral part of what makes us unique in God’s vast universe forever. The gift Jesus gave us is an everlasting gift. It’ll be our unending blessing to watch the Holy Spirit turn each of us into a perfect work of art that will glorify God throughout eternity. In the meantime, if we’ll let Him, He’ll rejuvenate us when we grow weary from our struggle against sin. He’ll rekindle the flame of righteous indignation when we become apathetic to or overwhelmed by evil. And He’ll pour living water into dried up churches that’ve lost their momentum. As long as we have the Holy Spirit we have hope and, thanks to Jesus, we’ll always have the Holy Spirit. One anonymous quote says, “The Holy Spirit today is renewing the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace. All those things are going to be the elements that show the world that we are His people.” Don’t be deceived.

Comprehending the Holy Spirit is difficult for me. But I do know this much: His role in the outworking of God’s plan is huge. Norman Geisler wrote: “The Spirit empowered the origin of Scripture. He gives understanding of Scripture’s revealed truth and its implications to individuals. The Holy Spirit is necessary for full assurance of the truths of Christianity, and He alone prompts people to believe in God’s saving truth. The Holy Spirit works in and through evidence, but not separate from it. As the Spirit of a rational God, he does not bypass the head on the way to the heart. The Spirit provides supernatural evidence (miracles) to confirm Christianity.” In other words, He’s our undefeated champion and He won’t leave till the job’s done! Therefore we have no legitimate excuse for being cowardly. We’re to rise up en masse and fulfill the great commission, spreading the Good News throughout a world that needs Christ more than ever before. Fear’s not an option. It’s for times like these Paul wrote in Romans 8:38-39, For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Because the Holy Ghost is living in me the sky’s the limit. He’ll supply the power to do whatever task the Lord assigns me as well as the power to resist any temptation Satan throws in my path. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” The question I ask myself is this: While I know I have the Holy Spirit does He have me? I must not deceive myself.

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