Late last Spring I decided to do something I’ve never done before. I put aside my own understanding of things and I asked the Lord if I was deceived. You’re probably wondering what on earth I am talking about. What brought me to ask that question is something that Jesus told His disciples in 3 out of the 4 gospels. When they came to Him and asked Him about the signs of the end and when He would return again, the first thing He told them was “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Matthew 24:4, Mark 13:5, Luke 21:8). As I said, it is repeated 3 times, so I know that it must be important. The funny thing about deception is that it wouldn’t be deception if you know you are deceived. Think about that! So, I put on my big girl panties and asked the question: “Lord, am I deceived in some way?” I want to share with you one of the things He showed me over the course of these past weeks. Let me begin by asking you what may appear to be an off topic question, but really is not. Did you know that in order to bake something, such as a cake or bread, you have to use a specific formula? We call it a recipe but it is a formula because if you don’t use exact ingredients and exact amounts when baking, then the recipe won’t work. I forgot to add salt one day to my bread dough, and the bread didn’t have a good consistency. If you forget to add baking powder or soda to your cake, it won’t rise. So why am I talking about formulas? The first thing the Lord spoke to me about after I asked Him about being deceived, is that He is not a formula. He is not a recipe that requires certain ingredients to get a good result. He is a loving Father, who desires a relationship with each and every one of us. And yet, there are books, teachers and entire schools that teach formulas to get answers to prayer. He tells us to ask Him, to seek Him and to knock on the doors of heaven, but He never has us jump through hoops to get an answer. One of the Scriptures He gave me in response to my question is from 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”. Following Jesus is simple, but it is not easy. He requires purity and devotion. He requires our whole heart, not just some of it. He is a jealous God. (for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14) Satan likes a formula and if you can just figure out the correct formula that will appease him, then you can bypass a relationship with the living God. Let me repeat that. If you don’t want a relationship because that requires obedience, repentance, devotion, and other things that so many don’t want in these last days, then you come up with a formula to get what you want. If you don’t believe me then do a study on witch doctors and shaman. They all have formulas to appease the gods and if you find the correct concoction, the devil will leave you alone. In Exodus 32 we are told the story of Israel and how they made themselves a golden calf. They had Aaron, the priest of God, make this calf because Moses was taking too long on the mountain. How many times have we grown weary with waiting for our prayers to be answered, and looked elsewhere? If you continue to read the story, he molded a calf out of gold and guess what they called it? Jehovah! Yahweh, the eternal name of God! How many mental graven golden calves have I worshiped over the years, thinking that if I just follow them, I will get my answers quicker? Sooner. More easily? I think in the past, the Lord allowed some of these “Christian” formulas to work, because He is a kind and loving Father and He knew that many who tried the formulas, were ignorant, such as myself, and even innocent in their understanding of Him. But times have changed. I will be so bold as to say that any formula or recipe that you have to follow to get your prayers answered is based on witchcraft. Yes, there are witch doctors out there pretending to be Christians, giving us formulas to appease God. I was shocked that I actually own some of these books, have followed some of these teachings and wondered, why they are not working? So what did work for me? Simple devotion and telling my Father that I trust Him no matter what happens! I am loved and He is my Father. Jesus tells us in Luke 11:11-12 the following: “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” I am His daughter, His beloved, and if I choose to trust Him, He answers my prayers, not necessarily when I want or how I want, but He listens and He answers. No formulas needed. Trust is not a feeling. Trust is a choice and trust requires me laying down my own understanding and my need to be in control, and allowing Him to be God.
I have a question for you. Now I want you to really think about this and take your time in coming up with an answer. Let’s say one morning you come out of your front door, leaving for work or whatever you have planned that day, and there is a protest on your walkway. The ants have banded together, they have signs and banners, and they are chanting at you. You’re wide awake now and you lean in to hear what they are saying. What you hear amazes you. They are telling you that they want your house and your property and they want you to move out. They say that they no longer believe you are the rightful owner. What would you do? I don’t think it would take you too long to go back into your garage and get out the raid. Am I right? I want to quote to you Psalm 2:1-3:
Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in piecesAnd cast away Their cords from us.”
Why am I comparing us humans to ants? Because I want you to see things from a different perspective. We look back at the generation that rejected Jesus and crucified Him and we wonder why they did that. But if you look at the circumstances they were in, under Roman occupation, you will quickly realize that they were looking for a Messiah who would come as king and deliver them from their enemies. They didn’t want a suffering servant who died for their sins. So they rejected Him. Fast forward two thousand years and I’m going to suggest that this generation, and perhaps a couple before us, don’t want a conquering King. No, I think we want a suffering servant. We want a docile lamb of God who takes away our sins, heals our diseases and makes us happy. We do not want a God who is King of kings and Lord of lords. Oh no, that would require repentance, humility and fear of the Lord. I don’t believe there is a whole lot of that left on the earth right now. Do you? But let’s go back to Psalm 2:4. Do you know what God does in response to the chanting and protests and breaking free from His rightful ownership of this earth? He laughs. I would say that is about right. I think if I had the ants protest on my property, I too would laugh. And yet, this generation teaches that God is not in control. It teaches that we are! This generation of leaders teaches us that the gospel is about your salvation. I’m sure you’re thinking, well isn’t it? No, actually the gospel is about the Kingdom of God. The “good news” is this: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth!” (Matthew 28:18) Yes, Jesus died for our sins, no question. But that is only part of the equation. Listen to what Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 24:14: “And this ‘gospel of the kingdom’ shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come”. He said “this gospel of the kingdom”, not this gospel of your salvation. So what is the good news? Jesus is the King who sits above all rule, authority and power. Period. We don’t like that however, so we come up with all kinds of beliefs and opinions and we twist the Scriptures to fit our desires. We blame the devil and we come up with all kinds of reasons for why the devil is actually in control, not God. And this year, of all years, makes no sense! I think that God is once again stepping into our little lives, and turning our tables over, and throwing out the money changers and rebuking the leaders and shutting down the churches and saying, “worship Me, and Me alone”! I believe that this year is God’s mercy, not His judgement. He is making it very easy right now to come back to Him and choose to make Him Lord of our lives. I personally don’t want to get sprayed with raid. Do you?
Have you ever thought to yourself, “If I could just understand what God is doing, I could trust Him more?” It’s easy to feel that way, especially in this year of so much confusion and turmoil. At first glance, it would seem to make a great deal of sense. But I want to show you something that God has been teaching me this year. If you look at the word “understand” in scripture, you’ll find that the first time it is used is in Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one “wise”, she took of its fruit and ate.” You’ll notice that the word used is wise, but in the original Hebrew that word also means “understand, to have insight, to be prudent, to prosper”. It is translated as wise only a few times and therefore it is easy to miss what is really being conveyed here. What the serpent was telling her is that if she ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, she would understand God, and therefore be more like Him, and in effect be able to trust Him more. After all, if you know what is going on, if you understand the situation better, you can trust God and you in effect, become “like God”! It is the original lie. I think this year, of all the years I have lived on this earth has made the least amount of sense. I have been through tough years in my life, but the world still made sense. This year, if we are honest, makes no sense. So what do we do? How do we then live? I believe we need to go back to the scriptures and see what they say to us. If we look at the life of King David, I think we can learn from this man who slayed giants and was called a man after God’s own heart. In the Psalms David used the word “trust” 55 times. No matter what was happening in his life or in his world, David chose over and over again to trust God. Surely, he did not understand why he was anointed King by Samuel and then spent 13 years running for his life. Yet in the midst of the turmoil, confusion and sometimes fear, he chose to trust. How could he have done this? We are told in Psalm 119:97-100, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.” David loved God’s word (the law). David discovered that God’s commandments made him wiser than his enemies. He had more understanding than all his teachers because he meditated on God’s testimonies. And, David kept all of God’s instructions. His trust was in God alone! When the events of today made no sense to David, he focused on scripture and on what God had done in the past, on how He had been faithful to both him and Israel. Trust came before understanding. It has to. If I trust that He is good, that He is faithful, that He is in control, and that He loves me, then even when things happen that don’t make sense, I do not lean on my own understanding, as Satan would like me to, but instead I trust in Him. We are told not to lean on our own understanding and for good reason. Isaiah tells us in chapter 55:8-9 why: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” He knows things we don’t. He sees the hearts of men, we usually don’t. He sees my heart, and knows what I need. Not what I want, but what I need. And since I believe that He is for me and not against me, I can trust Him even when I don’t understand. And the wonderful thing about arriving at a place of complete trust, is that it is rest for my soul.
I remember a day long ago when my children were very young and I was a stay at home mom. I was praying and I told the Lord that I was frustrated by the fact that I had no real opportunities to lead anyone to Christ because I was always home with them. I will never forget His answer to me that day. He told me to evangelize them, to preach the gospel to them, to disciple them because they were His lambs. It really opened my eyes to look at things in a new way. We often think of shepherds as pastors, leaders, or people in authority in a ministry or church. But God has called each one of us to disciple others. If you look at 1 John 2:12-14, the apostle John gives us a very detailed description of spiritual maturity. Let’s look at it like this. When a baby is born, the parents naturally expect that child to grow into toddlerhood, childhood and eventually become a teenager and finally, an adult. No one would expect their baby or toddler to remain a baby forever. As a matter of fact, most parents eventually expect to become grandparents, when the time is right. How does a parent become a grandparent? Well, obviously it’s because the children have become parents themselves.
This same process of maturity should also happen in the spirit realm. John tells us in this same chapter, that there are several phases of spiritual maturity. In verse 12 he is writing to infants. The English translation just says little children, but the Greek word Teknion actually says “infant”. This is important because in verse 13 he addresses little children again in the English, but this time the Greek uses a different word. This word is Paidion which means young child. He goes on in these verses to speak to those who are called young men, or youths. Finally, he speaks to fathers, thereby describing the progression of spiritual maturity. I will state the obvious. You cannot become a father, unless you have children. So why is he telling us these things? Because he wants each one of us to grow up and “parent” others. Babies are self absorbed and do not care about anyone else except themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, they cannot stay that way. So, let’s go back to my original thought. We are all supposed to grow up in the Lord and become shepherds, or spiritual fathers and mothers. Does that mean we all have churches or ministries? No! But, I guarantee if you look at your life right now, you will see people around you that you are “shepherding”. It could be your children, your small group, a class you are teaching, your coworkers, family, friends, the list could go on and on.
And with this knowledge in mind, the following question comes to my mind: what kind of shepherd am I? What kind are you? In John 10:7-16 Jesus is talking to the Jews and He tells them about three kinds of shepherds. He tells them about “good shepherds”, He of course being The Good Shepherd, He tells them about wolves, and He tells them about hired hands or hirelings. Good shepherd love their sheep. We know from Jesus’ example, that good shepherds lay down their lives for their flock. Ephesians 5:25 tells us “husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. In John 21:15-17 Jesus has a conversation with Peter in what is commonly considered Peter’s restoration. If you examine this conversation closely, it becomes apparent that Jesus is not just restoring Peter, He is also teaching him how to become a “good shepherd”. The first question He asks Peter is “do you love me more than these?” He is of course referring to his friends, family and coworkers. This question tells me that a good shepherd not only is willing to lay down his or her life for their flock, but that they have to love Jesus more than anyone else. He tells us in Matthew 10:34-39 that “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me”. So let me put it this way. The most important ingredients to being a “good shepherd” is loving Jesus more than anyone else, even your own family and of course, loving Him more than yourself! When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus answered like this: “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
He goes on to tell Peter, that if he loves Jesus, then he is to tend or take care of and feed His sheep. Notice, not Peter’s sheep. Jesus’ sheep! A good shepherd knows that ultimately the sheep belong to Jesus, which brings me to the next kind of “shepherd”, the wolf.
I think that when most of us, me included, think of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, we think of some cult leader, an obvious wolf leading people astray and teaching them to follow him, not Jesus. But if you look at scripture, it becomes obvious that neither Jesus, nor the disciples were talking only about cult leaders. They were also talking about “shepherds” who spoke a version of the truth, but not the whole truth. In Matthew 24: 4-5 Jesus warns us that in the last days, we need to be careful that “no one leads us astray”. Some translations call it deception. If it was obvious, it wouldn’t require a warning about not being deceived, would it? He says “For many will come in my name, saying “I am the Christ”, and they will lead many astray. I’m sure there are numerous opinions on what exactly Jesus meant by this, not the least of which is that people will come pretending to be the Christ. This has most definitely already happened. But I think He is also warning us about “Christians” who pretend to be something they are not. Paul warned his disciples in Acts 20:29 that “after his departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them”.
If you believe that someone cannot be a wolf if he or she tells you that Jesus is the Christ, you would be wrong. James tells us in James 2:19 that “even the demons believe-and shudder!” Luke has a story where the demons told Jesus that they knew who He was. (Luke 4:41) I think the greatest judgement however, comes from Jesus’ own mouth. In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus tells us the following: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Let’s look at what this difficult scripture is really saying to us. These people were obviously what our modern society would call Christians. They even called Him Lord. They spoke prophecies in His name. They cast out demons in His name. They did mighty works in His name. So why did He not know them? Because they were leading double lives. They were hypocrites. They were workers of lawlessness. Workers of unrighteousness! Are we told what they did? No. But we are told what Jesus considers to be works of lawlessness. In Revelation 21:8 He tells us those who will end up in the lake of fire: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
When I look at those sins, I have to wonder. Why would cowards go to hell? Why would a liar go to hell? Here’s why: If I know the truth, but I only tell you half truths, the truth that you want to hear, but I don’t tell you all of the truth, then I am lying by omission. If I know the truth, if I know that a wolf is coming, but I’m too afraid of offending you or upsetting you or getting rejected by you to tell you that he is coming, am I not a coward and a liar? Am I not fearing you more than God; Loving the praises of men, more than the praises of God?
If you think that I’m being harsh, let me tell you a story. In Acts 24:24-26 Paul shares the “gospel” with Governor Felix. I would have to say that this gospel which Paul spoke to Felix about, is a different gospel than what I have heard in most churches (and I have been to quite a few churches because I have lived in so many different places) in my life: “And as he reasoned (with Felix) about righteousness and self control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said “Go away for the present”. When is the last time you alarmed someone with the gospel? If we are not preaching this kind of gospel, where we are alarming people about sin and the coming judgment, then are we really speaking the truth? Are we not in fact, wolves in sheep’s clothing, leading people astray?
Finally I will come to the most difficult one of all, in my opinion to understand: the hireling. What exactly is a hireling or a hired hand? The most obvious answer is that this is someone who works for pay. Someone who doesn’t own the sheep, someone who doesn’t care about the sheep, certainly who doesn’t love the sheep, but pretends to be a shepherd. Jesus describes the hireling in the following way in John 10:12-13: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep”. What does He give as the primary reason that this person is a hireling? He doesn’t care about the sheep. He doesn’t love them. Very simple. Love! This type of “shepherd” is the one who takes care of sheep because he or she gets something out of it. It might not be money. It might be likes, or shares, or praises of men, or it could simply be that being a “shepherd” makes them feel good about themselves, it makes them feel worthy, valuable. No matter. They are in fact working for themselves, getting paid in some form or fashion. They do not love The Shepherd, and they certainly do not love the sheep.
Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of difference in the end between a wolf and a hireling. They both end up in the same place, hell. So I have to really examine my heart on a regular basis. Who am I working for? What am I working for? Do I love Jesus more than myself? Or am I working for the praises of men? Speaking the truth is not usually popular. It appears harsh. It creates rejection, offense, anger. But in the end, you and I will both have to stand before the Great Shepherd, The Good Shepherd and I for one, do not want to be accused of being a coward or a liar. Do you?
To say we live in difficult times is an understatement. Sometimes I find it not only a little scary but also a little confusing. If you look at the internet there seems to be a mix between those who are completely denying the reality of what is happening around the world right now, and those who are spreading the flames of fear. Neither one is good. The Lord really had to rebuke me the other day because I had spent hours watching videos on what is happening with the corona virus around the world. It was filling me with fear. He actually called me Henny Penny, the little chicken from the children’s book that went around yelling “the sky is falling”. But Lord, it really is falling! Yes, it is. Amos tells us in Amos 5:18-19 the following: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you? It will be darkness and not light. It will be as though a man fled a lion, and a bear met him. Or as though he went into a house, leaned his hand on a wall, and a serpent bit him”. It is quite clear from Scripture that the Day of the Lord is not a good season. However, that being said, we as Christians need to have the kind of faith that can rise above the fear that the world is experiencing. It is at this time that I have to go back into my arsenal and look at the ways that the Lord has protected me in the past. I remember 20 years ago I had a strange dream that made no sense to me when I woke up. I was walking through a dark forest and I could see storm clouds in the sky. I came to a little cabin in the woods and when I went inside, I heard the Lord say the following to me: “I am the Lord of the Lightening, do you trust me not to get hit?” I woke up not sure what to expect. Several hours later I felt this deep darkness come over me that was so strong that I actually fell asleep for a few minutes. When I woke up I asked the Lord what it was that I was experiencing. He told me that Satan desired to touch one of my children. I immediately began to pray for protection over them, but I still had no idea what was happening. Two hours later I received a phone call from one of my pastors. My oldest son, who had been skiing with other people from church, had had a skiing accident. He lost a ski while jumping from a big hill and not able to land correctly, crashed into the ground landing on his head and his knee. He convulsed and then lay still. The people behind him thought he might be dead. He was taken to the hospital by ambulance and I was called. But he wasn’t dead. As a matter of fact, he walked out of that hospital 4 hours later with a sprained knee and a concussion. He told me that he knew what happened was demonic because he could feel “someone” hold his ski as he took off from the hill. A week later a young man jumped off that same hill and broke every bone in his body and died. Was I afraid when I received the call? No! Because I had been warned and my son was protected. I rejoiced in the goodness of God as I drove to the hospital that afternoon. What can I learn from this memory? I can remind myself that those who fear the Lord, those who trust in His goodness will be protected. What memories do you have of God protecting you or one of your family members? If you are struggling with fear right now, go back into your arsenal and remind yourself of the ways that God has protected you, provided for you, and taken care of you in the past.
Perhaps you read the above story and you thought to yourself, well I don’t have anything as dramatic in my life as a dream or a vision giving me insight into what is happening. That circumstance was unusual for me as well. Several years ago my youngest son was in the hospital having surgery. He was thousands of miles from home, in a strange place and the surgery was not going as well as they had hoped. I don’t know all the details but I do remember that when my son was put back into his room, he kept calling me. He called me several times that day because he was afraid. He sounded so weak and exhausted on the phone and I felt so helpless. I knew that even if I got on a plane that very day, it would be a long time before I could get to him. By the end of the day, after numerous phone calls from my very sick son, I got angry at God. I told Him that I couldn’t understand why He had been so silent all day on this matter. I had been seeking Him, praying for my son and I got silence. His answer shocked me. He told me that He had already talked to me about this matter of my son, and that I needed to go back and look at that promise again. I was speechless. But it also taught me a great lesson on standing on my promises. A couple of years earlier, while I was in a class at church, the Lord spoke to me very clearly. He told me the following: “You have never had a safe man in your life. But I am your Father, your Brother and your Husband and I am safe, and I will always protect what is yours”. There it was. My son was protected. He recovered from that surgery and he did eventually come home. But I had to learn to apply that promise and to stand on it. I have taken great liberties with that promise. There are many people and things that I now claim as my own. Not for my benefit but because I plead His protection over them. Look back at your life. Has God made you a promise of protection? Perhaps it was something you read in your Bible. Maybe it was a verse that spoke to your heart, or something you heard Him say to you. I am not special and what He has said to me He will say to anyone who has the faith to receive it. If you don’t have a verse or promise, you are welcome to use mine. God is no respecter of persons. What He gave to me He will freely give to you, if you can believe it. I would love to hear your stories. In this crazy time we live in, we need to encourage each other with “songs of deliverance”.
I have noticed a trend recently when it comes to power. If you look at history, often times the most corrupt regimes were and are run by the same family, generation after generation. We can see it in our own government as well. How many political families have been in power for decades, their children reaping the rewards simply because of their last name. God’s people are not immune from this problem either. If you look at the Levites in Scripture, you will find a similar issue. What had once been orchestrated by God Himself had become so corrupted by the time of Jesus, that their false teachings and pride had blinded them so much that they crucified the very Messiah they were looking for. Thousands of years of family run religion had turned into a ruling class that created nothing but fear and false teachings. Jesus himself accused the Pharisees of being responsible for every prophet that had ever been stoned and killed. (Matthew 23:34-46) Does the New Testament address this issue? I believe it does. In Ephesians 4:11-12 Paul speaks about something which is commonly called the Five Fold Ministry. Paul tells us that God gave us Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers for the equipping of the saints. These leaders are for the edifying of the Body of Christ. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that although we are all part of the body of Christ, we are each individual members, or parts that make up the body. He asks the Corinthian church “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing?”. We all know that our bodies have many different organs and each one has its own function and importance. Just as our physical organs work together, the different gifts need to work together in the body of Christ. God ordained it that way for our own protection. Paul was teaching the Corinthians wisdom when he tried to help them set up their leadership. By allowing different gifts to flourish in a church body, it equips the saints and helps each member to mature and grow. Teachers help those with the gift of teaching to learn how to teach. Prophets teach those with that gift to hear and prophecy what God is saying to the congregation, etc. But it also keeps the different parts accountable to each other. It keeps the body and the leadership from becoming blinded and falling into deception and false teaching. Jesus is looking for a pure and spotless bride that He can bring home one day. That is the one and only goal that we each should have for both ourselves and for those around us.