Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 is almost here- you can mourn the Mayan prophecy or have Hope in Him

Doesn't that seem strange to you? With all the hype for so long about the Mayan prophecy of the world ending on December 21, 2012, now this portentous year is actually here. In 2009 I wrote about the Maya mania. I'd said it was pretty ridiculous. In fact, the world according to the Mayans does not end. In part, I'd said,

"Their daily calendar was of 260 days but their "long count" or b'ak'tun calendar toted up long periods of time, from a mythological starting point equivalent to August 11, 3114 BC. "Misinterpretation of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar is the basis for a New Age belief that a cataclysm will take place on December 21, 2012. December 20, 2012 is simply the last day of the 13th b'ak'tun. But that is not the end of the Long Count because the 14th through 20th b'ak'tuns are still to come." Their long count calendar went through cycles, and cycles end. 12 previous cycles have ended without incident. One such cycle is slated to end on December 21, 2012, but the news is that a new cycle begins immediately. According to the Mayans, the world does not end."

The more ridiculous thing is putting stock in any prophecy besides the ones Jesus gives us. THOSE are 100% accurate, guaranteed, all the time.

It's weird, I remember watching a documentary about the Mayan prophecy of the world ending when I was in my late teens or early 20s. So this would be somewhere between 1978 and 1985. It wasn't Leonard Nimoy's documentary, I found that online and watched it. No, I distinctly remember the last scene of this program. The program had been expounding on the Baktun long count and the end of the world. At that time, the 'prophecy' was decades away, but the documentary made it sound ominous. The final scene was of a Mayan elder, dressed in headdress and loin cloth. He was standing with his back to a dense jungle foliage, looking at the camera, which was across a narrow but deep ravine. A hemp rope bridge separated the Elder from the camera, and the viewer. He said a few short words in his language, and then looked mournfully at the camera. He slowly turned, and parted the jungle leaves, and entered in. The camera remained focused on the spot he had been standing until the leaves ceased shaking. The narrator said something like, "The world will end. Will we listen...?"

I wasn't saved then so I didn't know about Jesus. But it was the first time I gave deep thought to the fact that this planet might indeed not go on as it has always been. I did not begin "saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation." (2 Peter 3:4). I am a science fiction fan, having watched my share of movies and read many books by Gene Roddenberry, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and the like...and I'd seen or read my share of planets blowing up. But this was the first time I thought about my planet blowing up. Hmmm.

The Lord draws us to Him. (John 6:44). I believe He does this all our lives, until we make a decision one way or the other, or until our fleshly desires become so pervasive that He gives us over to them and hardens our heart. (Psalm 81:12,  Acts 7:39-42, Romans 1:24). All along now I see, there were little forks in the road, at which I mulled, and each time I responded to His drawing. When I was ten, my Aunt told me about the rapture and the people coming out of the graves and lifted up with those who were living to meet Jesus in the air. That picture stayed with me, the people popping out of the graves. I responded as a kid, drawn to the more gory part, but also responded through my soul, and began wondering about life after death. In my twenties, this Mayan documentary made me wonder about the world ending. In my thirties I traveled the world and saw the complexity and fragility of the creation and began wondering about a Creator.

Mark 4:1-9 is the Parable of the Sower who sowed seed in different kinds of ground and the seed's response to it. I think as long as we keep the door of our hearts open, He continues sowing. He sees who responds because He is the only one who can see the heart.

Will the world end as the Mayans say on December 21 2012? Only Jesus knows. He did say that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up." (2 Peter 3:10). But the world will be remade and become a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1, Isaiah 65:17).

My prayer for you is that your heart is the good ground  that the Sower sows the Gospel seeds upon. That you heed the warnings of the Christ and not the Maya, that the world WILL end one day, at His timing, but those of us in Christ will be forever with Him. It is not a fearful, mournful thing, but a hopeful one. The Greatest Hope of all! 2012 begins, and I wait. "And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee." (Psalms 39:7)

Friday, December 30, 2011

State of the Church part 6/conclusion: Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships

Part 1: Introduction, Love growing cold
Part 2: Are you tending your anchor?
Part 3: The numbers aren't good
Part 4: Carnal Carnival, & the greatest sin pastors commit
Part 5a: When carnality leads to spiritual abuse
Part 5b: Is your church spiritually abusive?

The Lord by His grace and of no merit of mine, saved me from the just punishment I'd deserved as a sinner. Then, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell inside me, and to grow me in sanctification. He opened my mind to understanding the bible as I grow and study diligently, and He sent me a ministry. I have a mission field, and that mission field is to fellow Christians.

Why do Christians need such, you ask. Because we are told that many people who thought they were Christians on That Day will cry out to the Lord for entry into the Kingdom, falsely believing that their works had saved them. The Lord will refuse. (Matthew 7:22). Many more will fall away from the faith. (1 Timothy 4:1). Others will gain inheritance into the Kingdom but as barely escaping the flames. (1 Cor 3:15). Clearly, the latter times will be dangerous for Christians. This is because there will be false doctrines, false christs, false prophets, false teachers...(2 Peter 2, Mt 24:5, Mt 7:15, Acts 20:29...)

They will come from among us as well as from outside us! “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” – Paul (Acts 20: 29-31). If Paul warned and cried for three years, day and night, it behooves us to examine ourselves and be wary of those who are seeking to come in to us and destroy the flock.

My biggest sorrow are fellow believers who refuse to accept that some inside the church match the description of the many, MANY verses warning us of the danger. They believe that just because any teacher, evangelist, missionary, pastor, elder, deacon or lay person attaches the word "Christian" in front of their name, that they are safe. The only barometer to testing the pasture for safe grazing is to constantly check it. Some will be worthwhile Christians, loving and humble, cultivating genuinely spiritual relationships inside their church. Some will be weighed in the balances and found wanting.

It is incumbent on all of us to be watchful of the things we are told to watch out for. The Holy Spirit graciously warned us by telling the bible's writers, and who are we to dismiss the warnings simply because they are inconvenient, or point to a favored teacher, pastor, evangelist? Can we do less than our forefathers, who, by their blood, lived the lives we read about in the Bible and died so the fruits of His tree may continue to be produced? Christian, employ your God-given discernment! These are dangerous times where we are warned that there will be falsity inside our faith.

There is no one person in the church that is higher than another. Jesus is the head. (Matthew 23:8-9) We all are part of a gracious body whose Head is Jesus Himself. Let us warmly love each other unreservedly, and in so doing unite around truth, ALL truth, even the uncomfortable truth. The entire point of our existence is to glorify Jesus by our words, our acts, our lives. We glorify Him by loving well, being mature, and by standing on His truth. My heart cries for purity from the pulpit, I long for good food from the Word. I yearn to worship in truth with my brethren. I fear that as the days pass the prophesies of apostasy, falsity, apathy, and love growing cold coming more nearer to fulfillment, these things are harder to do. But one reason they are harder to do is because many don't have the discernment to know they are in a hazardous situation. Therefore, here is more information for you about spiritual abuse, or authoritarianism, the most hazardous situation of all. I know that the flock will not be spared, because the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that they will not be spared. But my hope is that with information, prayers, and tears, that YOU will be spared.

I am reprinting an entire article by Dr. Bob Kellemen by his permission. In his three pastoral ministries, Dr. Kellemen has equipped hundreds of people as biblical counselors and spiritual friends. He is founder of RPM Ministries, and Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition. In the essay, Dr. Kellemen instructs us from a biblical perspective on how leaders and pastors should react to disagreement and what the body should expect and look for in spiritual relationships. It asks the question if a person is a mature or an immature leader.  Here is Dr. Kellemen:

Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships, Part 1: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
"There’s been a great deal in the Christian blogosphere lately about “spiritually abusive pastors” and “pastors who bully.” It started me pondering, “How does the Apostle Paul respond to those who disagree with him and criticize him?”

"I understand that the correlation is not one-to-one: Paul was an apostle, not a pastor. Of course, that’s all the more reason to ponder the question. As pastors and ministry leaders today, we should respond exponentially more humbly than Paul did."

"I also understand the vital hermeneutic issue of the original intent of the author. In other words, I can’t “cherry pick” a topic or theme and force it onto Paul’s writings, if that theme was not a part of his original purpose. That would be like reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and seeking to apply it to the American political issues of 2011—it’s totally out of context. However, in the Corinthian epistles, Paul is clearly focused on “body life,” “apostolic authority,” “divisions in the church,” and the relationship between shepherds and sheep."

"As I begin to explore this question, I don’t have any “target” or “agenda” or “end game” I’m trying to prove. I’m simply opening 1 and 2 Corinthians and asking section by section, in a running commentary, “How is Paul relating and responding to the Corinthians who are complaining about him, and what can we apply to our lives today?”

"1. Paul identifies them as holy and sanctified (1:1-2)."

"Wow! How different Paul is from us. As spiritual leaders today, if we’re not careful we can succumb to the temptation to label those who disagree with us: “rebellious, ungodly, arrogant, disrespectful of authority…”

"Later Paul will “call a spade a spade”—he’s not afraid to confront sin. However, he doesn’t label people as sinners, but as saints. He’s both a good theologian and a godly leader."

"If we’re immature leaders, we are terrified of dissent. We use labels against others as a way to put them down, put them in their place, intimidate them, and shame them. “You questioned me. Obviously you are immature and arrogant.” “I see a pattern of anger and a critical spirit that you must repent of.” Such labels heap shame and condemnation on the recipient, rather than offering wise counsel and constructive feedback."

"Picture yourself called into a meeting with Paul after you’ve voice some concern or disagreement. You’re expecting to be put down and shut up. He begins, “First, I want you to know that you are sanctified and holy.”

"Instead of pulling rank, Paul ranks his critics above himself (compare Philippians 2:1-5). Instead of choosing condemning labels, Paul chooses grace conversations (compare Ephesians 4:15-16; 4:29; Colossians 4:3-6)."

"2. Paul gives thanks for them (1:3-4)."

"Another wow! Paul’s thanking the Corinthians—yeah, those dudes who could be rude and crude toward him.

When we act as spiritually abusive leaders, we use our spiritual position to control or dominate others. We override the feelings and opinions of others, without regard to what will result in the other person’s life, emotions, or spiritual well-being. Spiritual authority is used defensively and abused to bolster our position and needs, over and above the person who comes to us in need or with a concern."

"Not Paul. Your jaw is still on the table after Paul said you were a sanctified saint. Now Paul continues. “Second, I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ.” Paul bolsters others up in Christ instead of boasting about himself."

"3. Paul affirms them (1:5-9)."

"A hallmark of a spiritually abusive and immature leader is the need to demean those who disagree with us. We act defensively—building ourselves up by tearing others down."

"Not so Paul. Imagine the conversation continuing. You’ve been ripping Paul, and you’re sure he’s ready to rip you, to put you in your place, to put himself above you. Then he says, “Third, you’ve been enriched in Christ in every way—in all your speaking and knowledge. You don’t lack any spiritual gift. Christ will keep you strong and blameless to the end.”

"If we’re immature leaders, we’re terrified of that type of scenario because it tips the balance of the scales of power. We consider ourselves above questioning. We interpret our position of authority to mean that our thoughts are supreme and our perspective is totally unbiased. We then assume that any questions come from a wrong spirit, not simply from an honest attempt to have give-and-take dialogue. The worst is assumed of the other; the best is assumed of oneself."

"Paul is so confident of who he is in Christ that he affirms who others are in Christ—even those who criticize him! Paul assumes the best of the Corinthians—because he knows who they are in Christ. They are enriched, spiritually gifted, and called into fellowship with Jesus Christ."

"In Part 2, Dr. Kellemen looks ahead in the running commentary to 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 to ask, “Where does Paul find the power and perspective to respond in such a humble way?”

"Join the Conversation: What principles can we apply to our lives from Paul’s humble spiritual leadership?"
------------------------------------------
End Dr. Kellemen's article. He ends with a very good question. I think it is a wonderful expression and model of how a pastor or leader or elder, or anyone, really, should handle criticism or disagreement in a mature and biblical way.

Regarding this topic, Dr. Kellemen was interviewed by noted author and Christian book reviewer Tim Challies. In that Q&A, they discussed “symptoms” that we can identify that might point to a leader's heart moving toward spiritual abuse. These might include actions and attitudes such as:
  • Considering oneself above questioning.
  • Using our spiritual position to control or dominate another person.
  • Overriding the feelings and opinions of others.
  • Using spiritual authority defensively to bolster the position and “needs” of the leader.
  • Labeling the person who questions us as wrong and rebellious, thus subtly shifting the focus and blame. Questions are assumed to come from a wrong spirit, not simply from an honest attempt to have give-and-take dialogue. The worst is assumed of the other; the best is assumed of oneself.
  • Labels can include accusations such as, “You’re rebellious.” “You’re disrespectful.” “I detect a pattern of anger and a critical spirit.” “You are unspiritual and emotionally immature.” Such labels heap condemnation on the recipient, rather than offering wise counsel and constructive feedback.
  • Interpreting our spiritual authority to mean that my thoughts and opinions are supreme.
"Here are a couple of introductory comparisons of what spiritual abuse is not:"

"It is not abusive when a spiritual leader speaks the truth in love and confronts sin in a gracious way. It is abusive, however, if the leader seeks to defend himself, or shame or discredit others."

"It’s not abusive when a spiritual leader uses his best judgment and chooses to go against your opinion. It is abusive, however, if the leader uses his opposing view to devalue and demean others." -end interview-

Brother and sister, you are a precious child of the King.  "You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1Peter 2:5).

"You are valuable to the Kingdom, holy and sanctified. "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." (John 4:23).

I can imagine the hurt one would feel in working through whether to stay or leave an abusive church. The church is family to many people, and to still others, their entire actual family of several generations may attend along with you. Walking away would wound deeply, leaving behind friends, family, time, investment, ministries. This article may help you, "Walking away from spiritual abuse."

The greatest help in a time of trouble is our Lord Jesus Christ. He seeks ALL His sheep and brings them back, not losing even one. He will not forsake you. "For thus saith the Lord God; Behold I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day." (Ezekiel 34:10-12).

If you are in a church situation where you are contemplating leaving, or have been forced to leave, count it to the good for those who love Him that in effect, He is gathering you, His true sheep, to another place where it is safer from wolves. He will never abandon you! Rely on Him for comfort, for safety, for recovery. After all, "As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep." John 10:17

State of the Church part 5b: Is your church spiritually abusive?

Part 1: Introduction, Love growing cold
Part 2: Are you tending your anchor?
Part 3: The numbers aren't good
Part 4: Carnal Carnival, & the greatest sin pastors commit
Part 5a: When carnality leads to spiritual abuse
Conclusion: Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships

We have been exploring Jesus' end time prophecy in Matthew 24:12, which says, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold," and looked at how this prophecy applies to believers. We explored the incremental drifting away from Jesus and how that impacts our selves and our churches in part 2. In part 3 we looked at the numbers of surveyed born-again believers who state they hold to a biblical worldview and found that it was 8-9%. When you have 91-92% of a congregation that has in some part a secular worldview you are in for trouble, and part 4 looked at that trouble: carnality. Part 5a looked at the biblical fact of spiritual abuse as long being a fact of history from the Old Testament to the New. It is prophesied to occur in the last days. In Acts 20:29 Paul wrote, "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock." Not just wolves, but savage wolves. And they will not spare the flock. That is the focus of this part 5b. How will they not spare the flock?

Let's take a look at the Greek meaning of the word used in the Acts verse, savage. We have our own idea in English of what savage wolves means. We form a picture in our head from National Geographic of bloody wolves' muzzles and snarling teeth tearing flesh from undefended sheep. But the Greek paints a bit of a different picture.

Here is the Concordance: savage, or some translations say vicious, is from the Greek word 'barus.' This means heavy. "properly, heavy (weighty); what is grievous (burdensome), pressing down on a person with oppressive force. Such a grievous burden makes a person unable to function (enjoy free movement)."

Jesus died so we would be liberated from bondage: bondage to sin, bondage to men (Luke 4:16-20, Isaiah 61:1). So pastors who do the opposite of what Jesus wants is to heavily oppress us. They will place on us grievous burdens so heavy we are unable to function.

This paints the exact picture of the excessive legalism, worldliness and selfishness that the Pharisees and other New Testament false teachers were promoting (Judaizers, etc). Paul told us that false teachers and leaders would come in laying a weight on us that would be so heavy we would not be able to move. Paul's words match exactly what today's authoritarian pastors are doing to the flock, and let me assure you, the flock is not only 'not spared'. They're targeted.

"Spiritual abuse can take place in the context of doctrinally sound, Bible preaching, fundamental, conservative Christianity. All that is needed for abuse is a pastor accountable to no one and therefore beyond confrontation. Authoritarian leaders are ecclesiastical loners. That is, they do not function well or willingly in the context of systematic checks or balances. They are fiercely independent and refuse to be part of a structure of accountability. To put it crudely, they operate a one-man ... spiritual show." (online source). Being above accountability is never a good thing in any system, and churches are no different.

Steve Martin of Founder's Journal wrote cogently and excellently on this topic. I recommend his article in its entirety! Founders Ministries is a ministry of teaching and encouragement promoting both doctrine and devotion expressed in the Doctrines of Grace and their experiential application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness. Founders Ministries takes as its theological framework the first recognized confession of faith that Southern Baptists produced, The Abstract of Principles. The author is Pastor of Heritage Church, Peachtree City, Georgia.

In his article, "Authoritarianism in the church," Mr Martin wrote, "A tragic and dangerous trend can be observed in some contemporary evangelical churches. While standing against the lawlessness and anti-authority mood of this generation, some conservative, Bible-believing churches have drifted into deadly authoritarian tendencies. This sad phenomenon is increasingly becoming publicized and well-documented (see suggested reading list at the end of this article). Why is this happening? What kind of attitudes engender authoritarianism in a church? Whose fault is it? What can be done about it? Before proceeding any farther, some definition is in order. For the purposes of this article, "authoritarianism" is defined as an abuse of the authority given by Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit and revealed in God's Word which the office holders of the local churches are to exercise."

"Surely the cause of authoritarianism and idol-worship is sin. But what sins in particular need to be recognized, repented of and mortified by the Holy Spirit's help? Five sins of the shepherds (Idolatry, Praylessness, Unbelief, Lack of love for the sheep, Pride) and three sins of the sheep come to mind (Idol-worship, Fear of man, & Unbelief). Taken together they produce churches with a powerfully sinful pathology which dishonors Christ, smothers the sheep, inflates the shepherds and hinders the work of God." [emphasis mine]

Of course without even reading the article one will know that pride will be a the root of authoritarian/spiritually abusive shepherds. Martin wrote, "Humble shepherds look to God's sheep with compassion; prideful shepherds look down upon the sheep with scornful contempt for their weaknesses and failings. Humble shepherds remember that even the Great Shepherd of the sheep patiently endured the misunderstanding, scolding and fleshly rebukes of His sheep (cf. Matt. 16:22; Mark 4:38; 1 Peter 2:21-23). Prideful shepherds however react to every real and perceived slight to their "august personage." How unlike their Master! Shepherds must learn that they cannot be conformed to the image of Christ as longsuffering and forgiving unless they are "long bothered" and wronged. Pride, however, responds to the irritations of sinners with anger. An angry leader is a prideful leader."

Now we will look at what authoritarianism, or spiritual abuse, is.

Authoritarian
"The most distinctive characteristic of a spiritually abusive religious system, or leader, is the over-emphasis on authority. Because a person or persons claim to have been established by God Himself the leaders in this system claim the right to command their followers. This authority supposedly comes from the position they occupy. ... The assumption is that God operates among His people through a hierarchy, or "chain of command." In this abusive system unconditional submission is often called a "covering," or "umbrella of protection" which will provide some spiritual blessing to those who fully submit. Followers may be told that ... it is not the questioner’s place to judge or correct the leadership – they are told that God will do it later."

Suppresses Criticism
"Because the religious system is not based on the truth it cannot allow questions, dissent, or open discussions about issues. The person who dissents becomes the problem rather than the issue he raised. The truth about any issue is settled and handed down from the top of the hierarchy. Questioning anything is considered a challenge to authority."

Unspoken Rules
In their book "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse" David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen discuss an abusive church's penchant for instituting unspoken rules. You may never know that these rules exist- until you break one. Then, the common reaction is to instantly whisk away ministries, to shame and humiliate the one who spoke out, among other repercussions.

From the book: ‘You know we must never disagree with the pastor on his sermons—and if you do, you will never be trusted and never be allowed to minister in any capacity in this church.’ In this case, the unspoken rule is: Do not disagree with the church authorities —especially the pastor—or your loyalty will be suspect. Rules like this remain unspoken, because examining them in the light of mature dialogue would instantly reveal how illogical, unhealthy and anti-Christian they are. So silence becomes the fortress wall of protection, shielding the pastor’s power position from scrutiny or challenge.” (p.67). This also becomes the 'don't talk-can't talk' unwritten rule.

“If you speak about the problem out loud, you are the problem.” The truth is, when people talk about problems out loud, they don't cause them, they simply expose them.” (p.68)

Misplaced Loyalty
Spiritually abusive churches are performance based. An unwritten system of rewards and punishments is a common characteristic of an abusive system. This next excerpt is also from the book "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse":

“The next characteristic of spiritually abusive systems is that a misplaced sense of loyalty is fostered and even demanded. We’re not talking about loyalty to Christ, but about loyalty to a given organization, church, or leader.” (p.76)

“A common way this is accomplished is by setting up a system where disloyalty to or disagreement with the leadership is construed as the same thing as disobeying God. Questioning leaders is equal to questioning God. After all, the leader is the authority, and authority is always right. This causes people to misplace their loyalty in a leader, a church or an organization.” (p.76)

It would be impossible to cover in one blog entry or even one series the entire dynamics of how spiritual abuse happens or what it looks like. There are other elements too, that I have not covered, such as Elitism, Legalism, traumatic departure, and sanction oriented systems. The effects are devastating. Ultimately, what all the symptoms add up to is an unhealthy church body, something we are warned will happen in copious amounts in the last days.

 This website is a clearinghouse of information on the topic, such as red flags to watch for, symptoms, recovery, extrication, and more. I also recommend Founder's Journal article by Steve Martin excerpted above, and this website run by one of the books' authors, "The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse", Jeff VanVonderen.

The existence of authoritarian pastors and the effects they weigh on the sheep are slow to be seen. New folks or folks not too engaged with the church may never see a problem at all. It is only the inner circle, or those who have been burned, that come to understand something is not right. However, the effects are not invisible, and here are a few things to watch for.

Has there been a quiet exodus from the church in recent months?
Are pews empty looking, attendance dropping?
Is there a palpable feeling of tension or unease?
Do you leave week after week feeling unfed?
Are ministries merely limping along or declining?
Are you afraid to go to the pastor/deacons/leaders with a doctrinal issue?
Does the pastor have a 'bad side' you don't want to get on?
Is there a false call to unity where discussion is called division?
Have you witnessed the head of your church and/or other leaders, use public shaming as a method to gain compliance of congregants?
Does the head of your church and his “fellow elders” appear to be intolerant or consider it persecution when criticized or questioned?
Are you discouraged to associate with former members?
Is questioning condemned as "whispering, back- biting, vicious slander, gossip, nit picking, signs of a proud rebellious spirit, being disaffected and divisive?"
Are those who dissent publicly punished? Are their reputations murdered by veiled, or not so veiled “revelations” of “sins”; past and present, as confidentiality is broken for the benefit of the leaders?
Do the spiritual leaders at your church seem to give you the impression that either covertly or overtly, they have the right to tell you how you should manage your own family; presuming that they know your own family better than you know yourself?

The fact that authoritarianism even exists is heartbreaking. That Jesus is lifted up as our Shepherd, the Head of our body, lovingly installing pastors and leaders and teachers and growing the body is a beautiful thing. But in these last days love grows cold, and even a beautiful Bride can be dragged through the mud, and it hurts to see it happening so frequently in the American church. It just hurts. I hurt on behalf of all of you who have been wounded by those who are supposed to be called by God to feed you, and I hurt for those who have been wounded by those brethren who are called to love each other unconditionally.

I know I haven't done the topic justice, but I hope I've provided enough points to get you thinking, and to share resources for further information.

Pastor Steve Martin ended his article with good words- "May God give His people [shepherdsand ;sheep] grace to see their sins and repent of them. We dare not glory in our current condition and slothfully ignore the deplorable state of much of Christ's Church. We must first judge ourselves that we may not be judged. And we must plead the purposes and promises of our Father in begging Him for the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Portions of the Word of God speaking directly to shepherds should be memorized and regularly meditated upon. A pastor or elder would do well to commit to memory Ezekiel 34:1-16; John 10:1-18; 1 Corinthians 13; Philippians 2:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 2 (whole chapter); 1 Peter 5:1-11."

But the best final word is from the Holy Spirit Himself:
"You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men." 1 Corinthians 7:23.

Iran to fire long-range missiles during naval war games

I wrote extensively yesterday about the Iran war games in the Strait of Hormuz. It is a tense situation. One spark could catapult the world into a catastrophic series of circumstances. If the Iranians close the Strait then oil prices would double overnight. If one Navy ship from either Iran or the US makes a wrong move within that constricted area, then the entire Fifth Fleet, NATO, UK, France and Iranian ships would be engaged in a battle that would undoubtedly spill over to the nearby Arab states. Anything could go wrong. This week's escalating situations is not only rhetoric this time. Oh, to be sure, the rhetoric is very heated, there is war of words going on that contain threats very close to actions. Iran has threatened to close the Strait. They have threatened to attack ships that come too close. But actual events are occurring too. Iran is engaged in the biggest naval war games they ever executed.

Now, we learn from Reuters, that "Iran to fire long-range missiles in drill"
"Iran will fire long-range missiles during a naval drill in the Gulf on Saturday, a semi-official news agency reported, a show of force at a time when Iran has threatened to close shipping lanes if the West imposes sanctions on its oil exports. ... Iran began a 10-day naval drill in the Gulf last Saturday to show its resolve to counter any attack by foes such as Israel or the United States. Iranian media have said the exercise differed from previous ones in terms of "the vastness of the area of action and the military equipment and tactics that are being employed".

Haaretz also reported on it: "The testing of the missiles is part of ongoing navy maneuvers in the Persian Gulf and, according to Moussavi, the main and final phase is preparing the navy for confronting the enemy in a warlike situation."

Meanwhile, In Syria, protesters are making a momentous show of defense. "Hundreds of thousands of Syrians protest; activists say at least 19 killed"
"Hundreds of thousands of Syrians poured into the streets across the nation Friday in the largest protests in months, shouting for the downfall of the regime in a defiant display invigorated by the presence of Arab observers, activists said.Despite the presence of the monitors, activists said Syrian forces killed at least 19 people, most of them shot during anti-government protests."

They say that the number of Syrian protesters is up to half a million now.

MoneyMorning reported last week that there is an ongoing back door bank run happening in Europe. "On Wednesday, Fitch Ratings Inc. downgraded its credit ratings on five of Europe's biggest banks, and while that decision made headlines, it's not the most important story to come out of Europe this week. The real story, which the mainstream media is neglecting, is that there are signs of an underground run on Europe's banks. Almost nobody's talking about it, but there are indications money is already moving out of the European Union (EU) faster than rats abandoning a sinking ship. Not through the front door, mind you. There are no lines, no distraught customers and no teller windows being boarded up - not yet, anyway. For now the run is through the back door, and there are four things that make me think so:"

"-Italy's planned ban on cash transactions over 1,000 euros, or about $1,300.
-French, Spanish, and Italian banks have run out of collateral and are now pledging real assets.
-Swiss officials are preparing for the end of the euro with capital control measures.
-Europe's CEOs are actively preparing for the end of the euro despite governmental reassurances."

I wrote about the laying of the prophetic infrastructure earlier today, and how though the rapture is a signless and imminent event and has been throughout all of history, we can see by looking at how close the prophetic infrastructure is to being complete how close we may be to the rapture. Of course, this way of thinking may be all wrong, I am fallible and see through a glass darkly. But with Syria, the global economy, and Iran so heavy in the news it seems to me to be a hopeful portent for Christians, and an ominous portent for unbelievers. Please keep praying with all urgency, please keep living the Godliest life that you can in these dark times. Being holy and sanctified in the face of pessimism, perversion, and hate will stand out like a beacon of light that we are called to be.

Prophetic infrastructure almost complete, golden spike soon?

I am readying another blog entry about the news from Iran and Syria which I'll post in a moment. Both of those nations have huge prophetic parts to play. As I gathered the news about what is happening in the Red Sea, the Strait of Hormuz, and Syria today, I started thinking about prophetic infrastructure.

When I say "prophetic infrastructure" I mean just the same as any infrastructure. "Infrastructure is basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function. It can be generally defined as the set of interconnected structural elements that provide framework supporting an entire structure of development." (Wikipedia).

For there to be the one world economy in Revelation 13 this present economy must somehow become inoperable or done away with. We see that now. For there to be a one world religion there must be an acceptance of ecumenism. We see that now. For there to be a one world dictator there must be fear and discontent in the world combined with erosion of freedoms. We see that now. The infrastructure is being laid. Remember, the Tribulation is only 7 years long. In that time, the global economy is completely changed. The global political structure is completely changed. The temple will be rebuilt and sacrifices ongoing. Old hatreds must be ignited and hot for war. We see that now. Seven years is a short period. In my opinion the infrastructure is being laid now so that when the rapture happens it all will be put together almost instantly.

The Lord moves His hand and a piece here and a piece there draw closer together and soon the system the infrastructure was meant to support is able to get up and running. I like to think in pictures and I visualize the Transcontinental railroad. Stay with me here.

"The First Transcontinental railroad line built in the United States of America between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and the Union Pacific Railroad that connected its statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska with the Pacific Ocean at Oakland, California. By linking with the existing railway network of the Eastern United States, the road thus connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States by rail for the first time."

One group began on the eastern side of the US and the other side began on the western side, all the while blasting mountains, leveling hills, building bridges, and laying ties and rails. The whole time the two groups were moving toward each other. The people in the vast part of the US could not actually see the action. Many did not even know it was happening, unless they read a paper. The two rail lines drawing inexorably close to each other were real but invisible to the people.

Then the two groups began to get within sight of each other and excitement grew. People could actually see the progress now and started buzzing with excitement at the import. When the two lines actually met up, there was a huge ceremony, at which the last spike was pounded, representing the finality of the infrastructure building phase and the beginning of the actual use. The First Transcontinental Railroad was now a reality. The last spike was golden. "In perhaps the world's first live mass-media event, the hammers and spike were wired to the telegraph line so that each hammer stroke would be heard as a click at telegraph stations nationwide—the hammer strokes were missed, so the clicks were sent by the telegraph operator. As soon as the ceremonial spike had been replaced by an ordinary iron spike, a message was transmitted to both the East Coast and West Coast that simply read, "DONE." The country erupted in celebration upon receipt of this message. Travel from coast to coast was reduced from six months or more to just one week."

This is like what the Lord is doing now, if I may be so bold as to make this metaphor. Prophecy by and large is invisible to most, but it is very real. Every hammer of the spike into a rail brings it closer to fulfillment. When it gets toward the end, it garners notice, celebration, and a knowledge that the final spike will bring inexpressible change. The Lord moves His hand and here in the world occurs an Arab Spring, and over there is an earthquake. Over to the north a bank run and to the south an atheist president elected. To the common person, we cannot see how these events will coalesce but the Lord does. He is laying the infrastructure even now. When that last, golden Christian is saved, the infrastructure will be complete.

We know from Romans 11:25 that the Lord has a certain number in mind for His church. When that number is reached, He will call His bride up to Himself. We do not know how close we are to that number and thus we don't know how close we are to the rapture. It is a signless event and it is imminent. But we can see from other circumstances, for example, how and where the Lord is working in the world in simultaneously laying His infrastructure for prophetic fulfillment post-Church Age, and to me it seems close.

The Last Christian to be saved will close the church age, the full number of the Gentiles having been reached. Is the Lord readying the golden spike even now, lifting up the hammer to put into place the final bit of prophetic foundation?

We are all eagerly waiting.
source

New island in Red Sea: other weird geophysical changes happening in that area too

All the news outlets are reporting this today, a stunning new development in the Red Sea. I'll post one article and then continue below with connecting the unusual seismic activity that has been ongoing in that region for over a year. And of course, connect it with the bible...

Brand new island rises from Red Sea depths
"Throw away that shiny new atlas you got for Christmas - it's already out of date."

"Volcanic activity in the Red Sea is causing the formation of a new island in the Zubair archipelago as lava is cooled by the surrounding seawater and solidifies. The underwater volcano responsible is located on the Red Sea Rift, where the African and Arabian tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart."

"Yemeni fishermen first spotted lava spewing 30 metres into the air on 19 December and this was later confirmed by satellite observations. Ash plumes were detected by NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard its Terra and Aqua satellites and NASA's Advanced Land Imager aboard its Earth Observing One satellite, which produced this image. Elevated levels of sulphur dioxide in the region were also recorded by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard NASA's Aura satellite."

"By 23 December, the lava mass had broken the water's surface and the new island had begun to take shape. The island is currently around 500m wide and is still growing. The question now is whether or not it has staying power. It may continue to grow significantly as volcanic activity continues, or the fragile lava mass may be broken up by the action of the sea's waves."

"Whatever the outcome, volcanic activity in the Red Sea region appears to be on the rise. This is the first time the volcano has erupted in over a century and follows recent eruptions in the Afar Triangle in Eritrea and Ethiopia and the volcanic fields of southern Yemen and Saudi Arabia. In 2007, the nearby Jabal al-Tair volcanic island also erupted for the first time in over a century, killing 8 people."

If you remember, there has also been another volcanic island rising from the deep, over at El Hierro in the Canary Islands. And in November last year a new island emerged from the sea in just a few days at Indonesia at Anak Krakatau. I wrote about that, here.

Back to the Red Sea.

In December 2010 I wrote about unusual seismic activity occurring in the area off Eritrea in the Red Sea. I'd written,
"In 2005, the continent of Africa began unzipping. In just days, a 35-mile-long rift opened up, which was 20 miles wide at spots. It happened quickly and initially, scientists surmised that a new sea was growing. However, this assessment as controversial, because their understanding of plate tectonics holds a longer and a slower view. In other words, continents don't move and split apart in days, it takes millions of years. Or so they thought. In November of 2009, scientists concluded that indeed, the continent of Africa is birthing a new sea, and that was when they used the word "unzipped." More on this below.

At the Horn of Africa in November 2010, an earthquake swarm at Yemen caused alarm. The swarm was situated at the opening to the Red Sea at the Gulf of Aden, and seemed to be an unusual place for seismic activity. According to the history of the area, at USGS, the Yemen-Gulf of Aden-Djibouti area IS seismic, but in a minor way. Between 1950 through yesterday this area had 56 earthquakes ranging between mag 4.0-5.9. There were no quakes greater than mag 5.9 during that date range. Now there have been 31, which is 2/3 as many as in the last sixty years. This is statistically significant, as well as prophetically interesting. (Mark 13:8). It should be noted that this is the exact area where a new island has now emerged a year later.

In my opinion, there are two ways that this is prophetically interesting. First, Jesus told us plainly that in the last days of the birthpangs, there will be earthquakes in diverse places. Beyond the unusual geophysical changes occurring with rifts suddenly opening, and unusual earthquake activity that has never been replicated historically, but at the other end of the rift at this same time last year, a 5.1 mag earthquake occurred in Ethiopia, which is the other end of the rapidly "unzipping" rift. The area highlighted above is definitely diverse.

Secondly, the bible shows us that the Tribulation will be a time of massive geophysical changes. Revelation 16:20 prophesies that every island flees away and every mountain crumbles. So do Revelation 6 and Ezekiel 38:20. Isaiah 24 is the chapter that describes the destruction of the world by God, "The LORD’s Devastation of the Earth." Remember, when the world was formed it looked very different. After the flood the land masses had changed dramatically.

As to the slow vs. catastrophic plate tectonics competing theories, many current observations are incompatible with slow-and-gradual plate tectonics. The unzipping of the African Rift is just one example. It is happening before our eyes.

Answers in Genesis explains:

Is Catastrophic Plate Tectonics Biblical?
"The Bible does not directly mention either continental drift or plate tectonics. However, if the continents were once joined together, as suggested by Genesis 1:9–10, and are now apart, then the only possibility is continental division and “sprint” during the Flood. Some have suggested this continental division occurred after the Flood during the days of Peleg when “the earth was divided” (Genesis 10:25). However, this Hebrew expression can be also translated to mean “lands being divided among peoples,” which, according to the context, refers to the results of the Tower of Babel judgment. Furthermore, the destruction at the earth’s surface, where people and animals were then living during such a rapid continental “sprint,” would have been as utterly devastating as the Flood itself. Therefore, using catastrophic plate tectonics as a model, mechanism, and framework to describe and understand the Genesis Flood event is far more reasonable and is also consistent with the Bible."

It is the supposition of many eschatology bible scholars that the geo-physical changes that will occur in the Tribulation not only will be punishment for sin (Isaiah 24), but also a process by which the Lord reforms the earth back to its original state. (Rev 21-22). Ezekiel 47 describes the Millennial River that forges a path between the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea. (see map here). Rapid geological and geo-physical changes are prophesied and are already beginning. Keep looking up.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

State of the Church part 5a: When carnality leads to spiritual abuse

State of the Church:

Part 1: Introduction, Love growing cold
Part 2: Are you tending your anchor?
Part 3: The numbers aren't good

Part 4: Carnal Carnival, & the greatest sin pastors commit
Part 5b: Is your church spiritually abusive?
Conclusion: Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships

We have been exploring Jesus' end time prophecy in Matthew 24:12, which says, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold," and looked at how this prophecy applies to believers. We explored the incremental drifting away from Jesus and how that impacts our selves and our churches. In part 3 we looked at the numbers of surveyed born-again believers who state they hold to a biblical worldview and found that it was 8-9%. When you have 91-92% of a congregation that has in some part a secular worldview you are in for trouble, and part 4 looked at that trouble: carnality.

Carnality is described by GotQuestions as "translated from the Greek word sarkikos, which literally means “fleshly.” This descriptive word is seen in the context of Christians in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. In this passage, the apostle Paul is addressing the readers as “brethren,” a term he uses almost exclusively to refer to other Christians; he then goes on to describe them as “carnal.” Therefore, we can conclude that Christians can be carnal. The Bible is absolutely clear that no one is sinless (1 John 1:8). Every time we sin, we are acting carnally. ... Until we are delivered from our sinful flesh, there will be outbreaks of carnality. For a genuine believer in Christ, though, these outbreaks of carnality will be the exception, not the rule."

It is my contention that love is growing cold because these outbreaks of carnality in Christians are becoming the rule. They are now more than outbreaks, they are the norm. Carnality and secular worldviews lead to apostasy, something else we are told will happen in the last days. 2 Timothy 4:10 shows us that it a worldly spirit that tends to make apostates.

Sanctification is the process of the Holy Spirit taking a believer away from carnality and toward Christ-likeness. To the degree that Christians are submitting to the Holy Spirit's authority, sanctification occurs. "Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit makes us more like Christ in all that we do, think, and desire. True sanctification is impossible apart from the atoning work of Christ on the cross because only after our sins are forgiven can we begin to lead a holy life."

The more drenched you are in the biblical worldview the faster the process of sanctification goes. The more a Christian holds to a secular worldview and who sins willfully or unrepentingly, the slower sanctification goes.

"Sanctification is an intrinsic thing; it lies chiefly in the heart. It is called 'the adorning the hidden man of the heart.' 1 Peter 3:4. Sanctification is an intense and ardent thing. ... Its properties burn within the believer. 'Fervent in spirit.' Rom 12:11. Sanctification is not a dead form, but it is inflamed into zeal. We call water hot, when it is so in the third or fourth degree; so he is holy whose religion is heated to some degree, and his heart boils over in love to God." (online source)

When love grows cold, it means the sanctification process has slowed or stalled. We see Jesus's rebuke of the Church at Ephesus for their love growing cold.

Rev 2:4-5, "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent."

So, "what was the matter in Ephesus? Christ found a fatal fault that probably nobody else saw. Their hard hearts, that labor of passion and fervor was becoming the cold orthodox function. That was deadly, dangerous. The service had started to become mechanical."(online source)

The condition of the heart is something only known to Jesus. He could see that their ardor had cooled and they were beginning to let tradition set in. "You don't love Me like you once loved Me. Your love has cooled. That, beloved, is the forerunner of spiritual apathy. That is the forerunner of indifference. And that is the greatest fear that I have for this church for that is step one that moves you through the rest of the steps that you see in these churches into a love for the world, compromise with evil, corruption, death and judgment. ... repent because to lose your first love is sin. The decreasing intensity of your love for Christ is sin. Lack of loving Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is sin. Repent, get on your knees before God and ask Him to forgive you for that weakening love." (online source).

Here is the sad, downward trend:


Apathy gives rise to churches who have stalled in their process of submission to Christ and so are apathetic in their studies. Therefore allow an authoritarian pastor to take over. They still want someone to tell them what's what, but they have left their first love (Jesus), so the pastor will suffice. If a church is going to be abused by an authoritarian pastor, it would begin now. Having a large group that is more worldly than not, is either apathetic or ignorant of the biblical duties of a pastor, they allow him to take more spiritual authority than he is given by God.

Now, I will say that I have never been a lifelong fan of the word abuse. Everyone and their brother says today that they have been abused, and while that may or may be actually true for the many people, I've always been a proponent of sucking it up and getting on without much fuss. But the issue I've uncovered through researching this series about the effects on the church of love growing cold has shown me clearly that spiritual abuse, or if it makes you more comfortable, its synonym, authoritarianism, is not only present today, but it is just as rampant as it was in the days of Jesus confronting the Pharisees. It breaks my heart. Since discovering this, I have cried on behalf of the abused and the sinning pastors while praying every night. So is Spiritual Abuse a new phenomenon or is it biblical?

"David Henke notes in “Spiritual Abuse in the Bible?” Spiritual abuse has a very prominent place in the Bible, though that terminology has not been used until recently. In the scripture it is called bondage to men and the traditions of men. It is a by-product and outgrowth of legalism, which is bondage to the letter of the law."

Jesus mourned that the people had no shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-38; Mark 6:33-34; John 10:11-13). Every town had a synagogue if the town had eleven men, so there were shepherds, the priests were the shepherds. What Jesus was mourning was their lack of compassion, their penchant for abuse by instituting legalistic rules, and their selfishness, self-aggrandizement and vanity. The problem was that the religious system had been corrupted by men to the extent that they were abusive, hypocritical, lordly legalistic shepherds who harm and not help the flock. These scriptures speak to the shepherds who not only harm but scatter the sheep: Ezekiel 34:1-24, Zechariah 11, Jeremiah 5:26-31, 1 Peter 5:1-4." (online source).

So we see that though the term is modernized it is a very old problem. And everything old is new again. Though we are told many times in the New Testament that wolves will be among us, Christians usually take that to mean, out there, or at best, in other churches. But it is not so. Wolves will be among us, everywhere. (Mt 7:15).

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." (Acts 20:28-31).

The Pharisees and Scribes were poster children for abusive spiritual authorities. "[I]f you look at Ezekiel and Isaiah and Jeremiah, was that they were not using the authority they had been given for the benefit of the weak, for those who didn’t have a voice. They were using their authority for their own purposes and for the sake of human kingdoms. The result in people’s lives then was the same as now: spiritual exhaustion rooted in misconceptions about who God is, about what God wants from us and about God’s stance toward us. ... in Matthew 23 he not only describes the dynamics that were going on between the Pharisees and the people, but he also warns people about the Pharisees."

So we know the path that leads to love growing cold and what a sin it is. We know that it is prophesied to be rampant in the last days. In this post we looked at the biblical history of the constant problem of authoritarian pastors and worthless hireling shepherds. In the next post I will discuss what spiritual abuse is, how frequent it is, and look at list specifics as to what constitutes the warning signals of authoritarianism in the church, or spiritual abuse.

DEBKA says Iran may be salting Hormuz with mines

If that headline doesn't put fear into your stomach, I don't know what will.

However, DEBKA has a track record of being more rumor than not. However there I have confirmed several elements of their report, while not being able to confirm the mining part. Let's sort out the information to see what has credibility and what doesn't. The report is making huge waves and even Ynet picked up on it, which is a legitimate news outlet, so let's take this lobster apart.

DEBKA: who is DEBKA? DEBKAfile describes themselves as "founded by a team of journalists in June 2000 as an independent Internet Web site, providing an intelligence and security news service." Wikipedia describes them as "a Jerusalem-based English language Israeli open source military intelligence website with commentary and analyses on terrorism, intelligence, security, and military and political affairs in the Middle East. The word "Debka" refers to an Arab folk dance."

They correctly note that most of their sources are anonymous, a non-no in journalism. "Israeli intelligence officials do not consider even 10 percent of the site's content to be reliable. Cornell Law professor Michael C. Dorf calls Debka his "favorite alarmist Israeli website trading in rumors." The site's operators, in contrast, state that 80 percent of what Debka reports turns out to be true, and point to its year 2000 prediction that al-Qaeda would again strike the World Trade Center, and that it had warned well before the 2006 war in Lebanon that Hezbollah had amassed 12,000 Katyusha rockets pointed at northern Israel."

So there you have the pro and the con of DEBKAfile. Let's take a look at their predictions, rather than their descriptions.

This blogger has listed four years' worth of DEBKA warnings that have failed to come true. He says of Debkafile, "where war always looms in the foggy but near future." Of this warning from 2008, the blogger notes the headline from DEBKAfile- “Three major US naval strike forces due this week in Persian Gulf“, 'DEBKAfile’s military sources name the three US strike forces en route to the Gulf as the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Iwo Jima. Already in place are the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea opposite Iranian shores and the USS Peleliu which is cruising in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden' and he comments, "Disturbing news! Or rather it would be, except that the USS Theodore Roosevelt is docked at Norfolk."

In today's warning, DEBKA opened their report with the following, "Thursday afternoon, Dec. 29, Tehran raised the pitch of its threats to the United States when Dep. Chief of the Revolutionary Guards Gen. Hossein Salami declared: "The United States is in no position to tell Tehran what to do in the Strait of Hormuz," adding, "Any threat will be responded [to] by threat… We will not relinquish our strategic moves in Iran's vital interests are undermined by any means. "The Iranian general spoke after the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and its strike group passed through the Strait of Hormuz to the Sea of Oman and into the area where the big Iranian naval war game Veleyati 90 is taking place."

This is true. The quote about threats is confirmed in many newspapers, this being just one. I worked hard to confirm that the USS Stenis is indeed in the waters DEBKA says they are, and the carrier is indeed part of the Fifth Fleet stationed at nearby Bahrain and in those waters. Confirmation is here: "Lt. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay headed out from the Persian Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, after a visit to Dubai's Jebel Ali port." And also here.

The DEBKA report continued, "Earlier Thursday, Dec. 29, DEBKAfile reported that an Iranian plan to mine the Strait of Hormuz had put US and NATO forces in the Persian Gulf on the alert. US and NATO task forces in the Persian Gulf have been placed on alert after US intelligence warned that Iran's Revolutionary Guards are preparing Iranian marine commandos to sow mines in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The new deployment, DEBKAfile's military sources report, consists of USS Combined Task Force 52 (CTF 52), which is trained and equipped for dismantling marine mines and NATO Maritime Mine Counter measures Group 2 (SNMCMG2). The American group is led by the USS Arden mine countermeasures ship; NATO's by the British HMS Pembroke minesweeper. Other vessels in the task forces are the Hunt-class destroyer HMS Middleton and the French mine warfare ships FS Croix du Sud and FS Var."

It was here I ran into problems. First, sowing mines would harm Iran, who relies on exporting oil through that strait as much as anyone, and so does Iran's neighbors. Mining it would seem to be counterproductive and an inefficient way to choke off the Western use of the Strait, especially when there are other means Iran can use to do the job. But what do I know I'm not a military analyst. I'm just a woman blogging in her pajamas.

Given DEBKA's history of putting the wrong ship in the wrong waters, I took some time to confirm that USS Combined Task Force 52 (CTF 52), NATO Maritime Mine Counter measures Group 2 (SNMCMG2) are indeed part of the Fifth Fleet. I had already confirmed through two other news articles that the USS Stennis is where DEBKA says it is. I didn't bother looking up the British or French ships, searching through US ships was difficult enough

As for the USS Arden, I found nothing. After going to the Wikipedia list of all Navy ships currently in commission, I found that there is no USS Arden, but a USS Ardent. USS Ardent is a minesweeper. So they got the name wrong, but the ship class right. I went to the Navy website and USS Ardent is deployed at this time to Bahrain, which is its homeport.

In several articles I read things like 'the USS Stennis passed through the Strait of Hormuz with escorts" or "the USS Stennis passed through the Strait of Hormuz with supply ships" but where those other ships were listed (USS Mobile Bay) the USS Ardent never was.

Ynet is a very credible Israeli new outlet. In today's article they seemed to quote DEBKA, saying "The Islamic republic is halfway through 10 days of navy exercises in international waters to the east of the strait that have reportedly included the laying of mines and the use of aerial drones."

As for the likelihood that Iran is salting the Strait of Hormuz with mines, I don't know. I don't think DEBKA knows. Here is what is do know, though, The tension at that area of the world is at an unbearable level. Any spark could set it off. As NPR succinctly concluded, "The Strait is a 50-kilometre (31 mile) wide passageway through which about a third of the world’s oil tanker traffic sails. Whoever controls this crucial choke-point virtually controls Middle East oil exports."

Here are some of today's headlines about the situation:

Iran Rebuffs US Warning on Strait of Hormuz as Tensions Rise

Iran ramps up war of words with U.S. over Strait of Hormuz: ‘Any threat will be responded by threat’

Gas price shoots up to $3.49 in Tri-Cities ("A rise in crude oil prices and tension between the U.S. and Iran over the Strait of Hormuz are possibly contributing to the increase cost.")

[An actual blockade would double the price overnight.]

Iran Says It Recorded Video Of US Aircraft Carrier

Between the genocide in Syria and the tense faceoff between the US Navy and the Iranian Navy, it surely feels like war could erupt at any moment. This is an interesting piece from HuffPo yesterday:

The Coming Accidental War with Iran
"...due to the lack of understanding between our government and Iranian leaders who have been isolated from the rest of the world, war will not be a decision, but a mistake."

God has a plan for the world, for Iran and the other Arab states,and for Israel. He does not make mistakes. What is unfolding is exactly according to what we see in Obadiah, Isaiah 17, Ezekiel 38-39, Matthew 24, Psalm 83 and many other bible books and parts of books. The issue is, because we so vividly see the prophesied Tribulation events unfolding in preparation for fulfillment, how much closer then, is the rapture? And the other important question is,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

State of the Church part 4: Carnal Carnival, & the greatest sin pastors commit

Part 1: Introduction, Love growing cold
Part 2: Are you tending your anchor?
Part 3: The numbers aren't good
Part 5a: When carnality leads to spiritual abuse
Part 5b: Is your church spiritually abusive?
Conclusion: Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships

In the Introduction/Part 1 of this series, I discussed the Matthew 24:12 prophecy Jesus gave of "love growing cold", and showed how that prophecy relates to believers. So then if love of believers for God and of each other is predicted to grow cold, in this series I ask what causes love to grow cold. Part 2 explored that question, focusing on the Hebrews 2:1 verse "Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away." Part 3 looked at just how many bible believers, exactly, might have drifted away and hold to a non-biblical world view, and how the numbers impact our churches toward carnality. In this part I will take a look at what Paul Washer calls the greatest sin that pastors commit, and how that also is hurtling our brethren toward carnality and eventual cold love. Last, this series will hopefully (by God's grace) discuss how to spot waning love and how frequently these days waning love gives rise to church spiritual abuse.

We have an old man in us that Jesus died to make become a new man when we are justified.  (Romans 6:6-7). We still live in the body of the old man but the new man is being sanctified each day as we submit and grow. The saved are still carnal creatures but it should be less so every day. It is incumbent on us to resist the fleshly desires, and to live a holy life. Succumbing to or clamoring for the carnal is never acceptable at any time.

From Forerunner commentary "(Matthew 9:16) "No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one; otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old" (Luke 5:36). Mark's version of the same parable stresses that the "tear is made worse" when the new patch eventually "pulls away from the old" garment (Mark 2:21). Christ's message is clear: When it comes to doffing the old man and donning the new one, we cannot "mix and match." Successfully mixing them—combining them—is as impossible as serving two masters. We just cannot do it (Matthew 6:24)! The two men represent intrinsically and irreversibly opposing ways of life."

The problem is that when we look to things other than the bible and Jesus crucified, satan drives a wedge between us and our carnal nature, which is ever-present. It doesn't take much for our carnal nature to raise its head, and then crane its neck, and then start leading us down the broad path. Some believers let it. Once our view becomes distracted and shifts from Jesus, we begin to renew our relationship with the carnal. Listen to Paul Washer describe the problem. It is a cycle with a terrible end. Please take a moment to watch, it is only 3 min.


Church Leaders Who Permit Carnality from NCFIC on Vimeo.

Mr Washer said that church pastors are increasingly catering to the large group who want the carnal at the expense of the small group who wants Christ. I agree with this. I have seen it all too often. For me, it is like the chicken and the egg. Some pastors introduce the carnal and once tasting, the large group gets addicted. Or some churches clamor for it and sinning pastors find they want their position more than the truth and cave in to their wishes, finding that they like the carnal way too much after all.

Rev Washer mentioned the small group. In the last part I did the numbers. If we take on face value the Barna research stating that 8% of Baptists hold a biblical worldview (and we can because the Barna numbers have remained consistent for 9 years), and we take a medium-small congregation of 200 Baptists, 8% is 16 people. One hundred eighty four people will want the carnal, or at least, accept it. Now, not all of them will want the carnal in the same degree. There are some unregenerate who are all carnal, all the time. There are others who have just started drifting and will not stand for a lot of it, only comfortable dipping a toe into the carnal. But suffice to say, in the last piece we looked at the numbers and we can see the depressing truth of what Mr Washer says: the small group starves while the large group gorges.

He also mentioned something that I've seen is a downward process. He said that sinning pastors try to retain the carnal congregants by presenting ever more carnal means. The issue in many churches today is that pastors and their congregations have become adventure junkies, always seeking the next big thing, then the bigger thing, then the biggest thing. Everything has to be a thrill now. Let me give a few examples.

In a previous piece I wrote on Jentezen Franklin, I quoted him from his book "Fasting: Opening the Door to a Deeper, More Powerful Relationship with God." Franklin said, "When I feel myself growing dry spiritually, when I don’t sense that cutting-edge anointing, or when I need a fresh encounter with God, fasting is the secret key that unlocks heaven’s door and slams shut the gates of hell."

Heaven help us when we grow dry spiritually, lacking the latest cutting edge thing! Why do we always seem to need a fresh encounter? Like Jesus grows stale or something?

Here is another example: Mega church Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels wrote a book called "The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God and having the guts to respond." There are a host of problems with this book which I'll address in another piece. In reference to the issue I am raising issue about adventure junkie syndrome, in his book, Hybels said, "Without a hint of exaggeration,' says Bill Hybels, 'the ability to discern divine direction has saved me from a life of sure boredom and self-destruction."

Thank goodness Jesus died on the cross to save Bill Hybels from boredom! His next quote from the same book is more telling. As his second grade teacher assured Hybels that God still speaks to people today as God spoke to Samuel when Samuel was called to the office of prophet, Hybels says,

"I felt a swell of release as I considered for the first time in my seven years of life that perhaps Christianity was more than ancient rules, creeds and other stiff-necked ways." (The Power of a Whisper, 20-21).

By comparison, a believer's staid old faith, prayer, service, obedience seems dry as yesterday's toast.

(PS as an aside, often these adventure junkie pastors selectively clip from the OT and normalize the experience of whom they are highlighting. God audibly calling people as He called the prophets is not the normative NT Christian experience.)

Brethren, if you are in a church that lifts up Hybels as the favorite read of 2011 and legitimizes divine whispers, RUN. You have a carnal pastor feeding you carnal pabulum.

Paul Young, author of The Shack, has the same adventure junkie addiction. The regular old faith that has been good enough for 2000 years is BOR-ing! Here is what Young said on page 178 of The Shack: "For Mack these words were like a breath of fresh air! Simple. Not a bunch of exhausting work and long list of demands and not the sitting in endless meetings staring at the backs of people’s heads, people he really didn’t even know. Just sharing life.” Doesn't that comment sound more than a bit like Hybels? Satan always tries to get us dissatisfied with what we have, which is a perfect revelation contained in the bible, but for Hybels, and undiscerning pastors who promote him, the ancient bible is not enough.

A concern is also in the sly ways these books chip away at solid biblical principles with craftily written statements like Hybels, or these in The Shack such as, "the dusty old King James Bible" or that church attendance is "religious conditioning" or that the term "Christian" is outdated. People may not even be consciously aware of being influenced by these kind of statements. But the cumulative effect is the diminish the Word and heighten the personal experience. This only adds up to spiritual adventure, which equals carnality.

Beth Moore is another one who lives for breathless moments with Jesus, seeking the thrill rather than the faith. She is a big one for always looking for the divine whisper, the personal revelation, having a blast, the heart to heart chat, the date with God to make a snowman. In her book, she said, "Christ seemed to say, “Let’s go play.” And that we did. I hadn’t been to the zoo in years. I heard about all the improvements, but I never expected the ultimate: Starbucks coffee! (OK, so I don’t have my health issues down pat.) Can you imagine watching a baby koala take a nap in a tree on a rare cold day in Houston with a Starbucks grande cappuccino in your hand? Now that’s a Sabbath moment! God and I had a blast." (The Beloved Disciple, p. 220). And never mind about the time when she was minding her own business on her back porch and it was as if God raised her up right then to see all the churches of the world through Jesus eyes in another dimension. That must have been quite an adventure.

Now, who would want to spend half an hour on their knees praying, or a hour in the bible when you can go to the zoo with God?! Or visit another dimension? For all these 'Christian evangelicals,' the bible is insufficient. They add their experience to the Word and count it as faith.

Jesus said that love would grow cold. It grows cold when we drift away, as in Hebrews 2:1. We start looking at the world which contains satan. Our appetites for the carnal grow. The more carnal we get the less love we have for Christ and for others. You see the authors above substituting the bible for their own, carnal experiences. Suddenly the bible is insufficient and the thrill of the zoo, the fast, the whisper is all they clamor for.

Woe to the pastor who offers this poison to the flock. Woe to the flock who accepts it.

Love grows cold because we compromise, and pastors, leaders, deacons are stringing along the sheep on this carnal carnival of heightened biblical insufficiency and exalting personal experience in its place. You can see we have gone from a solid, Christ-centered church in part 1, to drifting away, using carnal means to attract congregants, to diminished numbers of true sheep, to an atmosphere where pastors use carnal means to catch and keep the sheep, and the sheep love it.

Puritan John Owen wrote, “The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word. It is a promise relating to the new testament, that God would give unto his church "pastors according to his own heart, which should feed them with knowledge and understanding" (Jer. 3:15). This is by teaching or preaching the word, and no otherwise.”

No other word. Not secular books, not man-made fasts, not "Divine Whispers," not any other word. Pastors who fail in their duty will be called to account. Congregants who stood by will be called to account also. It is a serious thing to set aside our first love and allow ourselves to grow cold while we seek or accept carnality and bible insufficiency, and substitute personal experience and spiritual adventure junkyism in its place.

"The only hope is a return to Scripture and sound doctrine. We evangelicals desperately need to recover our determination to be biblical, our refusal to comply with the world, our willingness to defend what we believe, and our courage to defy false teaching. Unless we collectively awaken to the current dangers that threaten our faith, the adversary will attack us from within, and we will not be able to withstand." (source). Yes, return to the biblical worldview!

"Yet, surely, there must be some who will fling aside the dastard love of peace, and speak out for our Lord, and for his truth. A craven spirit is upon many, and their tongues are paralyzed. Oh, for an outburst of true faith and holy zeal!" (Charles Haddon Spurgeon)

And what of the churches where the faith and holy zeal is turning cold? All believers are at risk. Part 5 will deal with one of the risk: spiritual abuse.

A craven spirit. Don't let it be you. If it isn't you, but you're despairing of finding a good church to worship in with other like-minded believers, keep praying. Jesus won't abandon you. He will install you in the place He wants you to be. "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20b

Part 1: Introduction, Love growing cold
Part 2: Are you tending your anchor?
Part 3: The numbers aren't good
Part 5a: When carnality leads to spiritual abuse
Part 5b: Is your church spiritually abusive?
Conclusion: Spiritual Leaders and Humble Relationships