The Devil’s Great Deception

“Deception: a statement or action that hides the truth, or the act of hiding the truth.”

The devil’s great deception these days is to get the masses to believe the seductive lie that we are most loving to other people when we either conceal or minimize the truth. The emphasis is on love, but the problem is that this love is divorced from the holiness of God. This lie means that God exists to be our cheerleader and his great desire is that we discover and pursue the desires of our heart. Make no mistake about it, this self-made god is in fact a monster and will lead us to fleeting pleasures, empty souls, and spiritual death.

What Are the Main Ways We Grow Spiritually?

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” -Jeremiah 29:13

How do we grow spiritually? What are the main ingredients of a flourishing Christian life? I hear these types of questions quite a bit and so I wanted to share with you a few helpful ideas. This list is not exhaustive, but I am praying that it inspires you to seek after God and to discover the joy of growing in Christlikeness.

ONE: Are you born again?

“A troubling reality in much of evangelical life is that convincing someone they are saved seems to take precedence over making sure someone actually is saved. This must change. Somehow questioning another person’s salvation became taboo in evangelical culture, when it could possibly be one of the most loving things you can do for another; it could mean the difference between seeds that sprout and bloom and seeds that are snatched away.” -Dean Inserra, The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel

It really must start by asking and answering this question; do you know Jesus? Cultural Christianity is such a huge problem which means that many people who are merely religious are assuming that they know Jesus. Not long ago I met with a lady who had been in the church on a regular basis for over 50 years and yet she was not sure if she had a personal relationship with Jesus. If you want to learn more about the problems of Cultural Christianity go HERE.

A person who is saved at some point in time in their life has been faced with a tremendous crisis. Here is the crisis each person who is ultimately saved must face. There is a point in time when you realize that you are a sinner and separated from God (Ephesians 2:1). If you truly get this it will cause you to become deeply concerned about the security of your soul. The second thing that will happen is you will begin to understand that the only way out of your distress is through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 does a great job summarizing the heart of the gospel. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Once you begin to understand who Jesus is and what he has done you are utterly amazed that he came to this earth to die on a cross in your place so that you might have eternal life. You respond by doing what Jesus says in Mark 1:15, you believe in Jesus and repent of your sins. This belief is not mere mental assent about who Jesus is. It is trusting in Jesus and believing that he alone is the way to a eternal relationship with God. Have you had this saving encounter with Jesus?

TWO: Read, study, and meditate on the Bible

I might just tell you that it is really important to read your Bible on a daily basis. Let me be direct, you will never grow spiritually if you are not reading God’s Word. But I also want to give you a few tools to help you with this.

HERE are some study guides from Crossway that will do a great job of helping you to dig into different books of the Bible. You can use these guides for personal use or in a group study.

HERE is a link to a number of different Bible reading plans.

I would definitely encourage you to read through books of the Bible. The Holy Spirit is the one who put the books together and there are themes and truths that you will not discover if you are merely jumping from one random text to another.

THREE: Pray

“Prayers outlive the lives of those who uttered them; outlive a generation, outlive an age, outlive a world.” – E.M Bounds

I don’t think there is just one right way of praying.

Pray while driving to work.

Pray while doing chores around the house.

Pray throughout the day (a quiet ongoing conversation).

We can (and should) pray throughout the day but I would strongly encourage you to find a daily time that you get alone to spend time with God. I know with a busy life and kids this is not easy, but it is vitally when it comes to your spiritual growth.

FOUR: Critical question, are there areas of your life where you are stuck? Areas you have not dealt with or surrendered to God?

“The Christian who has stopped repenting has stopped growing.” – John Blanchard

I think this is an area that often times gets overlooked. It happens on a fairly regular basis that I am talking to someone and they begin to tell me that they don’t feel like they are growing spiritually. Many times as we are talking I find that the person has an area of their life that is not fully surrendered to the Lord. Maybe it’s not sin, maybe it is a poor understanding of the Word of God.

Maybe by asking questions I can help you understand the many ways that we can get stuck spiritually.

Is there unresolved anger in your life? Instead of dealing with it you find that it is keeping you from God and relationships with other people?

Are you stuck in a habitual sin that is robbing you of your joy? Are there areas of your life that you are making spiritual compromises? This leads to us quenching and grieving the Holy Spirit. “Do not quench the Spirit.” -1 Thessalonians 5:19

Have you made the mistake of distancing yourself from the church?

Have you begin to accept the lie that lukewarm Christianity is kinda normal and just not that big of a deal?

Do you look at your family, friends, and other people in the church and come to the conclusion that you are not that much different from them so maybe you are OK?

Have you been abused (spiritually, physically, physically) and have never truly dealt with it? I know from 20 years of pastoral ministry that if we don’t name these areas of hurt and pain and walk through it with the hope of the gospel that we run the risk of staying stuck spiritually. Often times this means that we fail to see all the negative ways we have been trying to cope with our trauma.

Is there ongoing sexual sin in your life? (porn, lust, sexual immorality, etc?)

If all of these questions feel overwhelming then boil it down to this, is there an area of your life that you simply have not dealt with and the result is that you have become spiritually plateaued?

FIVE: Get involved in deep relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ

This is the one that so many Christians think they can do without. From Genesis to Revelation it is clear that God designed his sons and daughters to be in deep relationships with other believers in the church. HERE you will find me responding to the unbiblical idea that we don’t need the church to be a Christian.

We need to be in relationships with other people where they know who we really are, our strengths and weaknesses, and they have the green light to speak truth into our life. At New Life Church we encourage relationships by getting involved in Life Groups and D Groups. We definitely need other Christians in our life if we want to become more like Jesus.

SIX: Attend church on a regular basis

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” -Hebrews 10:25

So number five was about getting into deep, messy relationships with others in the church. This one is about gathering together for worship and the proclamation of the Word of God as the collective body of Christ. We really have to fight against the individualism that is so rampant in our culture. Allow me to borrow a story about Charles Spurgeon that helps explain the importance of gathering with the church on a regular basis.

“Pastor Charles Spurgeon once visited a man who had not attended his church for some time. The man said he was still a Christian but didn’t think he needed to go to church. Without saying a word, Pastor Spurgeon took the tongs from the fireplace and removed one coal, setting it in the corner of the fireplace away from the others. It soon went out. The man got the message: The coals in a fire need each other to stay hot, and Christians need the fellowship of other Christians and the ministry of the Word to keep them spiritually hot!”

SEVEN: Listen to worship music during the week

I used to grumble about the state of Christian music. I complained that there is so little quality Christian music. Truth be told it can be hard to find excellent Christian music that you enjoy, but it does exist. I will share this with you, I know that I am going through a dry spiritual season when I am not listening to worship music throughout the week.

Rivers and Robots-Burn For You

My musical taste may not be yours but I do think incorporating worship/Christian music into your daily life will sweeten your walk with Christ.

What will your response be to this blog post?

“22 Be doers of the word, and not hearers only. Otherwise, you are deceiving yourselves. 23 For anyone who hears the word but does not carry it out is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, 24 and after observing himself goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom, and continues to do so—not being a forgetful hearer, but an effective doer—he will be blessed in what he does.” -James 1:22-25

Merely reading this article without take steps of obedience is pointless. Take a moment right now and reflect on what you need to do to deepen your spiritual life.

I would love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a comment!

Week 1-Live Your Truth

“You can choose what you believe, Shuffler, but you can’t change what’s true.” -S.D. Smith, The Green Ember

I am going to be posting a video from each chapter from this wonderful book, “Live Your Truth: And Other Lies” by Alisa Childers. Today we are looking at the lie that truth is relative and we get to define what is and what is not reality based on our feelings and desires. I would love to hear from you. So feel free to ask questions and share your thoughts here on my blog!

“The Thrill of Orthodoxy” by Trevin Wax

Do-it-yourself spirituality is becoming more and more common these days. Based on my personal observation I would describe do-it-yourself spirituality as picking and choosing what we want to believe based on our personal preferences and desires. This is in stark contrast with biblical Christianity which is about discovering the truth outside of ourselves (primarily in the Word of God) and adjusting our lives accordingly.

Because we live in a time when people increasingly think truth is found by looking inside ourselves we desperately need a book like “The Thrill of Orthodoxy” by Trevin Wax. I purchased and read the book and I strongly encourage you to buy and read it as well. I have a hard time imagining that I will read a better or more important book this year.

A book about orthodoxy? Isn’t that kinda…boring? That is exactly the lie that Wax is working so hard to dispel:

Orthodoxy is an ancient castle with spacious rooms and vaulted ceilings and mysterious corridors, a vast expanse of practical wisdom handed down from our forefathers and mothers in the faith. Some inhabit the castle but fail to sift through its treasures. Others believe the castle stands in the way of progress and should be torn down. A few believe the castle’s outer shell can remain for aesthetic purposes, so long as the interior is gutted. But in every generation, God raises up those who see the value in the treasure, men and women who maintain a deep and abiding commitment to recognize and accentuate the unique beauty of Christian truth so that future generations can be ushered into its splendor.

The world finds it thrilling to follow the suggestion of the old song from the 1960s-“to make your own kind of music” and “sing your own special song.” You decide what song to sing, what path to follow, what traditions to cast off, and what beliefs work for you “even if no one else sings along.”

But the truth is, the reverse is more thrilling: we need the “old old story” of “how a Savior came from glory.” We need to be part of a courageous choir of Christians-reawakened to the beauty and majesty of the Christian melody, committed to right belief and right worship. To join our voices with the apostles two thousand years ago, singing the one song that by the power of the Spirit still resonates today.

The Thrill of Orthodoxy, pages 8-9

I sometimes hear people say that there really is no such thing as orthodoxy. In fact at times people will go so far to say that making the claim of orthodoxy is really just a way for people in power to oppress others. Trevin does a great job of dispelling such thinking by pointing us back to the creeds of the early church and of course back to the Word of God.

This book is for the student who is being told that the Bible is out dated and we need to be more progressive and enlightened in our thinking.

This book is for the pastor who is tempted to remove the hard edges of Scripture so that their message is more palatable to the masses.

This book is for the person who finds themselves beginning to get bored with the story of Scripture and are looking for something new.

This book is really for everyone because we are all breathing in the toxic fumes of a culture that tells us that we alone can define what truth is for us.

100% I believe everyone, young and old, should read this book. It will deepen your love for God and for his Word and I also believe it will cause you to see the story of Scripture with a renewed sense of awe.

Day 9 in Israel

This was the final day of touring Israel. We had a great trip but I think I can speak for the whole group when I say we are ready to come back home! Tonight we are staying at a new hotel called Neve Ilan. Here are some of the places we visited today:

The Dome of the Rock. I am glad that we took the extra time to go up to the top of the temple area. For a number of reasons the temple area was one of my favorite locations to visit. As non-Muslims we were not able to go into the Dome of the Rock mosque but it was great to walk around it and see it up close.

We went by The Temple Institute. It was not really part of the tour but I found learning about it fascinating. The Temple Institute is doing all they can to get ready for the third temple to be rebuilt. Here is their purpose taken directly from their website, “The Temple Institute’s ultimate goal is to see Israel rebuild the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, in accord with the Biblical commandments.” You may wonder why I find that intriguing. So let me tell you. In 2 Thessalonians 2:4 we learn that in the end times the antichrist will set himself up to be god in the new temple. If this new temple were rebuilt it would cause massive political fallout and probably a war because the Islamic Dome of the Rock is in the spot where the third temple would be built. I find all of this super interesting and it increases my desire to search and know the Word of God.

We also saw the Wailing Wall. It is called the Wailing Wall because the Jews are mourning the loss of their temple. Jews come to the wall to pray and for a number of other religious traditions. You can learn more here: https://www.gotquestions.org/Wailing-Wall.html

We also visited The Garden Tomb. This is another spot where they believe Jesus could have been buried. You will see in one of the pictures below that there is a massive rock that looks like a skull. Golgotha is also referred to the place of the skull in Matthew 27:33.

At The Garden Tomb we also stopped to take communion together and worship in song. After a busy week it was nice to visit this garden, take communion, and reflect on all that Christ has done for us. Pastor Jeff Ruggles gave a devotional and I led the time of communion.

We will be leaving the hotel a little after midnight and finally arriving in Sioux Falls on Thursday at about 5:00 pm. It has been a wonderful trip and it has been neat to be able share a little bit of it with you! See you soon!

These are Jews who come to the Wailing Wall to pray. This is as close as they are allowed to the location of where they believe their old temple was located.
If you wore shorts you needed to put on this “skirt” to go near The Dome of the Rock.
Group picture!
The Place of the Skull. The two holes to the right are supposed to be the eyes.
Believe it or not you could buy a yamaka with Trump’s picture on it.
Lunch with the group
Video of the Wailing Wall

Day 8 in Israel

Good afternoon from Israel! We are 8 hours ahead of South Dakota. The day of touring is over, going to make this post, and head down to dinner. Here are the main places we visited/saw today:

1-We spent nearly all day in the old city of Jerusalem. The first place we visited was Bethesda. It was at Bethesda that Jesus healed a paralyzed man in the fifth chapter of John. The timing is great for me to be visiting Israel because I just started a sermon series on the Gospel of John and I think this trip will help me visualize the stories that I will be preaching! At Bethesda we also saw the birthplace of Mary the mother of Jesus.

2-From there it starts to get more intense because we began seeing the sights that led directly to the crucifixion of Jesus.

3-We saw where Jesus was whipped.

4-We walked the Path of Via Dolorosa. This is the final path that Jesus took on the way to the cross.

5-We saw the sight where they believe Jesus was crucified. As you might imagine this is an extremely crowded and busy place.

6-From there we went to Mt Zion. Here we saw the room of the room of the Last Supper.

Observations from today:

The one dominant theme from today is that Jesus came into this world to die in our place so that we might have eternal life. From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry he knew that his mission would lead him to the cross. What do we do with this? How do we redound?

“Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow”

I will respond by living the rest of my days for the only person to know everything about me (the good and the bad) yet he loved me enough to die for me.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” -2 Corinthians 5:21

Beautiful art
work about Mary.
Location they believe Mary was born.
Via Dolorosa
The tomb of Jesus.
The place they believe Jesus was crucified. It is called Golgotha and The Place of the Skull. You can actually stick your hand in the place where they believe the cross went into the ground. Side note-all the gold, silver, and ornaments was distracting for many people in our group. This site looks nothing like what you would imagine from the biblical narrative. One example of this is the basic fact that this site Is inside The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The location where Peter denied Jesus three times.
Where Jesus was held as a prisoner before he was executed.
Art work of Jesus being bound.
Israeli police giving someone a
ticket.
When in Jerusalem you do as they do.

Day 7 in Israel

We have moved and now we are staying at the Olive Hotel in Jerusalem. So far the hotel seems very nice. Here are the places we visited today:

1-Cana. This was the very first place where Jesus performed a miracle. Jesus turned the water into wine at a wedding. We took time to have a devotional and read from John 2:1-12. The miracle is specifically called a “sign” because the purpose of the miracle was to affirm the deity of Jesus Christ.

2-Bet Shean. This is a city that is in the Jordan Valley. The site is famous partly due to the fact that there are so many archeological remains of the city. In this city was located, for a period of time, the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin were responsible for putting on the trial that led to Jesus’ death.

3-Me Casa Pizza. We stopped for lunch and had Israeli pizza. It was quite good but I did wish that they would throw some meat on it. BTW: neither Muslims or Jews eat pork. Eating pork is forbidden in the Quran.

4-Mt Olives. By far this was my favorite site. Mt Olives is in Jerusalem and it is also right by the location of the Jewish temple. Consider this, Jesus taught about the end times in Matthew 24-25 on Mt Olives (Olivet Discourse), Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on Mt Olives, Jesus ascended into heaven on Mt Olives, in Zechariah 14:4 there is a prophecy that at the Second Coming Jesus will return to Mt Olives. On top of that, as I mentioned, the temple grounds are right next to Mt Olives. The biblical history of this location is absolutely amazing! Today there are approximately 100,000 people living on Mt Olives and most of them are Palestinian.

Observations:

Just a sense of amazement when it comes to the biblical history on Mt Olives and Jerusalem. As I mentioned above, everywhere you look in this area you are reminded of the life of Christ. Favorite location so far.

The battle for this geography has been intense. In fact, many have said that there have been more wars here than any other place in the world. Why? Christians, Jews, and Muslims all see this area (temple in Jerusalem) as one of their most holy sites. It is deeply disturbing that so many lives have been lost in the name of religion.

Zechariah 14:4 tells us this, “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.” What does this mean? In my opinion it is telling us that one day Jesus will return for a second time to Mt Olives! For those who know Christ this will be a glorious day. For those who don’t know Jesus it is a time of utter despair. It was fascinating to stand on Mt Olives and reflect on the idea that Jesus is coming to that very spot.

I continue to think how sad it is that many people seem to make an idol out of these holy places. I think it is a great idea to come here and think about the life of Christ. It is so unfortunate that others are acting like these locations and artifacts are supernatural in themselves. You see people kissing things like the rock where Jesus prayed while in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Dome of the Rock is a Muslim mosque and it is on the location of the two temples in the Old Testament. You can’t go into this mosque unless you are a Muslim. Here is a link if you want to learn more about the Dome of the Rock Temple: https://www.gotquestions.org/Dome-of-the-Rock.html
Me
Some say this is the rock that Jesus prayed on while in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is inside a church called “Church of All Nations.” You can see from the picture people bowing down, touching the rock and praying.
Having some tasty pizza at Me Casa Pizza restaurant.
This is in the lobby of the Olive Hotel. It is critical that hotels here are kosher or else Jewish people will not stay there. Things you rarely think about in America.
Ice coffee. It was meh.
I dazzled people with my ability to play the shofar. I’m thinking I will use the shofar to add musical depth to the New Life worship team.
This is a road in Ben Shean. Amazing how much of the city is still here to look at.
Garden of Gethsemane
Pastor Jeff leading the group in a discussion of God’s Word. Jeff is doing a great job leading us.
The church that is located in Cana near the spot where Jesus performed his first miracle.
The Islamic call to prayer coming from the Dome on the Rock Temple

Day 6 in Israel

It’s hard to believe that day 6 in the Holy Lands is coming to a close. Here is a summary of our day:

1) We started by going to a private location right by the Sea of Galilee for a worship service just for our group. This might have been my favorite part of the day. Pastor Jeff and I shared the story of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee. Many people in our group have had their fair share of trials over the past couple years and it was super comforting to focus on the fact that we never need to be fearful because Christ is with us. “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” -Matthew 14:27

2-Next we went to Tel Dan. Dan is right by Lebanon and in this city are the remains of the high places that King Jeroboam set up. High places were places that the Jews would go and worship false gods. Jeroboam set these high places up because he did not want the Jews to head south to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. If they traveled to Jerusalem they might stay there and he would lose his kingdom (kingdom was divided at this time).

3-Then we went to Caesarea Philippi. This was another city that Herod the Great had constructed. To say that Herod was ambitious would be a huge understatement. It was a city filled with false gods and idolatry. It was in this city that Jesus told Peter he would build his church and the gates of hell would not overcome it.

4-Then we headed back south towards our hotel in Tiberias. On the way to Tiberias we traveled through the Golan Heights. Golan Heights was captured by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967. We also had terrific views of Syria, Lebanon and of course Israel.

Observations:

I wish I could live here for a year or two. Seriously. I would love to really immerse myself in this culture to learn what makes it tick. There is so much history, culture, political intrigue and I would love to learn all about it. Maybe New Life will arrange for a year long sabbatical for Marcie and me in Israel. 😉

Everything points to Jesus. All the history, all the cities, all the archeology points to the fact that the Son of God left heaven and moved into this Middle Eastern neighborhood. This place screams “Jesus” yet so many here don’t know him personally. Would you join me in praying that all the people here would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?

The life blood of Israel, the Jordan River. The Jordan River starts from the snow on Mt Hermon and flows south all the way into the Dead Sea. In this River John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
This massive rock is in Caesarea Philippi. It might have been the reason Jesus made the reference to Peter being the rock the church would be built upon.
This is a picture of Syria from Mt Hermon.
I found a place to get a bigger cup of coffee. Thank you for praying for me!
Notes from our worship service this morning by the Sea of Galilee.
An Israeli tank being transported while we were traveling on the bus.
Here is a directional sign that shows how far it is from Mt Hermon to Washington DC…kinda weird.
This was the place by the Sea of Galilee where we had our worship service.

Day 5 in Israel

Day 5 is coming to a close. Here are the places we visited and some of my observations.

1-Capernaum. This was the place where Jesus spent most of time once he turned 30. It is a beautiful location right on the Sea of Galilee. Here we saw the location where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.

2-We took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. So many stories are tied to the Sea of Galilee which means it was pretty special to be out there on a boat.

3-We visited the site of the feeding of the 5000. Luke 9:10-17.

4-Magdala. This was the hometown of Mary (Magdalene). The more you reflect on the life of Mary Magdalene the more you are amazed by her love and devotion of Jesus. Jesus exorcised 7 demons out of Mary and the result was a woman who was willing to follow him wherever he went. She was there at his crucifixion and his resurrection.

Observations:

The archeology and all the discoveries strongly affirm the validity of God’s Word! I mean this has to be a huge takeaway from visiting all of these sites. No doubt about it these sites increase our faith in the trustworthiness of God’s Word.

It is neat to think about Jesus walking all over Galilee loving people and setting them free from all kinds of bondage. Luke 4:18 seems like a perfect verse to describe what I am thinking, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

Taking the last observation one step further. Jesus loves sinners. The misfits. The people who live out of the spotlight. The whole trip is really a reminder of God’s unwarranted grace, mercy and compassion for people like me.

Church on Mount of Beatitudes
View from our boat on the Sea of Galilee
Flag of Israel on our boat. The cross is a reminder of what it’s all about.
In one of the gift shops
The home of Peter
Synagogue in Capernaum (right next to Peter’s home)
Synagogue in Magdala. Hometown of Mary Magdalene. I would like to have a cup of coffee with Mary one day and listen to her testimony!
Statue of Mary Magdalene giving Jesus a piece of bread
Please pray for me as I deal with this ongoing tribulation.