Sunday, April 3, 2011

Taking Candy From Strangers

Can you all remember your first “Stranger Danger” education wave in elementary school? I remember having Officer Savvy and Officer Christiansen come into my Kindergarten classroom to talk with our class on how to stay away from strangers. The said things like “Hey! How many of you kids like candy? (My classmates and myself: “Me! Me! Me!”); that’s great! Who do you normally get candy from? (“Mom! Dad! Grandma!” Etc…) That’s great! It’s fun getting candy from your parents or grandparents, especially if it’s your favorite kind. But what about from someone you don’t know? Is it safe to get candy from someone you don’t know?(“No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” With the Classroom clown still screaming when we’re done….yup! We had a few of those) That’s good class! No, it is not safe to get candy from strangers, do you know why? Gabe (he knew everything!), the smartest boy in the class says, “It isn’t safe, they could take you away from your mom and your dad or hurt you, or even poison you with the candy!” Ok, so you get the picture!

I was sitting in church this morning listening to Pastor Williams share about a passage in Matthew 7 on false prophets. The passage uses another analogy of “false prophets are like wolves in sheepskin.”

True and False Prophets

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. True and False Disciples 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ NIV

Just for some comical relief, I am going to let out a “Ha!” Because I know I have just picked probably one of the “Top Ten Controversial Verses of the Bible,” (right up there with the Predestination verses….yup, I said it! :) ) But seriously. When looking at this passage of scripture, I think that we can glean some very simple information: How can we serve a God who spits out lukewarm individuals for him to turn around and give us a gray passage of scripture? This passage is very black and white to me when approaching it. Jesus is warning people to ‘watch out for false prophets,” people, who are, like Pastor Williams said, are ‘adding’ or ‘changing’ what has been said in the Word. I will give you five ‘Mississippi’s’ to guess how relevant this is to the recent news on certain pastors with skewed biblical teachings are sweeping the nation. It was happening back in Jesus’ day as well! Just like a stranger offers you candy, these false prophets are presenting you with a ‘sweet Gospel,’ something that appeals to your taste and your liking. The “drive-thru pray the prayer technique” is a hot concept among churches claiming to present the Gospel. You may even get a little feeling in your stomach and get teary-eyed as you go on your way, ‘pay your bill,’ and back out to the freeway. This is a great example as to how false prophets are approaching people: tailoring the Gospel to your needs; one-size-fits-all approach. When sadly, thousands maybe millions of people are being lied to! Am I saying that you cannot initiate a relationship by praying to God? Of course not! How else does one talk to God but through prayer? I wish sometimes I could look inside another man’s heart and discern his sincerity level to Christ, but then I’d be Christ…and I am not (thankfully!). No, I may not be able to read the person’s heart, but the passage does say that he or she will ‘bear good fruit.’

I grew up on a farm in South Dakota and we had a few apple trees in our grove that I would go and pick from at the end of summer, early fall. I was able to identify which tree was doing well, was healthy and full of life based upon the size of apples it produced. If it look like the worms had gotten to most of the apples or the tree appeared as though it had wilted; I didn’t bother messing with that tree. Now, so often people see this analogy and say, “But what if I am struggling and I am unable to produce fruit, does that mean I have to be perfect? Someone who is always on top of things, always sharing the Gospel and always producing, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control?” Ha, no. Once you become a Christian, you are not perfect---your salvation was perfected through Christ, but you yourself, may still sin and struggle for the rest of your life. But the point made here, is that a good tree, is going to produce good fruit, regardless of type of weathering that takes place on it. If the Spirit of God is within you, and you believe that God is a perfect, sinless, holy God, then shouldn’t you reflect those same attributes?

Hmm. The next passage is one that my youth pastor, Dave Moe, challenged us with my senior year of high school. I remember sitting there and he approaching this verse with no sugar-coating: he wouldn’t allow us to give him the Sunday-school answer. In fact, I remember him almost being down-right angry, a righteous fury that came because he knew that some of us had been lied to, even though they may have grown up in his church. I love that quality in Dave and I was so blessed to have him challenge me on this. In my mind as an 18 year old, a grown girl with roots dug well deep into scripture, I was thinking, “How is it possible God? Don’t you want everyone to enter the Kingdom? If they say they know you, and do things for you, shouldn’t they be allowed to come in?” Dave emphasized the last portion of the passage to us, “You who practice lawlessness.” Dave wasn’t coming down on us for not being perfect: He wasn’t trying to point out our flaws and weaknesses: He was saying, if you have not made a lifestyle change, one that has completely surrendered and repented of his or her sins, then you cannot help but practice lawlessness, or bad fruit. Just like the trees in our grove that were bad trees to begin with, there’s no way that all of a sudden they would have the ability to produce good fruit. A new seed would need to be planted and it would have to grow up to become a good tree.

Do you get the difference? There is one. A big difference. So often we as Christians get approached by other people or mocked for obvious things we may or may not do. I am one who has strong convictions on several things that people would look at and say, “Why? Are you too good? Other Christians do it! You’re too much of a goody-goody; I don’t think God would send you to hell for…. (Fill in whatever you want).” I get frustrated with these assumptions because to me, a relationship with Christ is not a matter of getting to go to heaven or hell, its saying, “I want to be with God! Where God is, I want to be. I want to be in a relationship with Him, I want to experience who He is and what He’s created me for.”

When you find someone you love and desire to spend your life with, you don’t just get married, to get married: you marry so you can do life together, to become one. Similarly, you don’t just accept Christ with this expectation that the only thing you desire is for you to not have to go to hell.

My heart aches for people to realize this before they come to the point of their life that it’s too late and you are the one saying verse 21. How a loving God say can verse 22, you may ask: a God that is not only loving, but just, righteous, and holy. Think of your biggest pet peeve and multiply it times a thousand, or imagine the angriest you have ever been, similarly God has a fury against sin, it is everything He is not and He lost his son over it. Sin is hostile to everyone involved. But He has given us a means of approaching His throne out His great love, grace and mercy.

You see, we serve an amazingly mysterious God! One that deserves to have a committed child, not one who just wants to “sneak into his kingdom” (which doesn’t happen). Do you get it? Does it make sense? Don’t take candy from strangers! Don’t believe the lies that you can ‘get salvation,’ based upon the lies of false prophets. Recognize the true Gospel: that Salvation comes to those who surrender their lives, take up their cross and follow Christ daily. Or maybe I will just let the scripture speak for itself!

Mark 8

The Way of the Cross

34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” NIV

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