Deception that darkens and Truth that illuminates
“Jesus was clear that following Him meant–get this–following Him. The church has put so much effort into inventing a new form of “following Christ” that doesn’t require imitating Him. We teach that even though Jesus allowed His rights to be trampled, we should fight for ours. We teach that even though Jesus lived simply, we have the right to live luxuriously (some prefer the term “comfortably”). Even as we teach that Jesus was rejected by the world, we pursue popularity.” – Francis Chan, You and me Forever.
It is of significant importance that you understand what a Christian is. Within the context of our western culture we have so drifted from what it means to follow Christ. In our attempt to teach people about the love of Christ we have neglected to teach about the weight of our own sin. We would teach people about a man that can save, but not the LORD that will judge. We have watered down the Gospel of Christ in our attempt to “save”. Churches are about the numbers… they want converts, in large quantities, at any cost! Even at the cost of the Gospel. This is THE face of American Christianity, which is why I have spent so much time talking about it; this is most certainly what you think of when you hear that someone is a Christian, they went to church once, had an emotional experience, and got “saved”.
Early in my conversion I had no idea what it meant to follow Christ, I just knew that I needed saving and that Jesus could do it. I also didn’t really understand what I needed saving from; I didn’t know the weight of my own sin. I certainly claimed to be “saved” and yet I didn’t bend the knee! If salvation is something that you view in the past tense, you should most certainly have reason to tremble. I am “saved” and yet God is still actively “saving” me each and every day. I must cling to the cross of Christ; the Gospel is something I always need, it’s not something that I needed back then.
It took roughly fifteen years following my experience at church camp in order to actually prostrate myself before the author of creation, Yahweh. During that time I was incredibly deceived. There are a few wolves that exist at the pinnacle of this new gospel invented in America, the prosperity gospel, which is no Gospel at all. This system, and yes it is a system, is the absolute apex of deception in the American church. The few at the top live like kings while taking money from those who have none and they deceive pastors and churchgoers alike, by the millions. Anytime God establishes a church, satan opens up his church next door and this is satan’s megachurch. I was led to believe that I should live “My best life now”. I was told that it was God’s will for my life; that I should always be healthy, that God wants to bring me a “financial breakthrough” if I would just have faith; He always responds to faith. I was told that “faith” was a force, literally, like gravity. Funny thing, I can always drop something and bank on the fact that it will hit the ground. Always. Yet in times of earnest and deep prayers of faith, silence. This is deadly. This leads people to believe that they are running full sprint towards God and yet they still sprint towards a pit that leads to death.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
This was a time of great suffering for my wife and I; the pain only got worse when we believed that we were being faithful and God didn’t respond. We would go through periods of deep conflict; we were never on the same page and we fought constantly. We would eventually muster up our strength and get on our knees and pray that God would fix the problem, silence. It was an endless cycle that led to constant talks of divorce. It was an endless cycle of running full speed towards a cliff only to fall to the ground just short of running over… We did this for years. God let this happen. Why? We didn’t know it at the time, but God was shaping and molding our relationship, He was bringing us closer to Himself and He was forging a marriage that would last. God isn’t interested in cheap parlor tricks in order to accomplish His goals, He is a master artist and He takes His time to finish His work. His time. God was really working, through the silence. In the back of my mind I always knew that there was “something” off about what we believed, I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
On top of this I was experiencing many of the tell tale signs of PTSD following multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Bursts of anger, extreme anxiety, complete lack of emotion, panic attacks that came literally out of nowhere, gripping fear and desperation. I never consulted a doctor and I never asked for help. I simply tried harder to deal with it. I prayed harder. I had faith harder! I didn’t know that I had PTSD, after all I was in the Air Force how could I have PTSD? I also carried the scars from childhood that only further amplified the chaos in my body. This took such an emotional toll on me, I didn’t know where to turn. I would turn to God in faith and once again silence. Rage and anxiety filled in the void left by selfish faith.
It didn’t end there… Over the course of two years, two Christmases in fact, we suffered through two back to back miscarriages. Ohh the pain. The first miscarriage I remember speaking boldly over my wife and mustering all the faith that I had to give in order to ensure that the baby would be safe. I was certain that this baby would make it; Ashley and I both had faith. We prayed and we pleaded and we prayed some more. To no avail, baby gone. The season in between the first and second miscarriage was hands down the most important time in both of our lives, ever. We discovered who God really was. We discovered the gift giver as being so much greater than the gifts. We learned about how God used suffering in beautiful ways to gather His people and to spread the Gospel. One particularly painful morning I remember hearing about the fate of all of the apostles in the new testament. Long story short eleven out of the twelve apostles were brutally murdered as a direct result of having faith! For someone who believes the prosperity Gospel, this blows the doors of that system completely open. God saved us from this deception and He used suffering in our lives to do it. It was a time of great spiritual renewal for us and it was filled with joy.
Next year, at almost the exact same time, miscarriage. This time our reaction was completely and utterly different. I could still see the pain behind my wonderful wife’s eyes but there was also something else. There was a peace that didn’t exist before, a trust. We were sorrowful certainly, but we looked up and trusted God during this time, we believed that He was at work in our lives even if that meant suffering. We trusted that God was good and that He knew what He was doing. It didn’t take us long to bounce back this time.
Suffering that is deep often leads us to God. In order to believe that God doesn’t have His hand in suffering you must elevate Satan to a position higher than the almighty. Literally, there are times when Satan is in complete and total control and all God, you know Yahweh the God that literally spoke creation into existence Ex nihilo, can do is watch and hope someone musters up some faith in order to “allow” Him to work. This is a subtle, yet total deception. This is what they teach and this is what I believed. You can imagine what goes through the minds of Christians who believe this when they suffer. “Did I not have enough faith?”, “Am I a Christian at all?”, “Is God listening to me?”, “Does God even exist?”, “God certainly doesn’t exist…” Here’s the problem: Left to myself I wouldn’t believe in the existence of God. As a matter of fact, left to myself I would be an opinionated divorced alcoholic with PTSD. By the grace of Jesus Christ alone, I am none of these things. Well… I can still be pretty opinionated.
It took years of suffering and selfishness in order to bring me to my knees. This is precisely where God wanted me, broken and looking up at Him; not with some selfish expectation that He needed to respond to, but with a deep and utter brokenness that caused me to cry out in real and total surrender. I had to learn that God wasn’t just savior, gift giver and health bringer; He was, is and always will be LORD. I was finally in a position to understand the weight of my own sin and I finally saw God not as the one who keeps me from harm and gives me gifts, but as the one who IS.
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, ” I am who I am .” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘ I am has sent me to you.”