A Man of Lawlessness Revealed

Several weeks ago when I read 2 Thessalonians, the words hit me like an omen. At the time the apostle Paul wrote this letter, around A.D. 51, many people in the church thought that the second coming of Christ was imminent. Paul wrote telling them not to be too unsettled or alarmed. The second coming would not happen, he wrote, “until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed.” Since I last read this letter, I have seen a man of lawlessness revealed and I have to admit it is unsettling.

Paul said that the man of lawlessness “will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” While I have not literally seen this man set himself up in God’s temple proclaiming himself to be God, I have seen the power he has over the so-called church. His support among the religious is astonishing because he is the antithesis of Jesus. When 80% of self-identified “evangelicals” voted for him, it became clear that an evangelical is no longer one who spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have witnessed the rise of a man who exalts himself over all others, either by shamelessly bragging about himself or by mercilessly tearing others down. He is known for his out-sized ego, by a malignant form of narcissism. He doesn’t even have the humility to recognize the sovereignty of God and to ask God for forgiveness. Why should he? He is a god unto himself.

I do not seek signs of the second coming of Christ. Jesus said that no one knows when that day will come except the Father. But Jesus also warned his disciples to watch out for deceivers. I have been on guard against this one from the beginning.

When I read Paul’s description of the coming of the lawless one, also called the man of iniquity or the man of sin in other translations, it felt like déjà vu. Here’s the NIV translation of 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

The lawless one will use all the ways that wickedness deceives. A man of iniquity uses slander and propaganda and conspiracy theories to fool his supporters. He tells lies that are easily proven to be untrue. He wages a battle against truth by calling those who expose his lies “fake news” and “the enemy of the people.” In reality, he hates the free press because it does not serve the lie.

According to Paul, the lawless one will use signs and wonders, portents of falsehood, that serve the lie. A man of iniquity plays on the fears and vulnerabilities and prejudices of his followers. He claims to be the only one who can solve their problems. He tells his followers that they are victims of the enemy. He makes them fear and resent foreigners and people who practice other religions. He even preys on their sense of patriotism even as he betrays his country.

I have seen a man of iniquity revealed. He opposes the Jesus creed: the command to love the Lord your God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as yourself. This lawless one is the enemy of civility, common decency, kindness, gentleness, and peacefulness. In him, I see clearly the working of Satan with all his powers of darkness: racism, xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny. He is Satan’s little-handed helper.

I was absolutely gobsmacked after the election. How did an amoral man manage to deceive millions of people when his lies are so patently obvious? According to Paul, people will be deceived by the lawless one because they don’t love the truth. They have no place in their hearts for truth. Like the lawless one, they delight in wickedness. They are the kind of people John wrote about.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. – John 3: 19-20

It is difficult for me to read that God sends a powerful delusion so that the people will believe what is false. So I have to look beyond what I can see and put my trust in God’s greater purpose.

The unlikely rise to power of a lawless reality star turned politician may or may not be the fulfillment of prophesy. But it is an invitation to a dress rehearsal for the coming of the Lord. Put on the full armor of God and take a stand against evil.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-18

For those of us who have been called to follow Jesus, the message of 2 Thessalonians 2 is to be prepared. Be steadfast in your faith. The Lord is to be trusted. He will strengthen you and protect you from evil.

 

Come out of hiding and confess your brokenness

My church studied 1 John in a sermon series called “Living Deep.” My pastor then gave us a list of practical steps to help us go deeper in our faith. I am slowly making my way through the list and am now on step six, “Come out of hiding and confess the reality of being broken.”

I am not a Catholic so I have never “been to confession.” I have no idea what it is like to confess my wrongs to a priest. When I became a Christian, I learned that “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I confess my sins to God directly because Jesus intercedes for me.

Come out of hiding. Many of us want to hide our sins because we feel guilty and are ashamed. But there is no point in trying to hide from God. He is all-seeing and all-knowing. In one of my favorite psalms (Psalm 139), David wrote that God knows everything I do. He knows my every thought. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. God created my inmost being and knows everything about me. God is everywhere. It is impossible to hide or flee from his presence.

You, God, know my folly; my guilt is not hidden from you (Psalm 69:5).

For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Eccl. 12:14).

He who conceals his sins does not prosper but whoever confesses and renounces finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

Sometimes we sin willfully and sometimes we don’t even know that we are sinning. For example, we may not be aware of our own pride. We often excuse the same selfish behavior in ourselves that offends us when we see it in others. God knows ever corner of our hearts. We can ask him to show us our hidden faults and to reveal the ways we offend him.

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. (Psalm 19:12)

See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:24)

Be honest. Just as there is no point in trying to hide from God, there is no point in lying about our sins and our struggles. There is no point in pretending to be better than we really are with anyone, but especially with God. He sees right through the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus called out. We can be real with God because he can’t be shocked by what he already knows.

In Psalm 139, David admits that he hates those that hate God. He counts the enemies of God as his personal enemies. I don’t find permission to hate anyone in David’s confession; I find the freedom to be completely honest with God about my feelings about wicked people. I am ashamed of myself when I catch myself hating God’s enemy, a man who opposes and exalts himself above all that is good, a man who sows deception, hatred and division. My heart convicts me because Jesus holds me to a higher standard – love your enemies. Getting real with God, I can say, God please help me not to feel this way.

Confess your brokenness. Confession starts with recognizing our brokenness before God. Many people don’t confess their sins because they think, I am not as bad as other people. They don’t understand that we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Too often, the sin of pride gets in the way of admitting out failure to live up to God’s perfect ways. People avoid facing the reality that they are broken because it’s painful and messy.

Confessing our brokenness is good for the soul. Confession breaks the spirit so that it is open to being transformed by God. It puts us in the right posture before God – humble and contrite. God is pleased when we come to him with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

We Are All Broken. That’s How the Light Gets In.

It is only when we confess our sins and renounce them that we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. It is only when we confess our sins and repent that God can give us a new heart and a new spirit.

Reading List

Psalm 139:16-24
Proverbs 28:13
Ezekiel 36:26-28
Matthew 11:28
Galatians 3:4-7
1 John 1:9,4:16-18

See yourself through God’s loving eyes

My church recently studied the First Epistle of John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” At the end of the series, my pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith. Step five on the list is: Examine yourself accurately, based on God’s truth.

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Examine yourself accurately, based on God’s truth. When I read these words, I thought my pastor meant that you should look at yourself honestly and admit your sins. While that is an important step in growing closer to God, the message of the Bible verses the pastor provided for this step was something else entirely. So I am calling it: see yourself through God’s loving eyes.

The first Bible verse on the reading list was Zephaniah 3:17.  The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. The image of God delighting in his people, rejoicing over them with singing, is quite different from the picture I had in mind – that of God being displeased with me because I am a sinner.

The image of God delighting in those he loves reminds me of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the story Jesus told to illustrate how great God’s love is. A man had two sons. The younger son left and squandered his fortune in wild living. When the money ran out and he fell on desperate times, he remembered how good he had it at home. He returned to his father and confessed that he was not worthy to be called his son. But the father was compassionate. He was filled with so much joy at the return of his lost son, he celebrated with a feast worthy of a king.

God is with us wherever we are. He sees our suffering. He sees our struggles. When we cry out to him, he is waiting with open arms to take us in and shelter us, just as a parent cares for a child. What love the Father has lavished, that we should be called his children!

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy (Psalm 30:11). 

The prodigal son saw himself as unworthy of his father’s love. God does not see his children as unworthy no matter how sinful we are. He sees us as redeemable. Incredibly, he sees us as worth dying for.

Jesus didn’t tell us about the prodigal son’s life after he returned home but I am certain that he was a changed man. He had tried the ways of the world, indulging every desire, but was left him empty and unsatisfied. His father showed him mercy he did not deserve. I imagine that he was grateful and ready to live a life worthy of his father’s grace.

In Ephesians 2:1-5, Paul writes that those of us saved by Christ were once dead in our sins and transgressions. We followed the ways of the world. We were just like everyone else. Like the prodigal son, we lived to gratify the cravings of the flesh, indulging its desires and thoughts. We deserved God’s wrath because we were disobedient. But God loved us so much and was so rich in mercy that he made us alive with Christ. He saved us by grace.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,  in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

When you are made alive in Christ, you no longer want to conform to the ways of the world. You want to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. You want to follow God’s will – “his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

When you examine yourself accurately, as my pastor put it, you see God’s truth – you are his beloved child. True, you don’t deserve his love and mercy. On your own merits, you are not worthy to claim the reward of salvation. But in God’s eyes, you are worth saving. God is greater than our hearts. He is mighty to save. He is rich in love and mercy.

Reading List:

Zephaniah 3:17
Psalm 30:11
Proverbs 30:5
John 15:3
Romans 12:2
2 Corinthians 3:4-6
Ephesians 2:1-5
Ephesians 4:24
1 John 3:20
1 John 5:13

Look Beyond What You Can See

My church recently studied the First Epistle of John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” At the end of the series, my pastor handed out a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith. Step four on his list is “Pray and look beyond what you can see to the deeper realities of God’s work.”

Look beyond what you can see

I have presbyopia. My old eyes need help seeing things that are far away. It is much easier for me to focus on close objects. My mind’s eye also has trouble imagining the future. When my mind is not occupied with work or ordinary daily activities, I tend to worry about the crisis or scandal of the moment. I get discouraged because it feels like evil is winning.

I am limited by what my eyes can see and by what my mind can conceive. How can I look beyond the chaos I see to the deeper reality of God’s work? My pastor said, pray and look beyond. Pray for insight. Pray for wisdom. Pray for understanding. Pray for hope.

According to 1 Corinthians 2, God’s wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit reveals deeper spiritual realities to those who love him. The Spirit explains spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. Not everyone can accept these words. Not everyone can understand these words. But the person who has the Spirit understands spiritual truths because he has been shown the mind of Christ.

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10

The deeper reality of God’s work

The prophet Jeremiah wrote that the Lord has plans for us – plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future. But even though God promises to make all things work out for the good of those who love him, he doesn’t promise that there will be no trials and tribulations along the way. Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance builds character, and character produces hope.

Now I see things imperfectly. Someday I will see everything with perfect clarity.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Mahatma Ghandi had the right perspective: “When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it – always.”

Ghandi looked beyond what he could see to the invincibility of truth and love. This is the deeper reality of God’s work. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

When I despair, Lord help me to remember that love never fails. Love always prevails.  Always.

Reading List:
Jeremiah 29:11
John 8:32; 10:10
Romans 5:1-21; 9:16
1 Corinthians 3:19
2 Corinthians 5:15
Ephesians 2:8-10; 4:24
Philippians 4:13
1 John 3:19-24

Depend on the Holy Spirit

My church studied the book of 1 John in a sermon series on “Living Deep.” At the end of the series, my pastor gave us a list of fourteen steps to help us go deeper in our faith walk. Step three is Depend on the Holy Spirit.

Christians believe that God is three Persons in one: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Most Christians don’t pay a lot of attention to the Holy Spirit, the one Jesus called the Counselor or Advocate. Yet Jesus said that no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born again, that is, born of the Spirit. The Spirit gives birth to spirit. Jesus promised to send the Spirit to his followers. The apostle Paul likened the Spirit to a deposit, a guarantee of what is to come.

Why should believers depend on the Spirit? What exactly does the Holy Spirit do? Jesus and the apostles provided many answers to these questions.

  1. The Spirit testifies about Jesus, reminding believers of everything Jesus said.
  2. The Spirit glorifies Jesus and affirms his oneness with God.
  3. The Spirit reveals God’s wisdom.
  4. The Spirit teaches believers about spiritual realities.
  5. The Spirit proves that the world is wrong about sin, righteousness and judgment.
  6. The Spirit searches and reveals all things, even the deep thoughts of God.
  7. The Spirit leads believers to live a spiritual life, which is not a life of the flesh.
  8. The Spirit brings hope, peace and joy to those who believe.
  9. The Spirit produces good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
  10. The Spirit advocates and intercedes for God’s people in accordance with God’s will.
  11. The Spirit guides believers into truth and helps us discern light from darkness.
  12. The Spirit enables true worshipers to worship God.

God came into the world as a Son of Man so that we might be saved. The Savior is called Immanuel, which means “God with us.” When Jesus returned to the one who sent him, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that God could continue to be with us.

As I studied verses about the Holy Spirit, Francesca Battistelli’s song, Holy Spirit ran through my mind. Let us become more aware of your presence. Let us experience the glory of your goodness.

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord
Your presence, Lord

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Reading list:

  1. Isaiah 11:2; 34:16
  2. John 3:6, 4:23-24; 6:36; 14:15-31; 15:4-8, 26-27; 16:7-15
  3. Romans 8:1-17; 14:17; 15:13
  4. 1 Corinthians 2:6-16
  5. 2 Corinthians 5:5
  6. Galatians 5:13-26
  7. 1 Thessalonians 1:6
  8. 1 John 2:26-27; 4:1-6