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.

 

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

A Glimmer of Light

In the second week of the Living Deep sermon series at my church, the topic was a Deeper Walk. John wrote: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him, yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth (1 John 1:5-6). Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).

John described an “experiential test” of whether a person is truly a follower of Christ: the test is how you behave. If you have been born of God, you cannot keep on sinning as you did before (1 John 3:9). If you have fellowship with God, you will keep his commands. Just as light contrasts with darkness, a person who has been saved should be noticeably different from a person who hasn’t.

In no uncertain terms, John challenged believers to be honest about our sinfulness. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives (1 John 1:8-10).

Pastor Brad said that we should admit our sins to ourselves, confess them to the Lord and to others, and replace the sin we are giving up with the word of God.

In the silent time of prayer, I confessed that I call people dirty, dehumanizing names when I am upset with them (though not to their faces). I am disrespectful like this when I’m driving and get annoyed with another driver or when I’m watching TV and hear someone lying. The other person can’t hear me but God can.

I know that it isn’t enough to control my tongue; my heart needs to change. Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

John’s admonitions are humbling. While it is no fun to be called a liar or to be confronted with my sinfulness, it is good for me to be humiliated on a regular basis! I claim to have fellowship with Jesus yet I continue to walk in the darkness. I am too proud of my own spiritual maturity, telling myself that I’m not like “judgy” religious people, that I’m more loving and tolerant. But I fall so short of the example Jesus set!

What does the Lord require of me? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8).

John described the faith walk in very black and white terms; either you walk in the light or you walk in the darkness. I agree that Christians should take sin seriously. But even for those of strong faith, the spiritual journey is not without struggles. Richard Rohr wrote that we never get to spiritual maturity without engaging in “shadowboxing” and the struggle continues for the rest of your life.

When I go for a walk in the sun, I put sunglasses on to protect my eyes, which are pretty sensitive to bright light. As I walk under the trees and the light becomes dappled, my eyes struggle to adjust to the changing light. They can’t figure out whether to dilate or constrict. Sunglasses off. Sunglasses on. I adjust to the changing conditions the best way I know how.

I want to be a glimmer of light in the darkness. I want to have a heart radically changed by grace. I want to be proof that Jesus is who he says he is.

*****************

Selected verses from “Live Like That” (Sidewalk Prophets)
Am I proof
That You are who you say You are
That grace can really change a heart
Do I live like Your love is true
People pass
And even if they don’t know my name
Is there evidence that I’ve been changed
When they see me, do they see You
I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You

Hard Pills to Swallow

Some pills are really hard to swallow. They’re too big to go down easily. For me, the anticipation of how hard it will be to swallow a big pill makes it even harder to get it down. I anticipate it getting stuck. I expect that I might gag. I try not to taste it, but I know that if it doesn’t go down the first time, it is going to taste gross. I tense up. My throat constricts. And when I do manage to relax enough get it down, I sometimes have the feeling that the pill is stuck in my throat.

I read a definition that said that the idiom “a hard (or bitter) pill to swallow” means something that is hard to believe. For example, you might say that it is hard to swallow the excuses of a person who is untrustworthy. But I think that when we say that something is hard to swallow, it means that a truth is difficult but necessary to accept. You don’t want to accept the truth but you have to accept the truth just as you have to swallow a big pill for your own good.

Some truths are really hard to accept. They’re too big to go down easily. We resist accepting hard truths because they grate against what we want to believe. We resist tasting them and we resist feeling them because it’s unpleasant and we’re afraid we might gag. But the truth has to be accepted to do any good.

 

via Daily Prompt: Swallow

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Facts are stubborn things

Facts matter. No matter how much you don’t like the facts, you can’t replace them with “alternative facts.” You can’t wish them away. If it makes you feel better to ignore the facts, you can bury your head in the sand, but the facts will still be there.

Proverbs 12:19 says that truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed.

Jesus said that there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing concealed that will not be known and illuminated (Luke 8:17).

Bring on the light.

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence. – John Adams

via Daily Prompt: Fact