Tuesday, May 22, 2018

That Nobody Takes Us Captive

The early disciples, just like disciples of Jesus today, were not immune from the strong influence of fellow humans. 

They, too, fell prey to the wolves in sheep’s clothing that infiltrated their Christian communities:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:13-15

“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.’” Matthew 24:4-5

“Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:11-14

“But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” 2 Timothy 3:13

“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:14-15

What is a wolf in sheep’s clothing? What is an imposter? 

They are those who pretend to present or be the real thing: so a wolf acts like a sheep, and an imposter window-dresses him or herself in the identity of their choice. 

In the church and Christian community (which includes colleges, seminaries and summer camps) they are pastors, professors, authors, teachers and congregants who create, buy-into, adopt, or advocate a different gospel than the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as written by God in the Holy Bible. 

“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures…For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” Romans 1:22-23; 25.

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. “ 2 Corinthians 11:3-4

I witnessed this in the liberal PCUSA church, among others, which I attended in my hometown and in other cities I moved to as an adult. Nature, the cosmos, the celestial heavens, endangered species, and any human-centric artistic expression and achievement were all placed on the pulpit, with man given all the credit. 

Songs of women’s liberation were sung in Sunday school with science and earthly progress exalted as the domain of man alone. 

It was an elder in the PCUSA hieracrchy who, when I told her I was born again in Christ, unequivocally told me to my face that I was “wrong.” What did she base this on, or back this up with? Nothing. It was merely her human opinion. 

Why? Why is it that people who attend a church building and who can be so humanly charitable towards other humans are vehemently uncharitable—downright hostile—towards Jesus Christ and those who follow Him? 

Well, it is for the same reason that anyone separates themselves from Christ and His followers: those opposed are embarrassed and ashamed of the Bible, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. 

Many reject the Light because they prefer darkness (John 3:19) .

Others don’t want to change because they don’t understand that transformation in Christ is not a chore: it is peace, joy and freedom (Luke 4:18).

This is no surprise to our Lord, who, after sending the twelve apostles out to “proclaim the kingdom of God” said,

“Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” Luke 9:4

And yet, people today still seek answers. They attempt to chase down truth even though they claim there is no such thing. Just watch their lives and you will see them perpetually seeking answers to everything from how to eat healthy to how to be happy and find relevance. 

But they won’t turn to God, His Son, Holy Spirit and His word to arrive at answers. That would be silly and juvenile, especially in the modern day world we live in. 

This, too, is no surprise, since the Bible predicts the very thing:

“As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, ‘To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.’” Mark 4:10-12

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:1-7

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” Hebrews 13:8-9a

Jesus spoke in parables, which He acknowledged those on the “outside” would not get. The entire Bible, to those on the “outside,” is an enigma. So they make up their own versions and interpretations as to what the Bible means, or they claim one can’t really know anything about it, or they say it’s just an old dusty book, and now man is entitled to say whatever sounds good to him about God. 

And men without the Spirit of Christ will continue to do this because without His Spirit, man cannot understand or accept the things of God. 

This was God’s prerogative in His plan for freewill:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:1-8

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
Where is the wise man?Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” 1 Corinthians 1:18-21

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWNN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 2:14-16

As seekers not yet in the Kingdom, people will be tempted to follow “every wind of teaching” because they do not yet have the Holy Spirit to guide them. It is a crucial time. But God, as the only one who draws and quickens hearts to Himself, has given His Word—the Bible—as the sufficient go-to in the quest for answering the question that needles each one of us, “What’s it all about?” 

As believers in Christ, we might be tempted, especially initially, to follow “every wind of teaching” that calls itself “Christian,” but isn’t

God in His Wisdom has provided a protection against that:

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

“No one is good except God alone.” Jesus speaking in Mark 10 and Luke 18

“I and the Father are one.” Jesus speaking in John 10

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”  1 Corinthians 10:12-14

Once we enter into the Kingdom of God through salvation in Christ, although we continue to be physically in the world but not of the world, we live in the wisdom of God, not men:

“like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture:
This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, 
For they stumble because they are disobedient to the word,” 1 Peter 2:2-8a

“Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” 1 Peter 3:13-17

That is our strong foundation: to live as Christ, in Him, and His Spirit in us. 

Then, no matter who comes along to shame or deceive us; to pooh-pooh our faith and our standing in Christ; to lob insults at us; to accuse us of being backward and closed-minded; to snicker and gossip behind our backs; we remain prudently impervious. 

For Christ said, 

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My names sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also.” John 15:18-23

Paul assures us that, standing firm in our ongoing spiritual maturity in Christ, we will: 

“no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” Ephesians 4:17-18

Christ is our rock and our portion, we will not be moved (Psalm 62:6; 16:8)

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell–and great was its fall. When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Matthew 7:24-29 emphasis and underline added)

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority;” Colossians 2:8-10

Copyright Barb Harwood

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Standing Firm

Quote of the Day:

"I believe that integrity is non-negotiable, loyalty is a two-way street, and disagreement is not disrespect." General Julius Becton (U.S. Army - Retired) and former president, Prairie View A and M University, quoted in Finish Strong by Richard G. Capen, Jr. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

But Their Foolish Hearts Were Hardened

Singer John Mellencamp, in his song, You’ve Got to Stand for Somethin’, sings,

“You’ve got to stand for something
or you’re gonna fall for anything.”

The Biblical interpretation of that is,

“Do not quench the Spirit;...But examine everything carefully;” 1 Thessalonians 5:19; 21.

The desire in every human being to obtain answers that suit us or seem good to us goes back to the very beginning. Just as Adam and Eve did, we, too, crave to extrapolate the expertise of someone else so that we, too, can become experts.

"You will not certainly die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:4-5

But again, the question I asked in the last post, “What if the statistics change?” reappears. Only this time the question, as a result of changing facts, now becomes "What happens when the experts’ thinking changes?"

Or even more likely, what if a more appealing, sexy, wholesome, easier-to-swallow expert comes along? Now whom will we follow?

“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Romans 1:21

Now, doesn’t this sound like Adam and Eve? I mean, you can call them a “metaphor,” but then, what do you call people alive today who do the very same thing? Are people today also just “metaphors?”

The point of the Romans verse is that, outside of God, we will fall for anything, just like Adam and Eve did. Believe me when I say that the book of Genesis is quite up to date and current.

God is the only unchanging “expert.”

“...God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:17-20

God knew this. That's why He sent Christ.

“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19

We don’t normally consider worldly seeking of knowledge as evil. But it is evil in that it keeps us from the Light of Christ.

See, as long as man goes to the serpent, the “experts,” man is kept in ignorance, and oftentimes, keeps or leads others into ignorance as well.

Seeking after human “wisdom” and worldliness hardens hearts, blocking the spiritual maturity and wisdom in Christ.

And we have ample proof of that everywhere, even in one recent NBC affiliate headline that seems to have thrown in the towel and finally and simply declared,

“Major Depression on the Rise Among Everyone, New Data Shows.”

Time and time again, I offer free counseling in Christ to organizations and individuals who only want to throw more government money at problems, hitting the repeat button on their “solution” to every issue under the sun. 

They flat out reject all Christian offers, while saying in press conferences and in interviews to the media,

“We’ll do anything to solve this issue.”

Anything but Christ.

Adam and Eve listened to and were swayed by the convincing dialogue of Satan, who appeared to them to be quite the expert.

People today are no different: willing to submit unquestioningly to human authority and human authority’s money, in an endless, futile cycle of insane false hope. And it will never bear fruit because it is outside of the just and righteous way God organized the world:

And God said, 

"Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" Genesis 3:11

"Then the LORD God said to the woman, 'What is this you have done?'
The woman said, 'The serpent deceived me, and I ate.'" Genesis 3:13

"Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." 1 Corinthians 1:20-25

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” Romans 1:18-23

Tomorrow I will look at how human influence infiltrates Christian community.

copyright Barb Harwood

Friday, May 11, 2018

Statistical Thinking is Often Reductionist

Dictonary.com defines reductionism as:

“the theory that every complex phenomenon, especially in biology or psychology, can be explained by analyzing the simplest, most basic physical mechanisms that are in operation during the phenomenon”


“the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it.”

I’ve recently begun to wonder if the secular, natural and scientific—purported to be the holy grail of any advanced, contemporary, modern-day thinker, and positively not reductionist—is, for all intents and purposes, actually quite reductionist!

Consider, for a moment.

If statistics show that some Christians no longer believe in a literal Adam and Eve, are we to deduce that Adam and Eve, therefore, have been “proven” to have never actually existed?  Isn’t the logic reductionist?

Or, if statistics prove that Coca-Cola is the best-selling soda, does that automatically make Coca-Cola the best soda? It would be reductionist to think so.

And, if the National Centers for Health Statistics states that 31.9% of U.S. women are now having cesarean sections, does it automatically follow that cesarean sections are a normal and convenient alternative in how to give birth?

In other words, if something like c-sections are statistically proven to be widely accepted and practiced, does that alone make it automatically worthy of positive buy-in and participation, simply because a survey proved that the majority are in favor of it, or it is in fact already happening?

These stats in “expert” clothing have produced nothing but reductionist conclusions.

I’ve heard people who loathe absolutes and reductionist thought say, in the same breath, that they support something solely on statistical evidence.

But statistics are notorious for reducing complicated issues down to tidy little nuggets of absolute truth.

And people gobble them up, digesting them into their worldview and behavior.

But what happens when the statistics change?

One day coffee is a “no-no.” A year later it’s the greatest thing going.

Dr. Spock’s parenting methods are adopted readily by all in the 1950’s. Years later, his advice to position sleeping babies on their stomachs is challenged:

“The stomach-sleeping philosophy was a part of Dr. Spock’s advice for some years after studies began to render it suspect. While later editions of Baby and Child Care no longer advocate stomach-sleeping, the bad advice took its toll on Spock’s reputation as an infallible expert.” Legacy.com

(note the reference to him as being "infallible").

And then there’s the written-in-stone element to “facts.”

While people continue to quote that “fifty percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce,” current research disagrees, finding that the divorce rate is actually declining. One article states that the fifty percent number was a 1980 census prediction of divorce.

“But, as is the case with most “facts” that get repeated (and repeated and repeated), that’s (the 50% divorce rate) not quite true.” From an article by Sarah Jacoby on Refinery29.

Statistics, research and studies are not bad. Life itself is a research lab where we are constantly trying new things, listening to other people to gain perspective and counsel, and traveling to expand our mind and expose ourselves to other cultures.

It’s when the analyses and investigations take precedence over something that is constant and ultimately true that we derail ourselves into every wind of teaching, always learning but never arriving at the truth (Ephesians 4; 2 Timothy 3).

What’s really alarming is when a study, such as one that made Google headlines recently, lands on the scene as if it were the most cutting-edge information on the planet, never before revealed! Here’s what this particular piece of  “breaking news” revealed:

“Want to prolong your life expectancy by more than a decade? A new study suggests that you can do just that by following these five healthy habits: never smoke, maintain a healthy body-mass index, keep up moderate to vigorous exercise, don’t drink too much alcohol, and eat a healthy diet.” CNN, May 5, 2018

This isn’t news. My great, great, Grandma could have told me that. 

But as I thought about it, I wondered how many people, especially those growing up in the digital age of Facebook and sound bites, now wait for a study like this to direct their path. How many people are so reliant on “statistical evidence” that they can’t form an opinion or do anything without it!

Many people mock the followers of Jesus because we rely on Him for our daily guidance and worldview.

But those same people do not see their own religious fervor towards the “experts” who proclaim odes and axioms on everything from diet to holistic living:

—advocating almond milk, therefore almond milk must be a better choice;

—advocating essential oils, so therefore essential oils must be curative (the latest headlines on the effect of certain essential oils on babies would refute that);

—or the advocating of the new “open” office—designed to increase a sense of community touted by social scientists, which is now backfiring to the point that escape rooms need to be incorporated so employees can steal away to a quiet place to think or talk on the phone!

Ditto for the letter that, in 1980, cleared the way for prescription opioids to become the crisis that it is today. In that letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, a Boston University Medical Center doctor and researcher wrote:

“We conclude that despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction.” The Atlantic, June 2, 2017. 
(The entire article is worth reading): https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/06/nejm-letter-opioids/528840/

If we return to the opening of this blog post, and look at the second definition of reductionism, what happened back in 1980 with the blatant rubberstamping of painkillers, certainly meets the requirements. It will go down in history as one of the most notorious cases of scientific reductionism. 

The point is, all the research in the world cannot replace good old common sense and Godly discernment, a no doubt reductionist line of thinking that would drive the lovers of stats crazy!

But it was that very common sense that, for me, when I noticed the unhealthy changes in my body after naively jumping on the almond milk bandwagon, and finally read the ingredient label (very little almond to other ingredient ratio) that I jumped off.  

I had initially become an almond milk groupie simply because studies were “proving,” and everyone was obeying, the beverage guru’s decree—that almond milk is much better for you than cow’s milk. I speak for myself when I say that that just wasn’t true. Feeling healthy and normal again when I stopped drinking it was all the evidence I needed.

The problem with a statistics-based mindset is that, as with the almond milk, it makes us gullible.

With no other foundation from which to consider, discern and test what is good and true and right, what sounds good to us translates in our mind to what is good.

What someone else has announced as “ideal” is automatically adopted as our new best friend. And that is reductionism at its worst. 

I’ll explore more in the next post.

Copyright Barb Harwood