Friday, August 18, 2017

Characteristics of Cults


When people hear the word cult, the stereotype notions include: a group that worships Satan, weird rituals involving blood, people cutting themselves, people chanting iffy slogans, etc. In the broadest sense of the word a cult is simply a group of religious people who adhere to a set of rules and rituals. In a Christian context, the definition of a cult is, specifically, “a religious group that denies one or more of the fundamentals of biblical truth. A cult is a group that teaches doctrines that, if believed, will cause a person to remain unsaved. A cult claims to be part of a religion, yet it denies essential truth(s) of that religion. Therefore, a Christian cult will deny one or more of the fundamental truths of Christianity while still claiming to be Christian”
This fine-tuned definition is very important because it means that people who think they are Christians may actually be part of a cult. So what are the characteristics of a cult?
Extra biblical revelation
Cults do not hold to the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. They often have some leader who started the movement after having an encounter with God, seeing a vision, having a dream and/or receiving a prophecy from God. Cults will often have another book in place of the Bible or in addition to the Bible that they consider as equally authoritative and inspired.   
Selective teaching of the Bible
Another trait of a cult is that they do not teach the whole counsel of God. They have a tendency to focus on one portion or genre of the Bible, and it is often the part that teaches what they emphasize. So there are groups whose primary teaching is based on the first five books of the Bible (the law), then there are groups whose main preoccupation is the prophetic books, etc. What these groups forget is that “all scripture is… profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  
Salvation based on works
Cults also teach a works salvation. For them salvation can come by human efforts such as adherence to the law, baptism, good deeds and sacraments. They cannot stomach the words of Jesus Christ in John 14:6 where he declares “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one can come to the Father except through me;” nor the charge in Romans 3:21 that the righteousness of God is revealed apart from the Law, through faith in Christ Jesus.
Salvation is not assured
As a result of a salvation based on works, members of cults cannot find assurance of their salvation. If salvation is based on the good you will do, who knows whether God will approve of your life or not? People in cults have no hope and are enslaved to meet the demands of their system.
Human mediators
Another characteristic of a cult is that they often have human mediators. They teach that no one can have access to God apart from some super spiritual human being. So either their prayers are offered in the name of another human or they need a fellow man to stand in for them before God. This they do despite the Scriptures telling us that we have one mediator before God and that is Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5), and through Him we have access to the throne of God. (Hebrews 4:16)
Preoccupation with new doctrine or revelation  
This comes as a result of their belief in extra biblical revelations. These groups feel the need to invent new doctrines each passing day. They are not content with the story of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These new teachings come in different forms. For example, there are some who are so preoccupied with the details of the last days that they have on a number of times identified a person to be an Anti-christ only for that individual to die, and they without shame move on to another person! There are others who come up with all kinds of teaching on prosperity or visions and dreams.
False doctrine of Christ
The mark of every cult is their unbiblical view of Christ. Some will deny His deity, others will deny His humanity, yet others will deny His finished work on the cross. As a result, cults will often reduce Christ to a prophet, an angel, a good man or to a name that you use to end a prayer or unlock your breakthrough. They refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is the bedrock of Christianity and everything else is held together by Him, and it is through him that growth takes place (Colossians 2:8-19). If Christ is not your Lord (the master of your life to whom you submit) and Savior (the one trusted for the forgiveness of sins) then you are not a Christian, and any church that does not teach this truth is a cult.
Conclusion

These characteristics are obviously not exhaustive and may not necessarily apply to all cults; they are however very representative of what a cult in the Christian context looks like. You may wonder, why is this important? It is important because our country is full of cults that are misleading many and condemning them to hell with their Christ-less gospel. Those of us in the light need to make sure that we proclaim the gospel intentionally and with clarity. Secondly, we need to be ready to give a defense of the faith against the many false teachers misleading the masses.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Danger of secret sins in ministry

GUARDING AGAINST SECRET SINS IN MINISTRY
People often assume that Christians in public ministry are immune to sin and temptation. Christians in the public eye often face the danger of assumed holiness. By that I mean, we often assume because someone has taught it they have lived it. While there are scandalous sins we constantly look out for in the lives of those who are in ministry such as sexual sins, financial misappropriation, and/or failure in marriage, there are some secret sins that often go unnoticed or unchecked. These often render a man ineffective and unusable in the Lord’s work. What makes these dangerous is their subtlety coupled with the lack of sincere accountability in the ministry.
MINISTERIAL PRIDE
There is the obvious and disturbing pride that you can smell and sense from a distance in a person, then there is the deadly and subtle one that rarely comes out publically. It is the pride that has to do with one’s motives for doing what they are doing. Consequently someone can do a perfectly good thing and yet their pride is fueling them. In ministry, this pride is seen in two forms:
Glorying in results
In our desire to make a name for ourselves, we are so driven that we want results, and we want them at all costs. And when the results do not come, we are discouraged and want to quit. As a result of this desire for results you find people preoccupied with numbers. How many people came, how many conversions did we get, how much was given, etc. Now obviously statistics are necessary, but numbers do not equal success. One test for not glorying in results is whether you are satisfied and joyfully serve regardless of the numbers. This is opposed to viewing a high attendance Sunday as great and a low attendance Sunday as bad. The problem with glorying in results is that you focus on the quantity rather than the quality.
Self-importance
The second sign of ministerial pride is having a sense of self-importance. You soon begin to feel you are indispensable to the work and trust your ability and experience. You want people to praise you and acknowledge your work and efforts. It’s not uncommon to hear ministers say things like “they do not recognize the work I am doing.” Imagine Jeremiah looking for recognition, such kind of whining can be an indicator you have a higher view of self than is biblical. The other way this level of self-importance is noticed is in our response to criticism or opposing views. Those of us in ministry should remember we are not all knowing, only God is! Be careful of statements like: I agree with you but… or I see your point however… Having said that, obviously there are times you have to insist and hold on to your point because you are right, but if you are always right, then there is a big problem. Ministers should not behave like politicians who have issues with those who oppose or criticize them. Let us have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:1-10).
MINISTERIAL JEALOUSY
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.” James 3:14
Pride breeds envy and jealousy. Jealousy is seen in feeling hurt or bothered when others succeed. It is seeing God bless others and questioning His wisdom in giving to others and not to you. Jealousy makes us forget that every good and perfect thing comes from the Father, who gives to all freely (James 1:17). In our pursuit for self-importance we turn ministry into a competition; brothers in Christ sometimes behave like supermarkets competing for consumers and doing everything in their power to tarnish the other’s name. Jealousy and its sister envy hinder fellowship and partnership. Guard against this deadly sin; it ruins your soul. Instead may our hearts thrill with joy and gratitude at the blessings and successes of others. When it comes to brothers and their ministry resolve to be their biggest supporter and not their biggest critic as a result of envy!
MINISTERIAL LAZINESS
“Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him.” Proverbs 10:26
There is a danger of laziness in the ministry because there is no supervisor checking your logins and logouts. Furthermore, a lot of ministerial work is done in the closet, so no one can really see whether you are being faithful or not. It is no wonder that ministers are tempted to do everything but their primary tasks of prayer and the study of the Word. We should remember that laziness does not always mean idleness; it is also means aimlessness. You might be busy and yet you are busy doing nothing! Laziness invariably leads to half prepared messages and poor planning, and before long the minister and the people suffer from spiritual malnutrition.
MINISTERIAL INSENSITIVITY
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” 1Thessalonians 2:7
Gentleness is defined as “sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.” It is this one of the clearest evidences of salvation in a believer. The temptation to be harsh and mean is ever present for ministers. It is easy to get fed up, irritated with people and treat them with contempt. While leaders must be thick skinned, they should have a gentle and tender heart.
The exhortation from Proverbs is one every minister must heed to daily.
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Friday, August 4, 2017

Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual warfare is a subject that invokes mixed feelings among people. On the one hand you have those who have made it the bedrock of their entire theological system and basically operate with the belief that people sin because of the devil, while on the other hand you have those whose system of theology seems to ignore the subject of spiritual warfare all together. Both systems of thought are faulty at best and can be detrimental to one’s spiritual progress. Thankfully the Bible has quite a lot to say about Christians overcoming the schemes of the evil one. It is therefore important that believers are aware and equipped for the spiritual battle that they are engaged in. Thomas Brooks’ balanced advice to believers is on point when he says, “Christ, the scripture, your own hearts, and Satan’s devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, or happy hereafter. It is my work as a Christian, but much more as I am a watchman, to do my best to discover the fullness of Christ, the emptiness of the creature, and the snares of the great deceiver.” [1]
What the Bible says
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
The imagery in this text is rather vivid. All you have to do is think of how the king of the jungle skillfully picks, stalks and hunts down his prey, and after he has pounced, he tears it apart ruthlessly; that dear friends is our everyday danger. No wonder Peter urges his readers to be sober and vigilant. After all Peter should know. Christ warned him of the impending attack on his life from Satan, and what exactly was the devil’s plan? To sift Peter like wheat. Hours later the over confident Peter was denying Jesus three times.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:10-12
This passage reminds us that (1) spiritual warfare is a reality, (2) our enemies are real, powerful and conniving (3) believers can only overcome if they are walking in the Lord and by His grace. In other words, Christians who are not walking worthy of their calling cannot stand against the schemes of the devil. Spiritual warfare is in essence a battle for righteous and godly living. Invariably those who are striving to live godly lives become targets of concerted spiritual attack.
Possible signs of spiritual attack
Since the devil’s schemes are intended to hinder you from living a godly and righteous life, you can tell you are under attack when your relationships with God and people are not as they should be. It is the devil’s every intention to ensure that you do not walk right with God and that you have ungodly and unbiblical relationships with other people (spouse, friends, family, boy/girlfriends, workmates, etc.) Let me therefore offer four SUBJECTIVE signs of spiritual attack.

1.      Increased and unusual marital and family conflict
The home is the best indicator of people’s spirituality. It is also the most vulnerable to the schemes of the devil, primarily because families make up churches and the state of the family is indicative of the church.  
2.      Increased or sudden discouragement, despair and discontent
Elijah is a perfect case in point. After he spectacularly defeated the wicked prophets of Baal and had experienced the Lord’s hand in a special way, he suddenly became discouraged, discontent and despaired. Nothing had really changed, the enemies were the same, the threats and dangers were the same, but suddenly the courageous Elijah was despairing and ready to throw in the towel. One could argue he was under a spiritual attack.
3.      Struggles to attend to the means of grace
By that I mean struggling to read/study the Bible, to pray privately and publically, to worship, to fellowship with other believers, etc. These are the means by which we grow in godliness and Christlikeness. The devil will ensure that he distracts and discourages us from doing them.
4.      Increase in sudden and/or recurring temptations
Memories of past sins or failures suddenly pop up. Or sometimes there is an unusual increase in the rate of temptations. Remember Job? He was hit suddenly from all angles. 
What is one to do?
But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:6-8
1.      Acknowledge your weakness and struggles
You cannot submit to God and seek His grace without humbly acknowledging your weakness and struggles. Blessed are the poor in spirit (Matt 5:3).
2.      Confess and repent of sin
He who conceals his sins will not prosper but he who confesses them will receive compassion. (Proverbs 28:13)
3.      Attend to the means of grace even when you do not feel like it
You will not always feel like praying, reading the Word, worshipping or fellowshipping. Do it anyway. Soldier through it, and you will know God’s grace.
4.      Seek accountability
That is what meaningful friendship is all about after all. We need someone to ask us the tough questions and watch out for us.
5.      Preach the gospel to yourself and others
Yes believers need the gospel. Mediate on what God has done to save a sinner like you and the implications of the gospel then preach it to others. There is something about it that feeds life to your soul.



[1] Brooks Thomas. (1810:10). Precious Remedies against Satan’s remedies. Jonathan Pounders.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

STOP GOSSIP!


Erick Raymond’s observation is spot on when he says “it seems that sometimes we deal with sin in the church with the same approach that the government deals with terrorism: It is impossible to remove it completely so we just kind of have to accept it and do our best to keep people safe.”[1] Gossip is spreading information about someone in a malicious way (negative way) to people who do not need to know with the obvious goal of trying to tarnish their character or personality. And wherever there is gossip you are almost guaranteed to find slander, malice, strife, lies and dissension.

While gossip is obvious in most cases it can also be dangerously subtle as it comes out in many “spiritual” ways. As a result we no longer call it gossip but confiding, consulting, sharing, showing concern, venting, seeking counsel, I want to hear you opinion and in some cases sharing a prayer request ETC. Now while there may be a place and time for each of those things, in many cases what we are basically doing is sharing information about others in a negative way to people who do not need to know. And because of this subtlety it has become harder to identify and deal with gossip in churches. So how do you stop the cancer of gossip? Dan Phillips offers five questions[2] to ask people who are sharing things with you as a way of curbing gossip.  

  1. Ask, "Why are you telling me this?" Often, that in itself is such a focusing question that it can bring an end to the whole unpleasant chapter. It has the added benefit that it can help a person whose intentions are as good as his/her judgment is bad.
  2. Ask, "What's the difference between what you're telling me and gossip?" See above; same effect, same potential benefits.
  3. Ask, "How is your telling me that thought, that complaint, that information going to help you and me love God and our brothers better, and knit us closer together as a church in Christ's love?" Isn't that the goal we should share, every one of us? Won't it take the working of each individual member (Eph. 4:16)? Isn't the watch-out for harmful influences an every-member ministry (Heb. 3:12-1310:2413:12-15)?
  4. Ask, "Now that you've told me about that, what are you going to do about it?" While the previous two are subjective, this is not. If neither of the previous two questions succeeded in identifying gossip/whispering/sowing-dissension for what they are, the answer to this question will do so. Tip: if the answer is "Pray," a good response might be "Then why didn't you do that and leave it there in the first place?"
  5. Say, "Now that you've told me about that, you've morally obligated me to make sure you talk to ____ about it. How long do you think you need, so I can know when this becomes a sin that I will need to confront in you?" The least that this will accomplish is that you'll fall of the list of gossips'/whisperers' favorite venting-spots. The most is that you may head off a church split, division, harmed souls, sidelined Gospel ministry, and waylaid discipleship. Isn't that worth it?
I believe the reason gossip thrives in churches is because it finds fertile hearts and minds that are ready to listen and spread it further. For gossip to take place there are three parties involved. The victim of the gossip, the gossiper and the person receiving the gossip. If everyone in the church refused to accept or entertain gossip, the sin will be totally cut off. Believers need to heed the warning of the wise man in proverbs.
There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him: . . .
one who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:1619



[1] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/erikraymond/2015/05/04/how-to-shut-down-gossip/
[2] http://teampyro.blogspot.com/2013/02/how-to-shut-down-gossip-and-its-nasty.html

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dear Christian learn from John the baptist

John the Baptist is a fascinating character. He plays an essential role in the narrative of the gospels and yet so peripheral we often do not pay attention to him. In fact every time John speaks, he is pointing to Christ and deflecting focus from himself. Interestingly Jesus called him the greatest man that ever lived and yet at the same time the least in the kingdom (Matthew 11:11). John the Baptist was always humble in his ministerial perspective. Notice the phrases used to refer to or describe the man: “he was not the light”, “I am not the Christ”, “I am not Elijah”, “I am not the prophet”, “a voice in the wilderness”, “I must decrease”, “he ended up in prison and beheaded”. It is not a glamorous ministry and neither is it one you want to crave for, yet John by Christ’s estimations was the greatest. What lessons can we learn from the life and ministry of John the Baptist?
Ministerial platforms come from God
And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. John 3:26-27
This perspective of life and ministry will save many of us from envy of other people’s ministry and success and also from jostling for attention and praise from people. Ministry platforms and opportunities come from God and they are to be used for Him not self-promotion or exaltation. This perspective will also ensure that you are content with your ministry whether it is celebrated or little-known. This is so because you can always be assured that you are where God wants you to be at any given time.
Ministerial platforms are meant to point to Christ
John the Baptist understood that he was just meant to prepare the way and stay out of the way. He was merely a pointer and not the point. The point was Jesus Christ! Someone rightly said “if all people see is you and your efforts to build a platform then you are stealing the show.” The clamor for praise and people’s attention among us ministers is an ever present temptation. With the rise of social media the temptation is ever real. Where does one draw the line? On one hand it is a wonderful tool for ministry, while on the other hand the dangers for self-praise are ever present. At the end of the day every man knows the motives behind their action. Ada Whiddington’s prayer should be every minister’s.
Not I, but Christ be honored, loved, exalted,
Not I, but Christ be seen, be known and heard;
Not I, but Christ in every look and action,
Not I, but Christ in every thought and word.
Oh, to be saved from myself, dear Lord,
Oh, to be lost in Thee,
Oh, that it may be no more I,
But Christ that lives in me.
Ministerial platforms can only be enjoyed when used to the glory of God
Whenever I am involved in a wedding, i make it a point to have a word with the bridal party. I remind them it’s not their wedding and it is not about them! They are simply the supporting cast. I even go as far as saying if they decided not to show up on the actual day, the wedding would still go ahead. The reason i give this talk is because I have seen some bridesmaid act as though it’s their show, they whine and grumble and make silly demands and they want things done their way. Such bridesmaid or grooms men forget it is not about them and their behavior is totally unacceptable. I have also noticed that such people never get to enjoy the wedding.
That is often the case in ministry. People who miss the point and fail to understand their role do not have the joy of serving God. Their joy is often tied to results. They are happy when the numbers are high and they miserable when the numbers are low. They rejoice when they are invited to speak at conferences and camps and are downcast when it is another who is invited. They go home smiling when someone praises their preaching and are bothered when no one does. All these and many other examples simply reveal wrong focus in ministry. It is not about us, we are mere instruments in the hands of our maker and our joy comes from the fact we have made our God known whether people listen or they do not or whether they praise us or they do not. Listen to John’s perspective
You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:28-30