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ruleBackground

Gospels

John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

October 22, 2001

Sincerely Wrong

The men knew they were going on a suicide mission. But they were convinced it was necessary and they were willing to lay down their lives for what they believed. Being devout and sincere, they prayed often for strength as they made their preparations. They wrote out some of the prayers for reference:

I pray to you God to forgive me from all my sins, to allow me to glorify you in every possible way.
Oh God who answers prayers and answers those who ask you, I am asking you for your help.
God, I trust in you. God, I lay myself in your hands.

And then, the men hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and flew it into the Pentagon.

*****

When I read the excerpts of the terrorists' writings, one thing hit me hard.

Their prayers reminded me of my own.

I have asked God to allow me to glorify him. I have prayed for forgiveness. I have told God that I trust him and that I've placed myself in his hands. And I believe that God answers prayers.

There's one big difference. When I pray in this manner, I am not on the brink of committing mass murder, believing that is what God wants me to do to glorify him.

In the weeks since the terrible September 11 events, I've thought a lot about these prayers and the people who wrote them. I believe there's a high probability that they were absolutely sincere. And I also believe they were sincerely wrong.

*****

I've been thinking about the consequences of being sincerely wrong for a couple of years now, ever since I led a group for people seeking the truth about Christ. One of the things we discussed was whether it mattered at all in which religion you believed, as long as you were sincere in your beliefs and devoutly followed them.

After all, there are many paths to God, and no matter which religion you choose, they all lead to the same place. That logic, or some version close to it, is what a lot of us, even Christians, believe these days.

Our group was using Willow Creek's Tough Questions series. The authors, Gary Poole and Judson Poling, pointed out that sincerity is not enough. Who you place your trust in matters most of all.

Poole and Poling noted that if you believe in something that is not true, it does not matter how sincere you are. You are wrong, your trust is misplaced, and what you believe does you no good.

As they put it, "Sincerity makes error into a tragedy, not a truth."

*****

Our world is scarred with tragedies caused by people who were sincerely wrong, people with fervent beliefs that were based not on truth, but on error.

Jonestown. The Branch Davidians. The folks who thought the comet was coming to take them away. Those are just some of the recent ones. The September 11 terrorists and their colleagues make the same list.

Why does this keep happening? The answer lies in lies.

Deception is one of the prime ways Satan operates in this world.* It was his very first maneuver back in the Garden. He deceived Eve into thinking things that were not true about God — that God was somehow holding out on her and Adam, that God was not completely good, that God did not have their best interests at heart. Eve fell for it, quite literally.

Jesus labeled Satan the "father of lies" in John 8:44, and in his discourse on the end of the age in Matthew 24, he repeatedly warned his disciples not to be deceived. Paul had terrible trouble with those who came into the Corinthian chuch, deceived the people, and hindered its effectiveness (see 2 Corinthians 11).

The same is true today. Deception helps keep lost humans enslaved to Satan in this world, and within Christ's church it operates to weaken and disrupt the lives of Christians and churches.

*****

A seminary professor of mine once asked our class, "Do you know when you're being deceived?"

The answer, of course, is "No." It wouldn't be deception otherwise. No one falls for what they know is a lie.

Deception is effective. It can take a lot of guises. Sometimes it sounds right to us, so we are likely to agree it must be true. Sometimes it takes a truth and twists it ever so slightly, so that we don't recognize the error.

We're being deceived in one way or another all the time. We just don't know it.

*****

How do we keep from being deceived? As Christians, we have God's own protection and defenses. We need to use them. Paul said it best in Ephesians 6:10-18:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

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.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

We need to be steeped in the Word, confident in our faith, disciplined in prayer. We need to hold fast to God's truth and allow God's peace to flow through us so that we will not be shaken.

*****

These are days filled with acts perpetrated by sincere people who have fallen for Satan's lies. With God's armor firmly in place, we can stand against what Satan is doing in the world, and when we have done everything, still be found standing.

Even more, we can realize with Paul that the real battle is against Satan and the spiritual forces of evil in the world, and pray that God's truth will cut through the deception under which so many of the people committing atrocities today are enslaved.

.

*One of my professors taught that Satan's main weapons start with the letter "D": Deception, Destruction, Desire, Domination, Divisiveness and Death.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

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.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

— Ephesians 6:10-18