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."
Sept. 24, 2017
Who are you following?
Matthew has long been my favorite gospel. Perhaps this is because it spends a lot of time laying out Jesus’ teachings to and expectations of his followers. It’s got the Beatitudes in chapter 5, the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5–7, the stern advice as to what disciples can expect in chapter 10, and the warnings about and to the religious leaders of the day, culminating in chapter 23.
Matthew is unvarnished, deadly serious, stern and realistic. For my money, if you want to know what Jesus believes are the most important aspects of following him, and what he asks of you, you should spend extended time reading through and pondering Matthew. It would be a profitable exercise to make three lists as you go along: what Jesus wants from us, what we can expect in return and should watch out for, and the kinds of “religious” behavior of which Jesus disapproves.
Given the condition of the world today, and especially what’s been going on in the United States in the last two years, let us look at the familiar passage of Matthew 7:15–27.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, evildoers.’
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
When I read these words of Christ—and frankly, the vast bulk of what Jesus had to say to us across all the gospels—I am left scratching my head at the priorities of—indeed the state of—much of Christianity in the United States today. Let me be frank. I do not understand what white, evangelical Americans are worshipping these days, but it doesn’t look like it is Jesus.
All indications in the last few years are that, having taken a number of wrong turns over the last 40 years in terms of adhering to the principles Jesus taught, American evangelicals today are very close to hitting bottom. They truly seem to have lost their way. Apart from the transactional act of declaring they trust Jesus to keep them out of hell, they have very little understanding of the One in whom they believe they are placing their faith.
They certainly do not seem inclined to take Jesus’ teachings seriously, much less to follow them.
The most visible and vocal evangelical leaders appear to have thrown out the kinds of priorities and way of life that Jesus—along with the prophets before him and the writers of the New Testament—advocated. And it appears they have done this in a bargain where they lend their support and gain power from forces that would make life much worse for people, lower their quality of life, hasten death, and stack the deck even further in favor of the rich and powerful.
In doing so, these leaders have their followers a steady diet of deliberately crafted misinformation, propaganda and outright lies. The primary purpose of these manipulations is to keep rank-and-file evangelical Christians ignorant, turn them inward and away from their neighbors, and instill in them a sense of perpetual victimhood. These leaders want their followers to believe that they, their religion, and others in their racial, geographic, and social station are under attack. They want their followers to feel this way so they will support an agenda that does not have their best interests at heart, and believe they are all together fighting for causes that are, at best, straw men. In reality, this agenda really benefits the masters of these evangelical leaders. And these masters are not Jesus.
I used the word “deliberately.” I want to emphasize that. This is a deliberate, orchestrated plan of deception to use evangelical Christians and the things with which they have been taught to identify, against them, the country, and the cause of Christ.
Let me be even more clear: a number of evangelical leaders essentially have made a deal with the devil, trading Jesus’ priorities for an illusion of power and fleeting wealth. There are rich, formidable, corporate interests, political operators and individuals out there, smooth agenda manipulators who looking for dominance and wealth for themselves over the general wellbeing of many. They are crafty, deceitful, well connected and well-resourced. Evangelical leaders may believe themselves key influencers in this crowd, but they are not. While they imagine themselves having a seat at the table, in reality they are more like dogs seeking crumbs, waiting and hoping the culture war promises they've been teased with for decades will finally roll out.
Evangelical leaders are only part of this coalition because of the voting block it’s perceived they can deliver. For their part, evangelical leaders deceive those who trust them by abandoning the important precepts of the Bible and Christ’s commands to love others, to welcome the stranger, to treat others as you would want to be treated, to lavishly forgive, to attend to your own spiritual state before condemning others, and so on. By leading their people far astray from Jesus’ commands over the last few decades, evangelical leaders have come to embody the practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees Jesus condemned, and to embody the sorts of people Jesus warns us in Matthew 7 will be turned away at judgment.
James 3 warns that such persons will be judged especially harshly for their actions because they have placed themselves in positions of spiritual authority. Evangelical leaders have, over a long period of time, adamantly, loudly and repeatedly perverted the gospel and led their followers to do so as well. Evangelical leaders are being manipulated themselves, and in turn, they are leading astray those in their flocks. A terrible reckoning awaits unless they turn around and repent.
Sadly, they and those who follow them have brought shame to the gospel. By claiming to speak for the religion, in making themselves highly visible and the “face” of American Christianity, they have set back the cause of the One whom they claim to serve. I doubt at this point poor Billy Graham is aware of very much, but if he is, he must be horrified at what his son Franklin has become and has wrought in the last 20 years. It is the opposite of evangelism.
Many people in the United States have given up on, have no interest in, or are no longer willing to consider Christianity for themselves and their families. They do not believe it is compassionate. They think of Christians as people who are filled with hate towards others, especially towards those who are not seen as “white,” the poor, the immigrant, of other religions, the LGBT+ community, the refugee, and in general, those from other countries. Christians are seen as openly hostile to these groups. Not neutral—hostile. Christians are seen as harmful, money-grubbing charlatans, people who exploit and prey on the ill-informed, the vulnerable, the weak, the elderly. They are seen as predators who especially harm children.
In our current unstable national political situation, they are regularly identified as the staunchest, most unquestioning and unshakable supporters of the worst behavior coming out of the Oval Office. They are the first people who come to mind when the trope is advanced that the 45th president could do anything and not lose the support of his supporters.
In a word, American Christians have come to be viewed as standing for the exact opposite of Jesus’ life and teaching. They are seen by non-Christians as a cancer, not a balm, on society. The world is crying out for the very things Christians should be bearing witness to—the true behavior and principles of Christ and those who follow him. But Christians appear to have morphed into a group that opposes these teachings and is worshipping something else.
This brings us to the responsibility of individual believers. I have long stressed that each Christian needs to be a Berean. We all have the obligation to Christ to continually search the scriptures and commune with God in prayer, seeking the truth about what he asks of us. Each of us needs to strive to live a holy and blameless life, to be a healthy and contributing member of our church community, and to know what God would have us do and stand for on a local, national and international stage.
If you are living this way and you notice your local pastor or church leaders are following a different agenda from what you know Christ teaches, you need to respectfully disagree, and if needed, leave your church.
You have a personal responsibility to follow only sound teaching that aligns with Jesus’ commands. It is up to you to be wary, to check what is being advocated, and to not blindly follow those who are tickling your ears or threatening you to get you to comply because they appear to hold authority.
Open your eyes. Listen to the quiet, yet persistent voice of the Holy Spirit. Align your actions with Christ’s commands. Do not be swayed by propaganda. Test everything.
Shake off the bonds that bind you to those who exploit you. They care nothing for you and they will do nothing for you. They will only make empty promises that play into the ways your faith has been manipulated and you have been deceived.
To whom do you owe your allegiance? Not to your leaders, your Christian system, your political positions, or your elected representatives of any kind. As a citizen of the Kingdom, you owe your allegiance to Christ alone.
As the old slogan goes, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Choose the path of Christ, not the wide road that is nothing more than a trap laid by the ungodly and unscrupulous and is bringing shame to the hope for the world.
Repent. Take up your cross and follow Christ.
"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven."