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Disaster After Disaster|
Q. Crisis after crisis and disaster after disaster. Do you think the world is being judged today? We seem to be enduring one disaster after another and I've heard several pastors warn about this. So how should we respond if we are in judgment now? Can we do anything about it? Can we change God's mind?
Time up - Game Over
Great question! In fact, we've heard several pastors, too, from within different segments of the church suggest that we all look at the example of Ezekiel 14 because, yes, we are in a time of judgment now - even prior to the Great Tribulation period described in Revelation chapters six through eighteen.
In fact, Ezekiel's chapter 14 description of "idols of the heart" provide all of us with a valuable lesson for modern day American churches and our false prophets of wealth, fame, beauty, and what amounts to "fortune-telling" in the church, no less.
Affiliations not Adequate
One point Ezekiel makes is that when "push comes to shove," each of us stands alone before a Holy God in judgment. We are not saved and sanctified because we affiliate ourselves with a particular church, group of people, any one nation or any one man.
We will not be saved from God's judgment because we live in a Christian community, attend bible studies, and listen to good speakers. If judgment comes to the church first, then believers are not spared judgment when God determines that we the church have violated His precepts and deserve punishment.
We Stand Alone Before God
It is clear we will each account on our own for our own lives. We will account for "every careless word" we speak (Matt. 12:36). We will account for our own individual thoughts and motives in all we do (Ro. 2:15-16, 1 Cor. 4:5). And we will be recompensed for everything we do in deed whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10).
Justice will be done at the judgment seat of Christ even though we accepted Christ's death on the cross for our sins. This is a shock to those who have embraced "cheap grace" all their lives.
Justified by Faith
Yet, it is true that we are "justified by faith alone" through Christ's death on the cross for our sins.
The apostle Paul explains "For by grace you have been saved through faith - and that not of yourselves - it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8).
In other words, getting into Heaven is a gift from God. He saves us with a gift of faith. We can't even boast that "we" made a "choice" to believe. Even our faith is given to us.
Heirs of the Kingdom
After God has saved us, however, we are heirs who will inherit or possibly not inherit the best God has for us in the kingdom for a period of time. This shocking view is presented biblically by Dr. Paul Benware, Dr. Joseph Dillow, and Dr. Chuck Missler among others (see references).
They biblically show that we will receive rewards or suffer loss based on what we have said, thought, and done for Christ. It's human nature that we tend to love the idea of rewards but we shun the possibility of loss. Yet, both must be accepted if we believe what the Bible says. We are justified by faith. But, our position and rewards in the kingdom are dependent upon how we behave now.
Idols of the Heart
The prophet Ezekiel uses a catchy term we might want to think about and heed: "Son of man, these leaders have set up 'idols in their hearts'" (Ezekiel 14:3).
Just what are these "idols of the heart" and what can we learn from this section of the book of Ezekiel?
The spiritual leaders living in exile during Ezekiel's time were terribly anxious about the future of Jerusalem and their own well being. So they turned to the prophet Ezekiel for answers.
The Lord told Ezekiel these false prophets had set up idols in their hearts leading them into terrible sins. They had prophesied to the Israelites using their own dreams and imaginations. But, they had never heard from the Lord at all. Their visions were lies!
Americans, please read carefully…
These false prophets told the Israelites that everything was fine - God was on their side - and they would win any battles they had against the Babylonians. (Does that sound famliar)?
Yet, Ezekiel begged to differ. He insisted that the Israelites must cooperate with their hated captors or they and their families would die in battle.
Can you imagine acquiescing to your enemy like that? (The false prophets couldn't). Can you imagine telling Americans to give in to terrorists? Would you give in if Iranians took over an American city and told everyone they had to follow their curfews and limits?
Have you ever even heard any pastor warn that God may no longer be on America's side?
Lose Influence, Citizenship,&Homeland
Because the false prophets said they had heard from the Lord but were telling lies, the Lord warned He would banish them from the community of Israel, blot their names from Israel's record books, and stop them from seeing their own land ever again.
These false prophets would lose their influence, citizenship, and homeland. They would be destroyed by the Lord's mighty anger which would be a storm of indignation with a great flood of anger, and with hailstones of fury (Ezek. 13:13-14, NLT).
Ezekiel also proclaimed judgment against the female false prophets of that day. We must remember that prophetesses were recognized in early Israel. Notable female prophets included Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4, and Huldah (2 King 22:14) during Old Testament days, and Anna from early church times (Luke 2:36).
But, these false female prophets in 570 B.C. Babylon were guilty of witchcraft and sorceries. They were more like the medium of 1 Samuel 28:7 - the witch of Endor who conjured up the spirit of Samuel for the ailing King Saul. They practiced wearing magic veils and magic charms on their wrists - types of good luck charms. But, in their practices they ensnared the Israelites into idolatrous behaviors.
Charismatic Joy Ride
This is a good example showing us why even current-day Christians must be especially careful around believers who have gone overboard with practices such as speaking in tongues, giving prophetic utterances, and trying to raise people from the dead or becoming involved in spectacular healing ceremonies.
The false prophets of Ezekiel 14 demonstrate why we should be cautious around church entertainers who give us charismatic joy rides through doubtful things.
New Age Cinema
In fact, sadly we need only turn on Christian television to see the prophetic utterances of those who have been arguably wrong in most of their proclamations. This kind of entertainment is a saga of false prophets at best or idolatrous New Age cinema at worst.
False Prophets Quote Scripture
We must remember that false prophets even quote Scripture. In fact, don't forget that Satan used Bible quotes when he enticed Eve to sin and confronted Jesus in the wilderness. Just because a prosperity preacher quotes the bible does not mean he quotes it in context with the meaning God gave it.
Godly Charismatic Watchmen
Then in contrast, there are those who speak God's Word and attempt to use good exegesis in explaining certain prophetic passages to us. David Wilkerson, Chuck Missler or Hal Lindsey are among those who attempt to carefully explain Scripture in a way that honors God.
Note that none of these men refer to themselves as "prophets." Rather, they encourage us to define them as "watchmen on the wall." (See Ezekiel 33:7). We need to be discriminating of those we choose to hear and heed.
Test or be Deceived
We must be cautious and test every prophet by God's Word because the Lord warns that he may even deceive a false prophet into giving a false message! (Read that again).
Please listen carefully…
In other words, if we fall into idolatrous practices we may be ultimately deceived by God Himself so that we may be judged with the rest. Consider this threat the next time you hear an oily, smooth preacher teaching that God wants everyone to be luxuriously rich, successful and popular. Don't believe it!
"And if a prophet is deceived into giving a message, it is because I, the LORD, have deceived that prophet. I will lift my fist against such prophets and cut them off from the community of Israel. False prophets and those who seek their guidance will all be punished for their sins" (Ezekiel 14:9-10, NLT).
The Israelites in Babylon were dividing their loyalties between their false prophets and one or two authentic prophets - such as Ezekiel and Daniel. They just wanted "fire insurance" against the potential of God's judgment. So they continued their idolatrous rituals but turned to Ezekiel or Daniel "just in case" these holy men were legitimate.
Do you think you could never do that? What about those of us who read our daily word but open the morning newspaper to check our horoscopes? (I'm sure you can think of other examples, too).
No Dice - No Token Prophets
However, God said in effect, "No Dice! That won't do!"
The Lord carefully explained that He would judge a country righteously with calamities such as famine, wild beast attacks, wars, and plagues. Even though the peoples had their token prophets living in the land with them they would not be spared.
"Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, their righteousness would save no one but themselves, says the Sovereign LORD" (Ezekiel 14:14, NLT).
Noah, Job, and Daniel would be spared because they were righteous. But, their kids, wives and best friends could go down with the rest of the people. No one would be spared because he or she "hobnobbed" with good people, not even the prophets' families.
In conclusion, many of us have "idols of the heart" in our lives. These idols may be an excessive pursuit of job success and fame, our overly tolerant stance toward others at work or in our neighborhoods, our great wealth, or yearly cruises to the Bahamas.
We cannot "hedge" our bets against judgment for our lifestyles by including those people or places in our lives we think God favors. In other words, attending Mass five times weekly doesn't increase our acceptance into God's Kingdom. Going to the "right" church and thinking positively doesn't merit His blessing. Surrounding ourselves with popular church leaders doesn't protect us against failure.
Idols in America?
Idols are anything that take us away from focusing our lives upon God and His Word. Yes, we see the effects of idolatrous practices in America today. Consider this:
We abort thousands of babies every year for convenience. We allow homosexuals to define agendas and mock God in yearly parades. We laugh at adulterers and those who break up families. We allow law makers to remove the Ten Commandments from our courts. We allow our children to attend schools that forbid extra curricular bible studies or prayer. We worship money, success, material goods and sports.
Defined by Sports
In fact, many of our children are defined by sports - they know little else. It's really pathetic. What will happen to these kids when they grow up and can't play anymore?
Will we become a nation of "has beens" who cannot find value or meaning in life? Will their only "fun" be watching football on T.V.? Do you know any people like that? Are we like the Romans who obsessed over gladiator games?
Finally, we think America is "God's Country" and we could never lose. But think again…we are no longer the Christian nation we once were.
Why should we be exempt from the trials other Christians endure in hostile nations worldwide?
Seeking Teachers of the Word
Instead of idolatrous practices such as a preocupation with sports and material goods, we must learn to "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) and seek a life of presenting our bodies a "living and holy sacrifice" to the One who made us.
- This means daily Bible study so that we can "renew our minds" with His thoughts (Ro. 12:1-2).
- It means that we are "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" as we live the remainder of our lives upon this earth (2 Cor. 10:5).
- It means that we raise our families according to God's standard such as that listed in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
"Listen, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (NLT).
This is a radical departure from ordinary daily life in America. Do we do what Deuteronomy 6:4-9 demands?
Do we teach our children and grandkids bible stories, take them to church, send them to church camps, take them to biblical movies, play Christian music in our homes, and surround their lives with the love of Christ?
As Christians we must seek to have no "idols of the heart" in a materialistic world ruled by Satan (1 Jn. 5:19). We know that this world is temporary. "For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come" (Heb. 13: 14). It is the eternal city for which we live.
No Fortune Tellers
So we must listen to sound teachers of God's Word and reject the glitzy fortune-tellers among us. As Peter warned,
"there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves…and in their greed they will exploit you with false words" (2 Peter 2:1-3).
Holy Word First
We must "remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles" (2 Peter 3:2).
"You therefore, beloved, knowing this before hand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:17-18).
Time Up - Game Over
For many years devout Christian men have preached 2 Chronicles 7:14:
"Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land" (NLT).
Good men have taught our citizens that if they pray, humble themselves and repent God will forgive us for our sins as 2 Chronicles says. But, these same good men have forgotten to tell us that there comes a time when our hardened impenitence reaches its limits.
God Shuts the Door
There is a point at which God shuts the door. Judgment begins. Only those who remain faithful to Him may - "may" - escape severe punishments upon the land and horrendous judgments upon its citizens. Remember that even godly people may perish in judgments against an evil nation.
Are We in Judgment Now?
We may be at this point now. Note that for years many good preachers have stated that God doesn't judge nations today - judgment will only come during the Great Tribulation. They say we live in a time of "grace," not judgment - a strong, dispensationalist viewpoint.
Yet, a few sincere, godly men are also now teaching us that we cannot just do away with unpleasant, Old Testament Bible passages. Instead, we may have now passed the point of forgiveness of our people and the land. God has begun to judge our land. We can no longer ignore the warnings in the Old Testament.
It's "Time up - game over."
Ezekiel 7 gives a summary of these judgments. Think of the recent disasters, read some of these excerpts and form your own conclusions:
Verse 2: "The end is here! Wherever you look - east, west, north, or south - your land is finished."
Disaster after Disaster
Verse 5: "Disaster after disaster is coming your way! The end has come. It has finally arrived. Your final doom is waiting!"
Verse 10: "The people's wickedness and pride have blossomed to full flower. Their violence has grown into a rod that will beat them for their wickedness. None of these proud and wicked people will survive. All their wealth and prestige will be swept away."
Verse 12: "Buyers should not rejoice over bargains, nor sellers grieve over losses, for all of them will fall under my terrible anger."
Verse 15: "There is war outside the city and disease and famine within."
No Clothing or Shelter
Verse 18: "They will dress themselves in burlap - horror and shame will cover them. They will shave their heads in sorrow and remorse."
Verse 19: "They will throw their money in the streets, tossing it out like worthless trash. Their silver and gold won't save them on that day of the LORD's anger. It will neither satisfy nor feed them, for their greed can only trip them up."
Verse 20: "I will make all their wealth disgusting to them. I will give it as plunder to foreigners, to the most wicked of nations…"
Immigrants Take Over
Verse 24: "I will bring the most ruthless of nations to occupy their homes." (Note that foreigners are now buying up American wealth, homes, bridges, highways&so on).
Disasters after Disasters
Verse 26: "Calamity will follow calamity - rumor will follow rumor."
God becomes Silent
Verse 26-27: "They will look in vain for a vision from the prophets. They will receive no teaching from the priests and no counsel from the leaders."
As you review the above judgments do you think God is speaking to us today? Think long and hard and then back up your conclusions with appropriate actions.
How Should We Then Live?
So if we are under God's judgment how should we be living in the midst of these trials?
We believe we should always be living very humbly…with a lot of prayer…with a sense of mission and purpose in line with God's Word. Our focus must be upon God and His Word with a heart of gratitude for everything.
"Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil 2:3-4, HCSB).
"Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15, NASB).
…"work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose" (Phil 2:12-13, HCSB).
You can "take that to the bank"…
Benware, Paul. 2002. The Believer's Payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG.
Dillow, Joseph. 2006. The reign of the servant kings. Hayesville, NC: Schoettle.
Lutzer, Erwin W. 1997. One minute after you die. Chicago: Moody.
Missler, Chuck&Nancy. 2007. The kingdom, power&glory. Coeur d'Alene, ID: King's Highway.
Author Valorie Emilio holds an MA in History from UCLA focusing upon Christian origins, and a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
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