Have you ever had a meeting that you knew was going to be confrontational? As you prepared to enter you were filled with fear, anxiety, and dread. And your blood pressure continued to rise. You knew before you entered that they were not going to listen. And that they would push back with all sorts of accusations—accusations that you have tried countless times to give your response and they haven’t listened.
The Jesus Prayer
One of the things that has helped me prepare for such situations is to utter the Jesus Prayer, which is the most popular prayer in Christianity, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
I find that it helps to be reminded that I too am a sinner. And that He is the Son of God.
“Repent,” after all, is the beginning of the Gospel (Mark 1:15).
We don’t like this though because we don’t want to admit that we are wrong. And we certainly don’t want to admit that those on the other side of the table are right.
But, how are we to expect others to admit their wrongs if we don’t ever admit ours?
There is another benefit of uttering the Jesus prayer. It helps change my disposition toward the other. Before I even enter the contentious arena, the Lord has already reminded me that they too are sinners. And, like me, they also need His grace.
NB: I have in mind here a situation that does not entail criminal acts. Although what I have said here may still apply, I am in no way suggesting that we extend grace and forgiveness without justice to those who have committed criminal acts. This caution could also be extended to include abusive situations.
The reality, however, is that we struggle to do this individually. Unfortunately, things are even worse when it comes to the corporate entity we call “Church.”
Our churches look more like empire than Kingdom
One of the problems that we have when it comes to discussing the Beast/Anti-Christ in the modern church is that our churches today look more like the Beast/empire than the Kingdom. This was the problem in the 7 churches of Asia: thus, they are exhorted: “I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people’” (Rev 18:4).
I realize that in making this claim, many of you will immediately dismiss it.
I urge you, however, to consider the fact that most of the books of the Bible were written to the people of God (shall we say anachronistically, “churches”) to remind them that they have sinned, they have embraced false ideologies, and they need to repent and return.
Why then, do we suppose that we are necessarily better than they were?
Of course, you might say that the answer is evident: look at all the good we are doing.
But this is what they were saying! The people of God to whom the book of Isaiah was written responded to Isaiah’s accusations that they have betrayed God by asking, “Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?” (Isa 58:3).
Look at all the good we are doing! We have fasted and humbled ourselves. We have celebrated the feasts; maintained the sacrifices; and been faithful in prayer. To which
“I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts” (Isa 1:14).
In other words, your religious acts are not pleasing to Me. In fact, the Lord says that He not only hates them but “They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen” (Isa 1:14-15).
These were church-going, prayer meeting attending, sacrifice practicing, praying Israelites!
If it could be true of them, it could be true of us!
There are 3 reasons why the church is not likely to listen
I am grieved when I look at the church in the West today. The more I study the Scriptures, the more convinced I am that the Western church looks more like the empire than the Kingdom!
The problem is that it is near impossible to point this out for at least 3 reasons.
1) Deception is too powerful.
Think of any great injustice in history. Now ask, “How did they do it? How did they get so many to go along with them?” The answers of course are multi-faceted. But I would like to focus on one answer in particular: deception.
How else were the Nazis able to carry out the massacre of tens of millions of people? THEY LIED. They lied so much they came to believe their lies were the truth.
NB: This is the same with China’s systematic destruction of the Uyghurs. And with our destruction of the indigenous peoples.
Rev 12:9 describes Satan as, “the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world.”
Revelation 13 then introduces us to the Beast (whom many conflate with the “Anti-Christ”—perhaps I will address this in a future post). This Beast, which I have noted in earlier posts is synonymous with empire (Beast and empire), is empowered by Satan: “And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority” (Rev 13:2).
But Satan is the deceiver! The way he wages war is through deception.
Deception is immensely powerful. Not only does deception get us to believe that we are right, but it also informs us that everyone else is wrong.
This means that as soon as someone starts to expose the lies we have come to embrace, we resist. In fact, really effective deception urges us to not even listen to the arguments/reasoning of those with whom we disagree.
2) No one wants to believe they are the deceived
Most Christians (and I am sure most people) believe that they/we are the good guys.
NB: The “we” here is important. We usually extend the “we” pretty far: “we” often includes: our immediate family, our religious group, our political group, our ethnic group, and even our national group. For me, this would mean that the good guys are: “White, Anglo, middle class, educated, Christian, . . . .” (you didn’t really think I was going to go further with this list did you?).
This means that it is easy to conclude that we are right and they are wrong.
When the “we” includes the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed, it is very easy to embrace the mindset that our current plight is the result of injustice—after all, it often is. Therefore, “we” come to embrace more fervently that we are in the right and our oppressors are in the wrong.
But what about situations in which the “we” are those in power and affluence? This, after all, is where most Western churches find themselves—especially those whose members are non-minorities.
The answer is that the desire to believe that “we” are right and they are wrong is particularly dangerous in such situations. After all, who wants to believe that their power and affluence were ill-gotten?
NB: I am not saying that all power and wealth are ill-gotten. I am saying that power and wealth are often blinding.
3) The other side is worse
Another powerful tool of deception is the conviction that the other side(s) is worse. This allows us to accept the possibility that our side is not perfect. Sure, we have made mistakes. We have sinned.
BUT look at them! Not only have they made mistakes too, but their mistakes are worse than ours.
The result is that we can agree with those who expose our weaknesses, our errors, our sins, and our injustices. But we don’t have to change. After all, the other options are worse.
This means that we cannot expose the empire because it hits too close to home.
Empire and deception
Last year I began a series of posts on the Beast/Anti-Christ. And I would like to continue the discussion by asking: what does empire/Beast/Anti-Christ look like today?
NB: I noted previously that I am using “anti-Christ” and even “Anti-Christ” as a synonym for “beast” not because I believe that the Beast of Rev 13 is the anti-Christ, but because so many others do. At some point, perhaps we can address this issue.
I argued extensively in those posts that the primary weapon of the Devil, who is the enemy of the kingdom of God, is deception. A good deceiver–and I think we should acknowledge that if anyone is a good deceiver it is the Devil–knows that the best form of deception gets others to believe that your cause is their cause.
Yep, the Devil is on Team Christianity. Now, of course, he is not so stupid as to have us believe that he is the Devil. After all, we know that the Devil is not on Team Jesus. So, he hides the fact that it is him.
So where do we go from here?
The best way forward is for us all to begin with regular prayer: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
In humility, we can then proceed by both coming to understand the nature of the Kingdom of God and the nature of empire. Which I will endeavor to do in the upcoming posts. Only then can begin to ascertain what empire looks like today and what it means for the Church.
It will be absolutely necessary throughout the entire process to repent continuously and to ask if the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
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