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Standing in the Shade

standing-in-the-shade

Pastor Ian suggests ways we can keep deception from becoming viral in our community.

She was standing in the shade of the tree, staring up at the very thing God told her she should not eat. The serpent didn’t drag her there. He didn’t strong-arm her. He simply met her there… and before she knew it, she was deceived. Eve took the fruit, gave to her husband, and all of creation entered into a curse. All because Eve was standing in the shade instead of walking in the Light. Perhaps you have been tempted to ask, “How could Eve have possibly been so gullible?” In fact, since we are all descendants of Eve, an even more relevant question might be, “How come I am so gullible?!?”

Dallas, Texas, is one of the most densely Christian cities in the world. In fact, with over 400 Baptist churches, it is one of the most Baptist cities in the world. On 17 May 2020 the Dallas Morning News shared an article that shed light on an alarming issue among evangelical Christians: Christians—men and women who claim allegiance to the God who is Truth—have become shockingly susceptible to Deception. The title of the article is “Too many evangelical Christians fall for conspiracy theories online, and gullibility is not a virtue”. 

Why is it that, while seeking Truth, so many believers are embracing deception? And how can we keep deception from becoming viral in our own community? I suggest several ways below.

Check your sources

When I was a young man I was taught to sing, “Jesus is the answer for the world todayabove Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!” I was often reminded that all I needed for truth and godliness could be found in the bright light of His word. But I live in a new world now. Now when I have a question I tend to search, not in the light of God’s Word, but in the shade of the internet. My sources have changed. In a recent study presented by the MIT Technology Review, it was discovered that this is true of many “modern” Christians, who seem oblivious to the fact that the internet is full of deception that is divisive. Most are unaware when their hearts and minds are captured.

The article is entitled “Evangelicals are looking for answers online. They’re finding QAnon instead. How the growing pro-Trump movement is preying on churchgoers to spread its conspiracy theories.” According to Senior Editor, Abby Ohlheiser, this growing movement is specifically preying on churchgoers to spread its conspiracy theories. It does so by mimicking traditional morality and by stoking fears that evangelical privilege (freedom of worship, prayer in public schools and even our children’s lives) is under significant threat.

This is actually not just a contemporary problem. A few years after His death and resurrection, Jesus’ half-brother, now pastoring the first Christian church in Jerusalem, was forced to warn new believers regarding the danger of embracing “truth” from unreliable sources. He wrote, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (Jam 1:16-17) So…

  1. We ought to assume that God’s word is trustworthy. But we should check everything else, especially if we discover it while “standing in the shade”. When a friend sends you a message, you can quickly google the message title, which will bring you to the source of that message. Just that first act will likely reveal several apolitical fact-checking sites that will address the veracity of that message and/or messenger.
  2. Second, google the original platform on which that message first appeared. Once you know that platform (individual or organisation), simply ask yourself if the main purpose of that platform is consistent with the ambitions and integrity of the gospel. Do you want your heart to be aligned with the ambitions of that platform? Do they represent a point of view that is worthy of the gospel?

You may well have an interesting or funny message you want to send to your friends. I am not at all suggesting you never send a message to a friend. I am just suggesting, if we receive a message—even if it confirms a suspicion we already have—and if it does not contribute to spiritual truth and godliness, it would be wise to check the source.

Avoid spreading viruses!

The reason Singapore has recently been named the 4th best places to live during this Covid-19 pandemic is, 1) our government agencies have acted decisively, and 2) we trusted them. We have sought to follow the provided instructions. We have worked together to wear masks, to maintain safe-distancing, and to avoid activities that might promote the spread of this horrible virus into our community. Because we care about our nation, we have made sacrifices to avoid spread of this horrible virus.

However, when it comes to our Faith Community, Christians are often not quite so cautious. One of the most surprising things about deception was recently noted by researcher and theologian, Ed Stetzer: "Half of U.S. Protestant Pastors Hear Conspiracy Theories in their Churches”, meaning that many American church members—just like their ancestor Eve—have been standing in the shade, staring up at the deceiver. And they’ve been handing out the fruit of that deception among the members of their church communities. This has led to an increasingly deep division and disunity in the American church.

As pastor of Grace Baptist Church, I can assure you that these conspiracy theories have also begun to clutter up conversations among God’s people here in Singapore. We too have fallen prey to the dark, percolating swill of grievances and fear. And we are spreading our anxiety through social media. Isaiah has a word for us: Stop! Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.” (Isa 8:12)

As God’s people—especially in times of anxiety—we are instead called to trust in the Lord with undistracted hearts! Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Prov 3:5-6).So, let us agree to work together to keep our community safe! If you have a question about God’s Word, let me encourage you to seek out one of our trustworthy elders. If you have a question about Covid-19 or Covid vaccines, I encourage you to consult a trustworthy website! But let us agree to stop spreading viruses.

Exercise God’s gifts

If Eve could defend herself today, she may likely want to remind us that gullibility is not a spiritual gift. But in her defence, she did not have Jesus’ Spirit living in her, equipping her for love and good works. All she had was time. If you are finding that like Eve, you have too much time on your hands, then let me encourage you to consider doing something purposefully, gospel-centred. In the inspired words of Peter, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 4:10-11)

I am so grateful that, in His grace and mercy, God has given each of us good gifts with which we might glorify Him. I pray that will not be idle in these anxious days, but that we will each seek to be good stewards of this “varied grace”. In this is God glorified in His church: that we exercise God’s gifts to build up His body!

Guard the gospel

As followers of Jesus, we are people of the Truth who are encouraged to walk in the light of the gospel. But a false witness is damaging to this good news. Falling for (and spreading) conspiracy theories does not honour the Lord, and more than that, it causes non-believers to question our judgment. And if the gospellers are not considered to be trustworthy messengers, how then will the gospel message be trusted?

As John wrote the earliest believers, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 Jn 1:5) No darkness at all. Not even a little shade. Let us guard the reputation of the gospel!

Trust. In Christ alone.

Contemporary conspiracy theories are rooted in the human tendency to fear; and the problem with fearful Christians is that our fear seems to suggest we actually have faith… in the Enemy. Ironically, conspiracy theories have historically been a primary tool leveraged by the enemies of the gospel to persecute Christians. When Rome burned, Nero cultivated a conspiracy theory which blamed an “obscure new Jewish religious sect called the Christians, whom he then indiscriminately and mercilessly crucified.” While in Jerusalem, Jewish leaders spread conspiracy theories about the Apostle Paul in order to generate the kind of outrage that would end in his public stoning (Acts 23:12-15). Despite this however, especially in times of global anxiety, Christians have stood above all others in our confident, persevering faith in the sovereign Christ. This persevering faith often became the catalyst for unusual gospel growth during difficult seasons.

It used to be, that we could feel safe in the shelter of our homes, but now the internet has brought the shade of deception right to our phones and computers. In these anxious days I pray that we would long to trust Christ with our fears, and with David sing, The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” (Ps 9:9-10). In these days of shade and virus, may we daily trust in Christ alone!

And one more thing:

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, we see more and more Singaporeans seeking help for mental and emotional health issues (The Straits Times, 2020). During this season, mental health care workers have reported a significant increase in number of Singaporeans presenting signs of emotional distress. This is being seen across different age groups and has led to a spike in calls to suicide helplines. At GBC, we want to care for one another well. This article from Desiring God, “Six Ordinary Lessons for Mental-Health Issues”, shares some lessons that may strengthen our response to mental and emotional health issues. In addition, for those among us struggling with mental and emotional health challenges, this article from the Gospel Coalition, “4 Encouraging Truths for Christians with Mental Illness”, gives encouragement drawn from God's Word.

May these articles help us grow in love and care for one another, especially in the area of mental and emotional health!