“What is the most difficult part of being a pastor?” This question occasionally emerges in conversations with aspiring ministers. The longer I’ve been in ministry, the more evident the answer becomes. Many may assume the ministry’s challenge is in preparing a dynamic message each week for the same audience. Though this can be problematic, it falls low on the list of hardships. Others have assumed that juggling a church’s financial weight may create significant stress. Though this aspect can be rigorous, pastors still face a greater distress.
The prevalent anxiety plaguing church leadership today is when professing followers of Jesus are willfully blinded by a lie. When devoted followers of Jesus grow cold in their passion for Him, their desires for pleasure, power, or wealth will inevitably lead them down the dark alleyway of deception.
The unraveling of one’s faith is a tragedy that inflicts the great sorrow. Today, deception often starts with some dynamic YouTube prophet, a social media sensation, or a weakly woven network of blog posts, articles, and conspiracy theories. It’s painful to watch the ones you love chase blindly after their desires. Armed with broken excuses, many men will tell me, “Stephen, I have to do this thing right now. We can talk about that God stuff later.” From the pursuit of extramarital affairs to extra income opportunities or even enlisting in a time-consuming hobby, the cloud of confusion grows darker in the minds of those who want something other than a life of following Jesus. As men and women stumble into the pit of deception, pastors can rarely offer corrections or warnings that will be received.
The well-crafted traps of confusion have been constructed by post-Christian musical sensations, newly enlightened theologians, or writers who advocate a vague and shifting standard of morality. Many blind leaders bear the blame for deceiving their transient company of groping followers. However, the resulting idolatry, sexual immorality, and pride of those who have been led astray results in exponential devestation. It’s the lonely parent, the fatherless children, the isolated spouse who bears the greater consequence when a loved one falls willfully into deception. Like the victims of second-hand smoke, loved ones reluctantly breathe in the toxic fumes of erroneous beliefs in hopes of appeasing the ones they love. In the end, no one finds happiness or the promised enlightenment of newfound revelations. What sort of deceptions am I addressing? The list can become exhaustive. However, the old lies of sexual freedom, circumstantial morality, and shallow promises of wealth are nothing new. The beloved disciple, John, categorizes all of humanity’s deceptions as devotion to one of three idols. These perversions that aim to enslave us all are “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. (1 John 2:16). From the slithering whispers of a snake in a garden long, long ago, these temptations are presented to every generation. The great Deceiver hopes to enslave the gullible, prideful, and carnal soul.
If you think these tragedies of deception occur only on rare occasions, as pastor, we can’t afford to be so naive. Week after week, ministers teach God’s word of guidance and truth to all who will listen. Whether it is from a pulpit or in a private meeting, we find ourselves invested in the lives of those who need God’s redeeming wisdom. Yet meeting after meeting, Sunday after Sunday, we watch disillusioned friends and church members cast off the safeguards of godly living to pursue the deceptions that lure them into darkness. It’s painfully ironic when the consequences of deception delivers one into a pit of sorrow, that many blame the devil or others blame God for their misguided decisions. Yet the fault lies squarely on one’s blatant insistence to believe a lie.
It’s undeniable. The enemy can do nothing on the earth unless someone believes his lie. One single lie can mutate through generations and enslave millions of people. A lie can capture an entire generation and shift the culture of entire nations. A lie can be woven into the education system of societies and cause profound atrocities. We witnessed this reality as a Nazi-German regime justified the brutal slaughter of six million Jews. Nazis perpetuated the lie that the Jews were less than human. In the most affluent and educated German corridors, the blades of genocidal thinking were forged.
Another lie fueled by a racially charged lust for power and wealth brutally scourged the history of America. We know this deception as slavery. From the pulpit to the presidency, a lie defied the very proclamation that heralded the birth of our nation. As the founding fathers uniformly declared that “all men are created equal,” they failed to allow that truth to displace the lie which endorsed the sin of slavery. Colonial Americans of the South believed the lie that their wealth could only be sustained by shackling the freedom of the men and women they disregarded.
Today, the lie of abortion continues to plague our land. The immutable truth that life begins at conception has been replaced with the lie that it is a woman’s right to murder a child. In any other scenario, when someone “chooses” to murder another person, we judiciously incarcerate them. We rightfully assess them to be guilty of murder; however, the lie of abortion somehow subverts this logical and righteous verdict. As a result of this lie, 63,459,781 unborn children have been slain. One can only grieve the unaccountable loss of advancement our nation could have inherited if we had restrained the murderous hands of an abortion industry.
How are life-altering lies conceived? A lie is born as one searches for something other than the truth. When one is determined to appease the urges for power, lust, and wealth, within them, convenient lies will emerge. James, the brother of Jesus, sharply directs our eyes to this source of deception. He says, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” (James 1:14) It always begins with a longing for a small pleasure. When we find ourselves yearning for someone or something that will pull us away from our secure joy and fulfillment in Jesus, this is how temptation progresses into deception. Deception then will lead to sin, and sin will brutally violate one’s soul when it is fulfilled. How can you avoid the pathway to this common pitfall of deception?
Strike at the source. If you are not finding renewal for your soul daily in your discussions with Jesus, you are merely setting yourself up for deception. When Jesus shows up, His love and powerful voice will daily challenge and compel you to find fulfillment only in Him. Secondly, surround yourself with a community of those who experience Jesus regularly. This is not to say the work of evangelism must lay idle. No, the warning James gives us must be held in the context of managing our heart’s affections. We cannot afford to entertain the momentary lusts that attempt to deceive us by offering joy, hope, and fulfillment in someone or some behavior apart from Jesus. The temptation to live a life of pleasures will always pull us into the dark pit of deception. However, as we encounter Jesus day after day, our minds can be illuminated to avoid the pitfalls of lust, selfishness, and pride.