He also persuaded a local chief, a recent convert to the faith, to join him on the trip. The tall chief had an imposing presence — a muscular body accentuated by a broad, pearly white smile. The missionary knew that having this living trophy of his evangelistic efforts would greatly impress the church members in North America to give more generously.
When the two arrived stateside, the missionary took the chief from church to church. After showing slides of their mission station, he paraded the chief around in a colorful native costume. People were thrilled to hear about the chief’s conversion from paganism. But along the journey across America, to avoid the gawking of onlookers, the missionary dressed his friend in typical western garments and fed him American food. It was hard to find a pair of shoes wide enough for the burly chief’s rough feet.
After the nine-month whirlwind tour, the Western lifestyle had taken a toll on the Polynesian king. His feet softened from the shoes, and he lost definition and tone in his muscles from lack of exercise. Unaccustomed to the sweet, highly processed foods, the chief even began to lose his teeth and was plagued with frequent stomach ailments.
By the time he returned to his island home, many of his own villagers barely recognized him. “Soft living” had nearly killed him.
When whole wheat is milled into white flour, 83 percent of the nutrients are removed; mostly only starch remains. The fiber is also gone, along with most of the Vitamin E and 21 other nutrients. The flour that is left is so drained as a food that it must be fortified with chemically manufactured thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron. In fact, refined bread is so depleted, 35 U.S. states require that white flour must be synthetically enriched to be sold.
In the same way that processed wheat and soft living can make us physically weak, spiritual food with refined fiber-less pabulum produces churches full of weak, infantile invalids. Physicians are constantly reminding us that we must have sufficient roughage and grist in our diets to be healthy. This also applies to our spiritual diet, yet many Christians have been gumming baby mush for so long they are offended by real food.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12–14 NKJV).
Especially in North America, our brains and bodies have been gradually weakened by convenience stores, elevators, auto dial, and remote control. Why expend the energy to do anything when it can all be done for you electronically?
This love of comfort, ease, and generally smooth living has affected our terms, as well as our time. A TV network explains, “This program is not for sensitive viewers” — instead of the truth: “This program is bloody, gruesome, grisly, and violent.” In fact, marketing executives know that as soon as they announce a program is not for sensitive viewers, the average person will pay even closer attention. You’ve also heard, “The following program is for mature audiences.” Of course, they really should warn that the “following program contains perverted, lustful, crude material.” (Is being perverted really “mature”?)
We’ve all heard the warning: The church is in the world, but the world is not supposed to be in the church! (See John 17:16–18.) Yet sadly, the fact is that the trends of the world are having an obvious influence on our church. The same longing for easy living is infecting God’s people. In this age of fast food, everyone wants a sermonette. (A friend of mine once said, “Sermonettes are for christianettes.”) In fact, to secure popularity among the clamoring of comfort-loving members, many pastors are falling into the same pattern as politicians who travel from one district to another telling everybody what they think will please them.
What are some of the smooth, popular, yet poisonous doctrines that some pastors are telling their flocks these days?
The church is striving so hard to be politically correct and sensitive to the world. The result is that we are becoming increasingly indifferent to God’s Word.
Deadly by Any Name
The devil wants to soothe our conviction to sleep, lest we should realize our peril and turn from our sins. He is afraid we will discover how lethal sin really is — “That sin through the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Romans 7:13) — and that we’ll start looking for a Savior.
My grandfather smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes for years. He made a few feeble attempts to quit, but his health was fair so he was not too alarmed and, therefore, not very motivated. But one day, he was admitted into the hospital for a simple procedure and was appalled when he saw the man in the bed next to him smoking those same cigarettes through a hole in his throat — his voice box had been removed from smoking-related cancer. When my grandfather understood how exceedingly dangerous smoking is, he threw away his cigarettes and never smoked again.
If a doctor is afraid to upset you so that he says that you have a touch of poison ivy when you really have skin cancer, he is not your friend. Likewise, as Christians, we should honestly diagnose ourselves if we are going to receive the appropriate treatment.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6). Ministers and church members have a responsibility to faithfully and lovingly warn the world that there is a heaven to win and a hell to shun, that persisting to live a life of sin will end in irrevocable loss.
“So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul” (Ezekiel 33:7–9).
As we near the end of the world, seeing the imminence of the second coming, it is no time to proclaim smooth things. Every gospel presentation should be saturated with a sense of power and urgency. “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1).
Jesus has told us that one of the signs of the end is that the church will be softly singing Satan’s lullaby, “Peace, relax, rest in your sins.”
“For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3 NKJV). I used to believe this passage was speaking of the world, but perhaps Paul is warning us of conditions in the church!
The Truth Can Hurt
On many occasions, Jesus had to say some rough things for the purpose of saving souls. And on more than one occasion, droves of followers turned away from Him because of these challenging statements. “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? … From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:60, 66).
I cannot improve on this statement from the book Steps to Christ:
“Jesus did not suppress one word of truth, but He uttered it always in love. He exercised the greatest tact and thoughtful, kind attention in His intercourse with the people. He was never rude, never needlessly spoke a severe word, never gave needless pain to a sensitive soul. He did not censure human weakness. He spoke the truth, but always in love. He denounced hypocrisy, unbelief, and iniquity; but tears were in His voice as He uttered His scathing rebukes” (p. 12).
The hard sayings of Jesus were never designed to simply wound or offend those hearing Him. He said them to save us and help us grow the fruits of the Spirit. “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11 NKJV).
Peter Marshall, in his vivid style, describes 20th century Christians with these words: “They are like deep-sea divers encased in suits designed for many fathoms deep, marching bravely forth to pull plugs out of bathtubs.”
Jesus warns us that there will be many false prophets in the last days preaching smooth things (Matthew 24:11). That’s why we must know how to distinguish the true from the counterfeit. But to take the high, straight, and rough road of biting honesty when everyone else is sliding down the smooth road buttered with platitudes of popularity requires a rare breed of courage.
In the first book of Kings, we find a story that dramatically illustrates how most people in this world are hungering to hear smooth things, while God still has faithful followers who want to tell the truth at any cost.
Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, wanted to recapture his town of Ramothgilead from the Syrians, but he needed help to take on the mighty army of Syria. So he asked King Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him in his campaign against their common enemy.
Jehoshaphat was willing to join forces with Ahab, but he believed that they should first seek God’s counsel. Ahab had forsaken the Lord years earlier to worship the pagan god Baal, so he called in his 400 hired false prophets to come before the two monarchs and prophesy. As the two kings sat on thrones, all the pompous pagan prophets said, with a loud dramatic display, “Go and fight the Syrians and you will be victorious!” It was a very impressive pep rally.
Yet Jehoshaphat was skeptical. Seeing these were all prophets of Baal and knowing how they always told the king what he wanted to hear, he requested to hear from a prophet of the Lord. Ahab was disturbed at this request but said that there was one prophet of God left, called Micaiah — but he added, “I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (1 Kings 22:8). Nevertheless, at Jehoshaphat’s urging, Ahab reluctantly sent a servant to fetch Micaiah.
The messenger sent to bring Micaiah told him, “Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good. [Preach smooth things!] And Micaiah said, As the Lord liveth, what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak.” Now there’s a novel thought — tell the truth regardless of the consequences. The prophet went to the kings and bravely told Ahab that if he went to fight the Syrians, he would surely die in the battle.
Now Ahab was faced with a tough decision. Should he believe 400 prophets of Baal who preached smooth things — or one lone prophet of the Lord with a rough message? Ahab made the wrong decision, even though he knew what was right. He persuaded Jehoshaphat to disregard the warnings of Micaiah and join him in a war promoted by Baal’s prophets. After all, how could one prophet be right over 400 others?
Still, just in case, Ahab thought he could outsmart the Lord by dressing in full armor and avoiding the front lines. But the wicked king learned too late that you can never escape the Word of God. In the battle, a stray arrow struck Ahab in the joints of his armor and he bled to death in his chariot. Ahab was killed by embracing the fatal flatteries of false prophets.
In the Age of Smooth Things
When the famous evangelist Billy Sunday would preach direct and powerful sermons against specific sins, such as the evils of alcohol, local leaders would often ask him to tone down his direct preaching. They would say, “Pastor Sunday, you are always rubbing the cat’s fur the wrong way.” But the famed evangelist would respond, “I am rubbing the cat’s fur the right way; the cat just needs to turn around.”
Jesus warns, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26 NKJV). Jeremiah put it this way: “Do not believe them, Even though they speak smooth words to you” (Jeremiah 12:6 NKJV).
Paul goes on to tell us that this dilemma will be one of the characteristics of the church in the last days. Church members will be looking for ministers to tell them what pleases their carnal nature, for smooth, easy religion without a cross.
“Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers, and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:2–4 NKJV).
Many people in our church today want a form of religion without the power to overcome their sins. Many churches are accommodating them, providing bazaars, bingo, and soothing social programs — but avoiding a message of salvation from sin. Their sermons are like a saw with no teeth. The sharp sword of God’s Word is replaced with a rubber baby spoon!
Sadly, the people leave church feeling like they have been feasting on molasses. It is sweet to eat, but then everyone walks away sick. It’s all gooey, sloppy sermons for cotton candy Christians.
One Sunday, Abraham Lincoln was riding home from church in his carriage when his secretary asked him how he liked the sermon they just heard. “Not very much.” The secretary was surprised, because most people felt the preacher was very gifted. What was the problem? Lincoln answered, “He did not ask me to do anything great.”
The true word of God will always challenge us to press onward and upward to greater things. One great writer put it this way:
“Preachers should have no scruples to preach the truth as it is found in God’s word. Let the truth cut. I have been shown that why ministers have not more success is, they are afraid of hurting feelings, fearful of not being courteous, and they lower the standard of truth, and conceal if possible the peculiarity of our faith. I saw that God could not make such successful. The truth must be made pointed, and the necessity of a decision urged. And as false shepherds are crying, Peace, and are preaching smooth things, the servants of God must cry aloud, and spare not, and leave the result with God” (Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 2, pp. 284, 285).
“When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before thee: And put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite. Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful meat” (Proverbs 23:1–3).
So what can you do to resist the temptation of gobbling up Satan’s sweet but deceptive delicacies?
1. Measure all teachings by the Word of God. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
2. Be willing to do His will, regardless of the consequences! “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17).
3. Never accept a teaching just because it is popular. “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2).
4. Place yourself under a well-balanced diet of spiritual teaching and feed your own soul with God’s Word. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Several years ago, a man living in China bought a microscope. At first he was thrilled with his new acquisition; he marveled looking at the wonders of flowers and feathers magnified hundreds of times. But one day he made the mistake of looking at his rice under the microscope and saw that it was crawling with tiny creatures. Rice was his favorite food. Very disturbed, the man smashed his microscope with a rock because it revealed his rice had bugs, but he didn’t want to give up his beloved staple.
We are all faced with a similar challenge today. We can either place ourselves under the scrutiny of God’s Word and allow Him to boil away the bugs — or we can turn the microscope of His law out of focus to blur our defects and listen to the fancy fables of false prophets.
God desires that we look deep to find out what we really want. “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). May our sincere response be, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24).