Summary: The only person whose heart you really know is yourself, and you don't need to identify the Beast if Jesus can identify you.

I’m in the process of refinancing my house. I’ve done it all over the telephone. And midway through the process, I started getting nervous. The web page they gave me had their name but a different address, long distance information gave me a different number for that name in NJ, I kept talking to different sales people, a second web page was unavailable. We’ve heard so much in the news about things like identity theft and other frauds and rip-off’s that I started wondering if I weren’t getting scammed... You know, they say that a con only work because people get greedy, and want something for nothing, and here was I trying to get my mortgage reduced from 6.5% to 5%.

Well, anyway, I kept pushing and to make a long story short wound up with a copy of the head honcho’s mortgage banker’s license and a clean bill of health from the state, and unless something else happens or the Lord returns I will be signing the papers some time next week.

But it really underlines the fact that you can’t just take someone’s word on the questions of identity any more, can you. DMV clerks sell ID’s to terrorists, there’s a thriving street business in phony green cards in every major metropolis in the U.S., and internet chat rooms are famous for their anonymity and the ease with which a false name and identity can lure the innocent and unsuspecting into danger.

Whom can you trust? How can you tell who to listen to? Whose word is good? It’s easy to say that you can trust God, that God’s word is good, and that you should listen to people who quote the Bible and say “Thus says the Lord.” But these chapters of Revelation show us as clearly as anything in Scripture that the tool that leaps most readily into the hands of Satan and his followers is deception. Jesus himself warned his disciples of this, saying “For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Messiah!' and they will lead many astray.”

[Mt 24:5] There are several kinds of falsehoods which Satan uses to undermine faith in Jesus Christ.

The first kind of deception is a straightforward contest between religions: the resurgence of militant Islam is tops on the news, but Hindu nationalists in India to and Buddhists in Vietnam and Laos are both growing more and more hostile Christians. In this country, desperate to preserve the illusion of safety which we lived in prior to 9/11, civic and religious leaders alike try to tell us that “the three great monotheistic religions” can all co-exist. But of course this is not true,

because although Christians know that the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament is also the word of God, Islam denies both the truth of the Bible and the deity of Christ.

The second kind of deception is the distortion of the gospel itself, from cults which lead to physical death by the likes of Jim Jones and David Koresh, to cults which become almost mainstream like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and Christian Scientists.

The third kind of deception turns turn people away from God altogether, substituting false ideologies like fascism and communism, which deified human power and promised to deliver paradise on earth to their followers. We focused on that particular deception last week, seeing how susceptible we all are to political promises that are based on the illusion that fixing human institutions can cure sin and reverse the fall, that we can, as the great poet T.S. Eliot wrote, create “systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

One of the most important means Satan uses to deceive is to try to convince people that he doesn’t exist. And of course it’s easy to ridicule a belief in little red imps with horns and hooves. But Satan is simply the name for the spiritual being who is the chief enemy of God, and he is all too real.

Yet another kind of deception gets us to waste our energy fighting the wrong things. Some people think that we’re destroying our denomination with a misguided focus on sexual morality, while people around the world are dying of AIDS and wars and starvation. I think they’re wrong, because sexual behavior shaped into family forms the foundation of civil society. But there is another very different kind of misdirection which is dangerous.

How many of you have gotten caught up in the LaHaye and Jenkins Left Behind series? Not too long before those came out, Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness got a similar outpouring of interest. It’s really a terrific read, but some people were taking Peretti’s fictional scenarios as the authoritative text on spiritual warfare. Of course a lot of the material comes right out of Revelation,

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