On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the Great War, the one called the War to End All Wars came to an end. Many people took this idea to heart. They wanted to believe because, the Great War had been so terrible, that men would not want to make war ever again.
Over the next several years, nations worked to limit the amount of arms that a nation could have. Some nations such as the U.S. even went as far to stop or limit the production of weapons development.
However they had allowed themselves to be deceived. For in a few short years, three dictators would rise in Europe. People who could see war on the horizon would yet again deceive themselves by thinking they could avoid war by appeasing these men. Abssynia (Ethiopia) would be given to the Italians, Czech-Slovakia and Austria to the Germans, all in the belief that these actions would avoid blood shed. Only to find it lead to more.
Even in more recent times, people, Christians included, have deluded themselves into the idea that permanent peace can be brought in their life time through man made solutions and appeasement.
For instance, many people believed that if we were to have never gone to war with Iraq, our problems with terror groups like Al Quaida would have gone away anyways. The Spanish believed this so much they pulled out of Iraq. Within a few short months of their pullout the Madrid Train Station was bombed. They had been deceived. They had let their guard down.
You see in all these events, the people wanted so hard to believe that the urgency and crisis was over they let their guards down. They allowed them selves to be deceived by their want for peace at any cost. Only to find that in the end they paid for their deception in blood.
In our reading from 2 Thessalonians we see a similar situation arising. We see Paul warning the Thessalonians of a man who will not respect their laws and will consider himself above all of them.
In fact the Roman Empire of that time was being ruled by such a leader, Nero. For not only did he consider himself to be a God, he was lawless in his rule, even by Roman standards. In fact in a few short years Nero would be assassinated by his own guards because of his behavior.
Paul was also letting them and us know that a day would come when people would no longer respect the law. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy, about the search for new teachers and the tickling of the ear?
Paul encourages his readers in Thessalonica that they need to “stand firm on the Word of God”, so to give them a strong foundation, in order to remain vigilant by. He also reminds them that they need each other for no one can or should they stand guard by themselves.
These words of advice and encouragement still hold true for today as well. In fact probably more than we could possibly know. For us as Americans, today we live in a world that more and more isolates us. A world that allows us to become complacent in our comfort. We live in a world where our basic wants have been met to such a point that we have been deceived to believe we needn’t depend on God.
Our sense of urgency has been dulled, even though we can see a world that is getting worse. In our own lives we may not see it as urgent because it is not affecting us directly.
At the time Paul was in ministry, he was for certain that Jesus Christ was returning at any moment. Paul knew that people were becoming impatient and even doubting that Christ would be returning at all. Some people had even gone so far as to pretend that Christ had returned. This caused a great deal of dissension in the body of Christ.
The same thing has happened to day as well. Think of how many so-called prophets have made predictions related to the return of Christ. Throughout the 20th Century, there have been many such instances. The ones that stand out for me include not only cult leaders like Jim Jones or David Koresch, but men like Jack van Impe or Hal Lindsay, who have made a career out of setting dates for the return of Jesus Christ.
While they can also be examples of men who are overly vigilant, they have become so focused on looking for signs of Jesus’ return they have allowed their selves to be deceived by the very signs they watch for. Unfortunately because the deception they had fallen into, others have become disheartened in their faith.
So, what can we do then to guard ourselves so that we are not deceived?
First and foremost, we can simply keep our faith alive in Christ Jesus. We know that He is our Lord and Savior. It is in him that we have received our salvation and it is through him that we will one day receive our eternal reward in Heaven.
We should always look to Him for guidance and understanding. We can turn to the scriptures and study them to find answers to our lives problems. We have been given the Bible, a road map, as to how we should live our daily lives.
In Romans 10:17 we are told that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”
In Proverbs 30:5 we told that “Every word of God is pure and he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.”
So, when we study the word of God and when we place our trust in Him, then we know that we can avoid being deceived by others.
When we take time to study and fellowship with a body of believers we can become better equipped. We in fact become better prepared to avoid the pitfalls and deceptions that come to those who are without that fellowship.
You see when we are out of fellowship, or unable to compare our ideas with the ideas of others. We can come to believe that our own ideas about faith and life are the true way. Without a difference of opinion, we can eventually deceive ourselves to a point that recovery may seem impossible.
To give you an example; I once knew a man from Texas. This man was unable to be in active fellowship due to a serious illness. However when he was able he did try to attend churches. Unfortunately, he was unable to gain any sense of fellowship, because he was so controversial and stubborn in his beliefs. He often turned others away or he was asked to leave the fellowship he was in.
You see this man, become so blinded by his own self righteousness. He was unable to see or hear the Word of God coming from others. He even went as far as to consider himself a prophet in the form of Jeremiah. What this man failed to recognize was that God speaks to all of us in different ways.
In fact, when he was presented with a different point of view, he often tried to belittle it or call it false. And when it turned out that what the other person said was Biblical, or couldn’t be debunked then he would melt down and become withdrawn.
You see we cannot become so comfortable in our own faith that we do not continue to study, or feel we do not need to discuss our faith with others.
Equally we cannot become so complacent in our churches that we think we do not need to actively evangelize within ones’ community. In many communities the vacant church in a community is a symbol of how comfortable a church may have become within that community. Those churches had become deceived by their own place in the community. They considered the spiritual war in their community over. That peace was everlasting.
This is the thing about being deception, it catches us when we least expect it. It convinces us that we need not worry about those very items we should be most concerned about. We know Christ is returning, but what are we doing to prepare the way for him?
What are we doing so that those in our lives do not become deceived by the pretenders of this world? What are we doing to guarantee that they see The Kingdom? These are questions we need to ask our selves.
Our challenge as Christians comes down to not allowing ourselves to be deluded or deceived into believing that we have saved everyone. When we think that we have accomplished all that Christ has expected of us, that is when we are most open to the deceptions of Satan.
It is in these moments we are most open to the Pearl Harbor’s and the September 11ths of life. Those moments we did not count on that can either destroy our faith or lead us to galvanize it.
So let us take heart in the knowledge that God is always working. That one day we will be with Christ as he promised. And most of all we need to remain vigilant in our faith no matter what comes into our lives. Amen.