SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT

Long before I moved from my native Illinois to Chattanooga, Tennessee, I saw a barn with its roof painted with the words “See 7 States from Rock City”.  This is a sample of one such barn.  The barns were ubiquitous.  They were not limited to Tennessee or the surrounding states.  I was in Des Moines, Iowa when I looked out the passenger window to see a Rock City barn roof hundreds of miles away from Tennessee.  They often would add the location, “Chattanooga, Tennessee”, or perhaps it would say “atop Lookout Mountain”, but the message was the same.  Rock City was a place where you could see 7 states at the same time.

Rock City barn

While the marketing pitch is a good one, of course, you really can’t see 7 states at one time. The physical reality is that on a very clear day, the Smoky Mountains outside of Knoxville, about 100 miles away, can be seen.  But, the curvature of the earth’s surface places any of the mountains in Kentucky, South Carolina and Virginia below the horizon.  But that is of small concern when you stand at Rock City’s Lover’s Leap and see the compass points aimed at the seven states:  Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.  In short, the view from Rock City is extraordinary and one that is worth the stop on your trip around the area, particularly on a clear sunny day.

Since we were from the state with Rock City, while we were on vacation, we headed off to see Idaho’s City of Rocks, a National Park Service Reserve outside Almo, Idaho.  Here we were, two people from Tennessee looking forward to getting to Idaho’s City of Rocks.

The name was the same thing in reverse, but what we found when we arrived at the site was very different from what we were used to in Tennessee.  First, the GPS routed us through miles of country roads with planted fields as far as the eye could see.  The fields gave way to mountains with steep crevices and no guard rails, not to mention the cattle grazing in the “open range” mountain terrain.  And, the road was gravel, rather like driving over a washboard.   After a couple of hours in the fields, there was a sign for City of Rocks.  (In fairness, unbeknownst to us, the GPS routed us to City of Rocks via the “back entrance”.)

We found it ironic that, as we left the City of Rocks, alongside the road to the Visitor’s Center was a souvenir shop named, … wait for it … Rock City!

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While the road to Rock City on Lookout Mountain in Tennessee is not necessarily for the faith-hearted, it is paved and there are well-marked intersections with directions to Rock City.  Further, Rock City has well-defined paths around the cliffs and rocks that define the area with a gift shop at its entrance.  Not so in Idaho.  

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But, we found out that the City of Rocks is a favorite rock-climbing area because it is rough, undeveloped and has huge rocks to clamber over.

Don’t misunderstand me – City of Rocks was beautiful in its own way.  But it was vastly different from Rock City.  The names were exceedingly similar, but the reality was totally different.

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We in our society today face the same kind of scenario when we consider the teaching that we receive in our churches.  We hear people say that they are teaching what the Word of God has to say, and we listen to great oratory and think that we have heard a wonderful sermon.  But, if you read the Bible to see if what they are teaching is what Jesus taught, you will find that it may sound the same, but the reality is totally different. 

For example, it is exciting to hear that if you believe in Jesus, He will give you everything you want in your life.  In short, if you are not rich beyond belief, then you just don’t have enough faith!  The prosperity gospel has many adherents. 

But, Scripture does not support this “gospel”.  Indeed, Jesus said:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”

Matthew 16:24-26

That doesn’t sound like the prosperity gospel to me!  Taking up your cross … losing your life for Jesus’ sake!  Indeed, Jesus said that His followers would have persecution in their lives, and so they did.  (Read John 15:20)  In fact, after the stoning of Stephen, we read:

“And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

Acts 8:1

The City of Rocks and Rock City are very different places.  The message of Jesus Christ as given in the Bible is very different from that which is preached and taught in many of our churches in the 21st century. 

Paul warned the Galatians:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

Galatians 1:6-9

Paul did not allow for any gospel other than the Good News of Jesus Christ.  No distortion and no changes.  No “almost the same.”  He said they should not listen to any other preaching that is contrary to what they heard from Paul.

So, is a distortion of the gospel of Christ alright for you?  Or do you want to follow Jesus by reading His Word, listening to teaching from His Word, and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance as you discern what is the true and correct doctrine to follow.

Father, enable me to identify what doctrine is false and what is true so that I can know with confidence that I am following Jesus Christ alone.  Give me wisdom and may I listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading in all things.

SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT

It is no secret that I have been doing many more crafty things since retirement than I had time for while working.  I have been enjoying experimenting with canning, sewing, knitting, and yesterday I started crocheting.

My grandmother taught me to crochet while I was in elementary school, but it had long gone from my memory and my hands don’t remember the motions that come automatically when experienced hands pick up the crochet hook. 

After a tutorial on Google, I started work on a baby cap with my crochet hook when my dear husband asked what the difference was between crocheting and knitting. 

Knitting and crocheting

He understood the obvious difference – one uses pointed needles while the other uses  a  single hook.  But otherwise, it seems that they are alike.  They both usually start with a slip knot, then they take some material, likely yarn, and, through a series of knots, they create something to wear, display, etc. 

After this discussion, I continued crocheting and thought about the differences between crocheting and knitting, and that disparity brought to mind the sermon series based on the book of 1 John that is underway at our church.  John was telling his congregation that there were teachers in their midst who perhaps sounded good but were teaching false doctrine. They needed to beware that their own doctrine was not compromised.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 4:1 ESV

In other words, John is warning his readers to be careful.  Something might look and sound like teaching from our God but it might not be so.  Similar but different.

But, John not only warns them, he tells the young Christian body how they can “test the spirits” of those who have been teaching them.  What is the test? 

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”

1 John 4:2-3

Only true believers can confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, that He has died, that He arose from the dead, and that He is God incarnate.  God in flesh just as we are, except He is without sin so that He can be the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sin.

Knitting and crocheting are similar but different. 

People who preach anything other than Christ crucified and now alive in the flesh and in Heaven are not preaching the gospel.  They might dress the message up with words that sound good, that is to say, their message may sound similar, but it is not a saving message from the Bible or from the Holy Spirit if it does not focus on the crucified Christ. 

There are many things upon which we can agree to disagree.  Manner of baptism or number of sacraments, for example. But this is not one of them. 

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Paul said the same thing a bit more colorfully:

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you.  I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.”

Galatians 1:8-9 NLT

Similar but different.  Who cares?  We all should care because the difference is whether you will have eternal life in heaven with our Lord and Savior or whether you will have eternal life in hell … one way or another you will be existing eternally. Being with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is far better than the only other alternative.

Father, I praise Your name for sending Jesus Christ as our atoning sacrifice so that we can come to You through Him as our Savior and Lord.  I pray that the words of this missive would encourage the readers to call on the Holy Spirit if they do not already know You, and if they are believers, I pray that they would study only under those who preach and teach the message of Scripture, not of worldly wisdom.