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God is a jealous god. (Exodus 20:5) He wants nothing to be more important to us than our service to him. (Exodus 34:14) When you consider that he created us and gives us every breath we breathe, it's not really too much to ask, is it?

But he also gives us freedom not to put him first. We can go so far as to fight against him if we want. And a lot of people do. It may sound strange, but God says that these total rebels against him are less of a problem than the people who are half-and-half in their relationship with him. (Revelation 3:15-16)

Certainly the religious leaders at the time of Jesus were more of a hindrance to his ministry than were the heathen. (Matthew 23:13) And the Apostle Paul considered his religious background was the worst form of sin against God. (1 Timothy 1:15; Philippians 3:8) In our own experience we have found that opposition from people outside the group has been greatest from churchgoers, who assume they are acting on God's behalf by persecuting us. (John 16:2)

This religious self-deception comes from half-hearted submission to God, and it's not limited to people outside of our community. Our own members are often guilty of being half-hearted in their commitment to God; and that is the error that this class is really being directed at... half-hearts within our own community. The problem with the half-hearts is that they try to control God rather than letting God control them. James tells us to ask God for wisdom, but not to be double-minded when we do it, or we won't receive wisdom at all (James 1:5-8). Remember this passage, because a little later we will compare it to a similar teaching from Jesus, which also related to being double-minded.

Double-mindedness comes from being unable to decide between two fairly equal alternatives. But if it's a choice between doing things our own way or doing them God's way, it's pretty obvious that the two alternatives are far from equal. To camouflage such an obvious error, you've got to set God aside and operate on the basis of "one person's opinion vs another person's opinion"; and then, at that level it's easy to be double-minded. So we try to be humble and co-operative for a while, and then when we get tired of that we come back to the feeling (and the argument) that "My opinion is just as valid as yours." And we can point to all the times that we gave in to someone who was practically an equal, as proof that it's now time for that person to repay the favour.

Of course we could never get away with this kind of reasoning if we were comparing our opinions with God's opinions. Can you imagine anyone saying, "All right, God, I've been following you for six months now; don't you think it's time you listened to me for a while?"

It's only a short step from feeling our opinions are not being respected, to becoming concerned that others are trying to rob us of our freedom, brainwash us, and turn us into puppets. After all, there are evil leaders in lots of groups. So why not evil leaders in ours as well? And if we can question what leaders in other groups are saying, then it's only fair that we be allowed to do the same with our own leaders.

The reasoning sounds pretty good, doesn't it? But the number one aim we should have as leaders in this community is to put people in touch with God; so that it is God that people are following rather than human leaders.

It's easy to find things we don't like about anyone. If you don't believe it, just try leading for a while and see what people say about your style of leadership! But what we need to ask God is this: "What do you want me to do today? Do you want me to follow anyone?"

All groups have leaders, and they expect you to co-operate with and follow them. If you find that God is telling you not to follow the leaders in a particular group, then it's only reasonable to expect that you will leave the group. We disagree with other leaders, but because we do, we have left them to start our own work. Of course before we left we learned all we could from them first, since even bad leaders can teach us, if we're humble enough to listen.

But a person who is double-minded will not leave and will not co-operate. Instead, they will hang around and cause divisions, by knocking leadership without offering positive alternatives. They'll harbour suspicions and fears about the leaders "going off the rails", and they'll share these thoughts if and when they find someone who is willing to listen. Sooner or later the group will "spew them out of their mouths" for their lukewarmness, but it is only because these people have spiritually spewed the group out through their murmuring spirit.

By forming our own group we have said more than we could have said by staying in churches that we were not satisfied with. We have created a sample of the 'church' we only dreamed of when we were malcontents within the church system. In the process, of course, we have also learned to appreciate how hard it can be to improve on some things. We have also found that group unity and productivity sometimes cut into individuality and personal freedom.

But let's get back to our relationship with God. God can lead us into groups and he can lead us out of them again. But we need to learn to distinguish God's voice from our own selfish desires. It's true that many people follow a group in preference to God, but even more people follow their own opinions in preference to either of the other two. Personal freedom and individuality are false gods of the modern world, and God, who is a jealous God remember, wants to smash these idols. He wants total control of you. (1 Corinthians 10:31) He wants to brainwash you. (Romans 12:1-2) You can think to yourself, "Yes, God can brainwash me, but not you!" But be careful that you are not being so defensive of your precious brain that you are excluding God as well as ourselves, in preference to your own pride.

It is our goal as Christians to encourage people to give total control of their lives to God. The fact that some people have perverted this goal into seeking total control of people by their group should really not be a great concern to us. The genuine article does not need to apologise for the counterfeits.

We want you to be controlled by God. And we know that when you are totally controlled by God, you will have no more fears about being controlled by others. That fear itself (of being controlled or deceived) is coming from a source other than God. (2 Timothy 1:7) In other words, if you're afraid of being brainwashed, you already are!

When we have learned how to hear directly from God (Matthew 16:17), then the "gates of hell" will not be strong enough to trap us. (Matthew 16:18) In other words, we can walk into and out of the worst cults in the world without a scratch. Chains and locked gates cannot hold us in. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Balance this against the fact that the only people we lock our doors against are people on the outside. Any one of us can walk out at any time. And our strongest discipline is simply to expel someone from the group.

It is a paradox that the same people who rebel against leadership trying to control them also take offence at any suggestion that they leave the group if they are not happy here. Malcontents are just what the name implies. They are not happy in and they are not happy out. Whereas anyone who is truly following God can come and go anywhere in peace.

There is a saying, "Four walls do not a prison make." It means that the lack of freedom that most people complain about does not come from people or situations outside of themselves so much as it comes from within. The freest people in the world are those who are totally controlled by God. Think about that for a moment. Your best defence against being controlled by others (or by yourself) is to be controlled by God. But God will not force his control onto anyone. In fact, you have to want it more than anything else in the world.

Jesus said that if we want his Holy Spirit, we must ask for it (Luke 11:13), but he also warned that we should not, like the man asking for wisdom that James spoke about (James 1:5-8), be double-minded about asking for it. Don't ask for a fish (an early symbol for Christ) and then worry that what you receive might be a snake (a symbol for the devil). (Luke 11:9-12)

Religious people reject the truth because they fear the counterfeit. In their obsession with evil they never find good. But what God wants are people who hunger and thirst after more and more righteousness (Matthew 5:6).

Fear of cults, fear of extremes, fear of being suckers leads people to shelter in lukewarmness and double-mindedness, striving for some kind of a 'balance' that will please everyone and convince people that we are stable and respectable. But God wants full-on total commitment. .

He has given us a free will, but he asks us to freely hand that same will over to him, to be broken and reshaped into what he wants us to be. If you will not do that, then the best that you can ever hope to be (or is it the worst that you can ever hope to be?) is a lukewarm, double-minded religious person, totally controlled by your own mind and the fears of those around you. .

Total control by God means death to your pride and your own plans, desires, and opinions. Paul referred to our natural self as the "old person", which must die before we can be created into new people through Jesus. (Romans 6:5-6) This is what really being "born again" is all about, but it can be a painful experience if we keep fighting against it. .

When I was going through something like this years ago, I asked a fellow Christian, "When does it stop hurting?" and he replied, "When you stop fighting." It is our clinging to things that keeps us from having the real freedom that God wants to give us.

But what can we do about people who will not stop fighting? Unfortunately, there isn't much that we can do except to let them leave (or even to encourage them to leave). The harder we fight to make them let go of the things they hang onto, the more they will hate us for it. And when they finally do leave, they may well turn into our worst enemies. .

We will conclude this class by stating very bluntly that we are committed to total control by God; and anyone who does not have a similar aim simply should not be a part of us. Get off the fence and make your choice today. No more half-hearts; no more lukewarmness. Either make a choice for faith and freedom or make a choice for fear and oppression. And make it today..

(See also 'Conscience' Issues.)

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