One Degree Off

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What would happen if you had a compass, headed for the North Pole, and your compass was faulty? What if it was only one degree off true North? If you were starting in South Georgia where I live, there’s a good chance you would end up in the Atlantic Ocean and never reach your destination. A compass is only good if it’s accurate. If your goal is true north, then one degree off keeps leading you further and further away from your stated destination.

With that thought in mind, realizing we are all flawed sinners saved by grace, there’s a word of caution I’d like to offer. Make sure your compass is pointed true north. Or, simply, make sure your compass is pointed toward Jesus.

That seems so obvious, and you may decide to stop reading now and go find something interesting to read. I beg you to stay with me. Obviously, our faith is in Christ. We are saved and sealed by the blood of Jesus. But in reality, it’s easy to start with Jesus and end up somewhere else.

For instance, some folks ultimately miss Jesus because they joined a church before they came to Christ. Vance Havner said, “I could have led a lot of people to Jesus if they hadn’t joined a church first.” Why? Because some people confuse being on a church roll or being baptized or confirmed with following Jesus as Lord and Savior. To say you’re a member of a church doesn’t automatically mean you are a follower of Jesus Christ. One degree off here means you got the cart before the horse.

You can be one degree off by chasing the whims and fads of the day. It seems to be easy in American Christianity to equate the newest book or hottest speaker with chasing after Jesus. In fact, you’ve taken a detour. How? You start reading the Word through the grid of that fallible speaker’s teachings or writings. The only infallible book ever written is the Word of God. Any other book pales in comparison.

Yet I’ve found people who follow certain authors and teachers religiously, passionately, and, sad to say, blindly. “If _____ said it, it must be true.” Maybe, maybe not. The danger of following speakers and authors is that they have to continue to come up with “stuff”—a new conference, a new subject that they suddenly become an expert in, an updated version of their book (meaning the first version wasn’t adequate or the publisher needed to milk the cow a little more and make a few more bucks).

As an example, in the history of Christianity very few writers and speakers have been experts in all subjects. For instance, in seminary you might have professors who primarily teach Old Testament. That’s their emphasis because they did their doctoral dissertation in some aspect of Old Testament history or a particular book. It’s not that they aren’t adequate in other areas, but they aren’t experts. They are specialists.

When I first started in ministry, Ron Dunn told me he rarely bought whole sets of commentaries by one person because no one would have the time, energy, or capacity to be fully fluent in all things from Genesis to Revelation. He said one reason God gave “teachers” to the church is that they are gifted in a variety of ways and bent toward particular subjects or themes of books. So his goal was to find the best of the best commentaries and preachers on particular books or doctrines and read them first and foremost.

It’s hard to imagine that a person can be an expert on multiple levels. We live in an age of specialists. True, we are to preach the whole counsel of God, but when I want material on prophecy, I usually don’t go to a person who is a great teacher on spiritual gifts.

The danger of following your favorite teacher is, at the end of the day, you may only have their perspective on an issue. Typically, you follow someone who already thinks like you. The subtle nature of this flaw is you can end up one degree off, assuming that someone you never met also agrees with your assumptions.

In the church, we can get one degree off by following policies, procedures, constitutions, and committees. We forget Jesus is the head of the church, not some guy named Robert who wrote “rules of order.” I’ve met people who sleep with the constitution and by-laws on top of their Bibles. They know more about rules and procedures than they do the Ten Commandments. In the end, they are way off true North because they seek to form the body of Christ into a rigid organization of manmade rules and regulations. This has killed more than one church in the name of “order.” Those churches lose the focus of Jesus. They forget the Great Commission and focus on business meetings. The result? They end up drowning in bureaucracy while the community goes to hell.

You can do this in a variety of areas: spiritual gifts, prophecy, Christian education, homeschooling, positive thinking, healing, etc. I’m not picking on these; there are dozens more. I’m simply saying: be careful lest, in your pursuit of being like Jesus you look nothing like Him.

The Word of God establishes our boundaries. If it doesn’t look like Jesus, it’s not Spirit-led no matter what someone says. If it doesn’t have the character of the fruit of the Spirit, it’s not Jesus. If it divides and creates disunity among godly people or within a church, it’s not Jesus.

I’ve seen these kinds of things destroy churches and friendships. It seems when someone gets a few degrees off, they become prideful and self-focused. They have feelings of superiority. They select the Scriptures they want to talk about. They aren’t balanced. They edit the Bible and say God led them to this.

I can remember in the 1990s when I heard a man speak who had filled arenas in the ‘60s and ‘70s with his teachings. He said, “I’ve been to Russia and told them, ‘Don’t let these so-called Christians come over here who wear blue jeans.’ The fact that they wear blue jeans is a sign they aren’t under authority and are rebellious in spirit.” I walked out of the room. That’s not Jesus; that’s flesh and blood trying to get people to conform to their image, not the image of Jesus.

Today in a land where we have the freedom to assemble and worship, we have folks who push for home churches. While I have some issues with that, at the end of the day we don’t live in a persecuted land. We have the freedom to assemble and worship, so why not worship corporately? There may be a day when we can’t. We aren’t there yet. Be a leader in your home, but don’t put down the church to build yourself up.

One degree off. It can be saying someone has to use the translation you use or must possess your certain spiritual gift. It can be fifty other things. At the end of the day, if everyone has to look like you, think like you, talk like you, like what you like, and dislike what you dislike,  you are either looking for a robot world or you are denying the various the aspects of a body called the church.

Jesus shares His glory with no one. We’d all agree with that. He also doesn’t need your help or your opinion. He doesn’t need mine either. What He expects is lordship. We take everything to the cross. We die to self-daily. We are accountable to others who have the ability to speak into our lives and point out when we are one degree off.

I don’t want to end up in the ocean if my goal is the North Pole. I don’t want to spend my life thinking I’m pursuing Jesus when, in reality, I’m pursuing a Jesus I’ve created in my own image. That, my friends, is pure, unadulterated idolatry. Creating Christianity or Jesus in a form that makes you comfortable isn’t New Testament; it’s fleshly at the core. It’s Corinthian carnality. God help us to get over ourselves and get a compass that points us and those around us to the one true goal—being like Jesus.

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