Be Ready: Addressing Rumors

The Gossip Train can run, cant it?

Sunday’s sermon, Addressing Rumors, comes from 2 Thessalonians 2. If we aren’t careful, we can allow misinformation, rumors, and gossip to distract us from our true calling: sharing the life-changing message of the good news of Jesus Christ around the world.

We cannot allow the church to get derailed by the “Gossip Train.”

There’s no audio from this week’s message, but the manuscript is behind the jump.

Be Ready: Addressing Rumors
2 Thessalonians 2
August 16, 2009

Toby and Nicole were practicing their nightly ritual of sitting on the porch in their rocking chairs, drinking tall glasses of sweet tea and lemonade. They had been married about a dozen years or so and this had become a regular practice. And it was one ritual this couple looked forward to each evening. Toby paid particular attention to the evening’s conversation because Nicole’s birthday was coming soon. And he didn’t have a clue about what to get her this year. He hoped to glean some ideas from Nicole about what would make this year’s birthday extra-special and memorable.

Suddenly, Nicole looked at Toby and said, “You know, I’d just love to be six again.”

This was exactly the suggestion that Toby was hoping for! His imagination ran wild with ideas of how he could make his lovely bride’s dream come true. He went to bed that night with visions of carnivals, roller skates, and cotton candy dancing in his head. Could he pull it off? That would definitely make for a phenomenal birthday present if he could figure out some way to make his wife feel like she was six again.

Over the next few weeks, he plotted and planned. Nicole knew he was up to something, but she couldn’t get him to divulge any information. “What are you up to?” she’d ask over and over again. Toby would just smile his devious little smile and say, “You’ll see, my love. You’ll see.”

After weeks of planning and scheming, Nicole’s birthday finally came. This was the day that Toby was going to make her six again. She awoke to the smell of her favorite childhood breakfast: blueberry pancakes and warm maple syrup with a tall glass of chocolate milk and a side of grits.

Then, Toby surprised her with tickets to the circus, which had come to town. They had front-row seats to the death-defying feats of the high-flying trapeze artists and acrobats. Nicole loved watching the bears dance and the pachyderms play. She squealed with delight as the lion tamer put his head in the lion’s mouth. And she laughed until she couldn’t breathe when the clowns came around; all the while munching away on popcorn and cotton candy.

After the circus, Toby took Nicole to Chuck E Cheese Pizza – which, if you’ve ever been there before, you know this was a sign of his dedication and love. Family and friends met her there with party hats, presents, and a birthday cake. They played games, including the Whack-a-Mole, and ate some pizza. Toby even won her an overstuffed animal with all of the tickets he’d won playing Skee-Ball.

Later that evening, Toby sat down in his rocking chair beside his wife. “So,” he said expectantly. “How did it feel to be six again?”

Shocked and somewhat confused, Nicole tried to figure out what her husband was talking about. “What do you mean?”

Toby was a little confused himself. Hadn’t he just fulfilled her life-long dream? “A few days ago, you told me you would love to be six again. So…how did it feel to be six again?”

Nicole paused. Then her eyes widened as she suddenly recalled what she had said. “You goofball! I said I’d love to be a size six again!”

Misunderstandings happen. Especially when you don’t have all the information. Sometimes they have harmless results, like Toby’s misunderstanding of his wife’s dream to be size six again. There are other times, however, that result in much more destructive consequences. If not dealt with properly, misunderstandings can lead to false rumors and gossip. And this can cause severe damage to a community.

The Thessalonian Christians were in the midst of such dangerous rumors. If you have your Bibles with you, please turn with me to 2 Thessalonians 2. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. 2 Thessalonians 2 is found on page 1032 in those red Bibles.

I don’t know if it was from an intentional attempt to deceive this church, or if it was merely from a simple misunderstanding of something Paul said, but things had gotten out of hand in Thessalonica. Rumors had begun to spread within this close-knit community that  Jesus Christ had already returned and that they had somehow missed the Second Coming.

“In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had taught them that the day of the Lord would come as a thief in the night (1 Thes. 5:2). This instruction (apparently) raised a question in his readers’ minds. It must have seemed to some that the day of the Lord had already come. After all, the persecutions they were experiencing seemed to be what the prophets had predicted when they wrote about the great calamities coming on God’s people and the world in the day of the Lord. The Thessalonians (also) apparently had received instruction from other teachers (saying) to the effect that they were indeed experiencing the judgments of the day of the Lord.”[1] So rumors started to spread. Had they, in fact, missed the Second Coming of Christ?

Read 2 Thessalonians 2

Anticipating and contemplating Christ’s return can lead to all kinds of inaccurate speculation if we’re not careful. So-called experts of the End Times popped up in the Thessalonian church and led them down the wrong road, causing confusion and alarm. This had the potential to derail the Thessalonian church from their mission of sharing the good news of the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. And the same thing can happen to us.

We are also surrounded by speculation by so-called experts about the return of Jesus Christ. It seems that every few years or so, someone makes headlines by proclaiming that they’ve figured out the hidden messages of the end times prophecies and they know the exact date and time when Jesus Christ is going to return.

I remember during the 1992 Presidential primaries, a fringe group spent several Sunday mornings canvassing church parking lots in my hometown with fliers announcing that a particular Presidential candidate was, in fact, the Antichrist. Well, seventeen years later, I don’t think that anyone would argue that this person was the Antichrist – regardless of your politics.

I’ve recently had a few friends send me a link to a video that has been making the rounds around the Internet. The speaker takes two verses that discuss the fall of Satan and then says that two of the words used in these verses sound suspiciously like Barack Obama. And then he makes the leap to say that this leads us to the conclusion that the president is the Antichrist. If you’ve seen this video or heard this argument, you need to know that it’s bunk. I don’t doubt the guy’s sincerity. But he’s just wrong. We’ll know the “Lawless One” by what he does and who he is, not through some misrepresentation of Scripture taken out of context.

But this type of argument isn’t very new, is it? Remember the “Bible Code” that came out about 10 years ago? I think they argued that you could take a computer program and find names like Saddam Hussein and George Bush hidden within the text. This was to somehow show that a prediction of the First Gulf War was hidden within the biblical text.

Following these approaches, I decided to do a little research on my own. In Matthew 9:9, it says that Jesus “saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”  Then, if you turn to Daniel 1:6 it lists the servants in Nebuchadnezzar’s palace: “Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.”

And then in Judges 15:4, Sampson is exacting revenge against the Philistines and it says that “he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails.” Now, the Gaelic word for “fox” is “Todd.”

So Matthew Daniel Todd is contained within Scripture. And since you’re reading this in the Sanctuary at Cowan Christian Church, this means that I am called to be the pastor here for this congregation.

Obviously, this is an extreme example that hopefully made you smile. While I do believe I’ve been called to serve here, I don’t believe it’s because of some hidden meaning within the Bible. But do you see how easy it can be to twist things around to make it say what you want it to say? It can be easy to get knocked off track. If we’re not careful, we can allow ourselves to look more for miraculous signs and wonders than to look for and worship the One to whom those signs are supposed to point. We can allow ourselves to get off track with discussions and arguments about timelines of the End Times and the identity of the “Lawless one,” or the “Beast” or “Antichrist,” as described in the book of Revelation. We can allow ourselves to get off track by arguing about things like dispensational theology, postmillennialism, or amillennialism.

We could allow ourselves to get sidetracked by these arguments, but they’re nothing more than just rumors – just like the rumors that sidetracked the Thessalonian church.  And when we allow ourselves to get sidetracked by rumors and misunderstandings, we have to do the same thing that Paul did for the Thessalonians – be reminded of the truth. Paul reminds the church that they have already been told what will happen at the day of the Lord. They need to go back to what they know Paul had already said – not mere speculation. When in doubt, go to the source.

When you go to the source, you discover that God works on His own timetable, not on ours. God has given us hints at what is to come not so we can create a calendar but to build our character in the mean time. He has set things in motion and this creation in which we live will ultimately come to an end. And God is going to create a New Heaven and a New Earth with a New Jerusalem. All that was broken and scarred by the stain of sin will be made alive and new again in God’s new creation. There will be no more sin. There will be no more tears. There will be no more fear and no more pain. There will be a day when God makes all things new. And we will see Jesus Christ face to face.

But that all happens in God’s timeline. All of this will follow His schedule. And when we hear otherwise from so-called experts, we must continue to take what we hear from rumors and misunderstandings and hold them up against the Truth.

That’s a life application for us that isn’t limited to just understanding of Scripture. When you hear something about someone, go to the source. There is a world going to hell outside these doors and we don’t have time to get involved in arguments about our understanding of the End Times or to get caught up in rumors or gossip about other people.  One of the dangers of a sermon like this is people listening to it and thinking, “Oh, he’s picking on someone in here. I wonder who it is.” I’ll tell you who it is. It’s me. This message is one that I’m preaching to myself and you just happen to get to hear it, too. I love a good conspiracy theory. I also love a good story. I always have. And ever since I took that journalism class in undergrad, I’ve gotten a rush from being able to “scoop” a story. But many times, that’s just adding more fuel to the Gossip Train.

The “Gossip Train” can run – can’t it? One thing gets said, even without all of the information and before you know it, it can be broadcast all over the world via the Internet. But gossip is sin. Spreading unsubstantiated rumors is sin. So we cannot participate in that – either by speaking them or listening to them. We need to stand together and lock arms together as a community of believers and refuse to gossip and speak and listen to false rumors.

And when someone sins against you or hurts your feelings, we need to do what Jesus said we should do. That doesn’t mean pick up the phone and call our neighbor. It doesn’t mean broadcast it to everyone we know via email. We aren’t even supposed to ignore it. We’re supposed to go to the offending brother or sister. We must refuse to gossip.

How do you know if it’s gossip? If you’re not part of the problem and you’re not part of the solution and you’re talking about it with someone…then it’s gossip.[2] Plain and simple. And we need to maintain our unity as a church and the integrity of Jesus Christ by continuing to speak honorably and truthfully about each other. Satan wants nothing more than to bring disunity within the church. And one of the easiest ways to do that is with the Gossip Train running over the body of Christ.

In this meantime, the time between the first coming of Jesus Christ where he willingly spread out his arms, took on our sins and died; then burst from the tomb three days later and eventually ascended into heaven…from that time until the time of His return, we must continue to live faithfully to Christ and His church. We cannot allow rumors, misunderstandings, and gossip infiltrate this body. We must remain vigilant. Because this meantime really is a mean time. So we must refuse to spread unsubstantiated rumors to each other…whether they’re about people here in this community, politically related, or even something more spiritually minded like misinformation about the second coming of Christ. We must stand together and hold each other accountable. Because the world is watching how we handle the mean time. Are we going to allow ourselves to be swayed by rumors and misunderstandings? Or are we going to stand firm on the Rock of Christ Jesus? How we handle these things gives testimony to who we believe Jesus is and how much control we’ve allowed Him to have in our lives.

When we hear rumors or gossip, we must address them by going to the source. Any other way leads to misunderstandings. And that can cause much more damage than a husband misunderstanding his wife’s desire to be a size six.

Like the Thessalonian church, we are on a mission to share the life-changing message of the good news of Jesus Christ. We cannot allow that mission to be derailed.

[1] The Bible Knowledge Commentary

[2] Greg Rohlinger

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