On Thieves in the Church

Phyllis Nissila


gold bullionAn Army veteran told this story:

When I arrived at the fort (to guard the gold) I was told there were no bullets for my weapon.

“WHAT?” I asked the CO, astonished.

“No need,” the commander replied. “The gold is gone. We let whoever wants to get in, get in. If they demonstrate evil intent, we simply lock the doors and then they’re ours.”

Brilliant, I thought, and I considered another one who “works the perimeter” of other kinds of repositories: “spiritual storehouses,” if you will. But in this case, by contrast, the “guard” is the one concealing evil intent and looking for easy ways to gather, deceive, then lockdown his intended. Only in his plan, the entrants are completely unaware there might be any sort of danger or deception inside because, well, this is a CHURCH, for heaven’s sake. Literally. By all appearances and reputation (like the famous fort) this “religious treasury” is assumed to house spiritual bullion. Little do the faithful know.*

A few, however, know a lot.

snake-reptileTHE DECEPTION

But it’s no secret what Satan’s intentions have always been, at least for those who are aware. One long-ago believer gave this heads-up: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV). And what better place than Sunday gatherings to snare dozens with deception? (Just one lie at a time, however, or too many people would be suspicious.)

And to make things easier for himself, the Evil One doesn’t usually enter roaring and clawing. The master shape-shifter dons attractive guises. A little deftly-orchestrated pomp here, some glittery circumstance, there; a gradual sprinkling of pop culture or an evening of experience-based pizzazz (and for only $30 more, get the how-to manual and DVD). Throw in some carefully wordsmithed “theology du jour,” and voila! Inch by inch, the old artificer snakes down the aisle…

A local, related story comes to mind.

Back in the nineties, the pastor of a well-known and quite large Protestant church in my area began to be wined and dined by the Roman Catholic Church unbeknownst to his congregation, many of whom were former Catholics who had left that denomination due to the weight of extra- and non-biblical teachings accrued over centuries.

One Sunday, however, the pastor spilled the papal beans, as it were, perhaps because he’d already been receiving calls and emails from RC refugees who had begun to be suspicious of a few, Catholic “liturgical embellishments” recently added to services. Pastor decided to hold an informational meeting to address our concerns.

He prefaced a Q&A session by telling us he was involved in what he believed was an exciting new turn of (Holy Spirit) events: trips to Rome to meet with Catholic and Protestant leaders to forge a new unity of the faith(s).**

We waited through his explanation with curiosity and even more concern. Then the questions began.

“Do you understand, Pastor, that the Catholic Church teaches a different salvation?”

“Do you understand how the Catholic teaching of ‘transubstantiation’ attributes a meaning to ‘communion’ not found in Scripture?”

“Are you familiar with the meanings of ‘ex cathedra,’ the ‘Immaculate Conception,’ ‘indulgences’?”***

The questions kept coming.

Not only did the pastor react with condescension and deflective wordsmithing, he rejected the appeal to drop his visits to the Vatican. Many, amazed and saddened, left his church.

A former member who has visited the place from time to time since tells me that not only is the so-called “four-square Gospel” no longer featured prominently in church teachings and literature, all manner of off-topic elements have replaced it along with a few old Catholic influences and some so-called seeker friendly add-ons such as a bistro in the entry hall. This, in spite of the urgency of alerting believers to what God is saying TODAY to the churches about the signs of the times—and the significance thereof, let alone the need to present instruction on the basics of the Gospel, whether or not seekers approve.

All of which is very ironic.

You see, not long before this same pastor began his forays into Catholicism he spoke on one of Satan’s major deceptive tactics: introducing false teachings layer by layer so that without careful inspection it is hard to discern until, for many, it’s too late.

He even used this analogy: “It’s like painting the church walls black one shade of gray at a time,” he said. “Pretty soon, the walls are completely dark and most, having not discerned the gradual transition, remain unaware and fooled.” Another good analogy is the proverbial frog in the pan of water underneath which the heat is ever-so-slowly increased until the poor frog succumbs.

Of course, as in the case of those with knowledge and experience in Roman Catholicism in his church who tried to warn him, there are many “watchers” and apologists in the church at large who will sound the alert for those with ears to hear and who are aware of a Standard on which we can rely.


Insert, here, the rest of the instructions from the 1 Peter text: “ Resist (Satan), standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (verse 9).

In short, in every era, every culture, tribe and tongue, the wolf in sheep’s clothing (to add another hungry creature to the list of comparisons with the Father of Evil) seduces, deceives, and scams for one deadly purpose, to destroy—shading over the truth with a lie here and a trick there, as the heat rises.

However, the good news—and the Good News—is that resistance is NOT futile (see Jesus’ own example of success detailed in Luke 4:1-13 and Matthew 4:1-11). Put another way: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

And how did Jesus put Satan to flight? By use of the Scriptures: “It is written…it is written…it is written.”

Jesus the Word Made Flesh, Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, wielded the equally constant standard of the “Word Made Text”. If it worked for Him, we can have full confidence it will work for us.

And how do we know whose translations, additions, subtractions and embellishments are askew?

Jesus sent a teacher, a guide, to help. Consider: “(The) Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). This is what watchers and apologists rely on. This is what we can rely on, too.

At rebirth, the Holy Spirit is gifted and available to those who choose to hear Him, and He is then our constant, in this case fully equipped, spiritual protection.

Don’t go to church—or anywhere else—without Him.


*And that’s our main problem. Stay in the Word of God, my friends.

**For more information on that phase of the ecumenical movement, here is a good starter reference. The researcher is encouraged to go further by reviewing the scholarly critiques by Christian apologists, some of whom are cited in this introductory piece: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelicals_and_Catholics_Together

***For a comprehensive primer on what Catholics still believe today, here is a good site: http://www.catholic.com/

Images from the public domain.


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On the God of the Dance and the Ballerina in Blue

Phyllis Nissila

I estimated that when the ballerina in blue performed with her dance group there was not a dry eye in the audience— or backstage, my niece added, during the time she waited in the wings with her own group for their turn, watching…
Continue reading

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Hope for A Hot Mess

Phyllis Nissila

flamesWe live in a hot mess.

We ARE a hot mess.

This is readily apparent when one reads the news, looks around, looks in the mirror…

But it really hit home recently when I began re-examining the “holiness” concept. Continue reading

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A Timely Reminder: Armor Up, 2–Whose Integrity?

Phyllis Nissila

Though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand (Psalm 37:24, NIV).

armorIn a refresher course of study on spiritual warfare ( see Ephesians 6:10-20), I came across a broadcast on the necessity of walking in (complete) integrity otherwise spiritual warfare will be ineffective, Satan will not “flee,” apparently, even when the power of God’s Word is applied, and we may be all-around miserable in the trenches.

Or so the logic of the subtext implied. Continue reading

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A Timely Reminder: Armor Up

Phyllis Nissila

armorFinally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:10-18 NIV). Continue reading

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What God Makes of Us

Phyllis Nissila


1371541492747731845picnic basket-hiI enthusiastically confess I love the Food Network show, “Chopped.” It is a contest starting out with four chefs who have to create appetizers, entrées, and desserts in a given amount of time with ingredients unknown to them until the timer starts ticking and they open up their food baskets (with some additional basic ingredients available from the show’s fridge and pantry).

Each round, one chef is “chopped” from the competition and he or she who wins the dessert segment takes home the cash, the honor, and an almost insured boost in his/her own food-related business.

Sometimes the basket contents make sense, but other times the stress intensifies as ingredients are selected to be over-the-top challenging. For example, contestants might be charged to create an appetizer of, say, a bottle of root beer, a pound of Gouda cheese, and a can of creamed corn. The entrée might require creative use of, say, a pig’s head, a package of phyllo dough, and a jar of horseradish. For dessert, they may open the basket to a bag of fried won tons, a handful of gummy bears, and three avocados. Taste, creativity, and appearance are at stake.

I am always amazed at the results—and the talent.


But it’s the spiritual kind of “tough ingredients” of the contents of our lives, if you will, that intrigues me just now.

Permit me to indulge in a dollop of metaphor. Continue reading

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Water Ways: Ten Simple Assignments to Change the World

Phyllis Nissila


Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:1-3, NIV).

creekWe used to live on the edge of a town bordering the McKenzie River, a ninety mile tributary of the Pacific Northwest’s Willamette River that drains the Cascadia Range. The turn-around point in my walk was a bridge atop a narrow segment of that rumble-tumble waterway where I usually paused briefly for both refreshment and inspiration.

I enjoyed the breather, but more, I enjoyed what I came to call the “Lessons of Spring Creek,” the spiritual metaphors gleaned there. I came to look forward to the truths I might find bubbling up beneath the walkover that paralleled insights surfacing within me; life- and wisdom-giving psalms, proverbs, and poems from The Book I had been meditating on for years. Here are a few samples from my journals: Continue reading

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