Several years ago when my wife and I lived in Tucson, a couple we knew from our connect group at church — both of whom are gifted Christian counselors — presented the group with an acrostic with the same title as this article. The Lord has been leading me to share this with my readers for a few weeks now and it’s time for me to follow that leading, so here we go!

Here are the four “D”‘s:

  • Deceive
  • Distract
  • Divide
  • Destroy

Because these take place as a progression, we’ll tackle them in order.

Deceive

Jesus Himself called Satan the “Father of Lies” and there is nothing truthful, valuable, advantageous, constructive, or useful that passes from Satan’s lips or those of his demonic horde. Satan is a definitive psychopath with only one goal: the destruction of God’s creation, humanity. No strategies, tactics, methods or means are off-limits to him.

His earthly servants are often no better these days, a prime example being a recent presidential candidate who seems to thrive on falsehood when the truth sometimes would have served her better. The drive-by media is filled with examples of both newscasters and writers — even networks! — who spread falsehood to advance their respective political and social agendas. More and more frequently, tragic events are exploited to fuel those agendas by blowing them way out of proportion to reality and/or presenting outright misrepresentations of the facts — the Treyvon Martin shooting in Florida and the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri both come to mind — using a propaganda technique called “The Big Lie.”

The Big Lie simply means a fictitious narrative is fabricated from whole cloth and trumpeted to the masses over and over and over and over again until it takes hold as “truth” in the minds of an uninformed populace. Even more nefarious are those who proclaim themselves victims of so-called hate-crimes, fabricated with the intention of discrediting a candidate or group they oppose, something we saw a lot of during this last election cycle. If this sounds a LOT like modern “progressive” political discourse and tactics, you win the prize!

Muslims can blatantly and repeatedly lie to non-Muslims with a clear conscience, because they are permitted — even commanded — to do so by the Qu’ran in order to advance the cause of Islam. Muslims are also experts at The Big Lie, a primary example being the so-called “plight” of the Palestinians in Israel, a plight caused and perpetuated by the Palestinians themselves as well as the Arab countries surrounding Israel.

So what do these two groups have in common, so much so that the liberal folks will overlook obvious and egregious conflicts of ideology — women’s rights, LGBT rights, freedom of speech, just to name three — in a perverse version of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend?” The answer is simple: They both are anti-Christ, and are sworn enemies of all things that smack of Christianity.

But I digress…

Despite the fact that Satan and his demonic minions are neither omnipresent nor omniscient beings and therefore cannot read our minds, he is a keen observer and knows precisely what our weaknesses are and what buttons to push to move us in pretty much whatever direction he chooses, except when we believers are walking in submission to the Lordship of Jesus and being led by His Spirit empowered by the grace of God.

Apart from Christian believers, the human race consists of several billion servants of the enemy in total rebellion against the One True God, no matter how “good” they may seem or altruistic and noble their stated goals are. As such, they are child’s play for our enemy to manipulate and move as pawns on his cosmic chessboard — apart from direct divine intervention, that is!

Satan will only speak truth when he can pervert that truth in such a way as to deceive us in some form or fashion. In other words, he rarely presents believers with temptations using out-and-out falsehood, but will disguise or mask his lie by incorporating some truth into the equation. A prime example is his out-of-context abuse of Scriptures during his temptation of Jesus after His baptism in water and the Spirit.

Because he knows where the chinks in our armor are located, he can craft some pretty clever traps. He rarely tempts we believers with overt evil, but most often successfully deceives us into accepting less than God’s best for us. He does this by offering us something that appears on the surface to meet our deepest needs and desires. Apart from the discernment of the Holy Spirit, we are total suckers for this kind of trap!

Which leads us to the second “D”:

Distract

Distractions abound! Satan uses the deceptions we have bought into to distract us from whatever God is either dealing with us about or from doing whatever He has commanded us to do.

For example, if we are single, lonely, and craving the fulfilling companionship of a mate, he will dangle someone in front of us who excites us, makes us feel wonderful and whole and alive — often described as a “soul-mate” — yet has some serious spiritual and/or emotional flaw which has been hand-picked as a weapon to ultimate destroy us after we become fully committed to the relationship. This is one of the deadly dangers of Christian believers dating and marrying non-believers, a common practice I am dead-set against as a minister and counsellor and have dealt with in-depth elsewhere here at Miscellaneous Ramblings.

You can easily tell when this occurs because the deceived Christian, when asked if the new partner is a fellow believer, will deflect the question, making vague statements about them “being spiritual” or that they are Catholic or they love God, but don’t go to church, all of which should have been huge red flags to that believer. Women are especially vulnerable in this way, but guys get trapped, as well. Maybe not immediately, but over time the believer gets more and more wrapped up in the new significant other and less and less wrapped up in the things of God.

Another example is getting us to accept a false doctrine due to our personal ignorance of God’s Word rightly divided. Examples abound here, such as questioning the deity of Christ, His humanity, His sinless life, His birth to a virgin, the facts of His death, burial, and resurrection, and other essential doctrines which define what a Christian is and must believe to be one.

A variant of this doctrinal deception is what someone labeled as “error-by-emphasis.” If Satan cannot get us to buy into a false doctrine outright, he will try to get us hyper-focused upon some specific aspect of the Bible to the exclusion of most, if not all, others. Classic cases are those who have become totally immersed in eschatology (end-times prophesy), divine prosperity, the charismatic gifts and miracles, intercessory prayer, and spiritual warfare, all of which are valid doctrines in and of themselves, but become toxic when taken to extremes at the expense of the rest of God’s Word.

I’ve known a few people over the years who were living lives of total spiritual defeat in their battles against sin, sickness, depression, and poverty yet could draw you a detailed timeline of the Last Days describing the supposed significance of every seal, trumpet, bowl, etc. in the Books of Daniel and Revelation, how all that matched up with the nightly news, who was the best Antichrist candidate du jour, and what form the Mark of the Beast would take!

Yet another doctrine-based variation is to get us to enter into a place of self-righteous judgment against other believers, attacking their doctrinal stands and worship practices, thereby causing division and strife within the Body of Christ. The number of believers, especially ministers, who have fallen for this one is tragically legion and they exist on both sides of every current controversy in the Church, notably charismatic gifts, divine healing, divine prosperity, and the ongoing centuries-old theological war between the Calvinists and the Arminians, just to name a few. Such folk arrogantly presume they have all their pet doctrines down to perfection, while blowing right past Christ’s commands to love the brethren and refrain from judging others.

Persist long enough in such distractions and you end up at the third “D”:

Divide

There comes a point when the deception which has distracted us causes us to pridefully divide ourselves from those having the temerity to disagree with us. We become offended by those who do not share our passion for the deception that has engulfed us, either claiming they are judging us or proclaiming they are somehow “less-than” ourselves for their lack of spiritual discernment. So we leave the fellowship of the non-deceived, either voluntarily or involuntarily, depending upon if/how the local church handles or — most often and tragically — mis-handles such situations.

“Voluntarily” means that we leave of our own free will, usually hurt and offended by the “judgment” and “rejection” we have suffered at the hands of those who see through the deception(s) which have ensnared us.

“Involuntarily” means the local body has had to enforce some form of church discipline to remove egregious sin from its midst which could spread to others, as exemplified by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Church at Corinth dealing with the man there who was having incestuous sexual relations with his mother-in-law. Unrepentant sexual misconduct and open proclamation of heresies are the two most-often-used — and totally legitimate, I might add — justifications for such excommunication.

As a result, we become more and more isolated and, despite our arrogant assertions to the contrary, vulnerable to further attacks and deeper deceptions. We harden our hearts against the correction of the Holy Spirit and, over time, His voice becomes less and less audible to our spirits. We become angry and offended by our perceived “rejections” from other believers and churches. Some of us seek out more liberal churches who are big on grace and light on Truth — a common refuge of the unrepentent — or just quit church entirely, calling them all “hypocrites.”

Toxic Churches

I am in no way making any claim that there are no churches out there who inappropriately sit in judgment and inflict rejection and condemnation upon those who they see as somehow “less-than” because they fail to meet that church’s standards of “holy conduct.” Tragically, Christendom is filled with spiritually and emotionally toxic churches who spend far more time looking on folk’s outward appearances and perceived behaviors than they do in obedience to Jesus’ command to love one another as He has loved us.

Sadly, there is no way to easily identify such churches because they come in every doctrinal flavor imaginable: denominational and non, charismatic and non, Word of Faith and non as well as in every size ranging from tiny house churches to the megachurches which seem to get all the publicity these days. We simply have to be led of the Spirit to discern such churches when we run across them and obey Him when He says, “Nope, not that one!”

Case in point: a few months back, I visited a local church in our area that I had heard a lot of negative impressions about. We were there because my wife’s coworker attended there and she had invited us.

This church is part of a nationally known organization with churches all over the US and elsewhere. That “denomination,” if you will, was founded by an internationally renowned and respected charismatic pastor, conference speaker, television personality, movie producer, and best-selling Christian author. Were I to mention either the man’s or the church’s names, the vast majority of you would immediately recognize them, so I was willing to give these folks the benefit of the doubt and form my own opinions.

When I walked in their doors with an open mind, however, I immediately picked up on the religious demonic spirits who call that body “home.” It was oppressive! The song service had no life in it whatsoever; the music could have been played from a CD and had more anointing (I refuse to call any aspect of the song service “worship” because none took place that I could tell!). The sermon was pure condemnation, completely focused on man’s-religion’s shame-based, performance-oriented mindset, which is anathema to biblical Christianity. When there was an inevitable altar call for people to “repent” of the sins itemized in the sermon, many went forward, but I could see that quite a few of them were simply going through the motions, laughing and joking around between one another, rather than doing serious business with God.

To use a modern slang term, it felt like the entire service was being “phoned in” by most of the participants, starting with the leadership and permeating throughout the entire congregation. My skin was crawling the whole time I was there and I spent the entire service wanting to get out of there as rapidly as possible!

So I totally get that there are indeed churches which are “unsafe” to be in. I know because I’ve been in them — some of them as a member — and left! However, just because unsafe churches exist doesn’t mean we can use their existence as an excuse to separate ourselves from the Body of Christ as expressed in a healthy local body of believers nor does it justify our acting out in ungodly behaviors.

I firmly believe that one of the reasons I’m still standing as a believer for 43 years and counting is that, by the grace of God, I’ve never, ever rejected the Church as a whole based upon the unloving behavior and toxic attitudes exhibited by some of its local expressions. I’ve always sought out Christian fellowship immediately at other churches until the Holy Spirit says, “This is your new home.”

Which leads us to the final “D:”

Destroy

There are two applicable analogies to the kind of isolation that takes place when we are separated from fellowship with the Body of Christ as expressed in a local church. Both of them are so old and oft-repeated that they are bordering on clichés, but each of them illustrates a biblical truth about what happens once we are divided from our brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever the reason may have been.

The first is the analogy of a bed of hot coals in a fireplace or campfire. So long as they remain together, the coals “cooperate” in keeping one another hot. However, whenever you remove one coal from the rest, it quickly extinguishes and grows cold. So it is with those of us who remove ourselves from Christian fellowship at a healthy local church. The light of the Gospel becomes dimmer and dimmer as we justify in our own minds our increasingly ungodly and worldly behavior and attitudes. Eventually, no one can tell the difference between us and the lost — the precise end-goal of our enemy, I might add.

The second analogy is that of a herd of animals, such as deer, elk, moose, antelope, or one of thousands of other ungulate species inhabiting the earth on every continent other than Antarctica. Whenever you watch nature movies or television shows and they show predators attacking such herds, the wolves, coyotes, lions, cheetahs, whatever always target the very young, the very old, or the infirm — in other words, the stragglers, those who inhabit the fringes of the herd or have left the herd completely. Why do predators select such as their prey? Because their target’s physical weakness and diminished speed make them easy pickings. In the same manner, with no brothers and sisters to stand beside us, we, too, fall prey to the enemy who seeks to destroy us because we have no one to stand beside us in fellowship and prayer.

The level of destruction is entirely dependent upon what type and how bad the deception is that had distracted and divided us in the first place. It can range anywhere from simply losing our positions of responsibility within our local church to the outright loss of our church home to the alienation of family members and friends to backsliding and turning away from following Christ to a renunciation of our faith in Christ (leading to damnation) to physical death. There are a multitude of variations and combinations along the way, but the bottom line is that none of them are good for anyone, especially us!

Illustration in Point: My Own Mid-life Crisis

To set this story up, in the late 1970s, I met a sweet, beautiful, and godly woman who I immediately fell head-over-heels in love with. To protect her privacy, I’ll call her Jean. I pursued Jean with everything I had because I was utterly convinced from the bottom of my soul that God meant for us to be together as husband and wife. That attraction was mutual, but, frankly, I was too emotionally and spiritually unhealthy to be with and the Holy Spirit warned her off. Unbeknownst to me, she also had a huge load of emotional baggage of her own caused by years of physical and sexual abuse during her childhood and adolescence.

After a time, I became attracted to another woman who was codependent enough to fall for me (we’ll call her Kathy, again to protect her privacy) and we married, soon thereafter moving away to a distant state. Soon after my marriage, Jean and I lost touch with one another and that remained the case for over a decade. As the unhappiness Kathy and I both experienced in our marriage progressed over the years, I kept pining for Jean, convinced I had missed God by abandoning her for my wife.

In the mean time, Jean had married twice, both times to men who perpetuated the physical and sexual abuse she had suffered as a child well into her adulthood. During that entire time, I swore to myself that, should I ever had opportunity to speak to Jean again, I would tell her that I still loved her and let the chips fall where they may.

The deception was that I could somehow regain the relationship with Jean I had lost, that we could be together again, this time has husband and wife, that God would somehow bless that, and we would live happily ever after, despite God’s clear-cut commandments concerning adultery and His clearly expressed hatred of divorce.

Kathy and I endured just over 21 years of marriage together. Finally, after repeated secret attempts, I managed to re-establish contact with Jean. At that time, we lived 2000 or so miles apart. To make a long story short, I fulfilled my vow to tell her how I felt and found that she felt the same about me, which led us into an emotional affair.

The emotional affair was the distraction.

At the time the affair started, I had earned both associates and bachelors degrees in theology, was an ordained minister, had founded and was leading a successful Christian group counseling ministry in our local church, was being used in various gifts of the Spirit in our local church, was working full-time at an international ministry as a member of the leadership team, and had the respect of my leaders, my peers and those to whom I was ministering. Once the emotional affair started, all of that started going off the rails as God stopped blessing what I was doing.

The affair eventually destroyed what little was left of my marriage. I then had the choice to either stay put, repent, and allow God to miraculously restore my marriage to Kathy or I could throw it all away for my love of Jean and traipse over halfway across the country to be with her.

I chose Jean.

I packed up all my earthly belongings in a U-Haul trailer, grabbed my cat Teddy, and headed west in July 2001. In doing so, I abandoned everything I had loved and worked for my entire life to achieve: my adopted teenage son, my ministry calling, my ministry job, my ministerial credentials, my standing with my church — everything.

My departure was the division.

When I arrived at Jean’s, the whole thing fell apart after only 3 weeks. We were just too emotionally damaged to sustain a healthy relationship. So there I was, stuck 2000 miles from the last place I had called home with no job or prospects of one, no money, no ministry, no church, no woman, no local friends, no support infrastructure. My net worth was the little bit of cash in my wallet.

I. Had. Nothing.

I think we can safely call that “destruction,” don’t you?

The Aftermath

One of my closest friends, Pastor David Oberg and his wife Fran, rescued me by generously paying for another U-Haul trailer to pack all my belongings into, my gasoline to get to Reno, Nevada where they live, and a self-storage unit where I could unload my stuff, and provided me with a place to stay until I could find a job. Without them being motivated by their love for me and the mercy of God, I would be living under some overpass somewhere in a cardboard box, most likely to this day!

It took about 6 years for all that bad seed I had sown to be harvested and a new crop to start bearing fruit. During that time, I endured what seemed like an endless string of dead-end jobs with psychotic bosses, alternating with temporary employment assignments, as I learned to truly live by faith for the first time in my life. All the teachings on faith and prayer I had received over the years became alive and real to me, instead of intellectually assessed facts. During that time, I also stopped believing my own press releases and learned to never, ever, ever again take even the slightest bit of credit for anything I am, have, have accomplished, or can do. God now gets ALL the glory!

By 2007, my life started turning around. Here we are almost 16-years-to-the-day after that fateful day when I first re-established contact with Jean with my life, job, and ministry completely restored and, frankly, the best it’s ever been! My relationship with my son has been restored, hallelujah! Jean, Kathy, and I have each gone through a huge amount of recovery work and emotional healing; we all have found new spouses and each of us is happy and secure in our respective marriages.

God is good! God is merciful! God is gracious! And He is the God of second- and third- and fourth- and so-on chances!

Conclusion

Now you can see why I am totally unable to stake out any imaginary moral high ground from which to judge any of you who may be reading this article, feeling like I was condemning you. I wrote this, not to condemn you, but because my heart is breaking over the tragedy you are bringing upon yourself through those choices. I hope to spare you the pain I went through while learning this hard, painful, difficult, and humiliating lesson.

If even one of you reading this finds this article applicable to your situation and repents, it was definitely worth the effort for me to write it and the risks I took exposing one of the darkest corners of my past.

A wise man learns from his own mistakes and doesn’t repeat them.
An even wiser man learns from the mistakes of others, as well.

Thanks for reading!