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“God created man in His own image and man returned the favor”. These sarcastic words are a quote from Voltaire, the famous French philosopher and agnostic. Are we stunned? We shouldn’t be. Paul saw this human tendency from a long way off and warned of the immanent dangers of exchanging the truth of God for a man-made lie:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen” (Romans 1:21-23, 25).

In the contemporary church today there is a tragic dearth of Biblical study of the person and works of God. Pop-psychology and emotional subjectivism have replaced the Scripture’s paradigm of how God describes Himself. And this point is critical. God’s Word is what best defines who He is. No amount of man’s wisdom, clever language, or vivid imagination can do justice to the nature of God when compared to His self-revelation. A quick glimpse at the large portion of best-selling “Christian” books and DVDs shows them to be shockingly humanistic in their characterization of the sovereign Lord. When church members gobble up millions of books that portray the creator of the universe as an overweight African-American woman who likes to cook or describes God as “a risk taker” (which denies God’s omniscience) we have an obligation to be alarmed and sound a warming siren.

This is juxtaposed against the exalted view of God and the proper study of His nature and character that was expressed (at age 20 nonetheless) by C. H. Spurgeon “It has been said that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father”. Spurgeon eloquently defines the knowledge of God to be a worthwhile and necessary pursuit but only when conducted through “proper study”.

Tragically today many within the “church” today view God through the lens of self, fiction, humanistic psychology, or popular thinking. Often little of our definition of Him relies upon God’s own objective statements of His attributes and character. If it is uncomfortable, seemingly “unfair”, doesn’t “feel right”, or promotes God in all of His otherness (His holy and infinitely superior distinctiveness from His creation) then we prefer to redefine Him in more comfortable and man-friendly terms. In this process we can so modernize, rationalize, humanize, homogenize, anthropomorphize and domesticate Him that we altogether de-deify the Creator. And in doing so we have created God in our own image thereby endangering ourselves to the judgment of God that Paul spoke of in Romans 1.

I believe that God is incomprehensible, absolutely self-sufficient, and inherently sovereign in His supremacy over all things, ideas, and perceptions. Yet His word commands us to pursue knowledge and understanding of Him. This is not a contradiction. The Word that decrees that we pursue Him also helps us to understand Him. Solomon captures this thought when he states, “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1-5).

The prophet Jeremiah declares, “ This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:23-24). Therefore we are to seek to know God, as He is, for who He is, based upon His own revelation of Himself. So let’s be careful as to what means we use to understand and conceptualize God – if it is not based upon His Word it is not really Him or from Him. Let’s not succumb to the fleshly temptation to humanize our transcendent Lord and attempt to create God in our own image.

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“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19).

From what little I know about leprosy it is truly awful and would be similar to having AIDS today. Leprosy is an infectious disease that is characterized by disfiguring skin sores, nerve damage, and progressive debilitation. Also, in Jesus’ era, it was incurable. So lepers were, for all practical purposes, socially and physically quarantined and up to this very day there remains a stigma associated with the illness. The life of a leper was truly terrible. I’ve never been healed of leprosy but I’m sure it is a huge deal. Clearly it was for these 10 men who were touched by Jesus’ power of healing. For one it seemed to be of special significance – for he was one of the Samaritans so detested by the Jews. The Hebrews scorned them as dirty to begin with and I imagine the disease compounded this man’s ridicule and isolation.

The lepers’ address of Jesus, while standing at a distance, as Master indicates they knew Him to have great power. So when He commanded them to go they listened. But also they did something to receive their gift. In an act of faith this Samaritan, along with the other nine, obediently went to the priests in response to the Lord’s direction. To underscore Jesus’ divine nature, the scripture says that the healing took place even before they could show themselves to the teachers of the law, the place they needed to go to be “declared” clean. It was a miracle! Yet a real part of the miracle had to do with them acting upon the promise of Christ. I’ve always wondered if their restoration would have occurred it they had chosen not to act. I doubt it. But, in the end, they went and they were healed.

Yet this Samaritan was the only one to be compelled by a thankful heart to return and praise Jesus. This passage suggests that all ten were healed. I think it safe to assume that all were appreciative given their dire circumstances. But only this one visibly demonstrated his gratitude to the giver of this supernatural cure. It is clear that with this Samaritan that his appreciation for Jesus’ benevolent act impassioned him to return to Jesus and display his affection and praise. In this I believe we see that gratitude is inextricably linked to love and to a visible exhibition of its effect on us.

Gratitude is much like love in that it means little unless it prompts us to act upon it. Love motivated gratitude should be verbally expressed and outwardly demonstrated. This is not about the debtor’s ethic we so often see associated with a works-based religion. This Samaritan would have been cleansed whether he returned to Jesus or not. He did so out of a heart that recognized the magnitude of Jesus’ deliverance and healing and not from a desire to show himself worthy or out of a sense of pure obligation. Just the opposite – when he returned to His deliverer the Samaritan did so with loud shouts of praise for the Master and worshipfully thrust himself at the feet of the Lord.

I doubt that anyone who reads this will ever be cured of leprosy. But His children have been cured of something far greater – the disease of our sin and its destructive power. Analogous to the Samaritan’s plight, God, through Christ, has removed from us the ugliness, spiritual alienation, and ultimate death caused by our transgressions. Because He had declared us “clean”, we can, by grace through faith, come close to our Master who has delivered us – the one, Jesus, who “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). And due to this, like the grateful leper, we should be moved to honor and praise Him.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I pray we become more like this Samaritan. May our appreciation for our Savior be more than an attitude. Let’s all ask God for such a love-saturated gratitude for Him that we seek after Jesus with loud praises and worship at His feet with such authenticity that it permeates all of who we are, our every thought and, accordingly, the way we project and exhibit His beauty through worshipful living (Romans 12:1-2). That, I believe, would be genuine Godward gratitude in its highest form.


“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).

“Everyone is a theologian. We are either believing and behaving that which is true, or believing and behaving that which is false”. – Mark Driscoll

There have always been false teachers and there always will be. And I believe they are on the increase. Their increase is one of the signs of the last days (see 1 John 2:18). There have always been those that disavow the existence and principles of God and their numbers are growing exponentially. Those folks are easy to identify. Though it pains me to see the rise of atheism, postmodernism, agnosticism, secular humanism and the like, the teaching that I see that falsely parades itself as “Christian” is most appalling and frightening to me. And, tragically, it is the most deceptive! Jesus, referring to the last days, says, “For false Christ’s and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect–if that were possible: (Matthew 24:24). We, my friends, are there! And these false prophets are cloaking themselves in “church” garb.

Who are these folks? I will resist the temptation to call names. Instead we will look at Second Peter 2 to see their characteristics. I will then let the Holy Spirit help you discern who they might be. Some of the traits of the modern day false teachers include:

  • Denial or Distortion of God’s Word (verse 1). These false teachers deny or ignore the “whole counsel” of God’s Word (including denying the sovereignty of God) and choose “pet topics” that are more appealing to the masses. A sense of “entitlement” is prevalent among many of these teachers and they will manipulate God’s word to justify such arrogance.
  • Deception (verse 1). They often sound and look good but these teachers, when scrutinized by a close study of Scripture and church history, are far from the orthodox views of the faith. Their deceptions are subtle unless we know the Bible and how it is to be systematically interpreted (see Matthew 7:15-23, Ephesians 5:6).
  • Destructive (verse 1). False teaching sounds positive and promising but in the end it hurts the people. This is because their followers are not hearing the truth and it is the truth that sets us free. Many that follow false teachers are end up spiritually and emotionally bankrupt and many are so misdirected they do not even know the true gospel (2 Peter 2:4-9).
  • Popularity – they will attract large numbers of followers (verse 2). It is easy to gain a substantial following when the message is what God “owes” us and not our surrender and subservience to Him. Our flesh is easily attracted to such a model as long as it resembles Christianity. Jesus said, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14).
  • Motivated by greed (verses 3, 14).  Accumulating money and material possessions is at the heart of much of false teaching and the teacher usually financially profits (often in an exorbitant sense) from the popularity of their false teaching. Jesus’ principle of storing up treasure in heaven as opposed to here on earth is rarely heard (see 1 Tim 6:3-11, Titus 1:10-11).
  • Exploitation (verse 3). False teachers often takes advantage of poor and/or ignorant. They, desiring to build their own earthly kingdom, prey upon vulnerable people’s emotions and misdirected desires based upon exaggerated hopes and promises. Those that are weak in the faith are most susceptible to false teachers.
  • Experience oriented (psychology based) – (verse 3). You hear more from false teachers about what God had done for them and others than what God’s word says. Human stories are the rule rather than the exception. Also, they have subtly superimposed humanistic psychology over scripture to create an attractive and appealing deception (see Colossians 2:8, 18). Self-Esteem, which is never commended or commanded in scripture, is a pervasive theme.
  • Boldness and arrogance (verse 10).  These “prophets” are full of pride. They do not resemble the humble servants God chose in both the Old and New Testament to proclaim His truth. Nor do they reflect the servant mentality of our Savior. They evoke a sense of spiritual superiority that grants them the “right” to promote themselves. Usually you see their name and photograph ostentatiously plastered all over their ministry’s “marketing materials” (see 1 Timothy 4:1-2, 7).
  • Teach in ignorance and with poor reasoning (verse 12, 18). Often we see false teachers having no Bible training or are not true students of the Bible. More often than not they practice eisogesis as opposed to exegesis. Instead of a scholarly approach to seeking God’s truth they project their feelings and desires into the texts they so often twist them for their own purposes. (see 1 Timothy 1:3-11).
  • Focus on the here and now, the temporal and tangible (verses 13-14). Rarely do you here false teachers talk about spiritual or eternal reward – joy, peace, patience, worshiping and enjoying God forever, etc. – or that our focus should be denying ourselves in order to reap the benefits for all of eternity (see 2 Corinthians 4:18). “Things” take precedent over heart-righteousness and the pursuit of Christ and His Kingdom.
  • Character issues – (verses 13-14).  These teachers are often characterized by sexual sin because they are inclined to live as their own ruler by rejecting discipline. Sadly, they often instruct others to live in a manner that would promote moral and character weaknesses. Although we live under the covenant of grace God doesn’t give us a license to live unrestrained by His law.
  • Appeal to their listeners fleshly nature and worldly orientation – (verses 18, 20). False teaching usually appeals to our flesh (what we want in the natural) and tends to project things of this world as our reward thus doing little to differentiate their followers from our lost culture. Often false teachers’ ministry tools are attempts at mimicking the world’s strategies for attracting people.
  • Attract the vulnerable, overly emotional, and scripturally ignorant (verse 18). It stands to reason that such would be attracted to worldly and unbiblical teachings – in many cases they have little scriptural depth or are emotionally grasping for panaceas to fix their immediate problems. Often we see a “cult of personality” phenomenon and an ethnocentric “quick fix” approach.
  • Empty and shallow words (verse 18). Rarely do false teachers mine the depths of the nature of God and His word. Scriptures are referenced but true study of its deeper truths is lacking. Proof-texting without consideration for a verse’s or passage’s context is all too common. Almost always false teachings are topical as supposed to context oriented verse-by-verse exposition.
  • Make promises that aren’t real (verse 19). How often have we heard about the promises of healing, wealth, job promotion, relationship bliss, etc. that go unkept? The suggestion that planting a financial “faith seed” obliges God to create an earthly paradise for us is presumptuous at best and heretical at worst. More often than not the false teachers build false hopes based upon unscriptural precepts.
  • Destined for destruction (verse 21, 22). The future for those that knowingly propagate false teaching is tragic and serves as a sobering reminder. God’s word is clear that those who use the veneer of Christianity to practice deception for personal gain are destined for a cruel punishment. Sadly, their followers are often in the same danger.

As you can see the consequences for the false teacher and their followers are potentially devastating. Therefore I implore all of those that teach in the name of Jesus to be very careful. Teachers will be held to a higher standard than their audience. James says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).  We are called to rightly divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). For those who learn from and follow teachers of any kind I plead with you to be as vigilant as the Bereans,  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). In every teaching that we hear let us individually look to Jesus and His word and rely upon the Holy Spirit to help us discern the difference between true and false teaching. After all, we are all help accountable for the way we handle the Word of Truth.


“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:12-14).

Do you ever wonder why some folks just seem to be unable to grasp the deep yet critical truths of God? Why such things as grace, mercy, imputed sin and righteousness, the substitutionary atonement, abiding in Christ, and living in the Spirit seem to be completely foreign and meaningless ideas that do not take root in their minds and hearts? Paul explains this in First Corinthians and the second chapter. Let’s take a look.

Perusing the first five verses of this chapter we see that God’s truth is not revealed by means of eloquent speech, superior human wisdom, man-generated knowledge, persuasive arguments, or a confident presentation by some teacher. Instead it is centered in Christ and His death, communicated by His Spirit, wrought by God’s power, and fosters faith in the learner. It is born out of humble and fearful submission to the inherent truth of God’s revelation and our dependence upon His Spirit to transfer its truth to us. Although this does not excuse us from scholarly Biblical study and “rightly dividing the Word of Truth”, the old saying that “a preacher can teach truth but only the Spirit can impart it” is valid.

Next we see (verses 6-11) that the lost world does not understand the things of God. The wisdom of God is contrary to the wisdom of this world therefore it is a mystery and hidden to those unenlightened by the Holy Spirit. Earlier in this letter Paul indicates that God’s wisdom is perceived as “foolishness” to the so-called sages and scholars of secular philosophy (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). Primarily it is their rejection of the seemingly silly and faith-requiring message of Christ and the Cross. This is why he calls them lacking in understanding, perishing, coming to nothing, and that their wisdom will be destroyed by the preaching of the Cross and the enlightenment of the Spirit. We must remember that Christ (Logos) is always at the center of understanding truth: “It is because of [God] that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

Now in our focal text (verses 12-14 above) we see that in our ability to know spiritual things we are not like the world. We, in Christ, have been given understanding of these mysteries and truths hidden from the lost. In Him we are freely given a wisdom that supersedes the wisdom of this world as God’s wisdom leads to light and life. It is spiritual and not material therefore it can only be learned by the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us this is the Spirit’s role: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). And we have a uniquely intimate access to His power and the truth He gives us: “the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17).

My recommendation is this: Make sure that you have the gift of the Holy Spirit that is given to all who are born again of God (John 3:5-8). Unless you have received spiritual illumination regarding the helpless situation your sin-debt has caused, that Jesus has provided the only solution for your sin problem, and that He is compelling you to receive Him and His salvation through a totally surrendered faith in Him then these rest of this discussion is a moot point. You need to know Jesus through His Spirit to understand the wisdom of God – our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. As Peter preached it: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

If you have received His Spirit through repentance (a change of mind) and the New Birth then I suggest the following: Acknowledge the Spirit’s presence in you and with you, trust in His role in teaching us the truths of Jesus, call upon Him for discernment, yield to the His power to illuminate your mind and heart and, based upon sound scriptural exegesis, pray that He reveals and embeds God’s truth in you. And then, through faith and the Spirit’s power, live out what He has taught you. For through the Holy Spirit, as Paul concludes in this chapter, we can have the glorious reality of knowing Jesus, understanding His truth, and making it a reality in our daily walk with Him: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:16).


“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Jesus’ words presume that false teachers were already present. He was more than likely, based upon His harsh criticism of them, including the Pharisees among them (In Matthew 15 He calls them hypocrites and blind guides). Beyond that, when He is asked by His disciples about the end of the age, Jesus tells them of false teachers to come; “and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:11-13). References to false teachers appear in nearly all of the New Testament books. John also indicates the increase of false teacher predicates the nearing of the end (1 John 2:18).

Another assumption in this passage is that, as opposed to false teaching, there is true teaching. God’s word contains objective truth and, for the most part, we are able to discern that truth. There will always remain a remnant of teachers that study, learn, and teach the true message of our King and His Word. Sadly, their number is diminishing as the contemporary consumerized church has shown much evidence of Timothy’s prophecy – “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). A man-centered theme and secular psychology are superimposed over God’s word in such a way that current teaching rarely reflects the kind of challenging and deep truth that the Sermon on the Mount reveals.

Jesus says these false teachers look innocent enough (like sheep) but  really are inwardly evil (like ferocious wolves). This suggests an outward form of godliness but a lack of heart-righteousness. In essence their words sound good but their motives are not pure. Like the Pharisees they look beautiful on the outside inside but are filled with dead men’s bones on the inside (see Matthew 23:27).  And because they often look and sound religious the scripture indicates they will be popular (“many will follow their ways”). But beware – they are cloaked in deceptive garb! Through the Holy Spirit one must be discerning and peer below the surface of these false teacher’s outward appearance, teaching, and ministries.

How then will we identify them? Not by the number of followers, adherents, book-buyers, or church members they have. Not by the size of their building, ministry budget, the number of “healings” or baptisms. How then? Obviously by the scriptural accuracy of their doctrine. But also, according the Jesus here, by the fruit of their characters and lives! Paul depicts them this way – “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud …without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

Jesus warns of the false teacher’s eventual destruction. In a very frightening and graphic description He says they will be cut down and thrown into the fire serving us all with notice as to the consequences of false teaching and the following of false teachers.  Peter says it this way:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3).

The Kingdom of Heaven is about truth – the truth of Jesus and His teachings. This passage should be a sobering reminder that there are those who do not teach the truth of the Kingdom. It also suggests that we are responsible to test the teachings and fruit of all so that we are not led to destruction by the false teachers and doctrines that so many follow. I believe that our King would have us to be as vigilant as the Bereans – “,  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).


Just because a song is played on “Christian” radio doesn’t make its content Biblical. Tragically, those listening can’t always discern the difference between God-centered lyrics and lyrics that are more akin to pop psychology. Below are two examples of often played “Christian” songs.

One song never mentions God in any sense and is completely self-oriented. Its message could have just as easily been written by an atheist, agnostic, or humanist. The second set of lyrics is saturated in Jesus-exalting language. A life of self-denial is the focus. It could only have been written by someone seeking to magnify his Lord and not himself.

Although I could expound upon the weaknesses of one song and the virtues of the other I’ll leave further commentary alone – the contrasts are crystal clear. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, read and discern for yourself:

“It’s Your Life” by Francesca Battistelli

This is the moment
It’s on the line
Which way you gonna fall?
In the middle between
Wrong and right
But you know after all

It’s your life
What you gonna do?
The world is watching you
Every day the choices you make
Say what you are and who
Your heart beats for
It’s an open door
It’s your life

Are you who you always said you would be?
With a sinking feeling in your chest
Always waiting for someone else to fix you
Tell me when did you forget

To live the way that you believe
This is your opportunity
To let your life be one that lights the way

“Empty Me” by Jeremy Camp

Holy Fire burn away,
my desire for anything
that is not of you and is of me.
I want more of you and less of me.

Holy Fire burn away,
my desire for anything
that is not of you and is of me,
I want more of you and less of me, yeah.
Empty me,
Empty me, yeah,
Fill, won’t you fill me,
with you, with you, yeah.

Holy Fire, burn away,
my desire for anything
that is not of you and is of me.
I want more of you and less of me, yeah.
Empty me,
Empty me, yeah.
Fill, won’t you fill me, with you, with you, empty me now.

Well won’t you empty me, well won’t you empty me now.
I want more, I want more, I want more of you, Jesus.
I want more, I want more, oh.
Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you, Jesus, oh yeah,
Thank you, Jesus, yeah.

Holy Fire, Holy Fire, Holy Fire, Holy Fire

And now for your decision. Which of these songs most honors God? Which one most exalts man? Which lyrics best capture the majesty and worth of our Savior and gives us the desire to glorify and praise Him? Judge based upon His Word and His Spirit.  All I will say is that we must be careful what we call “Christian” music. It may not be about Christ at all.


“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

So far in His manifesto on the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus has shared various contrasts: two kinds of righteousness, two types of devotion, two treasures, two masters and two different ambitions. Seemingly, Jesus is now beginning the conclusion to His sermon with the subject of “Two Ways”. Reminding us of the two ways of Psalm 1 (the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness) He concisely states our very clear choice – the kingdom of this world or the Kingdom of God, the prevailing culture or the counter-cultural Jesus and His way. God’s plan does not allow for more than one option – mankind can not propose an alternative. We have but one choice. This begs the question, which will we choose?

The way to enter into His Kingdom is “through the narrow gate”. Due to its size this narrow gate is easy to miss and so small (like the eye of the needle – Matthew 19:24) it doesn’t allows for us to enter carrying our own accessories (such as self-righteousness, pride, and self-sufficiency). Also ,the term narrow does not have a particularly positive connotation – the phrase “narrow minded” is a classic example – and it is, in most cultural senses, by nature unpopular. The word, as opposed to broad, suggests something difficult, with tight boundaries and restraints. This way is hard but it is the only way (in John 14:6 Jesus calls Himself the only way to God). This road is not crowded as we see that few find it.  Those that follow Jesus and seek after His Kingdom and righteousness have always been, and always will be, in the minority. But, thankfully the narrow does have a glorious gate – Jesus. It is only through Him that the way to life is discovered – life more abundant now (John 10:10) as well as eternal life (John 3:16). This is the reward for following Him and the way of His Kingdom.

The “easy” way is broad. Many find it for it is the way of the majority, the crowd. It is appealing because it has less boundaries or restraints as it allows those that choose this path to live as they are inclined to. This road offers a diversity of options to achieve earthly happiness and rarely meets resistance from the world (and that it is because it is of the world). The broad way is comfortable and appeals to our pride and natural bent toward self-determination and self-will. Our flesh identifies with this way because is requires no sacrifice (including the death of Jesus), no surrender to the will and purpose of the Master, no utter dependence on an omnipotent and holy God. This broad path proclaims that we can take all of our baggage – our sins, arrogance, selfishness, and self-righteousness – with us on this ultimately destructive journey. The broad road is easy only in that it suggests that we can find true life without forsaking ourselves or following anything but our own desires. But this way is false and leads to destruction – separation from God now and forever.

This sounds all too simple, doesn’t it? Two roads and one choice. Two diametrically opposed ways yet one clear alternative. And that God would determine in His wisdom that the narrow gate would be His son’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. Beyond this, it seems incomprehensible that God would choose to make this a reality to unworthy sinners through the mystery of grace and the gift of simple faith. But this is the way that leads to life – this is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven. For He is the gate and surrendering completely to Him is the narrow way that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven and all of the glory it comprises. The Way requires that we must deny ourselves and take up his cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). And the path to this is joyous life is all about yielding, self-denial, selflessness, and loving Him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30) through faith. Simple, yes, but not easy – it wasn’t for Jesus and it isn’t for us. But is it worth it? Essentially, is He worth it? In the end these questions are paramount – for our answers will determine our future being one of indescribable and joyous eternal life or one of separation from God and eternal destruction.


**** This is an excerpt from Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him published in 2008.

People often look for Scripture passages suggesting that God wills the worldly success of His children. Sadly, in so doing, they sometimes take passages out of context and woefully distort the meaning of His Word. Philippians 4:13, for instance, states: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” This beautiful verse, originally meant to convey spiritual strength, is often used and abused by those wanting to believe that worldly success is a God-given right. When people choose to claim this verse as an affirmation of their entitlement to have more of the world, they miss the whole point: Those confident in Christ’s spiritual provision can be content in all circumstances, knowing that the Lord will see them through. The spiritual blessings the Lord gives, things like hope, peace and perseverance with joy, are what we really need.

Understand that Paul, the writer of Philippians, recognized the gracious and generous provision of our physical needs came from God. Paul promotes the promise of God’s physical and spiritual provision that is just as applicable for us as it was for the believers at Philippi: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Upon reading Philippians, though, we must discern the difference between God’s provision of spiritual necessities and the modern drive for worldly success.

Our earthly affluence and comfort are not necessities to God; that we grow in His spiritual bounty is. We need to understand that our selfish wants rarely align themselves with godly contentment. But how many times have we heard Philippians 4:13 quoted as fellow believers seek victory in the areas of finances, career, health, and human relationships?

Paul saw success in a vastly different light than most of us do. Unlike many of us, the victory he sought was spiritual, not material. It was eternal not temporal. When it came to obtaining worldly things, Paul was not confident that he could obtain more stuff because he was a Christ-follower. His goal, which stands in complete contrast to the way this verse is often misused, was finding satisfaction in Christ instead of in the “success” the world offers. Paul’s focus was on God-centered contentment not world-centered conquest. This is evident in verses 11-12: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” His God-centered proclamation of contentment is summarized in verse 18: “I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received … the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”

Paul had the same idea in mind when he exhorted young Timothy concerning the right things to pursue and the dangers of pursuing the wrong things. First Timothy 6:6-11 states, “But godliness with contentment is great gain … But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction … But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.”

Paul’s message is clear: We don’t need more of this world: we need more of God.  When our “everything” becomes His “everything” we can truly do things through Him and His strength. God is our Provider and our Supplier in all that we need. Found in Him is the only victory that counts―Godly contentment. When we tap into this, we can have true confidence that everything will work out for our spiritual and eternal good. (See Romans 8:26-30).


**** This is an excerpt from Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him published in 2008.  This post is for a fellow servant who minsters to children in so many ways and who amazes and humbles me with her Christ-like love for them.

 

In Matthew 19:13-14 we find a compelling story that shows how Christ relates to children: “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Though people are quick to analyze and argue over nearly every aspect of Christ’s ministry, one fact cannot be denied. The Lord loves and delights in children! His ministry is replete with encounters with little ones, teaching us that not only did He love them but was loved by them as well. In Mark 10:14-16 He held and blessed them. John 6:9-10 describes how He used a child’s lunch to feed thousands―an act which left no doubt that even a child can be used of God. Jesus also healed and even brought children back to life (Mark 5:21-42). And, perhaps most tellingly, His entrance into Jerusalem was greeted with their shouts of praise (Matthew 21:15).

So what can Christ’s attitude toward children teach us? First, I think it suggests that much about a person’s character is revealed in the manner in which he or she loves and provides for children. After all, as Christ-followers we should bless them as He blessed them. Matthew 18:5-6 says, “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Secondly, I feel the Lord’s words and actions regarding little ones prove that we are wise to learn from children themselves. Consider the characteristics of a child: relative innocence, humility, an attitude of dependence, trust, wonder, and awe. Do we not need more of these characteristics as lovers of our heavenly Father? Indeed, by observing children we can learn of the Kingdom of God. We too can learn to approach spiritual concepts with wide-eyed wonder and sighs of excitement.

In Matthew 18:1-4 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” I believe this interaction between Jesus and His closest band of followers contains the powerful truth that dominated Christ’s every interaction with little ones: All humans need childlike trust and sweet submission in order to gain entry into God’s kingdom.

Jesus taught many concepts that characterized childlike faith.  He said that His followers would be poor in spirit, meek and pure in heart (see Matthew 5).  In turn those simple believers will receive the Kingdom of Heaven, will inherit the earth and see God.  That’s what happens when we approach Him and trust in Him like children.

Jesus came to us as a child, and we must come to Him in a similar manner. That means laying aside  pride, cynicism, worldly attractions, self-reliance and spiritual doubt.  We must experience an enthusiasm for God that models a child’s view of life.  We must longingly look to Him for what we need while trusting that He will provide. We need to gaze upon Him with a simple sense of wonder and awe.  We need to humbly submit to His divine and sovereign authority   He is sure to respond to such a childlike approach.

Our hearts’ desire should be to become more childlike so that we may be drawn to Him, more fully experiencing the presence of His paternal majesty.  Our loving Father awaits us.


“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

Referring to previous truths in this great Kingdom sermon, Jesus says that our appropriate response to such a generous and gracious King is to treat others with fairness and sacrificial love. He calls us to do (in a positive and proactive sense) what we would desire to have done for us as a reflection of the goodness of our God. As opposed to similar religious writings outside the Christian faith (which are all stated negatively – “don’t do that which…”) this principle describes an active, intentional lifestyle of doing for and giving to our fellow-man. The framework is essentially do it for and to others if you would like it done for and to you or, in its most basic sense, “how would you like to be treated”? It reminds us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19). This begs the question, “Is this code of ethics the moral standard by which we must live”? His Kingdom rule in us necessitates that it is.

Despite its simplicity no greater foundation for ethics and morality has ever been uttered. Can we even imagine the peacefulness of a society that continuously practiced this principle? Even those that claim to be atheists, agnostics, or believe in situational ethics have a hard time denying that this is a standard that would benefit all human relationships. Even those who deny the need for a moral code (fatalists, postmodernists, or secular humanists) would be hard pressed to claim that they would desire to be treated in ways that don’t benefit them here in this life (When I posed the question to one atheist who believed that there were no moral absolutes, “Do you mind if I stole your wallet?”, his immediate response was “No, that would be wrong!”). The sense of fairness that The Golden Rule exhibits has been pervasive in virtually every civilization and society for all of history. This speaks to its divine origin and gives evidence for a far greater and moral Being. And this moral deity is the loving God of the Bible.

The brilliance of this assertion is that it actually sums up all of the teachings of the entire Old Testament!  I’m sure the legalistic and unloving Pharisees were shocked by such a radical claim. With all of the intricacies of the law, the system of justice, and equivalent retribution, Jesus stuns us all with the proclamation that the concept of this kind of neighborly love encapsulates it all. In other words, such respectful behavior would satisfy a significant portion of the Decalogue and remove the need for judgment based upon our offenses towards one another. Paul states it this way:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

But one phrase in The Golden Rule that should command our attention is, “So in everything”! Not in some things but in all things should we lovingly do to others that which is good and right.  Real caring, morality, and fairness should permeate the lives of those that have been drawn to His love, embraced by His love, received grace through His love, and have saving faith in His love. Clearly the Kingdom’s culture of love engages all of who we are – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).  And all of our actions – “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God… This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7, 9-11).

As a representative of our loving King and His loving Kingdom we are to project fairness and goodness in all aspects of all of our human interactions. We are to proactively care for, give, and respond to others with the same kind of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and generosity that He has shown to us. This contrarian lifestyle amplifies His glory, images forth His beauty, and draws those who don’t know true love to the only place it can be found – in Him and His Kingdom. And this will happen when they meet Jesus at the Cross.

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