Are We Tampering With the Gospel? 

Last night I had a dream that one of my T-shirt designs was for sale in Walmart -- but someone severely messed it up, changing words (complete with misspellings), fonts, and adding text that didn’t belong which threw off the balance of the whole design. I held the shirt up in my hands and remarked to a friend how disgusted I was with what someone had done to my design before making it available to the public. 

I awoke and it hit me: how must God feel when we change His message? 

After God Himself slaved over the gospel, giving His very life to craft its perfections, how must He feel when we change its’ content? How must his heart sink when we add unnecessary thoughts to it that never came into HIS mind? How must He react when we look at His perfect design and remark – “I don’t like His word choice there (judgment, sacrifice of atonement, repent, etc). Let’s put another word in its place”? Even worse, how must He feel when we preach our own errors to the world? We must never tamper with God’s Word but study the Bible very soberly, seeking to understand just what God means. Christianity is not a philosopher’s circle – we don’t get to make up ideas for God. Many of us need to repent of our casual approach to God’s Word. 

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15 

“I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.” Acts 20:27

Draw Near When You Are Needy 

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 NASB 

It is precisely in our time of need — when we feel that we are unholy and unlike our Savior — that we are able to come to the throne of grace with confidence to find His sanctifying and forgiving help. 

How hard this can be to believe at times! When do we feel less confident to approach God's throne than when we are especially aware of falling short of His glory? God has set His seal to this truth; He has settled it like an anchor: "Draw near with confidence to the throne of your time of need." 

Look up, Saint. Your Refiner is near, and ready to fulfill all his promises towards you. Only draw near to Him and You will find the mercy, grace and help that your time of need requires. He will forgive you, cleanse you, and you set you on your feet to walk in holiness and love before Him again. 

He is more committed to us who trust in Him than we could ever understand.

"The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, And He will make them know His covenant" (of grace). Psalm 25:14

What Are We Building?  

"According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test [e]the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." 1 Corinthians 3:10-14

There is much teaching on the gospel today, and that is a wonderful thing. It is impossible to lay any other foundation that lasts.  Religion, good works, good intentions, miracles and spiritual experiences seem all too often to replace Jesus as the foundation of the Christian life. If any other foundation was laid in our lives other than Christ and His gospel, it was the wrong foundation, and we had better set it right. But for all those who start in the wrong place, how many more stop at the truths of the gospel, and never “go on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1) - seeing the gospel worked out into the way that they live? 

No one lays a foundation without the intention of building something on top of it. And yet, isn't that exactly what many “gospels” do today? The goal of many seems to be merely to “get people saved” and then to reassure them in justifying grace for the rest of their lives. But what about discipleship and spiritual maturity? What about progressing in holiness, and reaching others with the gospel? Without training Christians to serve God with their lives, all that we have is a foundation without a building. That is a useless foundation! Only those who do the will of the Father will be saved in the end (Matthew 7:21).

We are not saved by works, but all of the saved work. We are not saved by good works, but we are saved "for good works" (2:10). Faith always produces works, because faith without works is dead (James 2:17). How frightening a reality in an idle religious culture: the difference between the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 was that all the sheep had worked and all the goats had not!

This text teaches that all who are truly saved “work” (14-15).  The question here is not if the Corinthians worked or not for the Kingdom of God; if they were righteous or unrighteous, active or inactive. They were following God and doing His work. The question this passage poses to us is: “Why did you work for the Kingdom of God? What was the wind in your sails; your supreme motive?”  

One day, all of the people of God are going to have to stand before Jesus Christ in all His majesty and power to give Him an answer for the reason that we lived our lives. Our supreme motives, goals and desires will all be tried by the fire of His holiness. What in the world are we building? There is such a tendency towards self-promotion in modern Evangelicalism that it is hard to stand. Facebook culture (ie. here I am, I am great, love me) has tempted the best and the worst of us. It has gotten a hold of me one too many times. 

Especially with the great temptation to self-promote today, we must probe ourselves well (with grace). What kind of materials are we using? Are we building with rare, precious materials, such as gold, silver and precious stones? Or are we building with common, worthless materials, like wood, hay and straw? One set is strong and durable, and its’ value will endure when put through the fire. These will bring forth treasures for God. The other is easily blown away by the weather, and becomes ashes when put through the fire. Its’ value is completely lost. In this case, the time laboring will prove completely invaluable to the worker. The Great Judge will take the wrongly-motivated person's life work and, in His justice, make it an ash heap. And then He will wipe away every tear, rewarding them wherever else He can (He is infinitely merciful and kind). 

Are we ready for that great and terrible day? Are our motives right?

Having been "forgiven much" do we "love much", or are we still wallowing in the mire of self-promotion? Do we live out of selfless, supreme love to God, knowing and believing how He loves us (1 John 4)?

Do we build for the glory of God, or for our own selfish ambition? 

Do we build for the good reputation of God, or for the good reputation of ourselves? 

Our true intentions can be easily realized with a little bit of consideration. Our true supreme intention for work is revealed in the first thoughts that come into our minds at the thought of doing a good deed. Do our minds turn to how holy we will look, like the Pharisees with their long prayers and tassels? Do we imagine passersby and peers revering us as truly spiritual Christians, great evangelists, prayer warriors and revivalists? If we take these thoughts captive to Christ, then good.  But that is not enough. We must not stop at taking the thoughts captive. Frequently recurring thoughts often (though perhaps not always) reveal a deeper heart issue. They reveal what we really want. At the end of the day, do we want to be promoted and revered? Do we want to be the man (or woman) of the hour - to be used of God for the sake of gaining a reputation? If so, that is true wickedness towards such a gracious Savior. It is a wound to Christ in the house of His friends! Jesus has given everything for us so that “we would no longer live for ourselves, but for He who died for us” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Is our service to God really service to ourselves?  

What is a right motive for work? What will stand the fire? Jesus revealed it extremely clearly:   

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and praise your Father in Heaven.”   

Our one goal in all of our work must be the glory of God - that people would praise our Father in Heaven! Let us be propelled by a burning passion for His honor in the world! There is one law - “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Luke 10:27). Strength suggests exertion, and exertion suggests work! Jesus is telling us how to work - by love! All of our work must be a work of supreme love to God, and glory to Christ. All else is sin, and will produce nothing but ashes when tested by fire at the Judgement Seat of Christ. Are we ready?

May the Spirit of God empower us for loving, selfless service and save us from selfish and self-promoting work.

On Spiritual Poverty 

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:3 

Spiritual poverty is poverty of pride.  

It is realising your spiritual lowliness, and being humbled by His Holiness.  

Spiritual poverty is to say (and mean, and feel), “I need no other argument,  
I need no other plea,  
but that Jesus died,  
and that He died for me.”  

It is to say with Paul, “I count all (of my former righteousness by the law) as loss and dung so that I might gain Christ.” (Phillipians 3:8) 

Spiritual poverty is coming to an all Holy God knowing that you’ll never be “good enough” - and yet believing that He loves you and sanctifies you. 

Spiritual poverty is the first of all the Beatitudes, because it is the beginning of all true spirituality.

"This is the one to whom I will look: to He who is humble and of contrite spirit, and trembles at my Word." Isaiah 66:2

The Lord confides in those who fear Him, And He will make them know His covenant." Psalm 25:14

Technology Expires, but Holiness is Timeless   

In today’s culture of technology and advancement, there is a constant temptation for one-upmanship. The world cries for something flashier: better effects, better actors, better music, better gadgets, more (and more concise) books, nicer cars. The church responds in a flood of gadgetry. Lights, cameras, action. Better albums. Make your films higher quality, and your music more cutting edge. Quote philosophers, welcome guests with better coffee roasts, study the Bible in bars. When your ministry is consumer based, there is much competition, and a million ways to “win” - for a time. “We must be heard somehow”. 

However, what the world is truly looking for, and what the church needs, is not a flashier presentation of the gospel, but a simple demonstration of true holiness. The world has seen our gadgetry and is not impressed. They didn’t cry out to God when the fog machines came on. Our more cutting edge music and films distracted them from the message rather than drawing them to it.  The Word never says, “let your lights so shine, that people may see your good equipment and praise your Father who is in Heaven.” It says, “Let your light so shine, that people may see your good works and praise your Father who is in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16). Amusements are not a Biblically sanctioned drawing card! Our good works are.

Even worse, we have let these things distract us from the message of the gospel and the person and power of God! While gadgetry has increased to the heavens, holiness has gone to hell. The only reason that we need such spectacular displays of technology is that we have lost the joy of knowing God. As Leonard Ravenhill said, "Entertainment is the devil's substitute for joy." 

All of our gadgets are superfluities that will soon be “yesterday’s best”. You can only be “at the top of the line” for so long before someone else cuts in front of you. There is one thing, however, that never looks any older, and never loses relevance: true, humble holiness of heart. Let us bleed! Let us live as true people saved by a true savior! Our insincerity is awful. We are as technologically advanced in heart as we are in equipment. We are not only religious - we are robotic! In many cases, we are less holy than the world is, and a million times less sincere. Christ, whom we claim to serve, taught utter denial of self and preference of others. Is our Christianity God-centered and others-centered, or me-centered? 

We are far from dead to ourselves - squirming on the cross, holding onto our lives. We haven’t begun down the straight and narrow. We’ve never had a crucifixion. The hammer falls and we move our hands. They try to place the crown of thorns, but we duck our precious heads for fear of pain. 

Let us die! Take the cross! Take the nails! Is there a world at stake, or are we the only ones here? Were we saved only for our own entertainment, or so that we could be living vessels of salvation? Are we not the flesh and blood representation of Jesus Christ in the earth? Did Jesus so conform to the methods of the world? Did He create a religion of entertainment, or of sacrificial love? Can we not be more honest? More true? More godly? More devoted? More loving and kind - from the heart? 

Oh, Lord, help us to be like you. 

Jesus Had to Be Lifted Up Like the Serpent in the Wilderness 

"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life."
(John 3:14-15)

"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyonewho is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live."And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived." (Numbers 21:8-9)

 How was the serpent staff lifted up in the wilderness? 

1. The serpent staff was given in response to contrition and repentance.  

In Numbers 21:7, the people cried out to Moses:  "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us." It was after hearing these words that the serpent staff was provided for their salvation.

It is useless to look to Christ for salvation without true contrition and repentance. Many preach a gospel of belief that excludes repentance. We would do well to return to the original message of the apostles: that men "should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance." (Acts 26:20). Just like the repentance of the Jews moved God to give them life through the serpent staff, in the New Covenant repentance moves God to grant life (Acts 11:18), the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47) and salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance does not "move God" because it is meritorious, but because it is the condition of all of His gracious blessings. It, coupled with faith in Christ, is the key to God. Anyone who does not repent will surely perish (Luke 13:3) just like those who had been bitten by the serpents in the wilderness but didn't look to God's source of salvation.

When we are sorry for our sins, aware of our danger and seeking change, God lifts the crucified savior before our eyes, so that we can look and live. 

2. Whoever looked at the serpent staff was infected and dying, and looked there for healing. They looked because they knew they were sick and in grave danger.  

In the same way, "it is the sick who need a physician" (Luke 5:31). Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32). It is the will of God that the wicked be saved, and He takes no delight in their death (Ezekiel 18:23). But His perfect justice binds Him to judge all sin (Exodus 34:7). This is the dilemma that the cross solves!

"God presented Him as an atoning sacrifice through faith in His blood, in order to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had passed over the sins committed beforehand. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and to justify the one who has faith in Jesus." Romand 3:25-26

If someone has not become intimately aware of their sin and eternal danger, then what use is this message to them? What good is a savior to someone who believes they are "pretty good after all", already righteous in God's eyes because they "mean well and don't hurt anybody"? (8 out of 10 people would say something very similar to that if you asked them why they are going to Heaven). We must learn again to bring the knowledge of sin by the law, "for by the Law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). 

Faith in Christ is only effective when great need is felt and known. "Have mercy on me, a sinner!" Is the only true cry of saving faith. The staff was not provided until there was a great sickness and danger of death. The savior was not provided until the people were aware of great sin and danger of judgment (Num. 21:7). It was after the Israelites found themselves to be fatally poisoned and in danger of death that they looked at the serpent for themselves, and were healed. It is only after you find yourself to be fatally sinful that you will look to Christ for yourself, and be saved. 

The Israelites needed the serpent staff to solve their sickness problem...we need the crucified savior to avert our sin problem. 

3. Whoever looked at the staff lived.  

Whoever believes in Christ has eternal life (John 3:15). Looking and believing are compared because it was an act of faith to look at the staff as much as it is an act of faith to look to Christ. Those who looked to the staff looked believing in their hearts that doing so would cause their healing. Those who look to Christ must do so believing in their hearts that doing so will move Him to grant us what He promised. “Whoever comes to me I will in no wise cast out!” (John 6:37). There is saving power in the simple sight of Jesus Christ! When we look to Christ, we are gloriously set free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:6) and the wrath of God (Romans 5:9). We are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18), adopted as His children (Gal. 4:5) and sealed with His Spirit (Ephesians 1:3)! We are no longer enemies of God, nor merely slaves, but friends (John 15:15)! Eternal life is not just dying and being transported to a "better place" some day. It is being reconciled to the God who we were made for, and walking in communion with Him! "And this is the way to have eternal life--to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth." (John 17:3)

4. Whenever someone was bitten, no matter how often or terribly they were bitten, they would look at the staff and live.  

In the same way, Christ is our life and salvation daily. If we are ever bitten by the fangs of sin, we must turn back in repentance and look to Christ. It is no use going on questioning if God will accept us - we are dying and getting worse every day. How would it have gone for those in the wilderness if they held back from looking to the serpent because they thought themselves unworthy, so they were unsure if looking to the staff would heal them? They would have died! Died, died, died! Dead, dead, dead! This is why God insists that we look to Christ, no matter how bad we have been poisoned. If we don't, we are headed for death! We will get worse and worse by the day, and finally die ("For if you live according to the flesh, you must die." Romans 8:13). We must turn back, and look to Christ all over again - yes, as often as we are bitten and poisoned by the serpent. Christ is our life. He will restore us as soon as we look to Him seeking healing and holiness.  


5. It is up to the individual to look and be saved. 

If an Israelite chose to look to the serpent staff, they would be healed, and live. In the same way, "whoever believes in me will not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16), but apart from faith, we are "already condemned" (John 3:17). The staff has been lifted! The savior has died, risen, and been enthroned. It is now in your court. Will you look to Christ and be saved, or refuse to? If you will not look to Christ, "the wrath of God abides on you” (John 3:36).

The Glory of Jesus in Comparison to the Angels 

Of the angels He says, 
Who makes His angels winds, 
And His ministers a flame of fire.” 
But of the Son He says, 
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, 
And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. 

(Hebrews 1:7-8)

In speaking of winds and flames of fire, the author refers to the manifested glory of the Angels that have stricken men with holy fear all throughout history. When Zacharias saw an angel, though He was a very holy man, “fear gripped him” (Luke 1:11-20). When the shepherds saw an angel, “they were terribly frightened” (Luke 2:9). When John saw angelic glory in Revelation 19, even he could not help but fall at his feet “to worship him” (Revelation 19:10). These visual manifestations of glory are other-worldly and awe-striking, but are nothing compared to the simple revelation of Christ as King. His glory infinitely outshines theirs. 

A flame may be useful to a King to warm Him, and a wind to cool Him, but they have no worth in comparison to the King Himself. It is not uncommon to see someone staring in wonder into a flame, admiring its’ shifting colors and shapes. For many, it causes wonder quite unlike anything else in the world. On a hot day, what brings more relief and temporary flashes of joy than a cool gust of wind? But, as glorious as fire and wind are, can they at all compare with a King? If a flame, a gust of wind, and a King were in the room, would anyone think to bow down to the flame or the wind? Never! The King sits in a regal glory that utterly steals the show from the flame and the wind. No one sees the flame, except in how it reflects off of the King’s face. No one notices the wind, except in how it blows through His hair. In the same way, Christ so out-shines the angels that their value and glory is absolutely nil in comparison. The angels are more alive than even we are, but Jesus is so infinitely alive that, in sight of Him, it is as if the angels are not at alive at all (being compared to fire and wind). Jesus is so infinitely powerful, authoritative, beautiful and holy that it is as if the angels had no power, authority, beauty or holiness at all.

Is that the Jesus that we know? A wonderfully alive, infinitely powerful, righteous, beautiful and holy King? A sovereign, victorious savior? If the angels, having infinitely less glory, cause such fear in those who see them, how much more frightened might we be if we got a glimpse of Jesus' glory? Our faces would fall into the dust in holy fear and our hearts would be lifted up to the skies in holy love. May He grant us to see Him as He is, and to flick our weak little idols in the trash!  

“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8) 

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

Speaking Over Jesus 

"God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." Hebrews 1:1-2 

There are many voices in the world, but only one is truly authoritative: Jesus'. In past times, God spoke through many prophets in many ways, but now He has spoken to us in His Son. That is past tense. The last word belonged to Jesus. Before, men and women had the privelege of being God’s mouthpiece, without proxy. Those days are all over. Now, all who would be God’s mouthpiece are only permitted to speak what the Son is saying. God has spoken through His Son, but His ministry on Earth was only the beginning of “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1).  His voice continues through us. But it must be His voice - not ours. His message - not ours.   

It seems that every man seeks a message to carry. That’s all well and good. But whose message will you carry? Yours, or Jesus’? The choice (at best) is between polluting your hearers and saving them. At worst, between being cursed or saved yourself (Galatians 1:8).  

Jesus had the last word. In a charismatic culture of “spiritual authority”, and “fresh revelation”, many are speaking over Jesus.  They are not speaking for God, they are speaking for themselves. Men (and many women) grab for power and recognition that only belongs to Him.   

The only way that we will ever get to speak for God is if we stop speaking for ourselves. Enough with your revelations! Enough with your dreams and visions! They are good if they are Jesus' way of speaking, but otherwise they are just devilish distractions. What has Jesus said? What is He saying?   

Lord, give us ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.