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Idolatry

pruning a rose bush
Spring pruning roses in the garden

Reading the Bible can sometimes be a little unpleasant. If in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus points out some things about divorce and remarriage, as well as money. His words are uncomfortable because His words are not accepted by many, even those who claim to follow Jesus.

I am surprised at how quickly Christians turn to divorce and how quickly remarry someone else. It’s as if they forget that it’s better to not make a vow and not fulfill it. (Ecclesiastes 5:5) Christians seek a church wedding — for the marriage to be blessed by God — and so quickly renege on the vows they made to their spouse and to God. It isn’t right (according to Jesus). He allows (though doesn’t require) divorce in very limited circumstances. And yet, they idolize their own happiness instead of seeking the eternal pleasures that are at God’s right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

Finally in Matthew 19, He addresses a man who self-righteously asks Jesus about obtaining eternal life. When Jesus points him to the Law, the man claims to be blameless. And then, Jesus pokes him in the idols. He tells him to sell everything he has and give the proceeds to the poor. Matthew tells us that the young man went away sad because he had a lot of possessions. I would rephrase that to say that a lot of possessions had him. There’s nothing wrong with having money. God blesses many people with more money than they need to survive. And with these blessings, God expects those blessings to be passed on to others. (Luke 12:48)

Application

Reformer John Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. I cannot refute that statement. It is so true! I need no help from the world or the devil to come up with all kinds of things to distract me from living wholeheartedly for the glory of the Lover of my Soul.

As I began this devotional, I said that if in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved. I meant that. Either you’re only reading comfortable parts of the Bible, or you are merely letting your eyes skim the ink on the page.

As you read, ask God to show you those areas where your behavior, attitudes, and beliefs don’t line up with His Word. (Psalm 139:23–24) And be prepared for Him to answer that prayer. The Holy Spirit will let empower you to make changes in your beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.

Notice that behavior is only part of what needs to be changed as we grow in our relationship with God. Our idols live in our beliefs and attitudes and they express themselves in our behavior. Behavior that doesn’t line up with God’s revealed will in the Bible is fruit. It’s the leaves and branches that we tend to focus on, thinking that if we can just control them, we can have a good relationship with Him. But pruning leaves and branches actually work to bring out more of what you’re attempting to cut off. It’s true of pruning your rose bushes and it’s true of attempting to prune your behavior to enhance your walk with God.

God completely loves you with an everlasting love. He completely accepts you as you are when you come to Him. But He loves you too deeply to let you continue living with your idols.

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Jesus praises Simon's acknowledgement of Who Jesus is
Image source: Lumo Project

In today’s Bible reading, as Jesus and His Disciples entered Caesarea Philippi, He asked them who people thought He was. They replied that some people thought He was John the Baptizer, Jeremiah, or Elijah.

Next, He asks, “Who do you think I am?” Simon immediately responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus praises Simon’s response and says that he couldn’t have come up with this on his own. The truth of that response was imparted by God. Jesus doesn’t tell us how God told Simon this awesome truth, only that He did. (Matthew 16:17)

Next, Jesus says that He’s changing Simon’s name to Peter (rock) and that He would build His church on this rock. Now, it’s important to note the different Greek words used in Jesus’ statement, otherwise, we’ll make the error that the Roman Catholic Church has made in attributing to Peter the title of the First Pope.

Actually, Jesus says, “You are a rock. And on this boulder, I will build my church.” What was the boulder? The boulder was Simon’s confession of Jesus’ Divinity. Jesus says that He would build His church on the confession that Jesus is God’s Anointed Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Jesus never said He would build His church on Peter — any other person, for that matter! Instead, Jesus promised that His church — built on the confession Simon made — would prevail against the gates of hell.

And just seconds later, when Jesus told the Disciples that He would suffer and die, Simon said that Jesus shouldn’t have to go to the cross. Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan for you are not setting your eyes on God, but man.” (Matthew 16:23) Within a few seconds, Peter goes from being the toast of the party to being cursed like the devil. And the only thing that changed was his mindset.

Application

All of the Disciples may have thought the same thing, but Simon is the only one who spoke up. They were ready to reign with Jesus in Jerusalem as He overthrew the Roman occupiers. They were willing to fight to keep Jesus from going to the cross and dying. Or so they thought. They thought that Jesus’ ascent to Kingship over Israel would come easy. They rejected the suggestion that Jesus would have to suffer. And die.

How true is that for Jesus’ Disciples today? How many of us follow Jesus, thinking that He’ll just bless us with everything we could ever want. And the first time we hear anything about suffering?! What’s up with that?

But suffering and persecution is part of following Jesus. Along the way, we have to give up a lot of idols — some of which we don’t know we even have — in order to follow Him more closely and walk into the destiny He is calling us.

But every idol we reject and every point of suffering and persecution is worth the all-surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:8) Not His blessings that come from His hand, but Himself, Who He is.

Do you know Him?

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Today’s Bible reading includes a passage that many people have heard about. It strikes fear in the hearts of many. And yet, there’s no need for anxiety over the issues of “The Unpardonable Sin“.

Let’s look at what Jesus actually says about it.

Therefore, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come. Matthew 12:31–32 (CSB)

defining sin

So, Jesus says that speaking against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven. Let’s look at the context of these two verses.

Leading up to this point in the chapter, Jesus has just dealt with the Pharisees on the issue of healing on the Sabbath. He points out that there is more going on than just having a special day and that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus frequently points out that the Pharisees miss the forest for the trees. They emphasize the Law, and yet miss the reason God gave that part of the Law in the first place. In the case of the Sabbath, God gave the Sabbath to recognize that we are created in God’s image. God rested after creating the universe in six days — not because He was tired, but as an example — so we should also rest from our work and regularly take some time to pause to remember God’s presence and work in our lives.

When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, simply by telling the man to stretch out his hand, the religious leaders claim that Jesus is doing His miracles by the power of satan himself. Jesus points out that satan could not drive out himself. (Matthew 12:26) However, the fact that Jesus is exorcizing demons by the Spirit of God demonstrates that He has initiated the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 12:28)

After talking about the unforgivable sin, Jesus says that trees are known by their fruit. Matthew 12:34 records Jesus’ next words which are the key to understanding the question at hand.

Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Matthew 12:34 (CSB)

Application

The Pharisees are watching Jesus perform miracles right before their eyes. They say that He’s doing it by the power of satan. He says that speaking against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable and He concludes by saying that your heart will be revealed by what you say.

In other words, this unforgivable sin, this “blasphemy of the Spirit” is watching God’s miracles happen right before your eyes and yet insist it’s the work of the devil. The person who would make such a blasphemous claim is speaking from a depraved heart.

On the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Peter announced that the people were watching Joel 2 being fulfilled right before their eyes. Part of the initiation of the New Covenant was that God’s Spirit would be poured out on ordinary people, not just ordained people. (Joel 2:28–29) And the Holy Spirit would live in God’s people, not just on God’s people.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. Ezekiel 36:26–27 (CSB)

The new, soft heart is able to see the works of God for what they are. And with a new, soft heart comes the ability — and the desire — to attribute the works of God to God, not satan.

Lost people with lost hearts behave like lost people. Speaking against the Holy Spirit is the fruit of a lost heart, a heart that does not recognize God or His works. If you are a believer, you haven’t done anything that you can’t be forgiven of. In fact, your sin has already been forgiven.

That’s good news!
That’s the Gospel!

This devotional was originally appeared on April 20, 2019.

This commercial was rejected by Fox. It will not appear as a Super Bowl LIV ad. I honestly wonder why. How could this ad be rejected when so many others (remember Godaddy’s tasteless, highly suggestive Super Bowl ads?) have been allowed for years.

Pro-Lifers acknowledge the need to provide women’s health services. Pro-lifers acknowledge the need to honor women’s desires to control their own bodies.

This ad expresses the heart of the Pro-Life movement. Those who support abortion refuse to deal with the central issue in the debate: personhood. Actually, there is no debate because one side will not acknowledge the truth claims of the other side.

If you consider yourself to be “Pro-Choice”, I’m very interested in hearing your comments.

Note: I moderate all comments on this website. Whether or not we agree on the content of your comments, I will post them, so long as you refrain from namecalling and profanity.

humble repentance

In today’s Bible reading, we see more trumpets blown and more calamities sent to earth. Each is worse than the previous one. One-third of the people died. (Revelation 9:18)

And yet, those remaining two-thirds of the people do not repent.

If you’ve ever read 2 Chronicles 7:14, you’ll remember that God promises to hear from heaven, forgive sin, and heal the land if His people will simply humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their evil ways.

That’s a tremendous promise! But the promise comes in the context of a response to God bringing calamity on His people because of their wickedness. Before this verse, God promises to bless His people. But if they turn away from Him, He will bring hardship. If they respond with humble repentance, God promises to act.

In our reading, God brings calamity, but no one repents. (Revelation 9:20-21)

How incredibly sad.

Application

Indeed, God’s promise to answer the prayers of His people, forgive their sin and bring restoration to their land is a tremendous promise.

As I type this on Tuesday Night, the US House of Representatives has handed down two Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States. I’m not going to go into my feelings about this other than to say that the Articles — even if glaringly true — do not qualify as treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors, the only provisions in the US Constitution for impeaching the President.

The United States is in a crisis. It’s (past) time for God’s people to cry out to Him in humble repentance, to pray, to seek God’s face, and to turn from our wickedness.

Nothing short of this will restore civility to our beloved nation.

This is not a Left vs. Right political problem. This is a spiritual problem. And spiritual problems can only be remedied with spiritual solutions.

Spend a few minutes right now, asking God to bring conviction of your sin. As He reveals areas where you have sinned, confess those sins (“God, I am a sinner. I was wrong. I did ___.”) and repent (something like, “God, forgive me. Give me a renewed heart and fill me with your Holy Spirit that I might follow you.”) If God leads you to periods of extended prayer and/or fasting, don’t delay. Obey Him immediately!

Ask God to unite His people and draw us to Him. Ask God to raise up a mighty army of men and women who are committed to following God’s prescription in 2 Chronicles 7. Ask God to bring another Spiritual Awakening and revival to our country.

The big application here is to repent whenever God brings correction.

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You will receive my devotionals only, and no other content.