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Idolatry

Scratching Itching Ears

All of us have itchy ears. The question is, how do you scratch?

If you’ve been around church for very long, you may have heard Paul’s warning in today’s Bible reading. “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

All of us Believers have our favorite Bible teachers and preachers. And we have our favorite Christian music. Some of our favorites are well worth the time to listen to! These are the kind of Bible teachers, preachers and songs that will lift your spirits when you’re down. They’ll feed your hungry soul. They’ll point your eyes to Jesus and the glory of God. They’ll give you a hunger for more of God!

Some of our favorites are OK. I mean, they aren’t bad, but they aren’t really good either. These Bible teachers and preachers will tell you what God says in the Bible. The songs will give you a nice beat to keep your toe tapping. But in the grand sceme of things, they are simply “amusing”.

One of my professors warned about Christian “amusement”. The word literally means “not-thinking”.

And then there are the favorites that shouldn’t be. These Bible teachers and preachers have so little nourishing content, it’s difficult to sort through all the chaff just to get to the wheat. And some are so bad, there’s actually no spiritual nourishment to be gained. And some of the songs have pretty melodies and harmonies, and some of the words are sentimental, but the songs lack anything of real substance.

Application

Paul’s concern was not about the outright “bad” teaching and songs. Yes, bad teaching should be avoided. Yes, bad Bible teachers and preachers should be avoided.

But we should also avoid a steady diet of marginal and questionable teaching. We should avoid a steady diet of one-dimensional Christian music that only looks back at the day we were saved and the day we get to heaven. We should vary our songs so we don’t just sing and listen to songs about God; we should sing and listen to songs to God at least as much as we sing about Him! Now, lest anyone think I’m bashing one type of music and promoting any other type, I’ll just say that there’s good and there’s bad in all kinds of Christian music. Some of the “old” stuff is good and some of it is bad. Some of the “new” stuff is good and some of it is bad.

There are lots of ways to scratch our itchy ears. Some are very good and helpful. Some are OK. But some are to be avoided completely.

So how do you scratch your itching ears? Remember: Don’t be “amused”!

This devotional was originally published on September 21, 2019.

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Photo of a child reading a Bible

In today’s Bible reading, Paul describes the symptoms of leaving God’s objective revelation of Himself. He also prescribes the remedy.

The Description: “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:2-5 CSB)

It can’t get much worse than that, can it?

Paul describes the ultimate fallout of a life without God’s Truth. In a word, it’s “anarchy” a word which literally means “no ruler”. If you leave an objective standard of Truth, then you have no basis to discern the answers to questions about everything from the existence of God to defining right and wrong, and defining something as simple as “male” or “female”.

The Prescription: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:-14-17 CSB)

When you live by an objective standard of Truth, you have the tools to answer the big questions and the small questions. Paul says that the Bible can prepare us for everything.

God didn’t give us an objective standard and revelation of Himself so we could sit back and admire the beauty of the standard. No, the Standard of Truth has a purpose beyond itself: to make us more like Jesus, and equip us to live a God-directed life. As we let God’s Word live in us, it spills over into every area of our lives and in concert with the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our lives are changed from the inside, out. (Colossians 3:16ff, Ephesians 5:18ff)

Application

As you read the first part of 2 Timothy 3, did you feel like you were reading a description of our current culture? Only Jesus Christ can satisfy the longings of a restless heart. And every heart is restless!

Ask God to use His Word to teach you, to correct you, to rebuke you, and to set you on a straight path of living for His glory.

This devotional was originally published on September 20, 2019.

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Paul brings out a very important and highly applicable point in today’s Bible reading. I’ve already pointed out that the Corinthian church had many problems, including pride and narcissism.

They thought it was all about them. This worldview is man-centered or anthropocentric. If their ideas were correct, then what could they think when they go through hard times? If the universe revolves around me, what am I supposed to think when things don’t go my way? If it’s all about me, then what am I to think when other people disappoint me? What am I to think when I don’t get what I want?

If everything revolves around me then if things don’t go well, I will be angry. All the time. I will blame other people. I will even blame God. I mean, after all, isn’t He there to serve me?

Life doesn’t make sense to pride-ridden narcissists thinking anthropocentrically. But God has a better way. If everything is understood Theocentrically (God-centered), then everything makes sense. Even the things that don’t seem to!

If… God is all good. If… God is all-loving. If… God is all knowing. If… God is all-powerful, then everything has a purpose. Nothing happens by chance. God will work out everything to make His Name great. For any other being in the universe, this would be the height of egotism. But if God were not supremely interested in Himself, He must be supremely interested in something else, making Himself worship something other than Himself, making Himself an idolater. Go back and re-read that again if you need to.

Why did God create the universe? For Him. Why did God create mankind? For Him. Why did God plan the atonement before He created the world, and therefore before our first parents sinned? It wasn’t for us! It was for Him. Why did Jesus die on a cross. For Him. Why? Because God relentlessly pursues His people through a covenant relationship. He did all of these things because we couldn’t. And because if we could, we wouldn’t. We are fallen creatures. We are broken creatures. We, in our natural state, are enemies of God. So God pursued. Not because He needed us. God had an eternity past to enjoy Himself by Himself and the other Persons of the Trinity.

Application

Why did I spend over 350 words talking about man-centered vs. God-centered. Because our worldview matters. A lot! Look at the end of 2 Corinthians 4.

Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (CSB)

Paul reminds us that we should focus on what is not seen, not what is seen. As we focus on the unseen realm, all of life will begin to make sense. And the things that don’t make sense, make sense, if God is completely in control.

If this life is all there is,
then there is nothing better.
But Paul says that what we see
can’t hold a candle to the light of the
incomparable eternal weight of glory
(what we can’t see).

Mic Drop!

This devotional was originally published August 27, 2019.

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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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