Rock Solid Foundation (Matthew 7:24-29)

WW2015-wk45In the church, there is a temptation to fall into a faulty method of thinking. It goes something like this: “I go to church every Sunday. I listen to the sermon and I even take notes. I think I am doing well spiritually.” The sad truth is if this is all that person is doing, not only are they deceiving themselves but they are found out to be fools (7:26). That is what Jesus says anyway. It is not enough to merely hear the Word of God; one must also do it and apply the Word to their life. This goes back to understanding the purpose of the Bible. The purpose of the Word of God is not simply for information, but for transformation and reformation. The wise person gets that (7:24). They understand what Jesus says is not a suggestion to consider but a command to be obeyed. This is the difference between the wise person and the foolish person: application of the Word to life. Both groups of people are present to hear the sermon and both may be taking notes of the sermon but only the wise person sets out to apply biblical truth into everyday life. Both the wise and the foolish will face trials and hard times in this life. The distinction will come in how they respond. The result will reveal what foundation they are building their lives on. For the wise person, they will stand firm through the storm because their house is “founded on the rock” (7:25). Their identity is found in Christ and what He says. Their foundation is based on a proper relationship with Jesus Christ. The foolish are not so. They have heard the Word of God preached and taught and may even think they take it seriously. But when the hard times come what they turn to again and again is not the Lord. Maybe it is their work or family. Maybe it is money, sex, or pleasure. While not all these things are bad in and of themselves, they make for a lousy and faulty foundation. To build our lives on anything rather than Christ is to build our lives “on the sand” (7:26). When dark moments and seasons enter, we cannot keep it together but fall apart (7:27). We turn to things they crumble before our eyes. Our security and comfort are removed and we are left without the firm foundation we thought we had. The only way to rebuild is by turning to the solid rock. We must turn to Christ in order to be found wise. We must repent of our sins and trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior. We obey His words because He is Lord and has authority (7:29) over all and because we sin He is our Savior. It only when we turn from our sin and turn to Christ we can obey Him. Through the empowering and the enabling of the Holy Spirit will our affections for Christ lead to actions pleasing to Christ. This is why we must on the rock solid foundation.

Reflection Time:

  • What are you building your life upon? What is your foundation?
  • What are some ways in which you have attempted to building your life “on the sand” rather than on Christ?

Beware of Deception, Part 2 (Matthew 7:21-23)

WW2015-wk44We often are better at pointing out other’s faults than we are in pointing out our own faults. This is evident in Jesus’ teaching on judging in Matthew 7:1-6. We are quick to point out other’s sin and where they have been deceived but we are weary of approaching our own lives like that. However, Matthew 7:21-23 challenges us to do just that. By way of reminder, Jesus has warned us about false teachers and rightfully so. There is a need to see error, warn about it, and correct it. Yet, we cannot stop there. We cannot cease to be on guard against deception. Why? Because deception not only manifests in false teachers but it can take place in our own hearts. There are not only false teachers; there are also false disciples. Hear these frightening words from our Lord Jesus,

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (7:21-23)

The greatest and most frightening deception is for a person who thinks they are a Christian to be revealed that they are not. A person who professes faith in Christ but does not possess faith in Christ will be found out to be a fraud and will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Lest we miss what Jesus is saying, this is no small deception. He says on the Day of Judgment many will believe they are okay with God, will think they did works for God, but the truth is they were in partnership with another as “workers of lawlessness” (7:23). The prophecies and mighty works they thought were done in the name of Christ were done in the name of the one against Christ, Satan. These people were never saved because the Lord says He will declare, “I never knew you; depart from me” (7:23). They will enter into eternity with the one they partnered with. They will face eternity without Christ. This scary reality begs the question: How can I be sure I am not one of the deceived? First, if you are asking the question, there is some encouragement in that. It shows there is a seriousness in which you approach Scripture and you are sensitive to what the Word of God says. To answer more directly, ask what it means and if you are doing the will of God. Prophecies and mighty works are not necessarily of God, as we see with the false disciples, but can come from other sources. The true disciple does the will of God, not as a means of salvation but as the evidence of their salvation. A true disciple does not merely profess with their mouth “Jesus as Lord” but they believe in Him with their hearts (Romans 10:9-10), which results in doing the will of God. Case in point, a genuine follower of Christ repents and turns from their sin and believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Their life points to the person and work of Christ, not to their own wonders. In a world where self-focus runs rampant, we must be aware of this danger. Beware of self-deception; it has eternal consequences.

Reflection Time:

  • Examine your heart and life to see whether you are a genuine disciple in the faith (2 Cor 13:5).
  • If you have examined in the past, what criteria did you use: past experiences/professions or the Word of God?
  • How should a passage like Matthew 7:21-23 affect our churches?

Beware of Deception, Part 1 (Matthew 7:15-20)

WW2015-wk43In my time as a grocery store cashier, I can remember using a counterfeit detector marker to ensure the dollar bills we received were authentic, not fake. While I never came across any counterfeit money, I did have a co-worker who did. The managers were alerted and the problem was addressed. In no small part, this was due to the fact the counterfeit detector marker warned us about the genuineness of the money. And Jesus does the same with us concerning false teachers. After proclaiming the truth many choose the way to destruction while few are move the path of salvation (7:13-14), Jesus warns His disciples, and us, about false prophets. These false prophets are deceiving, but not to those who are discerning. Their deception is stated in the phrase “in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (7:15). They appear to be a part of the community of God as sheep but are truly in opposition to the truth of God (see 1 John 2:18-27). They deceive people with a counterfeit gospel, resulting in eternal implications. Knowing what is at stake, Jesus adamantly warns about these deceivers. By His warning, consequently, His followers can escape from being the deceived and live as the discerning. Jesus does this by talking in terms of recognizing fruit. You can tell from the fruit whether the tree, the source, is good or bad, healthy or sick. If the fruit does not find its growth in the Word of God and a transformed life by the gospel, then the source is not a healthy one. If the fruit is not a “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” walk (Romans 6:11), then the source is bad. “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” (7:18). Ignoring sin and disregarding the person and work of Jesus Christ reveals the sham teaching. For the false teacher who preaches a false gospel, their destiny is made known: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (7:19). Their end is destruction. Beware of them! For the non-Christian, realize you have been deceived. In some way, you have bought into a false hope. Repent of your sin and place your faith in Jesus Christ. For those who have repented and believed, who are followers of Christ, be discerning! Recognize teachers by their fruit and be able to discern, with the Word of God as your foundation, what truth is and what is not, what the gospel is and what it is not. Beware of deception.

Reflection Time:

  • How does knowing deception takes place among those who appear in the community of God affect the way in which you understand this truth?
  • How can you be discerning so that you may not be deceived by even those who may proclaim to be teaching Christian truth?

Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7-14)

WW2015-wk42I have heard it said that if we knew what awaits us as believers in Christ, if only we would ask, we would be overwhelmed by untold joy and splendor by what the Lord has for us.

In this passage Jesus is telling his listeners (and us) of what living in the Kingdom of God looks like and they were no doubt astounded by these words of hope, truth, and life. Jesus is explaining how to trust in God for all things in this life just as one would trust in the actions of an earthly father giving what the son asked for. Not only will God give the thing that was asked, but also He will give “much more” than expected to those who will ask him.

Our Father longs to give us much more than we ask but we somehow don’t go to Him with full expectancy of receiving what He has for us. To properly understand who the Father is and what His purpose are, let us look at another Scripture regarding asking and receiving. In John 14:13, we read, “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” The Father gives to us for one reason above all and that is to receive glory. Does He care for and love His children and show His love by providing for them? Yes, His love is so great, He even provides for those who do not know Him and then says, “and how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?”

In the same passage, Jesus speaks about how we, in turn, should treat others as we would want to be treated. The gift we are to give is to love our neighbor as we would want to be loved. This is followed by the “narrow way that is hard that leads to life” and those who find it are those who are faithful, humble, and trusting in the Lord for all things. All we must do is ask as we seek after righteousness that is the Kingdom of God.

How can we better trust in the Lord to be so bold to “Ask, Seek, Knock”?

What can we do so that we may learn to treat others as we would want to be treated?

It is the way of Christ to truly follow Him by doing as he commanded. May each of us learn to trust in Him as to “Ask, Seek, Knock” everyday of our lives.

This week’s devotional was written by Nelson Poynter. He is married to his wife Chris and is a graduate of Crossroads Bible College. He is currently pursuing his Master’s degree with Capital Seminary and Graduate School and has a heart for God and for His people. He writes at http://www.nelsonpoynter.com

The Truth about Judging (Matthew 7:1-6)

WW2015-wk41We live in a world that says, “Just love, don’t judge. To judge is to be intolerant.” It is spoken both outside the church and inside the church. The non-Christian will have no problem pulling out and sharing Matthew 7:1 with their Christian neighbor, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Even some Christians consider any judging to be bad. But to stand on human opinions is the wrong direction to take. We need to ask, “What does Jesus say about this?” While it is true He says what He does in Matthew 7:1, we must remember this verse is within a context. Some judging is bad and sinful but not all judging is. In order to understand what this means, two truths must be put in place: (1) the measurement of judgement and (2) the motive of judging. Jesus tells us not to judge because the same measurement will be used on us (7:1). So, in a sense, a person who says we should not judge has a point. We are not the ones who ultimately have the right to judge or the authority to judge; only God does. Therefore, the measurement of judgment is the Word of God. We all are guilty and fall short of His standard so we approach this subject as repentant sinners. We do not judge by our own standards and we do not judge as those who are self-righteous. In other words, we do not judge hypocritically. This issue is the problem Jesus was discussing when He speaks in terms of “speck” and “log”. The motive in judging, or pointing out other’s sin, is to help them grow in Christ. We do it for their good, not for harm. It is a part of what it means to make disciples. At the same time, we realize before we can make disciples we have to be disciples. This involves examining our own hearts and lives and judging our own sin and going to God with it. Only after we have taken the “log” out of our own eye will we be able to correct our brother or sister in Christ by taking the tiny “speck” in their own eye. Our motive is love and we love when we speak truth and point others to Christ. Therefore, we share with others their need for Jesus as their Savior because they are sinners. We humbly correct our Christian brothers and sisters because they are not living according to the Word of God. So, in summary, the measurement of judgment is the Word of God and motive in judgment is love. We understand God is ultimately the judge so that is why we point others to Him.

Reflection Time:

  • What has been your view on the idea of “do not judge”? How does understanding Matthew 7:1-6 help you deal with this biblically?
  • Before lovingly correcting a Christian brother or sister, examine your own heart and repent of where sin lies in your affections and actions.

Our Treasure and Trust (Matthew 6:19-34)

WW2015-wk40We live in the day and age of YOLO, that is “you only live once”. People want to get the most out of life because, after all, they see this world as all there is. They see life only through a horizontal lens. Unfortunately, Christians can fall prey to this as well. They forget or neglect the vertical relationship in their lives, namely their relationship with the Lord. They live without an eternal perspective. The lack of perspective is evident in what they do and how they act. They invest all their time in things without eternal impact and when they wonder if their needs will be met, they over-concern themselves and worry. They have lost a biblical perspective of treasure and trust. Jesus hits on these two topics, treasure and trust, and shows us the right perspective is an eternal and biblical perspective: the vertical perspective. The vertical perspective calls for Christians to not pursue temporary treasures but to lay up “treasures in heaven” (6:20). Our treasure is intertwined with our heart and it will reveal where our worship truly lies (6:21, 24). Your heart must be probed to see if what you are building is temporary and fleeting or if your treasure is of eternal impact for the kingdom of God. At the same, we not only see the vertical dimension of our treasure but also our trust. We all have needs and nobody is self-sufficient. We all consider food, drink, and clothing to be important in our lives. Indeed, they are essential. So a natural response would be anxiety if one is wondering whether or not these needs will be met. Then again, it depends on your perspective. If you have merely a horizontal perspective, then you probably would find anxiety and worry to be perfectly fine responses. However, if you have a vertical, God-centered, perspective, you will not fret. You know God will provide because He is the God of provision. He takes care of His creation (6:28-30) and He will certainly take care of you (6:32). That is why you “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (6:33). When you live with the vertical perspective of trust, your needs will be added and taken care of because you have trusted in your biggest need, God! In observing a life of true righteousness (5:20), we see it is a life that seeks first God’s righteousness. We do not look at life from only a horizontal point of view; we look at life primarily from a vertical point of view. When we do that, our treasure and trust are in their right place.

Reflection Time:

  • What type of treasures are you laying up: temporary ones with no eternal impact or heavenly ones with eternal impact for the kingdom of God?
  • How does a vertical perspective to trust God and seek Him help when you are faced with troubling circumstances and are tempted to worry?

Pray Like This (Matthew 6:7-15)

WW2015-wk39We are told it is essential to the life of a Christian. We are exhorted to practice it daily and to realize the priority of it in our lives. We are talking about prayer. It is true prayer is one of the most important delights in the Christian life, for it is in prayer we are communing with God. However, we can easily be distracted and make the excuse we are too busy to pray. Even more so, we have trouble praying because we do not know how to pray. Some may wonder why to pray at all if God is sovereign over all. Thanks be to God we do not have to leave these issues unaddressed. Jesus hits on this subject in what is commonly referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”, although such a title is better reserved for John 17. Matthew 6 could be more appropriately titled “The Disciple’s Prayer”. In a continuation of the theme of true righteousness, that is “a righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees (Mt 5:20), Jesus lays out for His followers why they should pray and how they should pray. This is the purpose and practice of prayer. Jesus is clear prayer is not meant for impression, but for intimacy (6:7-8). Many words and empty phrases may seem eloquent but if there is not a repentant heart behind them, then they will not be heard. That is why we must understand the purpose of prayer begins with our heart’s motivation. We are praying to commune with God and sharing in intimacy with Him. When we comprehend this truth, we realize the question, “If God already knows, why pray at all?” misses the point. The question assumes we go to God merely to inform Him, not for intimacy with Him. Prayer is showing our complete dependence on the one who is Sovereign over all things. We do not go to Him for impression or information but for intimacy. Understanding that purpose, it makes sense the practice of prayer begins with “Our Father in heaven” (6:9). We are in relationship with God as our Father. Our prayers should be characterized with the supremacy of God. He is sovereign and majestic, the one who is “in heaven” (6:9). We are to hold up and honor His name in prayer, praising Him for His person, character, and authority. We pray for God’s supremacy in His kingdom to come and for His will to be done (6:10) because He is King and His will is meant to be lived out in each of our lives. To that end, we know God provides so we pray for Him to give us the daily provision we need (6:11). We pray for our sanctification, that when we fall we would go to God in forgiveness, and before we fall, we would pray for God to give us the strength not to fall into temptation (6:12-13). Then, we seek to practice what we pray by living out the implications of the gospel through forgiving others as we have been forgiven in Christ. When we do this, God is glorified. Listening to Jesus, our purpose in prayer and our practice of it result in fruitfulness. This is what happens when we pray like this.

Reflection Time:

  • How does knowing the purpose of prayer (not to impress or to inform but for intimacy), help and encourage you in your prayer life?
  • How can you implement these characteristics (the supremacy of God and our sanctification) into your regular prayer life?

Secret Sincerity (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)

WW2015-wk38One of the great challenges I have observed and experienced nine months into pastoral ministry is the balance of public persona and private devotional life. What I mean by that is the life I live in public is the same life I live when I am alone. I don’t think this is only a problem for pastors, though. All Christians seem to struggle here. The struggle is really one of motivation. We have seen throughout Matthew 5 true righteousness begins with and is a matter of the heart. Matthew 6 continues with this theme of what true righteousness looks like. What it boils down to is this: Who are you living for—the approval of men or the approval of God? In other words, the question is not first about the ‘what’ but the ‘why’. Jesus gives us three examples of His day: giving to the poor, prayer, and fasting. These are applicable to our lives as well but it is worth noting such activities were the sign of spiritual piety in this age. Nevertheless, Jesus addresses each subject by saying what should not be done, that what motivation should not be driving us (6:1, 5, 16). The point is a call to be holy is not a call to be hypocritical. True righteousness does not give to the needy or pray to be seen and to be recognized by men. No, true righteousness is not motivated by the approval of man. True righteousness is motivated by the approval of God in Christ. When we respond to the gospel by repentance and faith, we are approved by God because of Christ’s righteousness. As a result, the Christian practices holiness, may it be giving to the needy, praying, or fasting, motivated by the gospel of God. To do otherwise is to live hypocritically, either out of a false hope for salvation or out of vain human recognition. Simply put, we as the people of God are called to practice what can be termed “secret sincerity”. We must be genuine in our faith, living it out by obeying the Word of God in giving and devoting ourselves to prayer. Our sincerity shows through when we do it in secret. In secret, our hearts are revealed. In secret, we find who we are really serving. As Christians, we are motivated to practice holiness because of the God “who sees in secret” (6:4, 6, 18). Live in secret sincerity!

Reflection Question:

  • Why do you practice things such as giving, praying, or fasting? What do these motivations say about your walk with Christ?

Counter-Cultural Christians, Part 2 (Matthew 5:43-48)

WW2015-wk37A few years ago a country song came out by Jaron and the Long Road to Love titled “Pray for You”. Part of the song’s chorus went, “I pray your brakes go out runnin’ down a hill, I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill and knocks you in the head like I’d like to”. This warped view of prayer, unfortunately, is the type of prayer many would love to pray over their enemies. However, Jesus shows us a different way. In Matthew 5:43-48, He declares for us to pray for our enemies but not in some vengeful way. Rather, in what may be the most radical command Jesus has given up to this point in the Sermon on the Mount, He calls for His followers to not simply pray but to love their enemies. He begins by addressing “what you have heard”. It is worth noting here, as with the other statements (5: 21, 27, 33, 38), Jesus is not correcting the Old Testament but misrepresentations of it. While there are Old Testament passages which appear to approve of hating one’s enemies (see Psalm 11:5 and Psalm 139:21-22), we must keep before us the judgment of God. In connection with this, Dan Doriani says, “The Bible never commands us to hate individual enemies, but there is a place for righteous wrath toward God’s settled enemies” (Doriani, The Sermon on the Mount: The Character of a Disciple, 100). In other words, we must understand enemies are those who are against God, those who will ultimately face the wrath of God if they do not repent. Still, how do we see God treating them? “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (verse 45). God gives what is called common grace in our daily lives. When we realize that, we understand an even greater truth: God gives common grace and He has even given saving grace to some of His enemies (Romans 5:6-8). As those who have been saved by grace through faith in Christ, our motivation to love our enemies does not come from something we produce in ourselves. Our motivation for loving our enemies comes from the love of Christ. The gospel compels us to not only not retaliate and show kindness but to love as well. We, as Christians, beyond the cultural norm and love those who we are opposed to (verses 46-47). We love our friends, our neighbors, and, yes, our enemies. We love by praying for those who persecute us, that they may receive God’s common grace and be made alive by God’s saving grace. Our love for them reveals the love we have received in God (verse 45). As so, this type of love is a call to reflect our Father. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can grow in our family resemblance. God’s love is a counter-cultural love and may ours be so too!

Counter-Cultural Christians, Part 1 (Matthew 5:38-42)

WW2015-wk36What do you do when you are personally attacked? How do you respond when treated with contempt by another? Often our natural response is retaliation. We say, “They have it coming to them!” Our culture reinforces this view and tends to applaud those who take vengeance. Scripture takes a different perspective. As Jesus continues to discuss the heart of relationships, He calls for His followers to act and live counter-culturally. Instead of taking justice into their own hands, Christians need to extend grace and show kindness to those who oppose them. That is the point Jesus makes in Matthew 5:38-42. He starts off citing the phrase “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (v. 38). This is a reference to the Old Testament law (Exodus 21:23-25; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21). It is interesting, then, that He moves beyond this and seems to speak in contradiction to what the Old Testament has said. Up to this point, Jesus has just heightened the Old Testament commands. Therefore, it is important to address what the issue is here. Two things can be said. First, the Old Testament command is not in contradiction to what Jesus is saying. The Old Testament command was a public law and what Jesus is condemning here is personal retaliation. The good law had been distorted and was morphed into some type of affirmation for personal revenge. Case in point, theologian Dan Doriani says, “Society needs justice, but we do not need to exact justice with our own hand. As individuals we can entrust justice to God and the state, and act in mercy” (Doriani, The Sermon on the Mount: The Character of a Disciple, 87). A second note regarding this Old Testament command is that its purpose was to restrain anger and to stop the conflict. Without that purpose, retaliation would be about revenge and would only carry things further along. This is why Jesus tells the people, “Do not resist the one who is evil” (v. 39). It may seem odd He tells His followers to not resist evil people. It does not mean they engage in sin but that they turn the other cheek when they are insulted. When their honor takes a blow, they are not set to defend themselves but they turn the other cheek. In other words, they live counter-culturally. This counter-cultural living not only involves extending grace by turning the other cheek; it also calls the Christian to show kindness and go above and beyond (vv. 40-42). To be sure, Christians are not doormats people take advantage of and walk over. But, they are to be a people who give grace as they have been given grace by God. As Christ-followers, we must walk in a counter-cultural manner. When we are insulted and our honor takes a hit, we should not be quick to defend ourselves. Rather, we should turn the other cheek and extend a kindness that only comes from being born again by the gospel. We see Jesus turned the cheek and absorbed the wrath of God so that we, who were still sinners, could be saved (Romans 5:8). The challenge to live this way is not easy. It is only by the grace of God as we are enabled by the Spirit of God to live it. So let us be counter-cultural Christians!