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As a Christian, I have been misled about giving money. I hurl no accusations here. All the people I have known throughout the years who have taught me either formally or informally have been, as far as I know, good Christian folks. Therefore, I am going to chalk up this misinformation to ignorance—mine included. After all, I believed it all and didn’t bother to check what I’d heard against Scripture. For that, I have asked the Lord’s forgiveness. My ignorance was stunning. It’s embarrassing.

Here is one example. Have you ever heard this passage used in a teaching about giving money? “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38 NKJV).

If you thought this verse was about cash, you were snookered. Bamboozled. Yes, I’ll say it—deceived. This is the verse in context:

“‘Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.’ He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye’” (Luke 6:37–42 ESV).

What topic is Jesus is addressing here? Clearly, it is love, with an exhortation to forgive and a challenge to judgmentalism. When, how, or why someone snatched one sentence out of this teaching and applied it to money no one knows but the Lord. When I first discovered this, I had to force myself to keep placing that sentence back into its context. That’s how embedded in my Christian brain this out-of-context sentence was.

If you have taught or believed this, I recommend that you ask for the Lord’s forgiveness, too. You have been involved in Scripture twisting. Thankfully, we serve a loving and gracious God.

Perhaps you noticed that I did not apply any ulterior, deceptive motive in the use of this misapplied text by Christian teachers. I sincerely hope that is true. However, I would like to open a discussion about money and its enormous power—not only in the secular world but in the church world. I am greatly concerned about its influence in the Church, and the primary text that challenges me is the Parable of Sower. If you are familiar with this parable, you know that the Sower scattered seed that fell on four different environments: a path, rocky ground, thorny ground, and good soil. Without going into an exposition of the entire parable—which would be wonderful, by the way—the ground I would like to turn our attention to the thorny ground on which the third seed landed. Jesus explained why this seed was unfruitful: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

I don’t know if you spotted this, but Jesus tossed a spiritual grenade smack dab into the middle of the Christian world—well, the whole world, actually. His two stunning detonations are:

  1. Riches are deceitful. Corollary one: Wealth can be a spiritual enemy. Corollary two: I am a fool if I don’t think I have been deceived by riches.
  2. The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches cause the seeds that Jesus disperses, not to die, but to be unfruitful. And this, in my opinion, is one of the fundamental problems of the Church today and has been for a very long time.

There is much to say about this, and we will continue to look at the topic of money and Christian life in the next few posts. But my first proof concerning this crisis is the example of misapplication of Scripture referenced at the beginning of this post. Money has caused the truth of God’s Word not to die in the hearts of Christians but to render His glorious, heart-challenging truth to become unfruitful. Too many of us are lah-tee-dah believers, whose hearts are not laser focused on our astonishing Creator and Sustainer-of-all-that-exists God and Savior, but are engaged…elsewhere. The pervasive influence of wealth in the Church has resulted in a systematized tendency toward spiritual poverty.

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The Bible puts forth a stunning truth about the Christian God. He is perfect in all His work and ways. As we investigate this truth, we find that this characteristic blends and bleeds over from one godly attribute to another. For instance, since the Lord possesses perfect knowledge, He knows what the nature of good is. He Himself is good (Psalm 100:5), in the absolute and truest sense of what goodness is. There is no evil intent whatsoever in His heart. He is morally pure and spotless, without sin or flaw. Because His love and knowledge are perfect, He knows perfectly how to discipline us for our good. Because He is perfectly good and loving, He has the best, eternal future possible in mind for us. Because He has perfect power, love, and knowledge, He knows how and is able to provide and care for us—perfectly. And so it goes. All of our questions can be summed up in the knowledge of Him who is perfect. When Jesus says that He is the way, the truth, and the life, nothing is excluded. To know Jesus is to know the One who is perfect in all that pertains to life, to the truth, and the way of it all.

However, here are a few parting thoughts to chew on.

God is perfectly low and humble in heart. It is not possible that any human is more humble than God is. The Lord’s humility is as complete as any idea of humility can be. Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? He is. Therefore, who humbled himself like a powerless child? Jesus did. Perfect humility is lowering oneself as low as is possible, with the purest intent possible. That least one in the kingdom is Jesus, who left a habitation more glorious and powerful than we can imagine, laid that glory and power aside to come to this rebellious planet, become a servant, and die as a criminal. He is the spotless Lamb, with no ulterior, selfish motive. It is not possible than any human being can undergo a greater diminishment than God did in His incarnation. He thus became the greatest in the kingdom. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:8–11).

God is perfectly creative. Since He is the Creator of all things, it follows that He created creativity. All that we know about how to create, flows from Him. He conceived linearity and dimension. He created all the natural things that inspire and awe us: the sun, stars, galaxies, and mountains, powerful, beautiful, and exotic creatures of all kinds, waterfalls, flowers, trees, and snowflakes. He thought up all the colors that exist. The Lord created our vocal chords and ability to sing and discern pitch, tone, and harmony. He created the materials from which we make paints, form sculptures, and manufacture musical instruments, buildings, and machines. Man cannot create something out of nothing. All that we know and have at hand to work with is already “something.” However, unlike that which we create, His creation is perfect. What we behold now in our world is fatally flawed due to sin, but in the beginning, it was “good.” However, one day, all those who believe in Jesus as their Redeemer will dwell in a new world that is perfect. The psalmist Asaph wrote, “The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth” (Psalm 50:1–2). The Jerusalem of that day was only a shadow of what is to come. John wrote these beautiful verses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:1–5).

And, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:1–5).

This is the glorious residence that you and I will one day inhabit, if we believe in and hold fast to Jesus. This home will be perfect, and we will dwell with a perfectly good, perfectly powerful, perfectly creative God, our loving Father, and our Savior, Jesus, whose nature will not change, forever.

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The Christian God is perfect. Jesus commanded His followers, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).1 We have investigated His perfection in the last few posts, and in this one we are going to look at how He is perfectly good.

Whether God is good, inattentive, simply absent, or even monstrous is often debated in contemporary religious and philosophical forums. I have personally decided not to enter into such debates. I will not, as much as is within my influence and power, be part of putting the great and almighty God who sacrificed Himself for mankind and saved me by His great grace and mercy, on trial before a jury of unbelievers. He is more than able to defend Himself in such cases, if He so pleases. These days, I am more apt to respond, “Who are you to reply against God?” (Romans 9:20). This question is in the same vein of questions He put to Job. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?” (Job 38:4–5). God did not answer Job’s questions about the tragedies that had befallen him—He questioned him about His sovereignty instead. Job had no rejoinder to the Lord’s questions—only humility and repentance: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5–6).

This is the humbling truth concerning our relationship with the Lord God of all things that is so difficult for us to hear. He does whatever He pleases.

And He loves us.

And He is good.

The scriptural references for this truth are too numerous to list here, but Lamentations 3:25 is a wonderful example. “The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” What this verse indicates is that if a person seeks the Lord, He will eventually learn that He is good. Those who have become embittered against Him have exalted their pain and doubt above the possibility of knowing the goodness of God, but He understands this and is merciful to us when we doubt. Many Christians have had questions and uncertainties when life turns horribly wrong. Those who come through excruciating experiences still believing in God’s goodness are those who have sought and waited for Him to be known as the God who is good.

However, the emphasis of this post is not only that God is good, but that He is perfectly good. This must be true, or God is not perfect, which Jesus and other authors have spoken or written in Scripture. We are confronted with this truth. We must either believe it or reject it. A neutral position is not tenable. We cannot deny the words of Jesus and the truth of Scripture and remain authentic believers. The thought that God is perfectly good may be astounding, but, if believed, is comforting. We fallen sinners are all too aware of the many things that are stupefyingly wrong on the earth in order for this truth to be swallowed easily. Yet, we must eat of it. It may be bitter in our mouths, but it will be sweet to our stomachs.

God is not in a muddle of moral conundrums. It is impossible that He does not know and understand everything, and thus somehow not know the right and wrong of it all. The Lord almighty is the referent for what is good. All that is good has God as its origin. He created the idea of what good is. He is, in truth, the only One who knows what good is, in the ultimate, eternal sense of things. What is good in any circumstance we find ourselves facing? He is. What does this mean, in a practical sense? Not much and everything. Not much in the sense that believing He has your ultimate good at heart does not cause the difficult, even terrifying situation blow away like thistles into the wind. These trials are just simply weathered in faith. We may think James unfeeling when he wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray” (James 5:13a), but we know in our hearts that this is the crux of the matter for us. Yes, it is helpful to have other believers come alongside to strengthen and encourage, but when all is said and done, when everyone is gone and the lights turned down, one must face the questions, the doubts, the fears, alone. No quick and easy answers exist that solve these issues in an immediate way. However, when one answers “amen” to the call of God’s truth, that He is good and has our ultimate good at heart, what is immediate and seemingly interminable fades in the light of eternal reality and truth. Yes, they fade even in death, which we in the Western culture regard as the ultimately bad outcome. However, to hold to his attitude is to be deceived. Death is not the ultimately bad outcome. Not knowing the Father and the Lord Jesus is. Death comes to us all. It always has. It always will, until the Lord Jesus returns.

God is not as concerned about death as we are. He is much more concerned that you know Him before you die, as one day you most certainly will. Jesus conquered death. As He so eloquently stated, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26). And speaking strongly to John, He said, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17–18). Holding the keys to a gate indicates that the one holding the keys determines who is allowed entry and who is not.

Our ultimate good resides in that glorious place to which John was taken up. Christians will live there forever. Knowing, by faith this to be the truth, believers endeavor to adopt an eternal perspective. What we face today, as horrendous as it may be, cannot be compared to the glory that will be revealed and will continue to be revealed, for ten thousand times ten thousand millennia and more. Since this is the final truth, we can say with unequaled fervor, “Our God is good—perfectly good.”

1All scriptures from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

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If we accept the truth that God the Father’s works and ways are perfect; if, in fact, He is perfect as Jesus said He was, wonderful avenues of thoughtful truth open to us. In the last two posts, we have looked at God’s perfection in three areas: His discipline, His love, and His power. In this article, let’s look at the God of perfect peace.

God’s peace is perfect. He Himself is peaceful, and He is not anxious about outcomes on the earth or in heaven, because He already knows the end from the beginning: “…I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose…’” (Isaiah 46:9–10).1 Concomitant with His knowledge of all things future, is His ability to exert perfect power. He is at peace also because He is perfectly powerful. As we learned in the last post, there is no power that can interfere with His ability to interact with any event at any time. Anything that occurs, therefore, must somehow be His will, even though the outcomes of various situations may be dreadfully painful or impossible for us to comprehend.

Knowing the end from the beginning is knowledge that is too wonderful for us, as David expressed: “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it (Psalm 139:4–6). In spite of our rightful admission that His ways are higher than ours, God’s power and knowledge of the future will help Christian believers have peace, if they seek Him. Perhaps this analogy will help. If you watch a football game on delayed broadcast and know your team has already won, you are not anxious about the outcome, even though, as you watch, your team may be behind in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. In a sense, you have perfect sovereign knowledge in that small bit of information. If we are sons and daughters of our amazing Father, we have access to the peace of the One who possesses knowledge of all things at all times and therefore can trust Him: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3). If we earnestly strive to keep our minds steadfast on this perfect-knowledge-of-the-end-from-the-beginning God, there is peace there. He knows the outcome of “your game,” so to speak—He has known it since the beginning of time. And the outcome of all that you endure is good, because He is good—perfectly good. We will look at that aspect of God’s nature in the next post.

1All scriptures from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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When music aficionados shop for high-end equipment, they are not only looking for a powerful or smooth-sounding amplifier. The most expensive amp in the world is useless if quality speakers are not connected to it. The retail store has these speakers out and in use so they will be available to produce the best sounding music possible for their customers. They are the speakers to which all other speakers are compared, or referred to, for quality of sound, and therefore are called reference speakers. The point I will attempt to make in this article is that the Christian God is the ultimate referent in the earth for power and love.

In the last two posts, we have seen that all of the works and ways of the Christian God are perfect, without flaw or error. He is perfect in everything He does. There are several passages that have been noted, but for this post, what Jesus stated is sufficient: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ESV). We could stop there, I suppose, in our proof of His perfection, since everything the Lord does is perfect; but it is exciting to delve into the nature of the most amazing Being that is possible for us to know.

First, let’s look at the truth that our Father is perfectly powerful. Although all of our examples of power are found in what He has created, such as lions, bears, tigers, elephants, wind, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, electricity, nuclear power, super novas, and all the rest, these are only His creations and therefore pale in comparison to the power He Himself possesses and wields. Absolutely nothing is outside the realm of His ability. He Himself affirmed this when Sarah laughed at the possibility of becoming pregnant in her old age: “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:14).1 And again in Jeremiah: “Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, ‘Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?’” (Jeremiah 32:26–27). The implications of this wonderful truth are simple. Without question or dispute, no matter what is happening in the world or one’s life, God possesses the powerless to intervene, save, heal, or conquer. However, He does not always choose do so, after the purpose of His own will. In such circumstances, our faith is tested, perhaps severely. Regardless of our doubts, however, the Father God is perfect in power. There is nothing He cannot do. It is impossible that He does not have the power to act. He is the referent for power. All that we know about what is powerful flows from Him.

However, although we may not doubt His power—His ability to come to our aid or the aid of others—we may doubt His love in difficult times. “Why would God allow such a terrible thing if He loves me?” we may ask. In spite of our questions, the truth is that the Lord God is perfect in His love, and there is nothing absent from it. He is love, in fact. “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). To know God is to know what love is. There is no referent for genuine love without Him. His love is without flaw or error. What we know of steadfast love, mercy, and forgiveness, we know from Him. Certainly brotherly love and erotic love exist among all people, but there is no knowledge of a love that does not fail—a love that cannot fail—without Him. Therefore, when circumstances and situations spiral out of control or downward, we must endeavor not to doubt His love. He cannot make a mistake in His love. He does not forget us. He once asked His people, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). The Lord is not inattentive to our plight. How could I think that the Father has forgotten me when He knows about every sparrow that falls and the number of hairs on my head? “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29–30). It is ludicrous for me to believe that the Lord God Almighty, who knew my name before the worlds were formed, would somehow forget me (Revelation 13:8, 17:8).

I have been comforted many times by these words from Lamentations: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23 ESV).

God’s love never stops. His mercies are inexhaustible; cannot be exhausted. Our God is perfect in love and power. “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13).

1Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

Many years ago, Adelaide Pollard and George Stebbins penned a song entitled, Have Thine Own Way, Lord. The first stanza reads,

“Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!

Thou art the potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.”

I liked this song when we sang it back in the day, but looking back, I think it is somewhat misleading. The scripture from which this song was taken is Isaiah 64:8:

“But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”1

However, let’s read the context in which this sentence appears.

“We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people. Your holy cities have become a wilderness; Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem desolation” (Isaiah 64:6–10). (A related scripture in Jeremiah 18 describes a potter who destroys the vessel that was marred in his hand which he must re-work into a new one.)

Does this sound like a quiet prayer time, when the one seeking the Lord is “yielded and still”? No, rather, Isaiah and Judah are in a desperate situation. The Lord God is dealing harshly with a people who have turned away from Him. He exacts this discipline because He loves His people as a father loves his children. We are told in Deuteronomy 8:5, “Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.” We find this idea repeated in Hebrews 12:5–6: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

Before we proceed further about God’s discipline, however, let’s consider the One who does this refining work.

The God we see in both the Old and New Testaments, is perfect. (For the previous post on this topic, see here: http://jlthomson.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/does-it-matter-that-god-is-perfect/). Let’s look at a couple of characteristics that indicate God’s perfection. The Christian God is perfect in knowledge. He has no need to look outside of Himself for knowledge—He knows everything that is possible to know, both now and in the future. This knowledge is so complete that it includes even our thoughts. “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4). In addition, He is perfectly powerful. He does not need to call upon another power for strength in order to accomplish His purposes. No entity exists on the earth or in the universe that is more powerful than He, since He created all the powers that are. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created “(Revelation 4:11).

We could go on, undoubtedly, about God’s perfection, but let’s return to where we started: God disciplines His people. The point I want to make is this: Because the Lord is perfect, He disciplines His people perfectly.

As we read earlier, every child of God is chastised and disciplined by the Father. Every one. No exceptions.

Yes, that includes you, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ.

As Hebrews 12:10 tells us, our fathers disciplined us, and they did the best they could, although their discipline was imperfect. However, unlike the discipline of our fathers, the Lord’s discipline is perfect. He makes no mistakes. There are no miscues or misunderstandings. Here are the implications of this truth: Whatever has come your way, whatever suffering, trial, or trouble, the Lord God has either allowed or caused it. If this were not true, He would not be perfectly sovereign, and therefore the possibility would exist that some other power on the earth has power superior to His. This cannot be true.

The Lord God does not toss out discipline at random, as if He were scattering seed willy nilly, and therefore some of it landed on you. He knows your thoughts, after all, as well as your actions, and therefore what is needed to further your growth in godliness. The trouble you are experiencing has been perfectly crafted by Him in order to bring some future good to you—sharing in His holiness. One of the problems we have, however, is that when we read, “that we may share his holiness,” we don’t really know or perhaps even care what that means.

Holiness has to do with separation. God is perfectly set apart from His creation, and He wants us to move in that direction. Although you are holy in Him by virtue of His sacrifice, His desire is to bring the reality of that holiness in your life, which means continuing separation from the world. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).

Holiness also has to do with moral purity. The Lord is perfectly morally pure. He has purified those who believe in Him with His blood. However, He also wants us to earnestly desire that we fight the good fight in our battle against our sinful nature. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep” (James 4:8–9).

So, to sum up, God loves us so intensely that He sacrificed Himself to redeem us to Himself. But this God of love is also a God of whom it is written, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). This extraordinary God will judge believers someday. “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12–15).

Our perfect God is a consuming fire, and He will discipline us perfectly. He will make us uncomfortable. He will try us, for His glory and our eternal good.

1All scriptures from the English Standard Version.

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When we are pleased with the efforts of a family member, a co-worker, friend, or even ourselves, we often exclaim, “Perfect!” When we give a gift to someone, he or she might say, “This is a perfect gift. Thank you very much.” When we say such things, we mean that what has been offered could not be any better by our standards of perfection. However, our definition of perfection is insufficient when we consider the way in which God is perfect. His criteria for perfection are different from ours. For instance, let’s look at this verse from the song that God Himself wrote, which He instructed Moses to teach to the people of Israel:

“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Now, when we are told that God’s work is perfect, it means something quite different from the work of an employee on the job. If God’s work is perfect, there is absolutely no flaw in it whatsoever. It is not only perfect now, it will be perfect tomorrow, and will be perfect throughout eternity. This is not how we humans judge perfection. In fact, we are incapable of making such an evaluation. For example, an automobile manufactured in 1922 may have been built perfectly by early 20th century standards. However, compared to contemporary vehicles, it was dreadfully unsafe and unstable. In addition, do we know today, with the many improvements made to automobiles in the last century, what a “perfect” car would look like, or how it would operate? I think you’ll agree that we are simply unable to answer that question, because we understand the nature of technology. Were the best computers built in 1980 perfect? Perhaps no one would have said at that time they were perfect, but there wasn’t anything better available. However, they were in no way “perfect.” And again, what is a “perfect” computer? We are unable to say.

However, regardless of what century it is, God’s works are perfect, and they are perfect forever. What a wondrous, perception-challenging thought this is. If I may use words from technology, there will never be any upgrades, updates, or improvements. In contrast to our way of thinking, the works of God cannot be improved upon. The most important example of this is His work on the cross. Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, offered the perfect sacrifice for sin. This is enormously important because if Jesus and thus His sacrifice were not perfect, the possibility would remain that some sin, perhaps yours, was not included in that sacrifice. Thankfully, every sin that had ever been committed or ever will be has been cleansed forever for those who believe. If that were not true, Jesus’ sacrifice would not be perfect.

Not only are His works perfect, all of His words are true or prove true.

“Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:5–6 ESV).

A Handbook on Proverbs says, “The Hebrew term translated proves true is literally ‘smelted’ or ‘refined’; here it is used in a figurative sense meaning ‘pure,’ ‘purified,’ or ‘tried.’”1 When God’s words are put to the test, like smelting ore in a refining fire, they come through that testing fire without any imperfections. To put it another way, what God said thousands of years ago is still flawlessly true today. It proves true. There are two very important examples of how God’s words have proved to be true through the centuries. Here are God’s words spoken to Satan in the Garden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). This is a prophecy about Jesus who would come thousands of years later to be bruised slightly—His death was actually a victory—but who would inflict major damage to the devil, because Satan’s power has been ultimately vanquished. The other example of the eternally true words of God is from Genesis, as well. It is another prophecy about Jesus: “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2–3 ESV). These words have proved true after millennia have passed. All the families of the earth have been blessed by the salvation wrought in Jesus Christ.

Whenever God speaks, only eternally truthful words come out of His mouth. Therefore, when He tells us if we are re-birthed sons and daughters of God who are greatly loved by Him, it will always be true. The Father will love us and provide for us as sons and daughters for eternity. When He states that if we do not know the Son we are condemned, that is eternally true as well, as unpleasant as that may be to the ears of some. When Jesus proclaims that He will return for His people and judge the earth, although that event may transpire thousands of years later, His words will prove true. We could go on at length declaring the truth claims He makes throughout Scripture, but we’ll end with this one: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). I will wither and fade. You will, as well. But God’s words will never, ever wither or fade. All of His words are all true in the deepest, most meaningful, eternal way possible.

1Reyburn, W. D., & Fry, E. M. (2000). A handbook on Proverbs (p. 623). New York: United Bible Societies.

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Does anything about the Last Days upset me?

Yep. Plenty.

You may respond by saying, “Don’t worry, Jim! We win in the end!”

True, but here is a question Jesus asked that gives me serious pause, and it’s not about earthquakes or rumors of wars:

“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:7–8 ESV, emphasis added).

Keep in mind that this is God Himself talking, and He is expressing concern that there may be very little or no faith when He returns.

Yes, if you’re here at that time, that means you.

You may reply, “I won’t be here for any of that. I’m going up in the rapture.”

However, here is a portion from Revelation that should bother you, whether you think you will be here or not.

“And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:5–10 ESV, emphasis added).

Why should this trouble you? Because the saints will be conquered. Whether you think you will be present for this terrible time or not, these are your brothers and sisters. When Jesus says, “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints,” this should concern you. A very difficult time for believers lies ahead.

In addition, these verses cause me no small measure of unease:

“Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Revelation 13:16–17).

It no longer seems far-fetched to envision a cashless society, even in very poor countries. Almost everyone has a cell phone now, including those we consider destitute. These verses upset me, not only because it would be probable, since Laurie and I would reject the mark, that we would die of starvation. Watching my wife die like this would be unbearable in the extreme. However, our kids or grandkids might also die in this way. And lots of parents and their children would. Witnessing this would be a grief and a horror from which no one would fully recover. Thankfully, we would all be with Jesus soon, who would wipe away our tears.

Here’s the last one. People who are warning about the Last Days often talk about earthquakes, and wars and rumors of wars based on this scripture portion from Matthew:

“As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:3–6).

True enough. Jesus continues to speak about famines, earthquakes, tribulation, deaths of believers, lawlessness, betrayal, hatred, and apostasy in His answer.

Doesn’t sound too pretty, does it?

Thankfully, Jesus gives us hope. He says in verse 14:

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). (This sounds a lot like “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” from Revelation 13:10 we read earlier.)

And the end of all the last-day trouble is this:

“And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31–32 ESV).

Yes. Those who say we will “win in the end” are correct.

However, while acknowledging Jesus’ ultimate victory, let’s return to where He begins His answer to the disciples’ question, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”

You would expect His answer to include a list of signs, which Jesus does eventually provide. However, the very next thing that Jesus says is, “See that no one leads you astray.”

Now, you may say, “I would never be led astray.” To this, I would respond, “Then why would Jesus be so concerned that this statement would be at the top of His warnings?” And, “You say you will not be led astray, but have you ever watched your children, any children, anyone die from lack of food? Have you ever experienced being on the brink of starvation yourself? Have you ever been subject to utter lawlessness—or any of the things Jesus listed? If you haven’t, don’t be so proud to think that you would not be crying out for a savior—any savior—for rescue, even a false one.”

When I pray for the kingdom to come as Jesus instructed us to, I often add, “Father, be merciful.” The time of the end will be difficult in the extreme.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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From time to time, I pray that the Lord will bring down the hierarchical structure of the Church, wherever it exists. Does this sound radical? Well, after studying the concept of leadership in the New Testament, I’ve come to very oppositional conclusions about what we so easily today call “leadership.”

The concept of leadership is found in different manifestations in the New Testament. The word “leader,” which is how the ESV translates “hegeomai”—one who goes before or leads the way—is found in only four scriptures:

In the letter to the Hebrews, the author is exhorting the readers to:

Remember their leaders and imitate them (vs. 7)

Obey their leaders and submit to them because they keep watch over their souls (17).

To greet them (vs. 24).

However, the fourth place this word appears is the most significant, in Luke 22. Here is the context in which the word “hegeomai” or “leader” is used.

“The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:25–27 ESV).

So, it seems a bit contradictory, doesn’t it, that a leader is to be a servant and yet have people submit to and obey him? Apparently, leaders are to “lead the way” while being servants.

However, the idea of a leader in the Church becomes a bit clearer when we consider the biblical offices of elder, deacon, overseer, and pastor.

The first place the word “elder” occurs in the New Testament concerning the church is in Acts 11:29-30: “So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul” (ESV). The word “elder” here is “prebyteros,” which literally means “old man.” This word is used for church leaders in many, many verses in the context of church leadership. I won’t list them all, but if you study this word, you will find that old men were leaders in the New Testament church.

Another word used for church leaders is “diakonos,” the word from which we get “deacon.” BDAG defines “diakonos” as “one who is busy with someth. in a manner that is of assistance to someone.”1 This word means “servant,” but it is clear that in the New Testament church, the “diakonos” were leaders. The ESV translates “diakonos” as minister, deacon, and servant, and it is used multiple times. Paul called Apollos and himself “diakonos”: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each” (1 Corinthians 3:5 ESV). He also wrote that Jesus was a “diakonos.” “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” (Romans 15:8–9 ESV).

Another word for leader in the New Testament is, “overseer,” which is “episkopos” in Greek. An episkopos is “one who has the responsibility of safeguarding or seeing to it that someth. is done in the correct way, guardian,” according to the definition in BDAG.2 This word is used only four times in the New Testament for someone who has what we would call a leadership role in the Church. Here is one example: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV). Once, it refers to Jesus. “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25 ESV). In each instance, it describes the work of someone we would call a pastor today.

The word “doulos” also means servant, but such a person is also a leader in the New Testament. All of the New Testament writers referred to themselves as “doulos,” and it goes without saying that they were leaders. This word is used multiple times in the New Testament. Here is an example. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5 ESV). However, Jesus is also called a “doulos”: “…but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7 ESV).

Pastors or shepherds are also leaders. Surprisingly, this word only occurs twice in regards to human leadership in the church, in Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Peter 5:2. (It is used once concerning evil human leadership in Jude 12.) The other times refer to Jesus. Here is an example: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4 ESV).

In addition, a leader would be a person who is included in one or more of these ministries:

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:11–14 ESV).

Finally, a leader would, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV).

So, to sum up, leaders in the church are:

Those who lead the way.

One who is an older person, most likely a man.

One who is an overseer, a guardian, keeping watch over peoples’ souls.

One who is a servant. The use of the words for servant—diakonos and doulos—are used many times more in the context of leadership than any other word.

One who shepherds people.

He would teach, preach, reprove, rebuke, and exhort. He may also be a prophet, an apostle, or an evangelist.

Therefore, the New Testament idea of leadership is an older person who cares for others, guards and oversees them, leads the way, and serves them. He would lovingly teach, rebuke, and exhort. Should one obey such a person, as the writer of Hebrews exhorts us to? Certainly. However, that obedience is in terms of spiritual authority, not hierarchical authority. This must be true because servants do not “exercise authority” like the “Gentiles” do (Luke 22:25–27). They serve them as wise and loving shepherds, leading the way to…Jesus

            1Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

            2 Ibid.

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Yesterday, after church at Marco’s, we decided we would go pray for a street beggar. We’d been talking about it for several days, but things kept coming up that prevented us. This beggar is a fixture in town. He sits, day after day, in the same spot on the sidewalk of one of the main streets. Laurie and I have given him food from time to time. He’s missing half of his right leg, and the ankle of his left foot is messed up. I’ve noticed that recently, a half-moon blood-blister-looking boil has developed under his right eye.

However, before we continue, a little back story. I’ve been making a biblical case for a while that what attracted people to Jesus in the Gospels and the Book of Acts were acts of supernatural power along with Jesus’ and the disciples’ authoritative teaching (See the chapter “What Attracted People to Jesus?” in The Wrong Road Taken). It’s not a difficult case to make. If we read the first few chapters of each of the synoptic Gospels, this method of drawing a crowd to Jesus is glaringly apparent, just as it is in Acts. Supernatural healings and deliverances gave Jesus and the disciples opportunities to preach the good news. Knowing this, we have started praying that the Lord would do that here, since this is a very religious place but one without spiritual power. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to maintain that whatever religious power is operative here is from darkness. A person can argue all day with unbelievers or religious people about Jesus, but everything changes in a community when someone is healed or delivered in Jesus’ name. Again, we discover this when we read the Gospels and Acts.

A little more back story. Shortly before we came to Mexico, I had a dream so disturbing that it woke me up, heart pounding. I was in a kitchen, and a big, bald, intimidating brown man was on the counter, looking down at me. He didn’t say a word, but the message was, “I am in charge here. Nothing will ever change. There’s nothing you can do. Nobody cares.” No, he didn’t say, “Resistance is futile,” but the meaning was much the same. I’m not an advocate of what is going on in the church concerning dealing with evil spirits over geographical places. I don’t think it’s wise to take one verse from Daniel and make up from almost nothing a detailed, systematic method of dealing with evil spiritual powers over geographical areas. Like most of the stuff available in books about demonic powers, it is created out of whole cloth with a lot of experiential evidence thrown in. That is dangerous. So, I’m not suggesting that you should go out and find out about the nature of the spiritual power over your town. Daniel didn’t ask for information about this, and I didn’t ask either; if the Lord wants you to know about these things, you’ll know. Our God is not difficult to hear when He speaks.

Back to the story. I asked Gloria, our Spanish-speaking sister, to go with Laurie and me to pray for this unfortunate man. We approached him, and I told Gloria to ask him if he believed Jesus could heal him. He answered, “Yes.”

I then told Gloria to ask him if we could pray for him. He asked, “How long would it take?” I thought this was a little peculiar, but okay.

“Thirty seconds. A minute.”

He responded by saying that, if we prayed for him, it would interrupt his ability to receive money from his “clients”—that’s how Gloria translated it.

Laurie and I walked away. Gloria asked me, “Is that all you want to say to him?”

“Yes,” I said. “He doesn’t want to be healed.”

Our wonderful evangelistic sister turned back and told him something like, “Hey—so you don’t want us to pray for you because of your clients. When you die, see Jesus, and want to enter heaven, you will go to hell. You are going to tell Jesus I want to come in, but He will say, ‘Sorry. Wait thirty seconds and I will tell you.” In other words, it will be too late.

The beggar’s response? He shrugged his shoulders as if it didn’t matter.

Hmm. Nobody cares.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

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