Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Way We've Always Done It

I think most of us who have been a part of the Church for more than a few weeks have heard someone say, "Well, that's the way we've always done it." In fact, if you're like me you've probably been the one who said those fateful words from time to time. Now, before I go any further, I'm not trying to be ugly here or castigate anyone who says something related to that phrase. Like I said, we've all said it before and if we haven't we've all thought it before. Humans are creatures of habit and we like things to be comfortable and predictable. I get that and for many things in our life that's a fine attitude to have. Unfortunately,  Church isn't one of those areas with the notable exception of doctrine (good doctrine is timeless and indispensable). So let's just take a few moments and consider where we might be if we really did do things the way they've always been done.

  • Those comfy pew cushions- yeah- you can toss those right out the window that will, by necessity, be open in the summer to let a cool breeze flow through the sanctuary because we sure wouldn't have air conditioning. Legend has it the Puritans made the pews uncomfortable on purpose so people wouldn't fall asleep! Can I get an "Amen."
  •  12:00 is only the lunch break, afterwards you can forget about the football game because you're coming right back to the church house for more preaching and singing, but remember the singing will be a Capella because organs and pianos are of the devil.
  • Those beautiful stained-glass windows that were put up in memory of your great-uncle's cousin's college roommate...they gotta go. Calvin would not approve. Can  you say "graven image?"
  • Did I mention that organs and pianos belong in bars.
  • How do you feel about the Pope and the Virgin Mary? Because if people had done things the way they always had been done Martin Luther, John Calvin and the rest of the reformers would have kept their mouths shut.
  • We'll also be needin' some goats and lambs to take with us to Jerusalem come Passover. 
  • We may as well burn the hymnals, even the Broadman, because all we need are the Psalms.
  • Guys on the left, gals on the right when you come into the sanctuary for worship, oh and the African-Americans, the balcony.
  • So, you like that pew you sit in every Sunday and get upset when a visitor takes your seat. We have a tax for that.
  • Do you read shape notes?
  • Baptistery? What's that? If the river was good enough for John the Baptist, it's good enough for us. 
  • Greek and Hebrew lessons for all! 
You see, this is just a small sampling and most of us would agree that we enjoy many of the changes that have occurred throughout Christian history. If we are honest with ourselves, and others, we will have to admit that it isn't that we have a theological stake in doing things the way we've always done. It isn't because the old way is right and the new way is wrong. Its that the old way is comfortable and familiar and the new way- well- is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. 

Isaiah 43:19 says;

Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.

Did you hear that? Even God does new things! It isn't that His character, plan or standards have changed, that would be impossible. However, His methods do change. In the Old Testament times He started out speaking directly to His people like Abraham, Jacob and Moses. Then He began speaking to His people through the prophets. In the time of Jesus He spoke through the incarnation of the Son. Now we have God's written Word and the Holy Spirit. God isn't doing it the way He always has done it. The message remains the same but the delivery has changed dramatically. I mean its the difference between a "Talkie" and Imax!

Now think for a moment about the greatest change God ever made - the way we receive forgiveness of our sins. For thousands of years it took the blood of an animal to temporarily cleanse people of their sins. Now, through the perfect sacrifice of God's only Son we have eternal forgiveness of our sins. No more animals need to die to cover our wrongdoing. Praise God, He doesn't do things the way He always has! 

If you look at the latter portion of Isaiah 43:19 you notice that God does new things for our benefit. Roadways in the wilderness and streams in the desert are certainly helpful. We may be uncomfortable for a brief moment when we try something new but if it is motivated by the glory of God and His mission we can rest assured it will be for the good. 

Change can be scary and unpleasant but if we are willing to journey in new directions with the Lord the result will surely be blessing. So what's it gonna be next time someone feels God moving and it isn't the way you've always done it? Go with or stay in the boat?


Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Don't Care About Middle Ground.

Recently, at least in my little world, there seems to be a firestorm of controversy among believers. I know, I know that's really nothing new. However, it seems to be increasing on my Facebook news feed and in the small part of the blogosphere that I frequent. For anyone living near the Charlotte, North Carolina area there has been a series of news stories about Elevation Church and their pastor, Steven Furtick. I was mildly surprised when an author/speaker/blogger friend of mine from Michigan chimed in on the Elevation debate. Most in the conservative evangelical world are well acquainted with the ongoing debate between John MacArthur and...well...the rest of the Christian world on the subject of false teachers. Then an extraordinarily polite (it really was) debate erupted on a friend's Facebook page over the Jesus Calling devotional book.

In my estimation there are basically two camps in Christendom when it comes down to the issue of, what I will call for simplicity's sake, false teaching and teachers. On the one hand there are those who promote the highest degree of caution and rebuke towards these "false teachers." They are anathema, period, end of story. Expel the immoral brother! The other folks that I have come across fall into the "Rodney King" camp and just want us to get along with one another. Is is not true that Jesus prayed for unity among His followers in John 17?

My temptation is to side with the latter and sort of gather everyone together for a group hug and sing "Jesus loves me" followed by a rousing refrain of "Kumbaya." Dave Ramsey says I'm a free spirit so that all makes perfect sense to me. However, I think two things are at stake here neither of which should be sacrificed; the unity of the Body, and people's souls. So, for once in my life I'm not interested in playing Switzerland and finding the neutral, middle ground. I want to seek the truth and find out if it really is either/or, or both/and (please note the nod to one of my favorite apologists, Ravi Zacharias).

Fact: There are false teachers who claim the name of Christ.

This issue did not begin in the early Church. Rather it was something that God's people had been dealing with for centuries. At least as early as Moses' discourses in Deuteronomy we are warned against false prophets and given a test for them. If they try to draw people away to worship other gods (Deuteronomy 13:1-3), or if they say something is going to happen and it doesn't (Deuteronomy 18:22) then they are false prophets.

The first one is obvious, even in our day. Furthermore, I do not think it is a stretch in interpretation to say that the second part of the test could apply to speaking against God's Word. Scripture is the revelation we have from God, it is what He has said. We don't have prophets today in the same way that they had them back then. God sent His message, "Thus says the Lord," directly through the prophets to the people. Well, now we have "Thus says the Lord" written down for us and anything a prophet, teacher or preacher says must agree with what God has already said through His Word.

This is the clearest and simplest way for us to test a suspected false teacher; if what they say is contrary to God's Word then it is wrong. Now, I think some sugar may be required to make this hard medicine go down. As a preacher I know that my faith and understanding of God's Word has grown over time and, Lord willing, it will continue to do so. There are probably plenty of things I've said in the past that if I really thought about it would make me want to slap my forehead and go "DOH!" I would submit that one faulty statement does not a false teacher make. My point is that if we intend to be faithful and honest we need to look at the greater body of preaching, teaching and fruit before we slap a label on someone that could potentially ruin a ministry that is working for the Kingdom and jeopardize Christian unity.

Fact: False teachers are deadly.

If I was diagnosed with a terrible disease I would not want a doctor prescribing treatment for me that got his degree by filling out a form and sending in $10 to some guy named Cletus with a laserjet printer in the back of his '89 Chevy van. There is a reason that medical professionals are required to submit themselves to far more schooling than I would ever want to go through; lives are at stake!

Since the time of Adam and Eve the human race has been afflicted with a terminal disease called "sin." God, the ultimate Physician of both the body and the soul has given us a prescription that will cure sin 100% of the time. It is called the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Notice I didn't say the Gospel is what saves us, it is only that which gets us to the thing which saves us, Christ. To understand what I mean here try eating the paper your prescription is written on next time you get sick and let me know what happens.

False teachers, by definition, undermine the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ. The most common way they do this is by adding to or taking away from it. Add some good works here, take away some condemnation of sin there, you know. Monkeying with the Gospel is just like someone telling you to take your drugs with a beer. The consequences are steep. Works are good in their proper place and the Gospel is, its great (!) in its proper place but when you combine the two in the wrong way you wind up with a wild concoction that isn't going to be helpful at all.

When false teachers are allowed to peddle their wares they are taking people down a path to destruction that is paved with their lies. For that reason alone we should do our utmost to be discerning. Unity in the Church is ridiculously important to God but I can't believe that He would ever sacrifice the truth or people's souls in the interest of it. It is possible to be unified under the wrong thing.

Fact: Christ desires unity in His Church.

First of all, let's be really honest here. The Church belongs to Christ. The Church is His bride and if we begin to think that a church belongs to a person, or group of people, we are in very serious danger. Since Christ is the Head of the Church we don't have the privilege of deciding what goes on within it or what it does, only Christ has that prerogative and He has given us the framework in God's Word.

Throughout the New Testament we have example after example of the necessity of unity among believers. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, Christ prayed that we would be unified in His "High Priestly Prayer" in John 17. This unity is for a purpose, "so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me (John 17:23)." Furthermore, in the book of Acts we see that the early Church was consistently described as "in one accord" or "of the same spirit" or some variation on that theme. Lack of unity gives the impression that Christ is a jumbled mess and that this wonderful Gospel message must be awfully confusing. Unfortunately, this is the image that the Church is offering to the world today.

The biggest contributor to disunity in the Church is believers attacking one another. Just the other day I found myself following yet another controversy, one surrounding Pastor Mark Driscolls. It turns out that there is at least one website completely devoted to destroying this man's career and it is a self-proclaimed "discernment ministry." Now, there may very well be issues that need to be addressed in Pastor Driscolls' life. However, is the most biblical method of achieving that goal setting up a domain and lambasting him? I'm not so sure it is. What happened to Matthew 18? The really sad part is to see the other godly people who are caught up in the collateral damage just because Pastor Driscolls may have referenced them in some way. Too many "discernment ministries" use the Word of God as a wrecking ball rather than the scalpel that it was designed to be. Just because someone uses another version beside the King James or listens to contemporary Christian music they are demonized as succumbing to secular culture. Is discernment a critical discipline in the Church? Absolutely! Is it meant to cause strife and division? I don't think so.


I can already here the naysayers crying "foul" so let me address some concerns before they are raised.

1. You can't compromise the Word of God so false teachers must be dealt with quickly and completely.

No, the Church cannot afford to compromise on the Word of God. In fact, I would submit that it by doing just that that we have found ourselves in the weakened state that we're in. We have watered down the Gospel so much in our culture over the past few decades that there is little difference between the Church and the world. However, I believe there is a way to address false doctrine/teachers and maintain unity in the Body. The problem is that we engage in mud slinging and an "if you don't agree with me 100% you're off the reservation" attitude and, as you can see, everyone is losing ground.

One thing that I believe would be unbelievably helpful would be to focus on the core doctrines of the Gospel and cling to those without wavering. This forces us to consider some difficult questions such as, "What does it mean to be a 'Christian?'" and "Which of our various doctrines constitute 'orthodox' Christianity?" Things like worship styles, how you should dress when you go to church and which Bible translation is superior simply do not fit in this category. Unfortunately, it is things like this that create new denominations and congregations and cause untold damage to the Church. Let me be perfectly frank for a moment, if we want the best version of the Bible we should all be learning Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic.

So, since this topic has been hotly debated since the early years of the Church, what do I think some core doctrines are?

- That God created the world and everything in it.
- That God is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.
- The Scriptures were inspired by God and are perfect and infallible in their original autographs.
- That Jesus Christ is God's Son, the second person of the Trinity.
- Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died for our sins, was resurrected on the third day and ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of God.
- God sent His Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, to comfort, guide and live in His children.
- Christ will return to this earth again.
- There is a literal Satan who was an angel of God before he rebelled.
- There is a literal heaven, hell and millennial Kingdom of God.

Interestingly, if you agree to the third doctrine then all of the rest follow naturally.

2. Unity and love are the seminal virtues of the Church so we needn't get wrapped up attacking people who differ in viewpoint.

As I have said, unity and love are integral to the Church. If Jesus prayed that we would display those things they must have been pretty important to Him and should be important to us. The issue I think we have is that we have perverted definitions of both love and unity. Unity is not to be understood as uniformity. The teachings on the Church being the "Body of Christ" make this truth plain. If God were after uniformity He would not gift us in unique ways, call us to unique ministries and have created us so different from one another. With our diverse gifts, talents, personalities and tastes we can have a unity of purpose. What is our purpose other than to worship God and proclaim His Gospel to the world?

Love has also been perverted and I have spoken to that before. In short, to love one another is not to be equated with affirming everything someone does. Jesus told His disciples that if a brother sins they were to rebuke him, and if he repented then forgive him. Why? Because we love one another and this love is one of the hallmarks of our faith. Do we love our brothers and sisters enough to point out the error of their ways and submit ourselves to the same? My suspicion is that we don't. If someone were to hold up the microscope of God's Word to some of these discernment ministries they would probably be met with rage and more mud slinging. Love and accountability are both two-way streets (I've gone to meddlin' haven't I).

3. no.

Listen, I've tried to explain that false teachers are poisonous to God's Church but so is disunity. In either case the work of God's Kingdom is not being accomplished and people are dying and going to hell because of it. What we need to do is take a close look at our motivation. For some it may be relevance in our culture. For others is may be numbers, notoriety and fortune. For others yet it may be the desire to be "right." The bottom line is that our motivation as Christians should only be to see God exalted, glorified and magnified in the world. Anything else takes away from God and if we're worshiping anything other than God (including His Word) we are guilty of idolatry. It is time for us to take a long, hard look at what is really important and begin to focus on that; not website hits, Twitter followers, weeks on the bestseller list, Facebook "likes" or anything else. God promises us that if we fix our eyes on Him and His Kingdom then He'll look after the rest.

At the outset I said that I wanted to find out if unity and addressing false teachers is an either/or, or both/and proposition. In most cases truth is either/or. Either a woman is pregnant or she is not. Either God exists or He does not. However, in some cases with our faith both/and is the truth. Jesus Christ was both God and man. God Himself is both merciful and just. Likewise I believe that the church must be both discerning and unified. It can be that way. The two ideals are not mutually exclusive and if we are going to be faithful to God, His Gospel and His purpose for the Church we must strive for both. Why? Again, souls hang in the balance.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Being Mr. Carson

So you too, when you do all the things which were commanded you, say, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done." Luke 17:10.

Last night marked the last installment of Downton Abbey's fourth season and the long wait until season five airs in about ten excruciating months. If you are unfamiliar with the show, which I believe few people are, it chronicles the lives of the residents of...Downton Abbey. Set in early 20th century England it gives the viewers a glimpse into what life may have been like for the nobility and the people that served them. There are stark differences between those who live "upstairs" and those who live "downstairs." Among those who are "in service" there is a range of attitudes towards the nobility. Some, like Mr. Carson, see their role as servants to the nobles as a profession to be proud of and they have deep affection for their masters. Others, like Miss Braithwaite, serve out of obligation and lack of better employment.

Jesus had some things to say about service to our Master, God the Father, as He was instructing His disciples in Luke 17. No matter how great the disciples' faith may be, and no matter what great acts are accomplished through that faith we are reminded that we are still servants of the Almighty God and this obedience is not an option, it is our duty.

Now, there are two dangerous attitudes that we must avoid as we serve the Lord. You see, just as God cares how we give of our resources He also cares how we serve and obey Him. There is no room for obeying God out of begrudging obligation. He doesn't want us to be unwilling servants who obey, "just because we have to." We have been bought, like a slave, with a price and that price was the precious blood of Jesus Christ. The Father didn't buy us because He needed servants to do His bidding, He bought us to be in a relationship with Him.

The second wrong attitude that we must steer clear of is the attitude that says, "I'll obey God and do these things so that when I ask Him for something He will be obligated to give it to me." Let me be very clear here, there is no way that we can put God in our debt or make it so that He "owes us one." We will be eternally in His debt for all that He has done for us and no amount of good works can pay that back.

So then, what is the appropriate attitude with which to serve the Lord? Ephesians 6:5-7 gives us a clue.

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord and not to men.

Our service and obedience to Christ is to be with a sincere heart and good will. Jesus told His disciples in John 14 that if we love Him we will obey His commandments. Our service is rendered to Him because we love Him and He loves us!

Our fallen, selfish hearts will not allow this kind of service to the degree that Christ demands it so something else must be understood to get where God wants us. We must realize that when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior He takes us residence in us and gives us a new identity, His identity. When we are born-again we are no longer sinners who sometimes get it right, we are saints who sometimes stumble and fall!

So what attitude did Christ display that we must now have? John 12:28 tells us. Here Jesus is explaining to His disciples about His upcoming death and He is troubled by the prospect of what is about to happen but He says this;

Father, glorify your name.

That's it! That is the motivation and heart from which our service and obedience to God comes from, that He might be glorified. The Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, wanted nothing more for His life than for it to bring glory and honor to the Father. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 10:31;

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all things to the glory of God.

Whether you eat or drink, whether you are at work or at home, whether you are shopping or fishing or whatever, do it to the glory of God! Now, Jesus also tells us what the best way is to glorify God in this life and it is the amazing statement in John 12:32;

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.

Of course, this is a statement regarding His crucifixion which will allow Him to draw people to Himself without the stain of sin but there is more. The best way that we can glorify God and see people drawn to Him is not through the newest evangelism technique or the latest outreach strategy. Those things are all well and good but if we really want to see people come to Christ the best thing we can to is LIFT HIM UP! Make Him known to the world. Pull back the curtain and let people see God for who He is and allow Him to draw people to Himself! Paul understood this when He wrote to the church in Corinth,

And when I cam to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Paul says, " I could have used fancy talk and great arguments but then you would be impressed by me. I put all of that aside so you could be impressed by God."

This is the heart of our service to the Lord; that He might be glorified in our lives. Jesus' motivation for all the miracles, acts of mercy and death on the cross was to see God gain the maximum glory. Why? Because Jesus knew something that we need to know, that God is the only One worthy of the glory and our purpose is to give it to Him.

The challenge for us today, tomorrow and on and on is to wake up and ask God, "Lord, how can I glorify you today?" How can you glorify Him and lift Him up with you obedience? How can you lift Him up through your service to Him and His Kingdom? Will you be a Mr. Carson?


Monday, February 10, 2014

A Little Dab'll Do Ya.

The apostles said the Lord, "Increase our faith!" Luke 17:5

Faith is a topic that most of us are quite familiar with, especially in Christian circles. We talk about having faith, asking in faith, faith like a mustard seed and so on. This word is firmly planted in our religious language and minds. Like the apostles in Luke 17 we are used to the concept of faith but, also like the apostles, we may need Christ to adjust our understanding.

In Luke 17:1-4 Jesus has just told the disciples that if they are going to be a fully functional "body" of believers they must do three things; encourage one another, hold each other accountable, and forgive one another. Looking at this standard the apostles, wisely, understood that there was no possible way for them to do those things in their own strength. I can almost hear them saying, "But Lord, we're inadequate to do this." This is a point that all of us must come to, a realization of our own inadequacy regarding the commands of God. We can't do what He has asked us to do using our own skills, resources, talents and abilities.

Now comes one of the real highlights of the passage for me. Instead of asking Jesus to increase their power, ability, skills or resources, they ask Him to increase their faith. Often the apostles act as great examples of what not to do but in this case they stand up as shining examples of getting it right. "Increase our faith."

Jesus responds to their request with the famous words, If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and be planted in the sea"; and it would obey you.

In so many words Jesus tells His disciples, "It is not the amount of faith you have that matters, it is the quality of your faith that makes the difference." In this simple statement Jesus forces us to consider what the object of our faith is because the object of our faith reveals the quality of our faith. Let me illustrate.

If I were going repelling I would stand on top of a cliff and the person who set it all up would look at me and say, "Christian, this rope is capable of holding a small car. There is no doubt that it will hold you." In my mind I would then understand that the rope was more than able to hold me safely and so I would put my faith in it and step off the cliff. I would have put my faith in something that was worthy of it and that would have been proven as I repelled. Now, let's just say I want to go repelling and I don't have the right rope but, what I do have is some really good fishing line. I know it is good because I've pulled in some large fish on it and I've even had it caught in trees and on rocks and it is very hard to break. Thus, I go to the cliff tie off my fishing line and proceed to step off the cliff. What is probably going to happen? I'm going to go SPLAT when I hit the ground. My faith, as great as it may have been, was in something that was not worthy of it.

What Christ is teaching His disciples/us is that even the smallest amount of faith (the size of a mustard seed) when placed in the right thing can move mountains. The issue with us is that we don't need a greater quantity of faith to see great things happen, we need to put our faith in right person, and what more worthy object of faith can you conceive of than God Himself?

Hebrews 11 goes into great detail about what can be done through a person when their faith is in God. The chapter begins by telling us that it was by faith that "men of old gained approval." Did they gain approval by their attempts to uphold the Law of God? No. Did they gain approval by all the great things they tried to do in the name of YHWH? No. Did they gain approval by trying to be swell people? No. They gained approval by, as verse 6 says, believing "that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." The beginning of that verse tells us that without faith it is "impossible to please Him." Why? Because God isn't after good people or helpers. He is after children who are in an intimate love relationship with Him and without faith it is impossible to have that.

This entire chapter is nothing more than a discourse on the amazing things God has done through people who lived their lives by faith in Him. Many times God conquered kingdoms and shut the mouths of lions. Many times He didn't save the person's life but offered them a "better resurrection (verse 35)." In the end though, do you know what God's word says about these people of faith? These were "men of whom the world was not worthy." Notice that it does not say that they were not worthy of the world, it says the world was not worthy of them, because of the quality of their faith.

The danger that we run into when we start talking about faith and what it can do is that we start to get the idea that faith is kind of like magic. "If I just have faith then I can do _________." Faith becomes a commodity that we seek after and we start to desire more faith in This is what Jesus pushes us away from. We are not to have faith in our faith but faith in Him, the object of our faith. None of the people in Hebrews 11 did anything other than believe and act on their faith. It was God who shut the mouths of lions. It was God who conquered kingdoms. It was God who quenched the power of fire. Not man and his faith.

The kind of faith, the quality of faith, that God wants to build in us is described by Oswald Chambers as a "tenacious hold upon God in spite of everything that happens." It is the kind of faith that believes that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. The kind of faith that says with Job, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." That's the kind of faith that God can use as a conduit to move mountains, transform lives and grow His kingdom.So, next time you think about asking for more faith take a moment to consider what your faith is in. I promise you that if it is in God Almighty, even a little dab'll do ya!


Monday, January 27, 2014

Thy Word

"They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them...If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead." Luke 16:30-31.

God's Church is in desperate need of a revival of our commitment to His Word. We are far too focused on things like worship styles, programs, methods and turning the Gospel message into a self-help theory. While I believe that things like worship and programs are worthy discussions to have and are certainly worth our attention the basis of our lives both personally and corporately must be the Word of God. In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. While there are many, many takeaways from this story the one thing that jumped off the pages to me was Jesus' statement, through the mouth of Abraham, regarding the sufficiency of God's Word. Miracles, signs and wonders are all wonderful confirmations of the one proclaiming God's truth, but the real transformative power lies in God's truth contained and distributed in His Word.

Now, before anyone takes off in the wrong direction and begins to turn the Bible into an object of worship (idolatry) let me offer my definition of God's Word.

God's Word = God's truth revealed through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. 

Throughout human history God has communicated His Word in different ways. At the beginning we see God revealing His truth verbally. He spoke to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and the other fore-bearers of our faith. He also spoke to His people through the prophets. From the time of Moses God also communicated His truth in the written word telling inspired men of God to "write these things down" so that they might be preserved for future generations of God's people. Finally, God communicated His truth through the living word; Jesus Christ. Through His Son we have the greatest self-revelation of God in all of history. Of course, Christ rose from the grave and ascended into heaven to take His rightful place at the side of God the Father but He also delivered to us the Holy Spirit, without whom we cannot come to a full understanding of God's truth. Today we enjoy all three modes of God's Word. There are still those who proclaim the Gospel verbally speaking "Thus says the Lord." We have the complete Scriptural revelation of God's truth in the Bible and we also enjoy the gift of the Holy Spirit. The question becomes, "What are we going to do with God's Word?"

To begin with we need to understand that there are some very stiff consequences to rejecting God's Word. The rich man, in Luke 16, traded God's truth for man's wisdom and found himself in hell which is described as a place of torment and agony. In Acts 13 we see why this is. Paul and Barnabas have been proclaiming the word of God and some people rather dislike it and try to shut them up. In verse 46 we have this; Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, "It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. People often get the idea that God sends people to hell, this is not what the Bible reveals to us at all. Yes, God has prepared hell for those who refuse His offer of salvation but it is a rejection of the Gospel coupled with sin that lands people in hell. When we reject God's Word we are rejecting the only truth that, when acted upon, can deliver us from hell. In essence, if we say that God's Word is not good enough for us we are also saying that His heaven is not good enough for us either.

Isaiah, who had plenty to say, also reveals the danger of rejecting God's Word. In chapter 5 verse 24 the prophet (who Jesus says we're supposed to listen to) says;

Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble and dry grass collapses into the flame, so there root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust;

Isaiah is speaking to God's people and telling them that God's judgment is coming. Why?

For they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

These people, Israel, whom God chose among the nations to be the receivers of His Word looked to God and said, "Thanks but no thanks" and cast His Word aside. In the book of Amos we see the same thing. Amos was called to minister during a time of prosperity and military strength. Things were looking good in both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah yet something was missing. Amos 2:11 says, And you commanded the prophets saying, "You shall not prophesy!" Remember, the prophets were one of the ways that God distributed His truth and His people didn't want to hear it. Thus, in 8:11 God says, "Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord." Guess what? After the last prophet spoke around the time of the captivity of Israel, there was a four hundred year silence from God. For four hundred years they didn't hear from God until a man named John the Baptist came on the scene. We have the option of taking God's Word and placing it on the shelf and asking Him not to speak...and He won't. There are serious consequences to rejecting the Word of God.

While there are consequences to rejecting the Word there are also some wonderful benefits to listening to it and acting upon it. James 1:18 tells us that; In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. In God's grand plan the way He decided to distribute His truth is through His Word and by the truth found in His Word we, who believe, are brought forth from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His Son. The key, on our part, is our action. James continues and says, But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves...but one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22,25). When we hear God's truth about our sinful state and His offer of salvation and by faith ask Him to apply His grace and righteousness to us, we will receive salvation and be blessed. Paul reiterates this point in Romans 1:16-17, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith...

Where can we find the truth of God's standard and the good news of salvation but in His Word? If we look in other places we may find some of man's wisdom and opinion but we will not find the truth of God.

Finally, we need to understand the absolute necessity of committing ourselves to God's Word in regard to our life in Christ. Peter writes, Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:1-2). When babies are born they have one solitary source of nutrition and sustenance, their mother's milk. No child ever came out of the womb and when offered their mother's breast spoke up and said, "No thanks, I'm going to go grab a cheeseburger instead." As followers of Christ our source of spiritual nutrition is the Word of God. Remember the words of Jesus, "Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." If a child rejects their mother's milk they will soon waste away to nothing and friends, there are many Christians and churches that are starving due to lack of spiritual nutrition!

The consequences of rejecting God's word are severe and the blessings are manifold. We must take time today and recommit ourselves to the Word of God, to being "people of the book." We can look around and see where our rejection of the Word has gotten us. We are more concerned with being relevant than being true. We do battle, not with the forces of evil, but with each other over which worship style is "correct." There is disunity among God's people and we are slipping ever further away from God's will because we have cut the mooring line of God's Word and are drifting in rough seas free from the anchor of God. Will you make a commitment to God's Word as your guide, authority, the lamp for your feet and the light for your path? We have Moses, the Prophets and the New Covenant let us listen to them.

God bless,

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Legal Maneuvers

But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of one letter of the Law to fail. Luke 16:17

I was talking to my dad on the phone this past Saturday and he asked me what the message was going to be about on Sunday. I told him that we were going to talk about Jesus' confrontation with the Pharisees in which He addressed their manipulation of the Law of God. I went on to say that that is exactly why people don't like lawyers today, they can use technicalities and loopholes to get guilty people off. My father, who has been a lawyer for most of his life said, "Yeah, that is why people hate lawyers and they don't like them until they need one." That, my dear father, will preach. You see the same thing is true about people and their view of the Law of God. No one likes it or wants to have anything to do with it until they see what its true purpose is.

In Luke 16:14-18 Jesus "lays down the Law" for the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the time. There are a couple of keys that help unlock the untold beauty of this passage and I want to address them first before we get to the really good stuff.

Key #1: In verse 15 Jesus has this to say to the Pharisees; You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for what is highly esteemed among men is detestable to God. It is clear from the behavior of the religious elite at the time that they were far more concerned about what people thought of them than what God thought. These were the ones who made a grand show of their prayers and gave with all kinds of fanfare. Influence and reputation among men were their primary objectives and up to this point they were doing a stellar job of achieving them. Then Jesus stepped onto the scene. He let everyone know, Pharisee or layman, that God was primarily concerned with the hearts of men because it is from the heart that the actions flow.

Key #2: The second key to this passage is the statement that Jesus makes which is quoted at the top of this post. He didn't come to do away with the Law and the prophets. Rather He came to fulfill them. Despite the fact that the Kingdom of God was being preached and people were "forcing" their way in (see verse 16) there was still a use for the Law that God had set forth long ago. The great question, which I will attempt to answer in this post, is "What is that purpose?"

Key #3: Verse 18 can be troubling in our day in time because Jesus makes a bold statement about divorce. Now, at the outset this verse looks kind of random or out of place. In some Bibles verse 18 may have its own sub-heading that says something like "Jesus teaches about divorce." This is one of the problems with having sub-headings in our Bibles because they sometimes create false divisions and cause us to miss out on the greater lesson. Let me say two things here; Jesus is making a statement about divorce, and it is also inextricably linked to the rest of the passage. In Jesus' time the Pharisees and other religious leaders wanted to be able to divorce someone for any reason they could cook up (sound familiar?). They also knew what the Law said which was that the only acceptable reason for divorce was infidelity. Thus, rather than adjusting their behavior to match up with the Law the Pharisees amended, or reinterpreted, God's Law so that they could feel justified and, if we consider verse 15, be justified in the eyes of men. Jesus looks at them and their monkeying with God's Law and says, "Leave it alone! Unhand the Law and let it be!"

You see, when we begin to modify, or reinterpret, God's Law to suit our own desires we also strip the Law of its power and purpose. What is that purpose? Did God create His Law so that it would keep people out of heaven? Did God create His Law so that only those who were good enough could get into heaven? Did God create His Law so that Christians would be the most miserable, boring people on the face of the earth who are not allowed to have any fun?

If we look at Galatians 3 we will find Paul's explanation of the purpose of the Law. Now, Paul was a man who was intimately familiar with the Law. He was the self-proclaimed "Pharisee of Pharisees" and was on the fast track to success in Judaism. He knew all about the Law. In Galatians 3:23 Paul writes;

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.

We were in "custody" to the Law. This is something we can easily understand in our modern life. If we break the law of the land and get caught we get thrown in prison and are held in the custody of the county/state/nation under the law. What we need to realize is that we are all guilty under the Law of God. If we just take the ten commandments we will soon see how guilty we are. How many of us have told a lie, even the little, white variety? That is called "bearing false witness" and we've all done that. How many of us have taken something that doesn't belong to us? That is called theft or stealing and we're all guilty of that to one degree or another. That's only 20% of the Law and we're already guilty...let's not look at the other eight commandments. You see, God has a case against us and when we stand in the divine courtroom we will find that we don't need a theologian to reinterpret things for us, we don't need and academic to take a deeper look at the original languages, we don't need a preacher to tell us we're going to be okay and we don't need a lawyer to try and get us off the hook. What we do need is something entirely different.

Paul continues in verse 24;

Therefore the Law has become our tutor...

Now, we're starting to get somewhere in our quest for the purpose of the Law. What does a tutor do? In school if we weren't doing well in a subject or were having trouble with a concept we went to the tutor in the hopes that they could help us gain some understanding. The Law acts in the same manner but what understanding does it help us gain? The understanding that we're guilty! That, of course, still leaves us in a mess but Paul finishes the statement;

to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.

"To lead us to Christ;" that is the express purpose of God's Law. When we leave God's Law alone to do its work it will show us that we are guilty before God and His perfect standard but it doesn't leave us there; it takes us to the only person who can really do anything about the guilt. That statement alone should cast the Law in an entirely new light for us because without the Law we will never see the glory of the cross and salvation from our sin. We can try to reinterpret the Law so that we feel less guilty but in the end the guilt and sin remain unless they are given to the One who can make us clean and forgive us.

The other week my wife and I were working on building a kitchen island. We bought a cabinet, put it on castors and added a particle board top to it. Before we painted the top we made some cookies and placed them on a sheet of wax paper on the island. What we didn't realize was that the oils from the cookies were soaking down into the wood. Having moved the cookies we were left with about a dozen little circles of oil. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just paint over them and you'll never know." After two coats of paint you could still see the oil circles. We next decided to put some primer over the circles, still you could see them. All said and done there were four coats of paint and two coats of primer and the circles were still visible through them all. Now, what should I have done to begin with? I should have sanded the wood down until I got past the oil and then painted. We do the exact same thing when we try to interpret or modify our way out from the custody of God's Law. We might feel a little better and look a little better but in the end the sin is still there. The only solution is to admit the problem and take it the cross where it can be dealt with perfectly.

In this passage Jesus is making the clear statement that, yes, divorce is wrong and the Pharisees had tried to interpret their way out of their guilt. We do the same thing with any number of sins and, eventually, if we do this enough we'll find ourselves in a place where we don't think we need a savior. We'll think that there is really nothing that we need forgiving of. When we find ourselves in a place where we don't think we need a savior...we don't have one. However, if we allow God's Law to fulfill its purpose we will find ourselves in a place where nothing but a savior can help and that is exactly where God intended to lead us and precisely where He will meet us.

The parable of the Prodigal Son offers us the perfect example of this. The younger son took his father's money, ran off to a far off land and blew it all on wild living. Finally he found himself at the bottom of the barrel and Jesus tells us it was at that point that he "came to his senses." He realized he had sinned against his father and heaven and decided to return and admit his guilt. When the father saw his son coming from a distance he ran out, wrapped his arms around his neck and as the son started in on his speech the father cut him off and offered him total forgiveness and restoration. When we allow the Law to take us to a place of humility and contrition then God is ready and waiting to forgive us and, praise God, there is grace enough to cover all our sins and shame.

The table is now set and we have to make the hard decision. Will we try to justify ourselves by amending and modifying God's Law, or will we allow the Law to be the Law and find us guilty? If we choose the latter we will see the magnificent grace of God and wondrous glory of His Law that leads us to Christ. Unhand the Law, free the Law, cease your legal maneuvers and let it be your tutor on the way to the cross of Jesus Christ!


Friday, January 10, 2014

Come on People!

The other day I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook when I ran across a link that a friend of mine had posted to a blog post. The post was clearly dealing with the issue of homosexuality, that much I could see from preview. It also looked like it may be coming from a slightly new angle so I clicked on it to investigate further. One of the primary arguments that the author was making was that many Christians are very literal in their interpretation of the Scriptures on issues such as homosexuality. However, when it comes to other issues like alcohol, gluttony, divorce, etc. we beg for "a little context." Now, let me say this, on that particular point I absolutely agree with the author and applaud her boldness in pointing it out. One of the things that frustrates me the most is that we, as evangelical Christians, like to categorize sins and typically the really bad ones, the ones God abhors, are the ones that someone else is guilty of. I want you to hear me very clearly here because this is important, there are no "good" sins or sins that are less deadly than others. Cheating on a test is as bad as cheating on your spouse in God's economy and both of them drove nails into the hands and feet of Jesus as He was being crucified.

Now let me get to my rub with the author of this blog article I was reading. Her argument was fairly coherent and scriptural regarding the point above, but then there came a point where she pulled out one of the favorite verses of those who believe we should be tolerant of all kinds of things that God calls sin, John 8:11 or at least part of it. The author quoted this verse as follows;

And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either."

This is, of course, the situation when Jesus came upon a group of men who were getting ready to stone a woman to death because she had been caught in adultery. Jesus breaks in and tells them that the one who has committed no sin should be the one to cast the first stone. Naturally, no one qualifies and as Jesus is drawing on the ground the angry crowd fades away. Finally, Jesus looks around and asks the woman where her accusers are. "No one, Lord" she replies. Then Jesus tells her that He isn't going to either.

This looks to be a pretty solid argument from the Bible for us to be accepting and tolerant of sin. The problem is the same ones who want us literalists to contextualize everything don't bother to read the context of this statement or even the rest of Jesus' statement. The complete exchange reads like this;

Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you? She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."

That's right Jesus, the loving, penultimate example of tolerance used the word "sin" and told someone not to do it. Let's break this down a little bit further and gain some real context and hopefully shed some real light on the issue of sin and tolerating it.

The first thing that we must notice is that by the Law the men in the crowd were perfectly justified in stoning the woman. However, what they were missing was the Christ, the author of the Law, was among them and when the divine Judge of all humanity is present He gets to call the shots. Christ then levels a statement at them that causes them to consider their own sinfulness, the plank in their own eye as it were. Faced with the reality that they were equally as sinful they decided, I imagine, that they would like a little grace if they were on the receiving end of some stones.

As for the woman we see the compassionate Savior offering the forgiveness that only He has the right to offer. In light of the fact that Christ is the Judge He also has the prerogative to offer forgiveness on the basis of what He was going to do on the cross. We also need to understand that Jesus, being God-in-flesh, knew this woman's heart. This is something that the author of the Gospel is not privy to and neither are we. However, we can safely assume that she was contrite over her sin. Being contrite and finding herself in the presence of the Lord she was in the perfect position to receive forgiveness and the Bible tells us two very important things about that.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

God does not overlook sin and pretend it doesn't exist, He causes it to rise to the top so that it can be dipped off and thrown away. The fact that Jesus tells this woman to "Go. From now on sin no more" tells us that He wasn't overlooking the sin in her life, He was dealing with it in a way that only He can do.

For us, there are several lessons that we need to take to heart. First of all, we are all dreadfully sinful. We may want to surround people who carry the weight of the more obvious sins (homosexuality being a prime example) and toss stones in their direction but we need to remember that God has a much larger pile of stones than we do. Understand that if Jesus had wanted to stone the woman in this passage He would have been absolutely justified. That's not what He came to do though. He didn't come to cast stones and carry out the letter of the Law as man interprets it. He came to deal with the problem that the Law was in place to make us aware of...sin. In essence, Jesus stood in the midst of the circle and shielded us from the stones and when everyone's arms were tired we look up to see that we are alive and He had laid His life down for us.

The second thing is this, when the Judge is present we need to step back and let Him do the work. Nowhere in the Bible will you find that it is our duty to judge people's souls. Are we to help people along the way and inspect their lives for spiritual fruit? Absolutely! Look at what John says in his first epistle just before the verse quoted above;

If we say we have fellowship with the Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth...1 John 1:6

If someone claims to be a follower of Christ and there is little, if any, evidence of that in their lives then that is something we can see and draw some conclusions about. Right now, as we live in the time of the New Covenant, the Judge of men's souls is present. We have the Holy Spirit who is doing His work in the hearts and minds of people all over the world. We also have the complete revelation of God in His Word. While we can never judge a person's soul we can point to what God has said and pray that the Holy Spirit will invade their heart to enlighten them to the truth. Whenever a Christian claims that "sin A" is wrong and points to God's Word to show it, they are not judging they are letting God's Word do that.

The other part of letting the Judge do His work is that we step back and allow Him to offer forgiveness and redemption to the person and begin the work of sanctification. Jesus made no bones about it, what that woman had done was sin but He also offered forgiveness to her and then told her not to do it anymore. Our role in this process, as God's Church, is to help people through the difficulties that come after they have had a saving encounter with Christ. We can do this through encouragement, accountability, and discipleship.

This passage has become just about as popular as Jesus' statement of "Judge not lest ye be judged" in our world today. Sadly, we abuse both of those statements and in doing so we miss the greatest part of the Gospel, that God doesn't ignore sin but that He pours His light onto it so that we can be forgiven. Let us apply that truth to the way in which we interact with people in the world and how we judge sin and sinners.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Money Matters

Photo courtesy of McGoo84
And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails; they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9

Unless you're talking about making more of it very few people like to talk about money, especially in a church setting. To be sure, giving is a private matter between a person and God and we will see more of that later. However, the issue of how we view and handle our earthly resources is not only a matter of discipleship it is also something that Jesus addressed frequently during His earthly ministry. Some have estimated that about 1/3 of Jesus' parables dealt with material wealth and possessions in some form or fashion. That should tell us that money matters, and it matters to God. Why? Because how we deal with our earthly resources tells God an awful lot about where our hearts really are and that is one of the most important lessons of the parable of the unrighteous steward of Luke 16.

This parable, found in the first 8 verses of Luke 16 is quite remarkable. A steward is found to have been squandering his master's wealth. How, we do not know. What we do know is that word got back to the master and the steward was fired from his position. This puts the steward in a precarious position because, as he says, "I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg." Clearly this was a man who was ill-suited to manual labor and had too much pride to beg for money. With his future at stake the man decides on a course of action that will secure his financial future and "stick it to the man." He calls his master's debtors together and gives them each a hefty discount on their debts. By all accounts this is not the godly thing to do. However, when the master finds out about it he praises the unrighteous steward, not for his actions, but for his shrewdness. What Jesus is about to do, no doubt to the surprise of his listeners, is use a really poor example to teach a good lesson.

The application for discipleship purposes begins in the second half of verse 8;

for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.

Jesus then goes on to tell His followers that they/we should be using earthly resources to invest in eternity (see the verse at the top). Most of us can look around at the world and see countless businessmen and women who are extraordinarily deft at making business transactions work for their benefit. Many of these people have no thought or concern about eternal things but their goal and desire is more of something (money, possessions, etc.) and so they wisely handle their resources to achieve those ends. Jesus looks to us and asks why we, who have eternity stamped on our hearts, are not equally as shrewd (wise) in our handling of earthly resources to achieve heavenly gain. If our heart's desire is to see more and more people come into the kingdom of God then we should even be making temporary things like money, time and our gifts and talents work towards that desire.

There is a catch to all of this and it is this, God not only cares what we invest in eternity, He also cares how we invest it. That is, it is not only important that we give, it is important how we give it. So, how to we give appropriately to God's kingdom? Let me offer a few suggestions.

1. First and foremost, we need to reprogram our concept of ownership. As Christians we often get caught up in the 10% tithe that we are supposed to give. That is all well and good until we begin to think that only 10% of what we have belongs to God. The truth is God owns 100% of what we think we own. Like the steward in the parable we are only managers of what God has given us stewardship over. To give in the right spirit we need to "sign" a transfer of ownership letter of everything we have and hand it over to God. This doesn't mean that we put our car title and house deed into the offering plate. It simply means that we admit in our hearts that it all belongs to Him anyway and we are putting our earthly resources under the Lordship of God.

2. The second thing we need to do is spend some time with the Lord and ask Him how, and what, He wants us to invest in eternal things. 2 Corinthians 9:7 tells us this; Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart. You don't need to sit down with your preacher and go over your budget and have them tell you how much to give. This is not the job of the pastor and, quite frankly, he or she probably doesn't care about your personal finances in that way. What you do need to do is sit down with your family and God and work it out through prayer. Here is the beautiful thing, if you look at verse 8 of 2 Corinthians 9 you will find this; And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.  If you have determined, with God, what and how you are supposed to invest in eternity He will make sure you are able to do it. Look at that last phrase, you may have an abundance for every good deed. It doesn't say you'll have an abundance for every selfish greed, this isn't the prosperity Gospel where you have everything you need to do everything you want. It is God telling you that you will have enough to do what He wants you to do.

3. The third point is also found in 2 Corinthians 9 this time in the remainder of verse 7; not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. We should be overjoyed that we have the opportunity and ability to give to God's kingdom. We don't need to give out of obligation or legalism but with the joy that comes with knowing that our wise investment will pay major dividends in eternity. Consider these verses;

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 2 Corinthians 9:6.

So that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9b.

At this point we must weight for ourselves which reward is more important, the earthly or the eternal. Is some temporary pleasure more appealing than arriving in heaven to be greeted by people who are there because of your investment? Which will bring you greater joy? We will give with gladness to the one which will bring us more joy.

4. Finally, we must give secretly. Christ told the people in Matthew 6:1-4;

Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

If we're giving just to be thought of highly then we're doing it wrong. If we're giving just to receive a tax break, we're doing it with the wrong motivation and heart. Yes, your church treasurer will know what you give if you write a check but the only person who really need to know and care is God. There is absolutely no need to make a big deal about it because if you're only after earthly recognition then that is the only recognition you are going to get.

Jesus closes this teaching moment with two very powerful truths that help wrap it up with a nice little bow. In verses 10-12 He tells us that if we are faithful to wisely handle our earthly resources, which will one day pass away, then we will can be entrusted with the greater, heavenly reward. This takes us back to question of which reward we desire more. The things of this world are the small, temporary things and how we view them and manage them tells God much about where our heart is.

The closing remark in this passage is directed right at our hearts. If how we handle material things tells God what He needs to know about our hearts then this statement is God telling us exactly what we need to know.

No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

God makes it plain; either we will love Him and make our earthly resources subservient to Him or we will serve material possessions and not love Him. The line has been drawn in the sand and we must choose. If money/possessions is our goal then heaven isn't, and if money/possessions is our god the Christ isn't. It is that simple. Will you shrewdly handle your earthly resources so that you can invest bountifully in eternity? Money matters.