The Enemy

Jesus made a clear distinction between His teaching and those who rejected His teaching.  It is important for everyone to understand that there are only two sides.  Either you are a follower of Jesus who was sent by God to save humans from their sinful nature, or you are a caught up in the devil’s net.  During the ministry of Jesus, the Jewish leaders known as the Pharisees rejected the obvious truth that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.  The Pharisees claimed God to be their father but Jesus let them know that could not be the case.

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.”  John 8:42 (NIV)

Make no mistake about it, we are in the midst of a great battle between good and evil.  Jesus has come to save us.  The devil is out to destroy us.  God your Creator is real.  The devil is also real and is the master manipulator.  The devil was able to so twist the vision of the Pharisees they were unable to see God standing in their presence.  The Pharisees had been captured by the devil and were now his possession.  Jesus let them know the truth.

“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  John 8:44 (NIV)

Only a man sent by God could live a life completely without sin.  Jesus was such a man.  The fact that the Pharisees were unable to see this obvious fact is because they lost their relationship to God when they became the victim to the devil’s deception.

“Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”  John 8:46-47 (NIV)

If you have trusted Jesus as your Lord and Savior and dedicated your life to following His teaching, you are a child of God.  Those who have rejected the teachings of Jesus have been trapped in the devil’s snare.  The only way to escape the devil is to trust Jesus.  Those who sincerely call on Jesus will be welcomed with loving arms.  While the battle between good and evil rages on in our world, Jesus has already claimed victory in the heavenly realms.  The enemy will one day be completely destroyed.  Until that day, stay close to Jesus, and you too will find victory.

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Deception

In the world we live in, there are some who have decided to use the Bible as a tool for earning an income.  As a result, the message they preach often proceeds beyond the scripture to include some self-aggrandizement.  These false teachers attempt to elevate themselves to the level of prophet, claiming their teaching to be the source of new revelations.  Their goal is to get people to buy their books and donate to their false ministry.  Many of these charlatans are extremely successful.  Fortunately, Jesus provided us with a way to tell the difference between honest men of God and false teachers.  Jesus Himself was challenged on this very question during His ministry.

“The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”  Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.”  John 7:15-16 (NIV)

Jesus wasn’t writing books or developing His own theology.  Jesus was delivering information directly from God.  The reason the Jews were so impressed by the teaching of Jesus, was because it was full of sound morals that pointed directly to God.  They knew in their heart His words were true and could not understand how He acquired such wisdom without attending the schools of the rabbis.  Unlike today’s false teachers, Jesus was not out to make a name for himself.  His mission was to glorify God.

“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.”  John 7:18 (NIV)

Here is the method we can use to discern false preachers from true men of God.  Those who are out for “personal glory” should be avoided.  Those who are focused on bringing glory to God are likely speaking truth.  Some of these false teachers are extremely clever and the line between personal promotion and true glory to God can be blurred by well-executed deception.  In the end, when Jesus returns, the charade will be over and all of the false teachers will suffer greatly for their selfish gain gathered by exploiting God’s Word.  Until that time, our greatest source of truth is in fact, the Word of God.  There is no deception in the pages of the Bible.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Forgiven

Jesus walked the earth to provide us with an example of perfection.  Unlike all the rest of us, Jesus was a man without sin.  Unfortunately, our human nature does not provide us with the ability to live a sinless life; therefore, Jesus, the perfect man, took our place on the cross and died so that we might be forgiven by God for our sins.  By placing our faith in Jesus, we turn from our sin and seek to follow the teachings of Jesus for the rest of our life.  That is salvation – we are forgiven for our sins past, present, and future.  We will never be perfect.  We will always need to be forgiven.  Jesus wants His believers to forgive each other in that same manner.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV)

In His answer to Peter, Jesus is essentially telling him there is no limit to forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness to us is immeasurable. The righteousness of God requires the perfection that we lack the ability to attain.  God nevertheless continues to forgive us without limit to the amount of times we stumble.  In like manner, we are to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ in the same way.

Jesus further teaches in the parable of the wicked servant (Matthew 18:21-35) that those who don’t forgive are not His true followers and will be treated harshly for their lack of forgiveness.

“In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  Matthew 18:34-35 (NIV)

How can those who have experienced unlimited mercy from God not extend that same love and forgiveness to their brothers and sisters in Christ?  The answer is simple.  If you are a true believer, you will possess that same endless capacity for mercy.   Only those who are not true believers will turn their back on those seeking forgiveness.

Our sinful human nature guarantees there will be conflicts and misunderstandings with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Praise God for empowering us with a new nature that seeks understanding above retribution.  As followers of Jesus, our mission is to support and uplift our fellow believers.  Every misstep is an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love and mercy by offering unconditional forgiveness.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

What Matters

The fundamental teaching that binds all Christians together is the basic foundational truth that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.  It doesn’t matter where you go to church or even if you go to church.  It doesn’t matter what Christian denomination you claim as your own.  It doesn’t matter how much of the Bible you’ve read.  What matters is that you have put your faith and trust in Jesus.  What matters is that you are making a sincere effort to follow the teachings of Jesus.

During the ministry of Jesus, the apostles took on a bit of an attitude of superiority claiming that other followers of Jesus were not authorized to take action in His name.  The apostles felt like they were the true believers and all the others were members of the wrong church.  Jesus made it clear they were moving off in the wrong direction.

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”  Mark 9:38-40 (NIV)

Following Jesus is not a private club.  Anyone with a pure heart can join.  Jesus let the apostles know that telling someone to stop acting in His name is the same as turning someone away from God.  Challenging the beliefs of other believers is a serious misstep in the eyes of Jesus.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”  Mark 9:42 (NIV)

Salt has a way of making certain foods more attractive.  Jesus told the apostles that they were to attract people to Christ like salt, not admonish them or hinder their faith by claiming superior knowledge or special privileges.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”  Mark 9:50 (NIV)

Believers are to be a peace with each other.  This is what will attract unbelievers to Christ.  As followers of Jesus, we are on a mission to share His love, not repeal the lost by demonstrating an air of superiority.  What matters is that you have put your faith and trust in Jesus.  We should be all about encouraging others to do the same.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Humility

At one point in the ministry of Jesus, the twelve apostles began to argue about which among them would be preeminent in the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus at once recognized a perfect teaching moment and began to school the apostles in the basics of humility.

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:2-3 (NIV)

Like a child, utter dependence on our Father is needed to enter the kingdom of heaven.  This childlike reliance on God is step one.  The second step is related.  A child does not exert his own will over his father.  An obedient child complies completely with his father’s will.  Those who will be great in the kingdom of heaven are those who have totally given themselves over to the Lord.

“Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:4 (NIV)

This process of developing a childlike dependence on God establishes a connection to God that is unequaled.  Jesus tells the apostles that such a childlike dependence makes one an equal with Him.

“And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”  Matthew 18:5 (NIV)

Jesus was the ultimate example of this totally subservient relationship with God.  Obeying the will of His Father, Jesus went to the cross on our behalf as payment for our sins.  Jesus obediently served His Father while humbly serving all of us by paying the price for our transgressions.  The book of Mark records the final summation of this teaching:

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  Mark 9:35 (NIV)

Of course, we will never attain the awesome servant spirit of Jesus, but our mission is to spend every moment of every day making a sincere attempt.  Our life does not belong to us – it belongs to God.  His will above our own should be our focus.  How we approach every decision we make reflects our connection to this commitment to serve God by serving others.  How we respond to the needs of others is a clear indication of our total dependency on God.  If we truly trust God like a child, we will follow the path He places before us without hesitation.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Panning for Gold

Gold panning is the process of standing in a river, scooping up some mud in a pan along with some water, and then sloshing it around until the useless material is discarded and only the gold is remaining.  Because gold is a more substantial material, it remains in the pan and does not get washed away.   Our Christian faith in much the same way provides us with the extra weight we need to be considered valuable to God.  Without the righteousness provided by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we would be useless to God and therefore discarded when Jesus returns to establish His kingdom.  Jesus used a parable about fishing to illustrate this point.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.”  Matthew 13:47 (NIV)

This parable is talking specifically about the return of Jesus to the earth where He will find believers and unbelievers all over the world.  Jesus will be bringing an army of angels with Him and together they will separate the good from the bad – the righteous from the unrighteous.

“When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.”  Matthew 13:48 (NIV)

Like the miner panning for gold, Jesus has no use for those who have turned away and will be seeking out His followers as the precious gold that will remain with Him throughout eternity.

“This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Matthew 13:49-50 (NIV)

There’s no way to know precisely what the imagery of a blazing furnace and gnashing of teeth accurately depicts.  It certainly doesn’t sound inviting.  It may allude to the burning anguish one feels when they know a wrong decision has been made that cannot be corrected.  Frankly, I’d prefer never to know what the other side is like.  I’m confident my faith in Jesus will keep me from ever experiencing that kind of eternal trauma.

Like the gold miner, God is standing in the river of our lives sloshing around the mud and gravel waiting for the gold to sink to the bottom and be collected when Jesus returns.  Unlike the gold nuggets, we have a role to play in God’s mining operation.  We have a choice to make.  When we make a decision to follow Jesus, and put our faith in Him, we become more valuable than gold nuggets and become children of God – loved and protected for all eternity.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

A Fine Treasure

God had a special relationship with the nation of Israel.  These were His chosen people.  The entire Old Testament of the Bible details the back and forth negotiation between God and His chosen people.  One minute they would be on their knees worshiping Him and the next they would be in rebellion.  We learn from this that our human nature is constantly pulling us away from God.  Nevertheless, God promised the Israelites that great things would come to them if they could resist their human nature and stay true to Him.

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  Exodus 19:5-6 (NIV)

The Israelites were unable to live up to God’s high standard and eventually were punished for their disobedience and scattered throughout the world.  Of course, God has not forgotten them or the promises He made.  Jesus illustrates this point in one of His parables.

 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”  Matthew 13:44 (NIV)

From the very beginning God knew the Israelites could not live up to his standard of righteousness.  From the very beginning God knew that he would eventually send His Son to die on the cross as payment for their sins.  But God did not limit His Salvation to the Israelites.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”  1 John 2:2 (NIV)

Jesus taught through a second parable that in the same way the Israelites were bought with the blood of Christ, the Gentiles, illustrated as a fine pearl, have also been purchased.

 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  Matthew 13:45-46 (NIV)

The ultimate price has been paid for our Salvation.  God sacrificed His Son so that we might be free from our sin and thereby obtain the righteousness of God.  God has provided us with a way to conquer our human nature and achieve eternal life with Him in the kingdom of heaven.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Bread Making

The basic ingredients for bread are flour, water, and yeast.  Once these elements are mixed together, the yeast is activated and begins releasing air bubbles that expand the dough.  As a result, the bread dough will expand to more than twice its original size.  Yeast makes dough rise.  Jesus used this process as a parable for the growth of the kingdom of heaven.

“He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  Matthew 13:33 (NIV)

Once the yeast is mixed into the dough and begins working, nothing can prevent the dough’s growth.  The process is steady, continuous, and irreversible.  Jesus wants us to understand that Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit working from the inside out, just as the yeast works in the dough.  Like the yeast, the Holy Spirit is an invisible force that generates a profound change that radiates outward to impact our whole life.

Jesus used these graphic illustrations to help bring to life the supernatural elements of His plan for our lives.  Just like the prophets that came before Him (Psalm 78:2), Jesus used parables to reveal secrets and mysteries in a way that only His followers would easily comprehend.

“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”  Matthew 13:34-35 (NIV)

When asked by His disciples why He taught in parables, Jesus essentially said that he was speaking in a sort of code that His followers would understand (Matthew 13:16).  Jesus did not want to offer these important truths to those who had hardened their heart against him (Matthew 13:15).  For this reason, we can surmise that the parables are some of the most important lessons delivered by Jesus.

Parables are like a locker room talk by the head coach intended only for team members.  A lot of inside information is provided that would be difficult, if not impossible, for outsiders to understand.  Jesus used parables to help us understand that God’s work is visible all around us in everything we do.  Jesus did not teach some theoretical doctrine.  He turned on a light to reveal the inner workings of God’s Creation.  Those who take the time to listen to His instruction will develop the ability to see God’s meticulous details constantly churning away like the inner workings of a fine Swiss watch.  Like yeast in bread, this process is steady, continuous, and irreversible.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

One Man

Christianity was started by one man – Jesus – who was sent by God to the earth to save humans from death caused by unrighteousness.  Because humans do not in themselves possess a righteous nature, they are unable to live eternally with God.  Because God loves all of His Creation, He sent His Son to die on the cross as payment for all human sins.  When we place our trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we acquire that Salvation.  When we admit we cannot achieve righteousness on our own and concede that we must completely depend on God’s grace, we are granted eternal life with Him.  This is the message of Christianity.  In the early days of His ministry, Jesus painted a graphic picture for his followers to help them understand what was developing before their eyes.

“He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.”  Matthew 13:31

A mustard seed is a tiny seed that grows into a large plant.  Jesus planted this seed from which Christianity has grown.  Starting with twelve apostles, Christianity has grown to a current population of over 2 billion.  We have no accurate way to determine how many total Christians there have been since the ministry of Jesus began, but I think it’s safe to say it is at least a few billion more than the current population.  That is enormous growth! Thousands of years later Christianity is still growing.  Like the mustard seed, Christianity has flourished into a home for many.

“Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”  Matthew 13:32

This kind of extraordinary prediction could have only been made and fulfilled under miraculous circumstances.   In fact, Jesus wasn’t making a prediction at all – He was making a statement of fact.  When Jesus spoke this parable, He was already aware of exactly where we would be on this day.  If Jesus were standing with us now He would not be the least bit surprised by these numbers.  Who we are and where we are going has long been established.  Jesus is in complete control and our eternal existence is guaranteed as long as we follow Him.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Weeds

Even the best garden needs to have the weeds pulled to remain healthy.  Even the best grass seed may contain a few weeds.  Jesus taught that the Word of God is a seed that will grow the kingdom of God (Luke 8:11).  He went on to teach in another parable that an enemy would also be planting seed at the same time.  This seed planting would be an effort to intermingle the good crop with a useless crop.  This is Jesus teaching us that our world is intermingled with good and evil.  The devil is trying his best to disrupt the kingdom of God by planting weeds that infiltrate the church.

“Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.”  Matthew 13:24-25 (NIV)

In this parable, the landowner’s workers ask if they should pull the weeds but he directs them to leave the weeds in place.  The problem is that these weeds are so insidious they are impossible to remove without disrupting the good crop.  The solution is to allow the weeds to grow and then remove them at the time of harvest.

“No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”  Matthew 13:29-30 (NIV)

This parable gives us an insight into the cat and mouse game being played by God and the devil.  God can destroy the devil at any time, but for reasons we may never fully understand He is allowing him to play his game.  In the end the devil’s disruption will be destroyed and the Lord’s harvest will be undamaged.

Jesus wants us to know He is allowing evil to flourish to some extent in our world; He also wants us to know that he is in full control of these weeds and will eradicated them in the end.  While there is no precise explanation as to why God has designed things to work in this way, it seems safe to assume there ultimately is some benefit for those of us who endure this cross-contamination.  Our eternal existence must somehow be enhanced by the experience of sorting through good and evil on a daily basis. Repetition is one of the best teaching tools.  Navigating around evil as a matter of routine is the kind of repetition that will likely help us develop a clear understanding of the dark side.  Apparently, the ability to easily identify evil will be useful to us in the world beyond.

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.