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What is Gospel Truth?

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Are you tired of merely existing? Does your heart yearn to be a part of something meaningful? Wouldn't it be great if you could start living today like a champion?

The Devil wants you to suffer, but God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. He wants all of his children to experience peace and happiness. At this moment, you are just getting by, but God wants more for you than minimum wage. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Did I forgot to mention that this life of prosperity is absolutely free? All you need to do is believe. What are you waiting for? With nothing to lose and the world to gain, trust in God today and watch Him turn your relationships, health, wealth, and life around!

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.” The above is an example of an almost-right gospel. In our day and throughout the record of human history, nothing has been more distorted than the saving message of Jesus Christ. Many people with good intentions buy into the pack lies that I just fed to you. Even in our churches today, there are people who would unwittingly entangle themselves in a web of deceit such as the one weaved in the previous paragraph. My aim today is to show you from the scriptures a clear picture of Christ's salvation so that we might not fall for its pathetic counterfeits.

The first masterpiece in the gallery of gospel truths that we must consider is God Himself.

You see, although the gospel floods our life with blessings, it is primarily not about us. Understanding God's character in relation to the gospel that's sort of right versus the gospel that's actually right is the dividing line between heaven and hell. Often times God is treated as a divine butler who's total reason for being is to make you happy, but Santa Clause is not synonymous with Yahweh. Isaiah writes: “For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, And for My praise I restrain it for you, in order not to cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:9–11 NASB)

God does not restrain his wrath because His people deserve it. He does so ultimately for the glorification of His name. However, why is God even angry with people in the first place? An equally forgotten truth about God is His goodness.

God is good. Let that sink in.

The LORD of glory is impeccably righteous, absolutely just, and incapable of doing evil. David writes, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.” (Psalms 7:11). Being the unchanging standard of good, God won't sweep your iniquity under the rug. His sleepless eyes witness the exhaustive extent of human activity and it invokes His wrath daily.


Here's the simple answer: God is good, and you are not.

All men are born wicked. This is the bad news of the good news. Contrary to the popular idea that says there's something good in everybody, the Bible says that there isn't anything good in anybody. I think its hard to misunderstand Paul when He is so clear: “As it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.'” (Romans 3:10-18)

Notice that this condemnation of our race is universal. It does not say that some or even most have sinned. It says that no one is righteous and that all have turned aside, becoming worthless.

Thus far, the question becomes not "how can I have my best life now", but rather "how can I stand before a just and holy God?" If God is just, then He can't forgive you, for that would be unjust. All men have sinned and therefore they ought to be paid the wages of their work: death (Romans 6:26).

However, look at this seemingly contradictory description of God: “The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.' And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.” (Exodus 34:6-8 ESV)

God forgives all types and kinds of sin, yet He will not leave the guilty unpunished. How on earth can this be? How can God uphold His justice while at the same time justifying those who deserved to be punished?

The answer to this critical conundrum is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Before the world was made, the Father planned to redeem a people for Himself from every language, tribe, and nation. However, His wrath towards sinners would not be abated unless the demands of justice were first met. Thus, the Son is sent into the world. Taking on humanity, this Divine person lived righteously under the law so that He might redeem those who could not live up to its standards. On the cross, all of God's righteous indignation towards His people was poured out on His Son, His only Son, whom He loved. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). His death was the payment, and His bodily ressurection was it's vindication. This is why Paul was able to say that God is just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

Lastly, we must consider our response to such good news. Notice that Paul says that God justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Christ accomplished a great salvation, but it is only those who exercise trust in His redemptive work that benefit from all that was bought in Calvary. By the way, did I forget to mention that it's free? However, this free gift will cost you dearly. Unlike the gospel counterfeits of our day, Jesus doesn't promise health and wealth. Jesus is not a means to an end.

The awesome reward of the gospel is God Himself.

Paul writes, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8).

What is the gospel? “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

This is the one and only message of salvation. Let us, by God's grace, labor to protect it from it's man-centered imposters. After all, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36).

Posted by Jon Howe with 0 Comments

What Are You Doing?

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My 6-year-old recently asked me what my favorite Bible verse is. As hundreds of possible responses flooded into my mind, I knew her question was looking for the short answer. So off to Philippians I went, and I thought I’d stop at Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” As I explained what it meant to live (and die) with our sights on Jesus, I was praying for the right things for her young mind to grasp. Yet the more I shared, the more I had to ask myself “Is my life truly Jesus, and is my death something that I would consider gain?”

In my personal devotional reading, I was in Ephesians 4, and I was at “to equip his people for works of service” (vs. 12).  I had to think, “Am I doing that?” My Lord has given to many the task of equipping and to all the task of serving. This demands a response of each one of us.

These thoughts came as I prepared my Monday evening Bible study for the college students. We are in Acts for the whole year, and I got to speak on the great passage that starts off Acts 6.  Here, the church needed to organize some aspects of service among church members, while allowing the Twelve to focus on serving through the word and prayer. My studies also brought me to Mark 10:45, that used the same word for service in applying it to Jesus: “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.” I had the same thought (part 3): what am I doing to serve Christ and to live for him? If I am imitating Christ, I am serving!

So, in case I would forget... at that same time I was preparing for a message for Sunday, in Colossians 3, which starts: “Set your hearts on things above” and “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” I couldn’t avoid the thought that my heart and life could well be focused too much on the priorities and attractions of this world, rather than on serving Christ for his glory (verse 17). 

In summary, whatever you do, as you serve (even equipping others to do so), do it all for his glory, to the maximum in life, until death comes when God has ordained it. All for his glory!

There you have it: my favorite verse… or maybe some… of many.

Posted by Gary Degraaf with 0 Comments

My Front Row Seat to Gospel Transformation

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Life transformation can come in all different shapes and sizes. 

There’s superficial, shallow, and trivial life transformation. Like when I sink my teeth into one of Patisserie Justina’s fresh out-of-the-oven cinnamon rolls on a Thursday morning, the icing making my fingers a sticky mess, and the comforting warmth of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon melting in my mouth. Those moments make me sigh in contentment and think, “My life will never be the same again.”

Then there’s actual, substantive, and legitimate life transformation. Like when I receive a diploma for years of study that open endless doors of possibility to me. Or like moving to a new country, a new home, a new people group. Those moments make me flinch and think, “My life will never be the same again.”

But then there’s deep, profound, and lasting life transformation. Like when the Creator of the cosmos breathes life into my heart of stone, draws me out of the pit, and gives my life purpose. That moment, dwelt on again and again, makes my heart cry out, “My life will never be the same again!”

Last week was full of life transformation. Some moments were inconsequential (like eating one of those cinnamon rolls for the first time), but the majority of the days were filled with moments that have the capacity to reshape lives. Through the local church in Haiti, deaf families were given goats, which provide them with a source of food. Deaf families received solar lights, giving them safety and the ability to communicate after the sun goes down. Deaf families received water filters, giving them access to clean, safe drinking water.

But the weightiest transformation took place in a dimly lit room with drapes askew and knick-knack porcelain figures scattered on a shelf. A chaos of colorful paintings clothed the table and the medley of colors melted into an odd assortment of pots and pans stacked under the table. Yoyo (the man on the left in the image above), a deaf man from the village of Leveque, stood leaning against his doorframe, his relaxed body language belying the intense focus and attention he was giving Mike, a deaf man from Canada. In one hand Mike was holding a small slip of white paper, three small tears defacing its otherwise smooth surface. In the other hand, Mike held a small slip of white paper, whole and unmarked. One hand held a life broken and marred by sin. The other hand held a life of righteousness to be freely accepted. I sat back and watched as Mike laid out the gospel, giving visual representation to what Christ had done for the world He so greatly loved. My eyes flitted back and forth between Mike’s face, intent and joyful in the truth of the gospel, and Yoyo’s face, intent and pensive in the decision that was laid before him. Mike’s hands stilled as he came to the end of the gospel story and Yoyo stood, unmoved for several beats. And then a broad smile stretched across his face. “I have heard people talk about the Bible, but I have never clearly understood what Jesus did for me. I want that. I want His righteousness and forgiveness.” And in the space of that tiny room, with only the buzz of mosquitos breaking the silence, Yoyo’s life was transformed by the power and love of a great and gracious Savior. 

That gospel life transformation doesn’t stop in that moment of belief; not for Yoyo, not for me, and not for you. Our journey of life transformation will not be over anytime soon. The good work that was started when Yoyo humbly placed his faith and trust in Christ is only just beginning (Philippians 1:6). What hope there is in that promise! The reshaping of my heart when I bowed at the foot of the cross is continuing degree by degree, from glory to glory (1 Corinthians 3:18). What assurance there is in that truth. The bruises and hurts your heart has sustained since that joy-filled salvation moment are all being turned to God’s gospel purposes to grow in you hope, perseverance, and the character of Christ (Romans 5:1-5, 8:28-29). What a blessed assurance. And, Believer, we were not drawn out of the mire of sin to stay safely within boundaries of comfort. No, we were created in Christ for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We were saved to be sent, to be stewards and ambassadors of a message replete with reconciliation and hope (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). 

Having a front row seat to life transformation this week made my heart pause in thanksgiving and reflection. What beautiful, simple truth the gospel is. And how powerful it is to transform lives. Be encouraged that it has transformed yours. Be challenged to continue that transformation through the Spirit. Be willing to be used by the Spirit in the transformation of others. And be overwhelmed by the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice. Let it transform your life.

The Shack: A Warning for the Unsuspecting

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On June 8, 2008, an important milestone was reached: a small, relatively unknown, self-published book called The Shack sold its one millionth copy. Over the next several months, The Shack would sweep the American landscape like a storm. As of April 2009, according to its publisher, the book had sold over 6 million copies, and had been at number 1 on the New York Times best seller list for 36 weeks and counting.

“Wait a minute,” you are probably thinking to yourself, “what’s the big deal about The Shack?”

Perhaps you are reading this thinking, “I’ve read The Shack, and I thought it was a great book. In fact, I can honestly say it changed my whole perspective of who God is and how God relates to me.”

You are not alone. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, a popular paraphrase of the Bible, compared the book to The Pilgrim’s Progress. On the book’s front cover endorsement he notes, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ did for his. It’s that good!”

Other endorsements found on the book include Michael W. Smith, who called it “the most absorbing work of fiction I’ve read in many years,” and singer Wynona Judd said “this story has blown the door wide open to my soul.”

Still, what lies between the covers of The Shack is what Dr. Albert Mohler referred to as “undiluted heresy.” The danger, as Dr. Michael Youssef observed, is that this heresy is wrapped in powerful emotions and covered by a beautiful landscape. In a sermon delivered to his church congregation in August 2008, Youssef noted that The Shack is “a measure of truth wrapped in a whole lot of poisonous dough.”

“Half truths,” Youssef said, “almost right, outwardly appealing, are far more dangerous than plain wrong and evil. We must learn to discern subtle heresies, even when they are wrapped in powerful emotions.”

The Shack is just such a book. 

William P. Young

The Shack was written by William P. Young. The author is the son of missionaries, and spent his childhood in New Guinea. He is a bible college and seminary graduate. Before becoming a writer, Young served in the ministry for a number of years. Young has also experienced great trauma in his life.  According to published interviews, he was first sexually abused by tribal men at the age of four in New Guinea.  After he was transferred to a boarding school for missionary children, he was again abused at the school. Those who have met and visited with Young report him to be a likable and genuine person.

In an effort to communicate to his children some of the hurt he had experienced as a child, and how he believed God had healed him from his inner pain as a result of the abuse, Young wrote The Shack. He admits that he never intended for his story to be published. Young initially made 15 copies of his story, one for each of his six children and the others for friends and family. His small audience was so impressed with the story they encouraged him to publish it.

After reworking his manuscript, and with editing assistance of some friends, Young submitted The Shack to 26 publishers. It was rejected by all of them.  Tired of attempting to publish via the traditional route, Young and two friends formed Windblown Media and self published the book in 2007. They spent $300 on marketing The Shack. The book reached the New York Times best seller list in June 2008 and by the end of 2008, The Shack was the top selling book of fiction for the year. In addition to the secular market, The Shack was also the top selling Christian book of 2008.

The Story

From Amazon.com, here is the book’s summary:

Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at The Shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever. In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant “The Shack” wrestles with the timeless question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You’ll want everyone you know to read this book! 

When the main character, Mack, arrives at The Shack he meets a most unlikely trio identified as the Trinity. God the Father is presented as a large African-American woman named “Papa.” She is described as an Aunt Jemimah-looking woman, also known as “Elousia,” who enjoys cooking, listens to pop music on her iPod, and spending time in the kitchen. “Jesus” is presented as a common-place, unattractive Jewish carpenter in a plaid shirt with a big nose and a tool belt. The Holy Spirit is described as an Asian woman named “Sarayu,” a mystical river in ancient India related to the Hindu deity Kali. 

In March 2017, The Shack was released as a major motion picture.

The Underlying Heresy in The Shack

Begin to research The Shack and you will find many critics. Some of the Bible teachers and scholars who have spoken out against The Shack include Dr. James De Young, Dr. Michael Youssef, Janet Parshall, Jan Markell, Mark Driscoll, Dr. Larry DeBruyn, Norman Geisler, Chuck Colson, Chuck Swindoll, and Dr. Albert Mohler. 

Why is The Shack so dangerous? There are many reasons. First, the dialog between Mack and the various members of the Trinity is very casual. There is not one place in the book where Scripture is referenced. As a result, the reader is presented with “divine revelation” in the form of casual conversation.

For example in one conversation between “Papa” and Mack, “Papa” declares, “I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation….” (p. 126).

In another dialog, “Papa” explains how the Trinity views rules:

[Mack] “Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?”

[Papa] “Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.” 

“You can’t be serious! You’re messing with me again,” moaned Mack. 

“Child,” interrupted papa, “you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet.”

“…enforcing rules [says Sarayu] …is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse” (p. 203)

Theologically, Dr. Norman Geisler outlines 14 areas of disagreement with fundamental biblical doctrine. Eric Barger highlights some of the most significant problems with The Shack

  • Young’s Papa character insists that sin is its own punishment. This distorts the reality of Hell and discounts eternal retribution for sin.
  • Readers of The Shack are told that Jesus is only the best way to know God – not the only way.
  • The Shack teaches that when Jesus went to the cross, God Almighty died there too. This is a heresy known as patripassianism.
  • The Shack states that there is no structure or hierarchy within the Trinity and that the three personages of God are all equally subject to one another and to humans as well.
  • Young’s “Papa” character is suspiciously akin to a Polynesian/Hawaiian goddess who also happens to be known as “Papa.” The similarities with The Shack’s God character are stunning.
  • The Bible is very clear: do not portray God in an image. It is impossible to make the Creator part of the creation. Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and he who worships Him must worship Him in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The second commandment forbids us from making a visual portrayal of God. To worship such an image is pure idolatry (Exodus 20:4-5). Paul, in his epistle to the Romans states, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:21-23a).


Perhaps the greatest error presented in The Shack is its blatant universalism. As Eric Barger observes, however, William P. Young’s brand of universalism is different from traditional universalism. Young believes in what is called universal reconciliation.  Classical Universalism teaches that all religions lead to heaven. Jesus is a way to heaven, but Jesus is not the only way. Universal reconciliation teaches that all of mankind is already saved because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. In other words, when Jesus died on the cross, He died for all mankind, and at that moment all mankind was reconciled to God.
Barger notes, “This position purports that there is no penalty for sin, no literal hell and no need to accept Christ and repent of one’s sins. It dramatically undermines the work of the Church, evangelism and the core teachings of the New Testament. It is a satanic trap denying essential beliefs taught by Jesus, the Apostles and Bible believers throughout the Church Age.”
Unfortunately, Universalism is sweeping through American Christianity.

What is most concerning about this book is that it has been so warmly embraced by American Christians. Pastors are encouraging their congregations to read the book and embrace it. Christian booksellers have The Shack prominently displayed in their stores. Christians are giving away books by the thousands telling their friends and family that it has changed their life. Churches are using The Shack in their small groups and Sunday school classes.

American Christians are falling in love with universalism. From Brian McLaren to Joel Osteen, American Christian writers, pastors, teachers, musicians, politicians, etc., are all on the politically-correct bandwagon that declares all men saved.
Bert Kjos states, “countless pastors and church leaders are delighting in its message. By ignoring (or redefining) sin and guilt, they embrace an inclusive but counterfeit ‘Christianity’ that draws crowds but distorts the Bible. Discounting Satan as well, they weaken God’s warnings about deception.“

Michael Youssef warns that “The day is coming when Jesus Christ is going to sit on the judgment bench to separate those who have accepted His Father’s plan from those who have accepted another plan. He will separate those who tried to stretch His plan, who are trying to make the plan popular, or are trying to rewrite His plan.”

The foundation for the beautiful cathedral in Lübeck, Germany was laid in 1173. Inscribed on one of its enormous medieval doors in an ancient gothic alphabet are the following words:
Ye call me eternal, then do not seek me.Ye call me fair, then do not love me.Ye call me gracious, then do not trust me.Ye call me just, then do not fear me.Ye call me life, then do not choose me.Ye call me light, then do not see me.Ye call me Lord, then do not respect me.Ye call me Master, then do not obey me.Ye call me merciful, then do not thank me.Ye call me mighty, then do not honor me.Ye call me noble, then do not serve me.Ye call me rich, then do not ask me.Ye call me Savior, then do not praise me.Ye call me shepherd, then do not follow me.Ye call me Way, then do not walk with me.Ye call me wise, then do not heed me.Ye call me Son of God,  then do not worship me.When I condemn Ye, then do not blame me.

May each of us take seriously our calling as Christians who hold high the authority of the Word of God. The challenges before us are great, but so are the opportunities. Whether you sit here today as one who has never heard of The Shack or you are someone who believes it has transformed your view of God and of what it means to be a Christian, the lesson for us is clear: let every word that is preached, written, spoken, sung, be held up to the mirror of Scripture. Don’t believe something just because it is well said, covered in beautiful language and powerful emotions. Learn to discern. Know your Bible and ask God for the wisdom to guide in the paths of righteousness and truth.

Challies, Tim. “The Shack” by William P. Young. Accessed April 4, 2009 at http://www.challies.com/archives/book-reviews/the-shack-by-william-p-young.php.
Duin, Julia. “’The Shack’": Book on accessible God hits big.” Washington Times, August 7, 2008. Accessed April 4, 2009 at http://washingtontimes.com/news/2008/aug/07/story-about-accessible-god-becomes-best-seller/.
Grossman, Cathy Lynn. “’Shack’ opens doors, but critics call book ‘scripturally incorrect,’” USA TodayMay 29, 2008. Accessed April 4, 2009 at http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-05-28-the-shack_N.htm.
Posted by Chris Eller with 1 Comments
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Trending Reads | March

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Trending Reads is a monthly post from Pastor Travis Walker that features pertinent and informative blog posts and articles for the growth of the people of FFC. This month, instead of articles or blog posts, Travis has put together three great videos on loving your city, the reformation, and lent. Take a look:





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