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“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:1-3). 

Have you ever thoughtfully read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in one sitting? I dare you to try it! Do you understand the truths and applications of Jesus’ greatest sermon? It may seem overwhelming and maybe even unrealistic to current readers. Yet many of its passages, principles, and phrases (The Lord’s Prayer, The Golden Rule, “love your enemies”, “go the extra mile”, “the salt of the earth”, “jot and tittle”, “an eye for an eye”, “oh ye of little faith”, etc.) still find their place in modern culture and language. But is Jesus’ message relevant and, if so, what does it all mean? I think that to call ourselves a Christ-follower we must hunger for His truth and His Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). And there is no place better to go and linger than the Sermon on the Mount if we want to better understand Jesus, His kingdom, and what He demands from those who truly desire to be His disciples. 

Both the message and the messenger of the Sermon on the Mount prove unique, distinctive, and powerful. The Lord’s discourse is unlike anything ever heard; it inverts virtually every guiding principle that both humanism and religion espouse, even as it reveals and encapsulates the mind and heart of God. Not before Christ’s earthly ministry or after it has the world witnessed teaching of such authority, received instruction to prompt such radical change, or found education that so thoroughly challenges and inspires. Although following Christ’s teaching is neither for the weak nor the faint of heart, Jesus’ words in this sermon hold life-transforming power! 

And that is why I wrote a book on this difficult passage; my own quest for the truths and applications found in the Sermon on the Mount. In other words, it was my personal journey to understand our King and His kingdom. Yes, much greater writers and theologians than I could ever dream of being have tackled this text with profound insight (although some were so theological and impractical I found them of little personal use). But I couldn’t evade the question: what does this sermon mean to me? And how does it fit into what I believe and how I live? Can I make enough sense of this passage to comprehend, systematize, and practice these powerful truths? My hunger for Him would not allow me to ignore these queries. So I took a leap of faith, dove in, and I wrote about it. And after nearly 800 hours of research, prayer, meditation, writing, editing, and re-writing there is now, for better or worse, another book on the Sermon on the Mount.

Please know this is not some not-so-subtle attempt to market this book. Although available through any book store or on-line retailer (Amazon, B&N, Crossbooks, etc.-:), I don’t personally sell my books but have been led to give my copies away as a ministry. I have no idea if anyone will read Captivated by the King and His Kingdom (though I pray that they do) or or if it will have the same powerful impact it had on me. I believe if God uses it to touch and radically alter just one soul then I will feel as if it was time well spent and truly worth the investment. So, in a sense, I guess this book has already done its work, because this passage and process have staggered me! Jesus’ words in this message absolutely rocked my spiritual world and gave me an entirely new paradigm and conviction as to how we are to serve our King, what it means to be His disciple. Maybe that will encourage you to pull out your well-worn Bible, turn to Matthew 5, and let Jesus’ sermon rock your world and radically transform you. 

Given my opinion that Christians tragically put more focus on reading scripture than we do intensely studying and intentionally applying it, I’m firmly convinced that if you plant yourself in this sermon, open your mind and heart, and ask God to impart the meaning of the message you will begin to experience the reality of Paul’s teaching to us in Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” And I believe, based upon my experience, that the Holy Spirit’s work of gradually transforming us into the image of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18) will be enhanced and expedited in the process of becoming Captivated by the King and His Kingdom as they are revealed in the Sermon on the Mount.


“In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORDGOD is an everlasting rock. For he has humbled the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city. He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.” The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. In the path of your judgments, O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul” (Isaiah 26:1-8). 

How often have we yearned for peace; peace in our world, peace in our nation, peace in our families, and most importantly, personal peace of mind? Madison Avenue tells us that our financial security, financial security for those whom we may leave behind, or virtually security of any kind is the key to peace of mind. defines this condition as, “Inner peace (or peace of mind) is a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace, with enough knowledge and understanding to be keep oneself strong in the face of discord or stress and a place of serenity, and calmness that describes a disposition free from the effects of stress.” Although I accept the basic premise of this definition my beef is that people do not, nor can not, keep themselves in this state. Instead, as God’s Word clearly indicates, we are kept in peace. So then, how does this happen? 

Scripture tells us that He is “the God…of peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11). Recognizing this lofty truth (see also Isaiah 26:12) Isaiah confirms some important principles in experiencing the kind of inner tranquility that can only come from a peace-giving, peace-sustaining God. He indicates that focusing our attention on this God of peace allows Him to give us not just peace but perfect peace! Isaiah also says that trust, or faith, is essential in receiving supernatural serenity (26:3b; 26:8). This is not about the power of positive thinking, conjuring up calming self-talk, or crossing our legs Buddha-like and finding our center. It is about setting our minds and affections (see 26:8) in faith upon a God bigger than ourselves and our circumstances. 

And the conduit for receiving God’s unfathomable peace?  Jesus. The Prince of Peace that Isaiah had already prophesied about (Isaiah 9:6). The same Prince of Peace who was introduced by the angelic host with, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14)!  The One who taught so that His followers would have peace despite the guarantee of tribulation in this world (John 16:33). And this is no ordinary or temporary peace. It is the very peace of Jesus who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:37). 

Again, how does this God-created, Jesus-induced, and Spirit-empowered peace come to us? How do we access it? Focus on Him and faith in Him. Paul speaks in concert with Isaiah that when our mind and heart’s attention is on the spiritual and not the circumstantial or external then we will have a life of peace: “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” Romans 8:6). And in his soaring admonition to the church at Philippi we are reminded that hearts of worship and praise focused on the beauty of Jesus and confidently trusting in Him and His sovereign goodness are ones which experience His “peace that surpasses understanding and guards our hearts and minds”: 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:4-9).

So how could we think that we could have peace of mind in any other way? Real security, no matter what the ad executives, psychologists, or spiritual gurus suggest, will only be found in the unchanging, loving, peace-giving Creator and Sustainer of the universe. And we experience Him and His ineffable peace in and through Jesus alone.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (Colossians 3:12). 

Paul continues with his imagery of clothing. The phrase “put on” could be translated “clothe” or “adorn yourself”. He told us in 3:10 to strip off the unholy ways of the old man and to put on the righteous robes of the new man. This thought progresses here. Earlier Paul mentioned that this transformation to the new man demands that we strip off sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying. Now Paul tells us what to put on; compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (forgiveness appears in the very next verse). This reveals two major aspects of following Jesus with righteousness found only in Him – we intentionally don’t do certain Christ-dishonoring things and we purposefully do certain Christ-honoring things. Using similar language, Paul powerfully summarizes this by saying, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 14:13)! 

In Colossians 3:12 these characteristics – compassion, humility, meekness, and patience – are interrelated. It is God’s intention that we have all, not some, of these traits. And the foundational characteristic that leads us to demonstrate all the others is humility (or meekness). Without the absence of pride and a brokenness before God (see Matthew 5:3-5) we are incapable of being these other things – loving, kind, and patient. In other words, our lack of pride before God and our fellow-man is the precursor to demonstrating love and all its emanations. Clearly, without meekness we can’t expect to be loving, kind, patient, and, in the next verse (Colossians 3:13), forgiving. And in meekness and humility, I believe, we are most like Jesus who described himself as, “gentle [or meek] and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). In this same sense Paul admonishes us to have the same mindset as Jesus did in His humility (self-emptying): “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). 

And how are we capable of this? And what is our motivation? The answer to both is found in the first half of verse 12 as Paul describes us as, “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” We are changed because we are chosen. Chosen by Him. We are holy (set apart to Himself by His mercy) and loved by Him. God’s electing grace is the motivator and propeller of our new lifestyle. This is what keeps us humble and therefore desirous of putting on the new self, of putting on Jesus Himself. We have done nothing to earn or merit His gracious gifts. Therefore, election does not diminish our desire to love fully and live righteously. Instead it exponentially enhances it! We must understand that our election compels obedience not license. Why? Because knowing Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith (see Hebrews 12:2), that we love Him only because He first loved us (I John 4:19), and that He chose us, not the other way around, demand humility instead of pride. 

To underscore this divine progression of His choosing us, His making us righteous, and showering us with His undeserved love, Jesus’ own words put His election and our spiritual fruit into context: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:16-17). Our Lord is unambiguous that the supernatural offspring of God’s sovereign grace is the bearing of eternal fruit that is seeded in love (see Galatians 5:22-24). 

He has chosen us (what a glorious thought)! He has set us apart as holy in God’s sight (how amazing)! He has showered on us His infinite affection and favor (how indescribable yet true)! So how do we react? Surely we must take Paul’s advice and cast off the old immoral and idolatrous self and put on Jesus and His righteousness. Let us image forth Jesus’ humility, compassion, kindness, and patience by relying only on the example He has shown us and living in the power that He has given us. And let us do so for His honor and glory only. For He alone has chosen us, has made us holy, and loves us with agape love.  For He alone is our salvation and righteousness.

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). 

There may be no greater anti-prejudicial statement made in all of God’s Word than Colossians 3:11 (see also the Good Samaritan parable found in Luke 10:25-37). Here the Apostle Paul makes it clear that our “vertical” relationship with God in Christ has “horizontal” implications. While we may pat ourselves on the back for our moral purity often, if we do an honest assessment of our attitudes, we may be harboring bias toward people of another race, color, social status, economic status, educational status, and even status within the church. Truth be told, even our brothers and sisters in Christ are often shunned because of subtle yet insidious forms of prejudice or elitism. Paul bluntly says this is wrong! 

Now what Paul is certainly not suggesting is that our social, cultural, ethnic, or sexual distinctions disappear. Actual, I believe, God created us different and had this in mind when He designed His grand scheme for evangelism and missions: “And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation…” (Revelation 5:9). In other words, the call of the Gospel and the following of Christ do not mandate uniformity. However, for true believers, they do mandate love, brotherhood, and unity across all outward differences. That is what is meant by, “the ground at the foot of the cross is always level.” 

We see this same thought throughout Paul’s writings. Interestingly, besides this comment to the church at Colossae, he made mention of this kind of unity to the churches in Corinth, Rome, and Galatia as well.  Clearly Paul saw our tendency toward discrimination as a universal problem. And he wanted to make it clear that when we are placed into Christ and granted entrance into His kingdom we do so on equal terms. Thus we are now a family united under the headship of Christ. We, with all of our distinctions, have been brought together (or “made”, see 1 Corinthians 12:13) united with Christ and unified with each other. 

So, how does this work? First, these barriers have been broken down “for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Secondly, we are “…in one Spirit…all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13). So we have the same Lord and are baptized by the same Holy Spirit. This is what creates this form of unity without uniformity, harmony instead of strife, and love instead of prejudice. This is our common bond and His worthiness (see again Revelation 5:9) makes this a reality. You see, this is not about our petty biases and myopically built walls that divide based upon our trivial differences. There is unity in Christ because He is the author of unity. There is love in Him because God is love, and there is harmony in the Spirit because He baptized us into harmony. And this Trinity, though unique in their persons, are in unity and harmony with each other! 

Again, this all comes back to the preeminence of Jesus. The last portion of Colossians 3:11 says, “but Christ is all, and in all.” Isn’t it amazing that when the eyes of our heart are synchronized and fixed on the majesty, power, beauty, and glory of Jesus our prejudicial walls come tumbling down. We don’t notice the color of our skin, the type of car we drive or house we live in, the language we speak, the number of diplomas we display, the clothes that we wear, or our social standing when we are intently gazing upon Him and all that He is.

Paul sums up this connection with adoring Jesus and our unity (not uniformity) in Him beautifully when he says:

“…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:18-23).

“In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator ” (Colossians 3:7-10). 

With language imagery that suggests changing clothes – taking off the no longer useful, old garb and putting on the delightful new – Paul is telling them to throw off and away the sinful garments of their old life. “Put them away”, he says of anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying. Earlier Paul said to slay sin (3:5), now he says to strip if off! But he does so with full knowledge that the things that defile us are not from without but from within, that which is internal eventually surfaces and exposes us for who we really are. An experience in Jesus’ ministry amplifies His take on the subject: 

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person”… But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:10-12, 15-20). 

In the context of Paul’s analogy of our outward wardrobe, I’m reminded of the proverb, “clothes do not make the man”, which essentially means just because a person’s outfit is extraordinary it does not change their character, their life, and/or who they are. I’m equally impressed (and tickled) by Mark Twain’s twisting of this saying: “Clothes make the man; naked people have little or no influence in society.” It is true that our actions are not always indicative of our inward state (even antitheists can abstain from anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk, and lying) but our actions usually are characteristic of who we are on the inside. So Paul commands us to “put off the old self with its practices and…put on the new self” (vv. 9-10). In other words, when we are transformed by the presence of Jesus in us, we are internally changed in such a way that our external life is drastically altered: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

Therefore, Paul says these ugly, outward habits of our lives before Christ’s invasion of us should no longer be our “attire”. We once wore “clothes” with these traits but no longer. Why? Because we have been made a new creation, radically altered and morally transformed. And how does this happen? By “being renewed in knowledge after the image of [the new self’s] creator” (v. 10). In other words, we are becoming more like Jesus! In a similar vein Paul tells the church at Rome: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).

Luke’s account of the Sermon on the Mount provides further insight. In Luke 6:46 Christ asks, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” The critical distinction between an acceptable following of Christ as opposed to an unacceptable one is this: true followers of Jesus demonstrate heart change through projecting Spirit-empowered righteousness and aiming toward God’s holy standards. Jesus expects to see God-inspired obedience and morality as evidence of our sincerity.

Understand that Paul, nor Jesus, ever taught salvation by works. We cannot earn our way into Heaven. The Apostle Paul clarified this in explaining that we are saved by grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, as we humbly receive the undeserved grace God bestows and allow our faith in Him to change us from the inside out, we begin to realize the truth of the following verse, Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We realize that, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”; therefore, we set out to reflect the Lord in tangible, meaningful ways (see James 2:17).

**** This is an excerpt from Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him published in 2008.

Jim, who was doing his best to pray and simultaneously fade into the wall paper, watched helplessly as his young coworker, Mark, ordered yet another beer. It was the last thing the wild-eyed man needed. Mark’s profanity-laced tirade rose to a crescendo, bringing the furtive glances of the other restaurant patrons their direction. He was using every expletive Jim had ever heard, cursing God and Jesus as if doing so would make them cower. His rage was blasphemous and venomous. Jim had never heard such a hatred of God and could feel the hair standing on his neck at the frightening statement, “I hope that I burn in hell so that I don’t ever have to ever see Jesus. If I did, I’d kill him!” (Little did Mark realize he, as well as the rest of humanity, had accomplished just that.) 

Only moments before Jim had inadvertently wandered into a theological discussion with Mark, an avowed atheist who believed humans are masses of energy, having no souls and little purpose. Jim tried every argument for divine creation, but his efforts to defend God’s existence were to no avail. Mark was adamant that God didn’t exist, and he didn’t mind airing his opinions on a captive audience. 

The blow up happened when Jim asked a question that to him seemed quite innocent: “Why is it so important to you to believe that God doesn’t exist?” 

Within moments Mark was worked into a tirade on the existence of suffering and the ridiculous notion that any “d— Creator in the sky” could possibly allow it. More specifically, he felt it inexcusable that his grandmother, a devout woman of faith, could be allowed to hurt. Mark claimed that “she was more holy than Mother Teresa,” and in her last few days, she suffered horribly from the effects of a stroke. 

Jim was stumped, absolutely dumfounded. He could summon no argument to pacify Mark’s rage, and he felt hot with guilt for having caused the scene in the first place.  He sat in silence and tried to focus on his fingernails. As he collected himself Psalm 116:15 played through his mind as if someone had switched on a recording: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” 

“So your grandmother believed in Jesus?” Jim heard himself ask, as if the two were having a quiet discussion about the weather. 

“Oh yes,” Mark replied softly, suddenly sagging in his chair like a deflated balloon, “His name was one of the last things that she said.” 

Jim felt himself sit up straighter as the Holy Spirit prompted him to recall, “Mark, one of the reasons I believe in God is because of the faith of people like your grandmother. I really want to be like those who believe so much that their faith endures to the bitter end. People like your grandmother are heroes to me; their faith helps confirm my belief in God. I really believe that I will see your grandma one day.” 

Silence ensued. 

Jim swallowed. 

Then Mark, the picture of masculinity who had moments before raged like a caged wolf, came unglued in a new way. His wide shoulders heaved, and uncontrolled tears coursed down his face as he sobbed. Mark broke down. The diners, who had mercifully gone back to their meals, began again to stare. 

Mark wept for what seemed like hours. Again, Jim was rendered paralyzed, unable to speak or move. Gratefully, he felt that the Lord wanted him to remain as he was: quiet, supportive, present. 

Finally Mark’s tall and strong frame stood. He shook Jim’s hand, man-hugged him, and calmly said, “I don’t agree with you, Jim, but I appreciate you. Grams would’ve liked you.” 

As Mark quietly turned to leave, Jim stood awash in inadequacy and smallness. He knew he was not equipped for this providential discussion. He could only recognize that God was in control. Only the Lord could call, convict, and convert Mark’s heart to a healing relationship with Him. Jim could, however, pray that God would do just that. 

Second Peter 3:9 states, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). God is completely aware of the state of the lost. He knows their hearts, knows their hurts, knows their stories. Our job is to reach out to them with His love, to tell them about Him when opportunities arise, to be there with them when times are tough. 

We as Christ-followers are called to teach and make disciples as we go (Matthew 28:19) . Each of us will cross paths with many Marks and Sues and Jakes and Sharons. While we can’t make a salvation decision for them, we can nudge them toward responding to God’s promptings. Our responsibility is to love them as Christ would; compassionately reaching out to those who don’t believe is our best hope of helping them to see the real Jesus. Of helping them discover the hope that we hold dear.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” Colossians 3:5-6). 

Although utterly enabled and energized by God to live a life that is fully pleasing to Him, Paul here asserts the clear New Testament teaching that this is not without our exertion or diligence. The concept of “let go and let God” is not biblical. Yes, our true power comes from yielding, surrendering, and focusing on Christ (see Colossians 3:1-2) but that in itself is a form of effort. Although fully dependant upon His righteousness-giving and faith-sustaining indwelling power found in the presence and person of the Holy Spirit, there is also necessary cooperation on our part. We must endeavor to bring our flesh under control as we look to Him for the ability to do so.

John Owen, the Puritan pastor and theologian once said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Thus we are introduced to the doctrine of the mortification of sin. This doctrine is found in numerous New Testament writings (see Romans 8:13). It refers to the intentional practice of refusing to do things that displease God or put us in jeopardy of impurity. It amplifies Jesus’ teaching, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34) and promotes a lifestyle of purposeful self-denial. Galatians 5:24 states the idea this way: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” As both Christ and Paul taught, we must do whatever it takes to avoid sin and to embrace God’s ways.

Earlier we saw that our death and resurrection with Christ (see 2:20 and 3:1) provide us the impetus to live out the teachings and truth of God. So we see that dying to self and living in the power of the resurrected Christ are inexorably linked in dealing with our carnal urges. Dying to self is a practice and living in the energy of the risen Lord is accessible to us through His work in and for us. So a unique spiritual formula is produced: dying to self enables us to put to death our God-dishonoring deeds and living in Him allows us to produce righteous, fruit-bearing lives.

Showing again the God’s Word is always relevant, along with impurity, passion, and evil desire, Paul addresses the need for us to discipline ourselves against the 2 most prominent sins of our culture; unbridled sexual self-indulgence and greed. Much like Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:27; 6:19-24), Paul deals of the basest parts of our depravity – misguided lust and selfish covetousness (which Paul underscores with the vivid description of “idolatry”). If we are discerning we see that Christians are bombarded by subtle and in-your-face messages that these urges are not bad.  Furthermore, our culture often screams that the attributes of lust and greed are admirable. Beware, Paul says, be on guard, and struggle with the power of God to put these things to death.

We see this same combination of our effort and God’s power in Philippians 2:12-13, 15: 

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose… so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe  as you hold out the word of life–in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”

Then in Colossians 3:6, Paul gives us a chilling reminder that the consequence of sin is the wrath of God. Let us not forget that the God of the Bible is both infinitely loving yet indescribably wrathful. These two divine attributes are not a contradiction at all – they are wholly compatible. A Holy God must punish sin therefore He will pour out His wrath against it. This righteous vengeance is directed at one of 2 places; Jesus on the cross or upon the unrepentant, unregenerate sinner. Those who have placed their faith in Christ’s penal substitution as their only covering from the wrath of God are spared His anger. It has been poured out on Jesus instead – this is His love. But those who refuse to believe, surrender, and follow Christ alone will be subjected to His awful vindication “because of [their] hard and impenitent heart [they] are storing up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5).


“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).

Ted is a drug addict. Due to multiple back surgeries and other debilitating illnesses he is hooked on numerous prescription drugs. I watched Ted groan and writhe in pain and nausea as he suffered from unintended morphine withdrawal. After a trip to the ER and the healing power of an IV bag dripping the necessary medications back into his desperate body he was back to “normal” within 24 hours. The hospital visit precluded what I thought was the perfect day to share the Gospel with Ted. But God, in His divine providence, had determined that this Saturday was not His perfect time for an explanation of His amazing free offer of grace and forgiveness. That was ordained to take place 72 hours later.

Ted was forthright on that overcast Wednesday, “I’ve committed every kind of sin. I’ve even killed a man…not because I wanted to but because I had to. My life has been a mess since I turned my back on God.  I got saved and baptized as a teenager but chose other things over Him.” He described the day that defined his life: “I was 18 and standing outside of a pool hall. The preacher was on the other side of the street. He told me to leave the joint, cross the street, and do the right thing. You know, to come over to that side. I wanted to. I knew I should. But I turned around and went back into the bar and never looked back. My life has been a mess ever since.”

Now in his mid-60’s, Ted has been homeless, sick, hurt, medicated, fighting, alone, and just surviving for most of his life. He is also illiterate. There is no family and but one friend to care for him. Ted now sits in a government furnished apartment for the indigent having nothing more than the bare necessities. He worries constantly about his Medicaid coverage and Social Security check and whether his pain and panic medicines will be available and affordable. He has a dark past, a dreary present, and, seemingly, a hopeless future. Ted is the type that most folks, including the Church, have given up on. But, in His infinite love, Jesus (and Ted’s one friend) hadn’t.

Ted started listening to some tapes he had been given that shared “The Gospel Made Simple.” As much as I was suspicious of that tagline, I found the tapes to be an accurate representation of the true message of salvation. Not forgetting the faith of his youth, theses tapes reminded Ted of the essentials of being born again; our sin, God’s holiness, the necessity of righteousness, the rightful judgment of God against our rebellion, repentance, and, most of all, how Jesus has made a way for sinners to be redeemed, forgiven, and receive eternal life (see John 3:14-18). Ted understood the Gospel and knew it was all wrapped up in Jesus and the cross of Calvary. He knew he had to see Christ as his only hope and believe and receive Him through the power of the Holy Spirit (see John 1:12-13).

Ted asked me on that providential weekday, “But how can this be?”  Without waiting on a response he continued, “I’ve been too bad for that. It’s too late for me.”  Quoting Romans 10:9-10, I told him there were only 3 things necessary to experience God’s mercy and unmerited favor, receive forgiveness for all his sins, and inherit eternal life in the presence of Jesus: sincerely believe (“if you believe in your heart”), have a life so transformed that it confesses Jesus as Savior (“and confess with your mouth”), and surrender your life to the dominion and lordship of Christ (“that Jesus is Lord”).  To alleviate Ted’s concern his sin was too great, I shared that Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). “What you have to do”, I explained to Ted as clearly as I could, “is to cry out with genuine desire the prayer of the wretched tax collector, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (see Luke 18:9-14).  Then I waited in deafening silence.

With his eyes fixed on mine, Ted paused. Finally, his emphysema filled lungs gasped and he carefully, tearfully, and emphatically said, “That is what I need.” An interminable, stunning silence ensued. “And that is what I want…I want to live the rest of my life for Jesus. Will you pray with me”? Grabbing the hand that had the letters “h-a-t-e” crudely tattooed on his fingers, we did.

Do I know with certainty the state of Ted’s soul? I do not. That is in our Lord’s loving hands. I do know, however, this opportunity came about because of one devoted, sacrificial woman. As a true follower of Jesus she took Christ’s words, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40) to heart. She came often to visit Ted and brought food, love, and prayer. She took her Saturdays to make sure his meds and refrigerator were stocked. She came with warm, caring words and a comforting presence. She also introduced me to Ted. And, just maybe, by God’s grace and through her demonstration of Christ-like love reintroduced Ted to Jesus.

**** I’m thankful that today I will marry this same woman. I’m grateful that God did such a mighty and joyful work that now she will be called Rebekah Wolfe. Isn’t God so very good? He certainly has been to me!

**** This is an excerpt from “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him” published in 2009:

Ever eaten homemade honey—the kind with the honeycomb still in it? Nothing is so delicious. It is pure, simple, and satisfying. 

Living near the Great Smokey Mountains has its advantages. Years ago I took day trips to those beautiful hills to enjoy the grandeur of God’s creation. With a blanket, a picnic lunch, and my Bible, I sat next to a babbling brook and sensed the Holy Spirit’s presence in a unique way. Maybe it was the evidence of God’s greatness in creation or maybe it was escaping the frenetic pace and complexity of the world we reside in, but I know that I found incredible peace during those times.  

One of the biggest treats that I indulged in on these adventures was a planned stop at the local beekeeper’s shanty. In a remote and pastoral slice of Heaven that was as picturesque as a postcard, an elderly beekeeper lived amidst a hubcap collection and beehives. I don’t remember his name, and maybe I never knew it, but I will never forget him. The man was born and raised on that same piece of land and annually bottled the finest honey I ever consumed. Each year as I purchased the delicacy, I’d stop to rock in the chairs on his porch and chat with the man who seemed to live in overalls with a whittling stick in his hands. How he loved to share stories that were a treasure of wisdom and insight! 

The beekeeper had never been formally educated, owned a car, or had health insurance. He had only been to “the big city” (Maryville) three times in his life. But all he needed was right there in the woods. He bartered with and borrowed from his neighbors for necessities and could literally walk to his “House of Worship”—a grove of poplars and chestnut trees that spread their branches toward Heaven. The beekeeper, it seemed, was as pure and untainted as his honey. He didn’t see anything in modern society and its busyness that would bring him lasting satisfaction. For that reason, he epitomized simplicity. He was the picture of peace. I don’t remember much of what he said during our visits, but I know that he oozed contentment. The source of his uncommon satisfaction came from his Savior. Clearly, Jesus Christ was all that he really needed. 

The beekeeper is gone now. I stopped by once and his wife sweetly said that he was too ill to chat, but they did have some honey for sale. The next trip she met me at the door and matter-of-factly stated, “He’s now in eternal joy, and I’m not far behind.” On my final visit, the woman just gave me the honey: three jars. “Storing up treasures in Heaven,” she said.  

As I journeyed on to my place of refuge to seek after God, I left with the distinct impression that the rural beekeeper knew what life was really all about. In retrospect, he reminds me of another honey fanatic, John the Baptist: “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). Unspoiled by the emptiness and misery of his own society, John paved the way for the One by preaching the simple truths that so confounded his own people. Ancient Rome thought John a lunatic, but he really held the right answer to life’s problems in his rudimentary methodology and message: “Make straight the way for the Lord (John 1:23). Through his preaching and even through his simplicity, John pointed to the incarnate Word (John 1:1) that was “not of this world” (John 8:23). 

That Word of whom John spoke is Jesus. His teachings are not of this world, but they are supernatural, pure, and satisfying truth. His words call us out of the world into His undefiled, untainted, and infinite beauty. His words give us meaning, purpose, and satisfaction that contrast with this world’s superficial deceptions, self-absorption, shallow reality, and dangerous lies. Christ’s perfect words tell us of the ultimate pursuit: eternal joy in Him. His truths tell us that, in the end, life isn’t all about us and our “stuff.” Instead, life is all about Him and the Word that tastes so pleasing and so satisfies our souls. I agree with the psalmist: “How sweet are your words to my taste, [Oh, Lord,] sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Psalm 119:103)! 

The beekeeper knew that a life in Christ, one based on His Word, is sweet like honey. He found satisfaction and fulfillment in what Christ accomplished at Calvary and so do I. The beekeeper trusted in the Word and so do I. That is why I still keep those three jars of honey after so many years. Life is not about frenzied pursuits of this world but about the contentment and peace that only comes when we trust that the Lord’s sweet presence and words are truly all we need.

Demonstrating the amazing nature of internet dynamics and communication (and God’s mysterious working), I have decided to repost this blog. Originally posted several months ago (without any great fanfare, I might add), suddenly, 2 days ago, hit after hit was registered for this story. I do not know who originally read this or how they found it.  Nor do I know who spread this to over 100 other readers (at last count) within the space of just a few hours but this true story seems to have captivated many. The note at the end of the post will further intrigue you as, for some reason, God does not seem to be content with this story laying dormant for very long. Thanks for riding along with Dean Strickland one more time.

**** This is an excerpt from Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him published in 2009.

For Dean Strickland I was the 951st driver with whom he’d hitched a ride in the last four years. I found him at a convenience store as he purchased several large bottles of drinking water. When I first noticed his guitar case and backpack, I imagined him another Nashville music “star” traveling through. Upon closer inspection, however, I saw that Dean’s western belt displayed an image of Calvary and his cowboy hat had a small cross attached to it. Even more telling as to his faith in Jesus was the gentle and courteous manner he used with the clerk who rang up his order. Doing something I had never done before, I asked Dean if he needed a ride. 

“Yes, Sir,” he answered in a respectful but cautious tone. 

As we headed toward my car, I found that Dean has just performed for the Cowboy Church in Nashville. Having no lodging, he had slept in the church’s parking lot the previous night. Surprisingly, he looked refreshed and even invigorated as he shared that he felt the service had been pleasing to God. Now Dean was ready to move on to his next gig; an event 700 miles away in Galveston, Texas. 

On our brief ride together, Dean shared that he felt called—in a unique sense—to travel the country by hitchhiking and singing gospel music. He chronicled his journeys on a website which explains that over the previous four years he had been picked up 950 times and averaged walking four to five miles between rides prior to our meeting. When I dropped Dean off near I-40 on the western side of Nashville, I gave him a few dollars and a copy of one of my books. He gave me his musical CD, a nod, and a smile and gathered his meager belongings to begin the march towards Galveston. “I’ve found,” he stated in his Texas drawl right before the door shut, “that America is not as dangerous as some folks think.” 

Habakkuk 2:4 says, “The righteous will live by his faith.” If I’ve ever met a man who exemplified that truth, Dean Strickland is that man. As I drove away from him that day, the Habakkuk passage rang in my head. I pondered his example of living by that motto and was chagrined to admit that I had never really experienced such a radical trust in God, but I definitely wanted to. The Lord certainly doesn’t expect every believer to follow Him through hitchhiking, but I think He does expect each of us to “go” and “tell” others about Him in our own unique ways. And that “going” and “telling” might be in drastically different ways and places than we allow ourselves to imagine. Luke 10:1 explains that Jesus appointed believers to “go” in a manner that was definitely out of the norm. To them He said, 

 “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few…. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. … When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near’” (Luke 10:2-11). 

The world needs to hear about Jesus, but most of us become so bogged down with life’s busyness and worries that we give little thought to stepping out of our comfort zones so that others may come to know Him. I, like so many other Christians, know the promises of Jesus found in Matthew 6:25-26. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.” I realize that I’m more valuable than the sparrows (see Matthew 6:26). But what I’ve got to focus on is Christ’s indication that a life of faith is driven by the philosophy, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well.” I must remember that the Lord will provide for my needs as I do His will. 

Jesus’ words and Dean Strickland’s example pierce my heart. What have I done to display a radical faith in my promise-honoring Savior? When was I willing to jump off the cultural carousel to trust in my omnipotent Father? When did I feel such an assurance in my calling to serve for the kingdom that I took God’s Word at face value? Frankly, I sometimes forget that Christ calls me to a journey of radical faith. He promises to provide for me and to produce in me what He has called me to be and do. But will I take Him up on the offer? 

The writer of Hebrews tells us “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). My experience with meeting Dean Strickland taught me that a stranger can rock my spiritual world. I needed a hitchhiking “angel” to remind me that when God is in it and faith is deployed then, “[I] can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for [me]” (Matthew 17:20). I believe that all of us who claim to follow Jesus need similar reminders—for truly “the kingdom of God is near” (Like 10:11).

**** This blog has another chapter. Although I have had no contact with Dean since this providential encounter, I recently searched for his website to find out the latest. There I found how God continues to bless his journey of faith. There, much to my amazement, I also found a copy of the story I had written about this experience. I have no idea, other than God’s intervention, how he found this piece of writing.  Go to his site, scroll down (look for this article, please), and saturate yourself in Dean’s example –


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