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A friend of mine is a huge, I mean HUGE, Alabama Crimson Tide fan. Due to the fact I worry if this indicates he is unregenerate, or at least deceived, I will not use his name here. But his initials are Jess Rainer (just in case he is not reading this please let him know that a Tennessee Vol fan – therefore one of the elect – is trash-talking him and his fellow elephant followers). Please know that this is not a personal vendetta related to the sad injustice that Alabama consistently crushes Tennessee on the football field. This is genuine Christian concern, speaking the truth in love. Why my concern for J. R. and the “legion” of Alabama fans that used to pack Legion Field and morph into brute beasts (like elephants)? It is because “Legion” is the name of a demon – actually many demons. Just check out the situation in Mark 5 as the writer tells us about Jesus’ encounter with the forces of Satan: 

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”  For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”  And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.  Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,  and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”  So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea. The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs.  And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:1-20). 

OK, I know this account is not about Alabama fans but my flesh couldn’t resist. I still think it spiritually safer to pull for the team in orange but I realize this passage is about the power of God to cleanse us from the forces of sin in and around us. Although there are many angles one could take in examining this text, I will look at only one. Let’s see the various reactions to Jesus that occur here. And let’s honestly assess which group we might fall into. 

  • Legion the demon – He knew who Jesus was and was afraid of His overwhelming power, the power of the Most High God. Although he admitted his need to submit to Him, he ended up in a herd of swine and perished in the murky, raging sea of his own evil and rejection.  
  • The townspeople – They recognized Jesus’ power but wanted nothing to do with it. Maybe they perceived this dynamic display to be initiated by evil forces but they, for whatever reason, decided that Jesus and His healing power should leave. They wanted nothing to do with Jesus or His transformational presence. 
  • The healed demoniac – Now being in his right mind he desired to follow Jesus. And though he didn’t physically do so, he became His disciple, missionary, and witness to the greatness of Jesus. With the evidence of a radically changed life he proclaimed the miracle of his healing to all who would listen. 

So which camp would you fall into (and I’m not talking Vols vs. Tide)? Upon seeing the manifest power of the Most High God in the presence of Jesus and the movement of His Spirit do we reject it, deny it, or embrace it? The question is worthy of serious consideration because He still moves, heals, and cleanses. And I pray we all embrace His presence so that we, like the right-minded former demoniac, will feel His touch, know His worth, and trumpet His goodness.

****After my last post (Did you read it? If not, just scroll down and take a glance.) entitled Where is God, I felt this piece appropriate for my own sake.

I am prone to be judgmental, or have a critical spirit. It is something that I must be intentionally aware of or, before I know it, I’ve assumed (and we all know what that means) and jumped to negative conclusions. Oh yes, like many, I have my rationalizations down pat. First, I deceive myself by calling it discernment (which I believe in, by the way). Or I consider it a Holy Spirit inspired gut feeling (which I also believe can be real). And then there is the old standby that I just have strong convictions (which is not wrong if founded on facts and not assumptions). 

But often my thoughts and words are raw, unadulterated judgmentalism. And sometimes it is the gracious insight of Rebekah, my non-judgmental wife, which causes me to peel back the layers of my sin stained heart and discover the root of my attitudes. And when that honest assessment takes place often an unhealthy and unholy critical spirit is identified. In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus’ simple but profound thoughts on the subject. These are words that pierce my soul: 

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

Judgmentalism often takes place when we elevate our opinions over clear Scriptural teaching. It is nurtured when we don’t have all the facts yet are quick to render a condemning decision. Being critical is often rooted in exaggerating the sins of others while dismissing our own in a feeble attempt to make ourselves seem more righteous – while conveniently forgetting that God’s righteous standard for all of us is absolute perfection. And, in the end, it usurps the authority that God claims for Himself alone. 

We see all of this played out in the church at Rome. Paul devotes an entire section to it in Romans 14:1 – 15:13. Like me, I would encourage you to read this passage and learn his advice on how to deal with our judgmental attitudes towards others and our family of faith especially. In synopsis: 

  • Accept those who choose differently in disputable matters (those things not clearly delineated in Scripture) – 14:1-8.
  • Look to Jesus as our righteous example and ultimate judge – 14:9-12.
  • Graciously attempt to remove any attitudinal barriers that would create fabricated divisions with others – 14:13-18.
  • Let us seek peace and mutual edification above all minor differences in behaviors or preferences – 14:19-21.
  • Check with God first to determine if our conscience is clear or to remove the “log” in our own life that is distorting our view of others – 14:22-23.
  • We must look to Christ and rely on The Holy Spirit’s power to glorify God in this matter – 15:1-13. 

I believe it’s imperative that we understand that, because our sin nature has warped our sense of perception, not all things are black and white. As we see in Romans 14 and 15, there are issues and differences that God’s Word does not specifically address. In those matters we are best to heed Paul’s example in verse 5 to let “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” That ambiguity may make us feel uncomfortable but it is part of dealing with the issue of a critical spirit. We should be convinced in our own mind that our actions and motives are pure and leave it up to God to deal with others regarding their own conscience. After all, we will ultimately have to stand before Him and give an account (Romans 14:12). And that account is not someone else’s but ours and ours alone. 

To me the lesson is clear. I must maintain my biblically based convictions but be careful that I don’t cross the line into those areas which are gray. I need to look at my own issues first, be gracious towards other’s differences and preferences, and continually be aware that I am not God, that I am not the judge here. He is the righteous judge for both me and those that I differ with. May God help me to heed the words of Jesus and Paul and, while being courageously discerning, always let the Holy Spirit have his way with me and my critical spirit.

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). 

Recently a traditional, evangelical, non-charismatic mega-church got positive attention over some Sunday services where a large number of folks “came forward” to be obedient to our Lord’s call to believer’s baptism.* As the pastor exclaimed, “If I live to be 100 years old I don’t think I will ever forget what we experienced at the church yesterday…We baptized a deacon. We baptized a deacons wife. We baptized Sunday School teachers. We baptized choir members. We baptized people that have known the Lord longer than I have been alive. It was just amazing!” Wow!  And how did this happen? I’ll let him explain.

 “I had wanted to have a service and call people to spontaneously respond to obedience in baptism but I was always fearful with the “what if” questions. What if no one comes? Won’t that be embarrassing. But, I really felt led to do it. The staff was supportive and on board with it and we decided to give it a shot.” 

“Here is the thing that strikes me. I do not think I have the ability to manipulate anyone into doing that if they did not want to do it. The fact that so many people responded so easily and readily just reinforces to me how important this is, to begin with; and how much it has been on people’s minds for a long time. I did not do anything but take away the excuses and offer people an opportunity to be obedient to the Lord in this area of life.” 

“I would be amiss if I did not say thank-you to some people for their help. Of course, the church staff all played a part in making it happen. The baptismal committee was working like bees behind the scenes. Our counselors were making sure that everyone who needed to talk with someone about understanding what it meant to trust Jesus as Lord and Savior had an opportunity to do that. Our deacons joined our staff in being in the hallways and directing people to the baptistery area. Everyone did a great job. I must also thank several ministry assistants who worked all week to get things ready, [they] went above and beyond to get it done. I don’t know how many trips they all made to local stores to buy underwear, sports bras, shorts, swimsuits and all the things we needed to make it happen. They organized it and got it done!”

That’s it! They had a plan, they organized a program, and they presented the call to be baptized. And it “worked!” Why? Because of “…how important this is, to begin with; and how much it has been on people’s minds for a long time.” And because they all rallied around the plan, “did a great job,” and “got it done.” Can we imagine the church we see in Acts operating this way?

Excuse me, but where is God in all of this? He is not mentioned as the initiator of this effort. He is not given credit for convicting those who responded to the call to be baptized. He is not even thanked (everyone else seems to be) as the source of the power and work that transpired during these services. To me, God didn’t seem to get very much of the glory here. This whole process reminded me of a strategic sales campaign from some Fortune 500 company (I work for one so I can say that -:). Lest we forget, growing God’s church is not about man-generated “results.” “Results” can often happen without God being the impetus behind them. The wise Solomon said, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

Yes, I may be perceived as hyper-critical here (I often pray that God keep me from a critical spirit but nurture a discerning one). But I am not questioning the sincerity of those who came forward. And I’m not suggesting that this church or pastor did not, in their hearts, believe God was the one at work here and not just some church growth methodology coupled with some dedicated workers. But, if they did – and I really do believe (pray) that they did – he never said it. The pastor’s entire account focused on a plan, a program, a presentation, and the people that pulled it off.

Just to check myself, I identified 3 friends and forwarded the pastor’s unabridged description of this event and asked for their opinion. I chose very perceptive students of God’s Word. All 3 responded separately but in concert, “But where’s God in all of this?” Don’t get me wrong, I praise God for those who follow Jesus in baptism, for those who passionately pursue Him and our calling to be His disciple. But I pray that His church realizes just that: it is HIS church. And HE is the one (and only one) who is building it (Matthew 16:18)!

So, since I have a right to be wrong, what do you think about all of this? More importantly, what do you think God thinks?

*Although this post is about one particular situation, it is not meant to be singularly critical of this pastor or church. In reality, this is more a commentary on the contemporary church at large and it’s tendency to be a man-centererd organization than a Christ-led organism.

“But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him” (Deuteronomy 32:9-12). 

What an amazing thought: God’s people are his portion and the apple of His eye! What unfathomable love He has for us. The Hebrew translation of “portion” is often rendered “inheritance.” And we all know what the phrase “apple of His eye” means. It is that which He adores and treasures. As unthinkable as it may seem, Moses here describes God as viewing His children with a love so deep, high, and wide that he sees us as His long awaited inheritance and the objects of His incomparable affection! 

David understood this as well. In Psalm 17 his heart’s desire is that God “Keep [him] as the apple of [His]eye; hide [him] in the shadow of [His] wings” (17:8). He knows that He is loved uniquely by God and desperately hopes to never be cut off from the affection of his Lord. He also knows that there are those who don’t know this kind of gracious and abundant display of God’s love. He describes those that are separated from God as “the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me. They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly” (17: 9). And David calls upon His loving Lord to “Arise, O LORD! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword…” (17:13). 

But David’s next few thoughts are most intriguing. He describes his enemies, who are also enemies of God due to their merciless and arrogant nature, as “men of the world whose portion is in this life” (17:14). Those cut off from the love of God are those who see this life, this world as their inheritance. Their reward is not spiritual things or eternal things but earthly things. Contrast this with David’s priority: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (17:15). Now we see David’s portion, his inheritance – complete satisfaction in the presence of His God. This is why we often hear Him describe God as his portion (see Psalm 16:5; 142:5). 

So now we see this thought come full circle. God views us as His precious inheritance and thus we see Him as ours! And those who see their inheritance as the things of this world and this life have no part in the indescribable love of God and the matchless experience of having Him as their eternal treasure. They do not see His face as more beautiful than anything this earth has to offer. But it all begins with God loving us first. We can only love Him and desire to see His likeness because He initiated this love affair (see 1 John 4:19). 

I pray that we all begin to more completely understand the fullness of God’s love, that we be enabled to experientially know that which surpasses natural human knowledge. May we bask in the glory that is His unmerited affection towards us and in doing so be compelled to seek His face with hearts bathed in genuine adoration. For we are the apple of His eye and He must be the apple of ours. Because we, His people, are God’s inheritance and He must be ours. As Paul prayed: 

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-21).

This is the last post in the series Complete in Christ: Colossians and the All-sufficient Preeminence of Jesus. With few exceptions, this blog category has walked us through this relevant and profound letter verse-by-verse. I pray that you have been as encouraged and edified as I have while meditating on Paul’s message to the church at Colossae; a writing that so clearly delineates Christ as both supreme and sufficient. In other words, the book of Colossians explains this simple but powerful truth: Jesus is all we need to be complete.

“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you” (Colossians 4:18).

In an era of forged documents, Paul makes it clear that this letter is genuine and is no counterfeit (see 2 Thessalonians 3:17). Probably only writing the last verse (Paul was known to have others actually pen his writings – see Romans 16:22) he still puts his stamp of approval on the message and content by personally signing off. We can only image that his chains both restricted movement and painfully chafed his hands so this gesture is of great significance. He wants his audience, the faithful saints at Colossae, to know without a doubt that this letter is from Paul himself and, therefore, is inspired by God.

Despite these dire circumstances, the inevitable suffering that comes from following Jesus and courageously preaching Him and His cross, Paul ends with a blessing of grace to his readers. This farewell benediction reminds us of his inaugural blessing in 1:2: “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” Which means Paul begins and ends his instruction with the thought of God’s unmerited favor. But notice the slight change from the first blessing (1:2) to the second (4:18). Paul has moved from grace “to you” to grace ‘be with you.”

In other words, I believe, he is thinking of Jesus! Just like he was in the concluding verse of his letter to the church at Philippi where he used similar language. There Paul expanded on the thought of “grace be with you” by saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Philippians 4:23). John further connects Jesus and grace when he stated, “And from [Christ’s] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17). In other words, we experience sustaining grace in Christ as part of His saving grace.

For the Jesus that Paul has exalted as all-supreme and all-sufficient is with them. As Anne Graham Lotz said, describing some of the challenges and difficulties of her life, “Don’t give my sympathy. Don’t give me advice. Don’t even give me a miracle. Just give me Jesus.” Why such confidence and contentment? Because He is “Christ in [us] the hope of glory” (1:27). In other words, Jesus is both the journey and the destination.

Paul wants them to move from receiving Jesus to living in Him (see 2:6). He wants them migrate from knowing Christ as the light of their salvation (see 1:12-14) to Him being their life (3:4)! He wants them to be elevated from a head knowledge of Jesus to now, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:1-3). He wants them to be so raised and united with Christ that they, “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (3:15). That they be so emboldened and empowered by His indwelling presence that they diligently “declare the mystery of Christ” (4:3). In summary, he wants them to be complete in Christ

This is grace and this is what true, dynamic grace does! It discards our ugly old self and gives us His beautiful life (3:9-10). We now know Him as “all and in all” (3:11). Grace is God making us “[His] chosen ones, holy and beloved” (3:12). Or, in a very real sense, grace is God giving us Jesus not only as our redeemer but uniting us with Him now and forevermore. The all-supreme, all-sufficient Jesus not only has us but we have Him! This is what I believe Paul is saying when he concludes with “Grace be with you.” And I, like Paul, pray that we most fully experience this all-powerful Jesus in all that we are and in all that He is! That we become complete in Him so that we might magnify His name by abiding in His sufficiency and amplifying His supremacy.  So, with resounding  joy, let us trumpet this African Spiritual:

In the morning, when I rise, Give me Jesus. When I am alone, Give me Jesus.

When I come to die, Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus. Give me Jesus, Give me Jesus.

You can have all this world, You can have all this world, You can have all this world, Just give me Jesus.

“I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write.” – John Calvin

When I wrote the post below a little over a year ago only about 1,000 people had hit the Captivated by Christ blog. Less than a year and a half ago God encouraged me to get serious and consistent in blogging, committing to at least 2 posts per week. This practice has become my personal electronic journal. I never imagined that the counter would role over 10,000 so quickly (actually it is significantly higher; the counter doesn’t include email subscribers but only those who actually visit the site). I have only 3 things to say about this: glory to God alone, thanks for reading (I hope my ramblings have been used of God to challenge and bless you), and what I wrote in the post below, I believe, is still true today.

One of the coolest things about blogging and the nature of internet media is that I don’t really know who reads my ruminations. And I don’t know how God may be using what He compels me to write. That excites me because I believe that one day I will find out; that glorious day when I fully and permanently experience His presence. I can’t wait to hear what he has done with this little ministry! So today I celebrate Him and the 10,000 hits that He has produced on this site. He is truly good and worthy of all of our adoration and praise!

And now, on to the aforementioned post…

The Power is in the Word – 15 January 2010
“I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that” (2 Corinthians 11:1). 

Paul had a sense of humor. God’s greatest fully human theologian and missionary essentially says, “thanks for putting up with me and, by the way, you have already read 10 chapters of this foolishness” (now I know that Paul’s letters weren’t written in chapters but please indulge me). I can laugh along with Paul – you are reading this so I thank you for putting up with me and my blog. I read and write blogs (some would prefer me to focus just on reading them). Many folks call blogging a narcissistic exercise and I heartily agree that it can be (but not so much as the hyper self-absorbed, cyber abyss called Twitter – by the way, I’m @captivatedanew). But I guess it is all about motives, attitudes, goals, and methods. 

Although many blogs communicate the truth of Jesus, some “Christian” blogs have little to do with Christ or His Word. Often they are personal ramblings and man-centered opinions. I pray this is not the case with And this is because, like Paul, I don’t think I, in and of myself, have much to offer. In this same letter to the church at Corinth he humbly states that his speaking abilities are less than stellar (2 Corinthians 10:10; 11:6) and that he is accused of hiding behind his writing as opposed to a face-to-face consultation with the church (2 Corinthians 10:1:10). But he makes it clear that he doesn’t do business like the world (10:2) and his methods are not carnal but spiritual (10:4-5). 

So how does Paul wage this war? With the truth of Christ and His Word. He says, “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.”  I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way” (11:4-6). These weapons are a constant in Paul’s teaching – the power of the gospel (the Cross) and a distinct emphasis on God’s Word and its truth. 

My point is this: if I ever venture too far from Jesus, Him crucified, and the use of Scripture (yes, I know that the references can be overdone and make the reading more tedious but…) then stop reading the Captivated by Christ blog. Why? Because that is where the power is – God knows we don’t need any more of man’s philosophy. Any potency in this blog will not be found in me or my opinions but the transforming power (the Greek term dunamis, meaning power, is where we get our English term “dynamite”) of the Word (logos – see John 1) and His Word. The writer of Hebrews says it this way: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). 

I know my grammar (Or is that grammer?  I forget.) is poor and my sentence structure and syntax is imprecise and cumbersome (that’s why I have a talented and godly editor for my books – stand up and take a bow, Bethany). Please, overlook all of that. Skip over all my verbiage if you’d like. Just take your Bible and read along with the passages and turn to every scripture reference and let God teach you through the real difference-making medium; His Word as it is enlightened by His Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:12-14). Saturate yourself in His truth because if I have anything of value to share it must be Him, about Him, from Him, and for Him (John 14:6). 

So there it is – my foolishness for this blog. By the way, thanks for putting up with it – you have already read 650 words! I hope that you had your Bible with you on this little journey and that you turned to and digested every passage and reference. For I know with certainty its power far exceeds any frail attempt of mine to demonstrate the wisdom of God. For it truly is His Word! David sums this up perfectly when he says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

I just had to share this! It comes from my good friend Don Simpson ( He wrote the code that basically lets you become Barabbas in Matthew 27 and be set free in place of Jesus. Please click the link below. It takes but a moment but it will have a long-lasting, maybe even an eternal, impact. 

What do you think?  Powerful, right? If it impacted you, please share.

Grace to you!

Mac and Clara are our cats. Mac is a pure bred Siamese male and Clara is a “tortie” female. For their entire lives (nearly 10 years for Mac and nearly 15 for Clara) they had lived in a feline free environment. In other words, they lived in solitude and peace and had the undivided attention of their adoring masters. All of this changed when Rebekah and I married and I brought Mac to his new house. The 18 mile ride from our old house to our new one traumatized him. Which makes total sense; the last time he went for a car ride he was neutered and declawed (which hurts me to think about it – ouch). It took Mac several days to come out from under the bed and begin to make himself familiar with his new residence. Once he did, the conflict began. After all, he was determined to make it his house! 

Mac quickly became a serious irritant to Clara. Actually he terrorized her. She is crippled with arthritis and obesity, rendering her almost motionless. Her main slug-like journeys are but a few feet – to the food and water, to the litter box, and back to the couch where she spends 95% of her life. Mac is freakishly athletic, sneaky, and downright mean in his ambition of dominance. He moves very quickly, leaps great distances, and uses his physical prowess to trap her (usually when she is exiting the bathroom or eating). He hopes to catch her in a vulnerable position so he can get a sniff of her hind quarters or “box” her with his clawless front paws. He instigates some sort of conflict at least a few times a day in his quest to be the alpha cat. 

Mac is the predator and Clara is his prey. He is relentless in his pursuit and she is always peaceable and quiet unless antagonized. Mac plays the part of the sinister villain and she is the sweet, defenseless, disabled octogenarian. This is why I call him “Worthless” and her “Precious.” And no amount of cajoling or “punishment”  deters Mac from his maniacal, evil obsession to control her and his territory. But, I’m reminded, this is the way of the nature – these are animals and they behave based upon their instincts. We clearly see this in God’s creation – there is a food chain and survival of the fittest. Various animal species have an innate enmity. There is the hunter and the hunted. Just watch NatGeo sometime to get a glimpse of the cruel culture of the animal kingdom. 

And such is the way of homo sapiens as well. And it is not just in emerging or 3rd world countries we see this played out. Pure capitalism has its roots in this dynamic of win or lose, be victorious or be extinguished, and survival of the most ambitious and driven. Often times to “get ahead” in our culture we have wrongly learned that we must intentionally be the predator and not the prey. You know, we don’t want to be a “loser” in our battle for financial, social, and political power. That’s, after all, what separates the elite from the lower class. 

But such in not the case in the kingdom of God. Isaiah foreshadows this when he prophesied: 

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.  They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9). 

And how can this be? Just read the breathtaking description of the coming Messiah in the first 5 verses of this same chapter. He is a Branch of Jesse on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests. In supernatural wisdom and knowledge will He rule and reign. With righteousness and faithfulness He will lift up the poor and slay the wicked with the rod of His mouth. And He will cause a calm that defies the world’s brutality and contentiousness that we now see. Natural enemies will lie together in peace, He will vanquish the wicked, and His remnant will be preserved and exalted (see 11:10-16). And all this will happen so that He is seen and savored as both righteous judge and harmonizing ruler. So that He will be magnified as the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). 

This very same Messiah characterized those who will experience this kingdom of peace in Matthew 5:1-11. He called them broken, mourning, meek, desperate for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted. In a sense, He called them “losers.” Losers, however, that are precious to this Branch of Jesse, this Prince of Peace. Peter describes those of us under His kingdom rule as “rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious [to Him]” (1 Peter 2:3). Those that may not end up “on top” in this life but will be glorified with Him throughout His eternal kingdom of undisturbed peace.

*****This is from the December 5th reading from the new book Voices From the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings from Banner of Truth. I would urge all pursuers of Christ to read the Puritans and better understand their thinking on the glory of God, divine providence, fellowship with God, holiness of life, mortification of sin, prayer, zeal, redeeming the time, and trust in the Lord during times of affliction – things we all need to embrace in this present day.  

I encountered the devotional below soon after I was informed that my current job function was about to change. My first reaction to the company’s “realignment” was one of severe disappointment and more than a bit of hurt. But, upon pondering God’s loving providence that has led me throughout my life, I began to get excited! He promised to never leave nor forsake me, to be with me even to the ends of the earth. What marvelous thing is God doing that He hasn’t shared with me yet? To me, in the here and now, it doesn’t look very positive. But God is working all things together for my eternal good and His worthy glory (Romans 8:28-31). It may not be what I “want” but it will be His best for me. So let’s consider John Flavel’s words while trusting that God is at work in our work even when it seems as if “the economy,” unions, management, or companies rule our destiny.

“The ways of God’s providence direct us into the calling and employment that is ordered for us in this world.  To have an honest, lawful employment in which you do not dishonour God is no small mercy.  If it is suited also to your genius and strength, this is a double mercy.  If you have less toil than others and more time for heavenly exercises, ascribe this benefit to the special care of providence for you.  How strangely are things wheeled about by providence!  David followed the sheep and likely never raised his thoughts to higher things, but God made him the royal shepherd.  Some have work, but not enough strength.  Others have strength, but no employment.  If God blesses your labour and gives you and yours necessary support and comfort in the world, it is a choice providence and should be acknowledged with all thankfulness.  If you find yourself scarcely able to provide for the necessities of life, consider: though you have a small portion of the world, if you are godly, he has promised never to forsake you (Heb. 13:5).  Providence has ordered the condition that is really best for your eternal good.  If you had more of the world you might not be able to manage it to your advantage.  We are directed to be content with food and clothing, and the little that the righteous has is better than the riches of many wicked (Psa. 37:16).  If providence has so disposed you that you cannot only eat your own bread but have enough for works of mercy upon others, and all this is brought to pass in a way you did not expect, let God be honoured in this providence.  Remember that the success of your callings and earthly employments is by divine blessing and not human diligence alone.  Be well satisfied in the station and employment where you have been placed.  God is wise and seeks your eternal good”. 

John Flavel, Works, IV:387-391

This just in: I have received an email from the Vatican. Here is an abbreviated version of the content: 

Wolfe Linden 

On the day of your visit

– The Excavations Office is reached through the Holy Office Gate (through Colonnade to the left): ask the Swiss Guard for the Excavations Office.

– Since the visitors will see the tomb of St. Peter during the course of the tour, they must be dressed in a manner appropriate to a sacred place. Shoulders of both men and women must be covered. Women must skirts or dresses beneath their knees or else trousers. Men must wear trousers

– The visitors are reminded that they are not allowed to bring bulky objects into the excavations (suitcases, backpacks, photo…). Large bags and backpacks must be deposited there prior to coming to the Excavations Office. St. Peter’s Basilica offers a free bag check service located in the lower right façade of Basilica.  

Fabbrica di San Pietro

00120 Città del Vaticano (Europa)

Office: + 39 06 698 85318 

Is this for real? The Pope has beckoned me to a special viewing of St. Peter’s remains below the Basilica. Maybe it’s more surreal than anything. We will have to go through the Holy Office Gate, by the famous Swiss Guard, and on to the Sacred Place. This really sounds like someone made this up but such is not the case. I still believe it’s a dream. Of course, I’ve been telling folks this is all because the Pope (whose full name I can’t immediately recall) and I are really tight (visualize me holding up two crossed fingers). Like; we go back a long way! 

OK, the Pope hasn’t really beckoned me and I don’t really know him. Honestly, he doesn’t know me either. But I did find the email from the Vatican  (The Vatican? Again, is this for real?) quite humorous. I just never thought such a thing would pop into my email box. After all, I have no connection to the Catholic Church (well, I have been in one) and am a southern born and bred evangelical who always thought a mass was a lump. So you just never think of going to the Vatican, through the Holy Office, and into the Sacred Place to view the supposed site of the Apostle’s grave. Now, be honest, have you? But actually our visit to see the bones of St. Peter is real – it will happen on our upcoming honeymoon to Rome. 

Do I know the Pope? No. Are these the real bones of Peter the Apostle? I don’t know. But I do know this; Peter is dead! Has been for nearly 2000 years. And the Bible tells us some interesting things about his death. Three times in Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter He asked the disciple if he loved Him. At the climax of this dialogue we read: 

“He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me” (John 21:17-19). 

This prophecy came true. Peter loved Jesus so he followed Him. He served Him faithfully, fed His sheep, and, according to historical tradition, died a martyr’s death. The persecutors eventually did take him where he did not want to go. They took him to a cross, just like his Lord. It is told that Peter chose to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as his Master. So we see that, as Jesus had predicted, Peter glorified Him in His death. But even more importantly he glorified Him in his life. And only, I believe, because He had completely surrendered his life to his Master was he enabled to so dignify the Lord in his death. 

Which begs the question: Will we glorify God in our death? I think this query can only be honestly answered in light of whether or not we glorify Him with our life. Think about it; Peter could only die in a way that honored God because he lived in a way that honored Him. And the same holds true for us. Only when we treasure (love) Jesus so much that we become His radically surrendered followers are we enabled to live a life that glorifies Him. And then, and then only, will we be empowered to glorify Him as we pass from life to death to life everlasting, from this place into His precious presence.  And then, just like Peter, we will be dead and yet live forever!

But how does this happen? How can this be a reality? By pure self-effort or just trying harder? No! The necessary dynamic is to surrender in faith to our resurrected Savior whose Spirit seals and preserves our glorious inheritance. Let Peter himself explain: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

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