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*Preface 

“On hearing [His unorthodox teaching], many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’

 … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

 ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ ” (John 6:60-64, 66-69). 

Scripture abounds with “hard teachings,” difficult concepts that make readers scratch their heads. God’s Word, and Jesus’ instruction in particular, often disturb our flesh and pride: they make us uncomfortable, point out things about ourselves that need improvement, make us conscious of our complete failure to measure up to God’s standards. While closing the Bible on such passages proves tempting, followers of Christ must grasp that both our relationship with the Lord and our spiritual growth suffer when we do. God does not call us to always understand or even “agree” with His Word, but He does call us to love, believe, and live it! 

Even those who walked with Christ for nearly three years, saw His miracles, and observed the perfection of His life sometimes struggled not to reject His teaching simply because they didn’t comprehend it or because it made them feel uncomfortable. In fact, the tendency led Peter to actually take the Lord aside for a quick rebuke—a decision that did not go over well (Matthew 16:21-23). And even Christ’s own mother surely felt confused by His words as He identified not her personally but “those who do God’s will” as His “mother” (See Mark 3:31-35).

Christ spoke of the utter sinfulness of man, of the absolute authority, holiness, and glory of God; He elaborated on the “foolishness” of God’s plan of salvation, and He gave—particularly in The Sermon on the Mount—a myriad of seemingly unrealistic demands to those who would follow Him wholeheartedly. Truly, some of the Bible’s teachings are difficult to accept. At times, we can even find ourselves offended by them. We will not, however, reach our full potential as Christ’s disciples unless we choose to open our hearts and minds to them.

Sadly, some people reject the hard teachings of Jesus and Christianity from the beginning. Atheists, agnostics, and followers of other, easier-to-follow religions reject Christ outright. They prove unwilling to accept any of Christ’s claims and will not surrender their lives to a sacrificial, spiritual, and God-centered ideology. Other individuals gladly accept Christianity, only to abandon their faith when the entire counsel of God’s Word fails to meet their expectations. These individuals feel attracted to what Jesus offers, but they are often repelled by what He requires. Taking up a cross and denying themselves proves too much. In both instances, teachings wrongly perceived as overbearing and exaggerated prove too taxing to those on the fringe of faith in God. Even some who profess to follow Jesus so water down, rationalize, and liberalize God’s Word that it hardly resembles the true gospel. In doing so they reject Christ as soundly as those who never fully embraced Him in the first place.

God’s Word is often offensive and so is the cross, yet their message is wholly reliable. Every true follower of Christ must affirm that Jesus is the Holy One of God. They must embrace that His words are the truth of eternal life. When in John 6 Peter asked, “Lord, to whom should we go? You have the words of life,” he got it right. The Bible offers the only teachings that reveal how we can know God. It shows that Jesus provides the revelation of the kingdom of Heaven. He is the King of Kings. He alone stands worthy of our trust and obedience because only through His sacrifice and His words—no matter how challenging—do we have any hope. 

God enables those who will believe and accept His Word (v. 65). Jesus stated, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). The word translated draw in John 6 pertains to drawing water from a well. It could be translated “to pull” and indicates our utter dependence on God to both understand His gospel and come to Him.[i] Simply stated, we can’t get our heads around Christ’s difficult teachings without God’s intervention! That’s why I often say that I can teach the truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart it (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

Growth in discipleship requires us to believe Jesus’ teachings even when we don’t fully understand them, to affirm them even when we might prefer to reject a particular passage, to live them out by faith even when they seem a puzzle. This kind of trust and yielding demonstrates obedience to God who truly draws us to His truth by His Spirit and gives us His life: it encompasses the story of one who means to follow the King and serve as part of His kingdom. Oswald Chambers said, “The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of principles to be obeyed apart from identification with Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the way we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.”[ii]

As you saturate yourself in this in-depth look at the Sermon on the Mount, know that while following Christ’s teaching is neither for the weak nor the faint of heart, the Holy Spirit serves as your guide in the process. Ask the Lord to grow you, to stretch you, and to teach you how to patiently grapple with His teachings. Through faith and surrender, every true believer can thrive in the knowledge that God’s words are truth and life. Jesus is who He claims; you can stake your eternal destiny on His words.


[i] Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon (Clarendon Press, 1889).

[ii] Chambers, Oswald. The Psychology of Redemption (London: Simpkin Marshall LTD, 1947), 34.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are: 

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1     

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2 

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king 

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit, backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29). 

After Jesus’ resurrection He was not easily recognized. We see this first on Sunday morning. That morning even Mary fails to recognize Jesus. (John 20:11-18). Although she was no casual acquaintance (a few days earlier she washed His feet with her tears), she mistakes Him for the gardener. Later that same day Jesus joined two disciples on the Emmaus Road and, during a seven mile walk, gives them a Bible study in prophecy. Yet they did recognize Him until He broke the bread at dinner. Later that evening these same two disciples join the gathering in the upper room and confirm Christ’s appearance. But when Jesus ultimately emerged as they huddled in disappointment and fear of the authorities, we find them all terrified of His entrance (Luke 24:36-40). For some reason they don’t recognize Him until they look at His wounds! 

Did they not read Psalm 22, which reads as if it were dictated by their Master as He was being crucified? The writer describes Christ’s pain and the piercing of His hands and feet (v.16). David quotes the taunts of the crowd (vs. 7-8) and observes the dividing of the Messiah’s clothes (v.18). The Psalm even opens and closes with Jesus’ first and last words from the cross (vs.1 and 31). And obviously they didn’t remember Isaiah’s prophecies, like Isaiah 53, which describe His death as eloquently as any passage in God’s Word. In Isaiah 52:14 alone we see the extent of the physical abuse left Jesus hardly recognizable in His human form. 

This brings us to Thomas who, like the rest of the disciples, needed verification of the resurrection by visualizing Jesus’ scars. We call him “Doubting Thomas” but we can scarcely blame Him for being dubious. We live in a world of skeptics and Jesus acknowledged that it was a serious act of faith for those who, unlike Thomas and the other disciples, would not be able to physically see the marks of His brutal death (John 20:29). Today we must see His scars with spiritual eyes, with eyes of pure faith. Eyes that were blind but now, by His grace, can see the wounds of our Lord’s sacrifice for us. It is imperative that we see His scars, that we adoringly, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and we say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” We must know the pain our sin inflicted on the Suffering Servant, our Savior. We must grasp that these wounds, and their blood, are our only hope and God’s plan for redeeming otherwise hopeless sinners.

And here is an amazing fact of Scripture – we all will see Jesus’ scars one day. Literally! But our reaction will vary depending on our relationship to Him. Those who reject Him and the wounds that offer healing and restoration will be reminded of their part in His death when He comes in His ultimate glory. Jesus will say, “…look upon [me] whom [you] have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). Although God willed His death and Christ died willingly, it is our sin that essentially caused His suffering. But in God’s grand design the marks of His humiliation are also the marks of His glory. And at His return this revelation will bring both sorrow and fear to those who denied Him: “for every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10).

But what a sweet sight those scars will be for His children. Like the disciples, we also will one day lovingly adore those precious marks. And we will do so for all eternity. In Revelation 5:1-6 John is given a vision of the throne of God in Heaven. At the center we find Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, apparently still bearing the scars of the cross. And so we will worship Him, scars and all. Actually we will worship Him because of those wounds, the marks that someone has called, “the only man-made things in Heaven.”

As we ponder what Easter means and we revel in the amazing thought of our risen Lord, let us know that we must see Him with hearts that are captivated by the marks of His suffering for us. He has been raised and we have been raised with him. Raised so that we might glory in those treasured wounds that we will worship, as a part of Him, for all eternity. For His resurrection was the culmination of His earthly mission to purchase us for Himself, one marked by the scars of His suffering for us. Wounds that will forever prove His indescribable love and worth.


“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29). 

After Jesus’ resurrection He was not easily recognized. We see this first on Sunday morning. That morning even Mary fails to recognize Jesus. (John 20:11-18). Although she was no casual acquaintance (a few days earlier she washed His feet with her tears), she mistakes Him for the gardener. Later that same day Jesus joined two disciples on the Emmaus Road and, during a seven mile walk, gives them a Bible study in prophecy. Yet they did recognize Him until He broke the bread at dinner. Later that evening these same two disciples join the gathering in the upper room and confirm Christ’s appearance. But when Jesus ultimately emerged as they huddled in disappointment and fear of the authorities, we find them all terrified of His entrance (Luke 24:36-40). For some reason they don’t recognize Him until they look at His wounds! 

Did they not read Psalm 22, which reads as if it were dictated by their Master as He was being crucified? The writer describes Christ’s pain and the piercing of His hands and feet (v.16). David quotes the taunts of the crowd (vs. 7-8) and observes the dividing of the Messiah’s clothes (v.18). The Psalm even opens and closes with Jesus’ first and last words from the cross (vs.1 and 31). And obviously they didn’t remember Isaiah’s prophecies, like Isaiah 53, which describe His death as eloquently as any passage in God’s Word. In Isaiah 52:14 alone we see the extent of the physical abuse left Jesus hardly recognizable in His human form. 

This brings us to Thomas who, like the rest of the disciples, needed verification of the resurrection by visualizing Jesus’ scars. We call him “Doubting Thomas” but we can scarcely blame Him for being dubious. We live in a world of skeptics and Jesus acknowledged that it was a serious act of faith for those who, unlike Thomas and the other disciples, would not be able to physically see the marks of His brutal death (John 20:29). Today we must see His scars with spiritual eyes, with eyes of pure faith. Eyes that were blind but now, by His grace, can see the wounds of our Lord’s sacrifice for us. It is imperative that we see His scars, that we adoringly, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and we say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” We must know the pain our sin inflicted on the Suffering Servant, our Savior. We must grasp that these wounds, and their blood, are our only hope and God’s plan for redeeming otherwise hopeless sinners.

And here is an amazing fact of Scripture – we all will see Jesus’ scars one day. Literally! But our reaction will vary depending on our relationship to Him. Those who reject Him and the wounds that offer healing and restoration will be reminded of their part in His death when He comes in His ultimate glory. Jesus will say, “…look upon [me] whom [you] have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). Although God willed His death and Christ died willingly, it is our sin that essentially caused His suffering. But in God’s grand design the marks of His humiliation are also the marks of His glory. And at His return this revelation will bring both sorrow and fear to those who denied Him: “for every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10).

But what a sweet sight those scars will be for His children. Like the disciples, we also will one day lovingly adore those precious marks. And we will do so for all eternity. In Revelation 5:1-6 John is given a vision of the throne of God in Heaven. At the center we find Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, apparently still bearing the scars of the cross. And so we will worship Him, scars and all. Actually we will worship Him because of those wounds, the marks that someone has called, “the only man-made things in Heaven.”

As we ponder what Easter means and we revel in the amazing thought of our risen Lord, let us know that we must see Him with hearts that are captivated by the marks of His suffering for us. He has been raised and we have been raised with him. Raised so that we might glory in those treasured wounds that we will worship, as a part of Him, for all eternity. For His resurrection was the culmination of His earthly mission to purchase us for Himself, one marked by the scars of His suffering for us. Wounds that will forever prove His indescribable love and worth.


“The next day the great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (John 12:12-14). 

The Triumphal Entry is fascinating to me. We commemorate this event in the life of Christ with a day called Palm Sunday (the Sunday just before Easter), which is named for the palm branches that were laid before Jesus as He entered Jerusalem (Did your church mention/focus on this significant day in the life of our Lord this past Sunday? I certainly hope so – it would be a shame to overlook the importance of this event in light of the Easter season). It was a rapturous celebration as Christ was lauded as a conquering hero riding on the back of a small donkey. In this most unusual way, Jesus was presenting himself as the Messiah. He knew that Zechariah 9: 8-13 was a messianic prophecy and he deliberately acted out the passage: “See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). The ride into Jerusalem was a dramatic statement that Jesus was the Messiah, the King of Israel. 

Christ’s pre-crucifixion entry into Jerusalem is recorded in all four Gospels. It was the only occasion that Jesus seemed to enlist the support of the masses for his Messianic role. I am convinced this event was something God’s sovereign timing had ordained. Unlike the spontaneous decision of the crowd to make Jesus King after the feeding of the five thousand, His triumphant entry was something Jesus planned. It did not just happen and He was not an unwitting recipient of the crowd’s adulation. For He had already arranged for his disciples to pick up the donkey and its foal from a local contributor. Jesus even gave the animal’s owner a message by which the disciples identified themselves: “The Lord needs them” (Matthew 21:3). 

The first thing to note about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is the enthusiasm of the crowds. The excited throng was shouting out “Hosanna,” which literally means “save, we pray .” The clothes thrown along His path, the waving palm branches, and shouts of acclamation were all justified reactions. For Jesus was God’s anointed, the King of Israel, the righteous one, and blessed Redeemer. His supporter’s cries were entirely proper. We hear them say, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9), “Hosanna in the highest” (Mark 11:10), “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38), and “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10)! But He was even more than they realized. He is, “…the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). 

The second thing worth noting is the expectation of Jesus’ welcoming party. The crowd shouting His praises was proclaiming Jesus as a conqueror. Many people quoted from Psalm 118:13: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  This is similar to what happened at the Feast of Tabernacles when the Jews remembered their deliverance from Syrian tyranny. The multitude longed for another mighty warrior to deliver them now from Roman bondage. They anticipated that Jesus would use his mighty power to drive Roman rule from their land. None of them, even His closest followers, expected the Messiah to save them from a much greater enemy – sin. 

In other words, Jesus didn’t live up to their expectations. Many of the people lining the streets and joining in the praise wanted Jesus to be a great earthly king who would lead them back into national prominence and deliver them from their servitude to Rome. We see that they shouted, “Blessed is the King of Israel!” Their expectation was that Jesus would be a great military leader and king, like David. Indeed Jesus was their King, but their expectation of how He would lead His people was misguided. Consequently, they turned on Him. 

How else can we explain why these people changed their opinion of Jesus so quickly? For it took less than a week for many from that same crowd to u-turn from praising Jesus to calling for His death. How rapidly their shouts of “Hosanna” changed to the hostile chant, “Crucify Him. Crucify Him!” As the next few days unfolded it became clear that He was not the warrior king they had envisioned. The kingdom He was ushering in was not physical but spiritual. And that’s not what they wanted. They wanted freedom from Rome but He came to give them freedom from sin and death. He came not for retribution but to establish a new law of love. That’s why, I believe, so many turned on Him and most of those who didn’t (like the disciples who promised to follow Him to the end) forsook him and fled. 

Unfortunately, people still expect Jesus to do things He never promised nor came to do. They instead hope for deliverance from family troubles, a poor self-image, dead-end careers, a friendless existence, all trials and tribulations, poor finances, and their aches and pains. But Jesus came to save us from sin and its consequences, to reconcile us to God, to rebirth us as children of God, to impart his Spirit, and to give us His life.

So we can’t be fair-weather followers of Jesus. Let our shouts of praise be for who He is, not what we selfishly expect Him to be. Let’s not silently and subconsciously chant “Crucify Him” when He doesn’t give us what we “want.” After all, Jesus ultimately came to give us something much greater than what we want. He came to give us what we need. And that, my friends, is Himself.


“Yet there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him” (John 6:64, NIV). 

Recently we were praying in our community group. The focus of our prayers was specifically on each other. One family in particular has and is experiencing tremendous trial and tribulation. It seems as if they are being attacked on every front, from within and without. Bypassing all the details (and you would be astounded if I could list them all), I can’t even begin to imagine how they have struggled physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet it was the dear husband who uttered these words concerning those unbelievers God has placed in their circumstances: “God is sovereign and we know that even those who don’t believe are channels of His grace.”  Now how does that strike you? For me it was a resonating reminder! 

Yes, I believe in God’s sovereignty (although I don’t pretend to completely understand it, nor can fully explain it) but here was someone who, in the midst of great personal suffering, is truly believing God is in control. He understands that God uses whomever He wishes, in whatever way He desires, in order that His will (purposes) be accomplished. God will use even ‘unregenerate’ men to achieve His ends. Nothing can stop His will from being accomplished in the lives of His elect (see Isaiah 55. especially vs. 7-13). From history we can see that despite wickedness – and often outright heresy – God has designed all things so that His elect be set apart for His own glory. And this is true no matter what our perception of our circumstances may be. 

So, for the encouragement of my own faith and humility, I did a quick search on various verses that speak to God’s divine orchestration over the affairs of men. I recommend you do the same for yourself so that we all may more clearly see God for who He truly is – and who we aren’t – God! Of the many passages that speak to God’s absolute sovereignty, here are but a few to contemplate: 

  • Psalm 115:3: “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”  
  • Psalm 135:6: “The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”  
  • Isaiah 46:10: “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”  
  • Lamentations 3:37-38: “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?”

Scripture has many examples of God using unbelievers as channels of His grace. Just look at the life and, most importantly, death of Jesus. We see the Pharisees, Roman rulers and soldiers, those who supported the release of Barabbas, and even one of His own disciples facilitating His mission, “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Each of these unbelievers played a role in the necessary crucifixion of Christ – which is the greatest of all demonstrations of grace. Judas’ wickedness, as we see in John 6:64, was noted over and over in Scripture. He is called a “betrayer” (Matthew 10:4), a “traitor” (Luke 6:16), a “devil” (John 6:70), and a “thief” (John 12:6). Judas is shown as one who was motivated and possessed by Satan (John 13:2, 27), and as “the son of destruction” (John 17:12). One biblical scholar commented, “It is as though the evangelists could not paint this man black enough in retrospect.” Herbert Lockyer writes, “There are 40 verses in the New Testament in which there is a reference to the betrayal of our Lord, and in each of them the dastardly sin of Judas is recorded.”

Yet God used Judas Iscariot. He used Him as a channel of grace. Jesus said that he was “lost” so that Scripture might be fulfilled (see John 17:12). I’m not debating here whether Judas chose his role or was chosen for it. I’m just saying God used this wicked man and his terrible deed to accomplish His purpose in Christ dying on that cross. So, in a unique sense, by this most heinous crime of betraying the son of God, Judas played a role in the salvation of God’s children. 

So what does this mean to me? If God used Judas in my own salvation (and He did), then I should feel an extraordinary sense of security and peace. For if God is so sovereign (and He is) as to use the likes of Judas as a channel of grace to all who surrender to Christ, then whom or what should I fear? For He is in total control – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).


“And to Adam [God] said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19). 

“Our” yard has just won the neighborhood’s worst yard of the decade. That’s really bad considering there are almost 9 years left until 2020. I guess this means the subdivision’s lawns and grounds committee doesn’t have much hope it will improve anytime soon.  Frankly, I don’t blame them. It’s definitely hideous and borderline grotesque, a bona fide embarrassment. My first count found a total of 7.737 blades of grass. The rest is weeds. I’m ashamed every time I mow our “dandelion farm” and kick up dust running over the brown spots where the grub worms even killed the weeds. It also literally makes sick – my allergies flare as the mower causes a blizzard of dandelion thistles. But the human spirit, especially when driven by shame, seems to be indomitable. 

With advertisements for lawn care companies appearing daily in our mail  (some are actually little flags planted in the yard further identifying the ugliness of the landscaping and exacerbating our neighbor’s scorn and ridicule), I’d had enough. I looked up the word agronomy in the dictionary and we headed off to Lowe’s and then Home Depot. We listened to various opinions while nodding my head emphatically despite not having a clue what they were saying (and none actually agreed on the proper course of action to alleviate the eyesore our yard has become). We ended up purchasing Kentucky fescue seed, Scott’s Weed and Feed, and an oscillating sprinkler. ‘That would do it,’ I thought. 

Wrong! 

I’ve spread and spread, watered and watered. And, even after a rain of Noahic proportions, I found more weeds, more dandelions, and but one new blade of fescue. And I believe that was one that I had previously overlooked. My new total is now 8.737 blades! To impress the neighbors with my concern, I often meander through the yard, stand for moments at a time, and stare at the ground as if the beams of fury shooting out of my eyes would actually cause the grass to grow and the weeds to disappear.

But to no avail. My yard (it used to be “our” yard until it became the scourge of the neighborhood), it seems, is completely unreceptive to anything that would make it beautiful and healthy. It rejects my most arduous and passionate attempts to clean it up and make it what it should be. It mocks at my desire and intense labor to restore it to its former glory. It laughs as I spastically flail my arms and run in circles to escape the hundreds of wasps (I’m allergic) that have taken up residence in this “wasp heaven” of a weed patch. 

As with everything in life there is a spiritual lesson here. And this lesson is even bigger than the curse of the ground found in Genesis 3. I think the larger truth can be seen in the Parable of the Sower, as we read it in Matthew 13. You probably know it – it’s the one where the seed falls on 4 different types of soil, with both negative and positive results. If not, read it in the first 9 verses of that chapter. It is truly a critical message about the word of God and the soil of our hearts. I will not try to interpret this text for you but instead leave you with Jesus’ explanation of His own teaching: 

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

So what does this mean to us? How might God be speaking to us about His word and the soil of our hearts? Are we the kind of soil that bears no fruit? If not, this parable tells us why. Are we good soil? Then we should be producing good fruit that glorifies Him. In other words, we shouldn’t be like the dandelion farm called “my” yard.


“And to Adam [God] said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19). 

“Our” yard has just won the neighborhood’s worst yard of the decade. That’s really bad considering there are almost 9 years left until 2020. I guess this means the subdivision’s lawns and grounds committee doesn’t have much hope it will improve anytime soon.  Frankly, I don’t blame them. It’s definitely hideous and borderline grotesque, a bona fide embarrassment. My first count found a total of 7.737 blades of grass. The rest is weeds. I’m ashamed every time I mow our “dandelion farm” and kick up dust running over the brown spots where the grub worms even killed the weeds. It also literally makes sick – my allergies flare as the mower causes a blizzard of dandelion thistles. But the human spirit, especially when driven by shame, seems to be indomitable. 

With advertisements for lawn care companies appearing daily in our mail  (some are actually little flags planted in the yard further identifying the ugliness of the landscaping and exacerbating our neighbor’s scorn and ridicule), I’d had enough. I looked up the word agronomy in the dictionary and we headed off to Lowe’s and then Home Depot. We listened to various opinions while nodding my head emphatically despite not having a clue what they were saying (and none actually agreed on the proper course of action to alleviate the eyesore our yard has become). We ended up purchasing Kentucky fescue seed, Scott’s Weed and Feed, and an oscillating sprinkler. ‘That would do it,’ I thought. 

Wrong! 

I’ve spread and spread, watered and watered. And, even after a rain of Noahic proportions, I found more weeds, more dandelions, and but one new blade of fescue. And I believe that was one that I had previously overlooked. My new total is now 8.737 blades! To impress the neighbors with my concern, I often meander through the yard, stand for moments at a time, and stare at the ground as if the beams of fury shooting out of my eyes would actually cause the grass to grow and the weeds to disappear.

But to no avail. My yard (it used to be “our” yard until it became the scourge of the neighborhood), it seems, is completely unreceptive to anything that would make it beautiful and healthy. It rejects my most arduous and passionate attempts to clean it up and make it what it should be. It mocks at my desire and intense labor to restore it to its former glory. It laughs as I spastically flail my arms and run in circles to escape the hundreds of wasps (I’m allergic) that have taken up residence in this “wasp heaven” of a weed patch. 

As with everything in life there is a spiritual lesson here. And this lesson is even bigger than the curse of the ground found in Genesis 3. I think the larger truth can be seen in the Parable of the Sower, as we read it in Matthew 13. You probably know it – it’s the one where the seed falls on 4 different types of soil, with both negative and positive results. If not, read it in the first 9 verses of that chapter. It is truly a critical message about the word of God and the soil of our hearts. I will not try to interpret this text for you but instead leave you with Jesus’ explanation of His own teaching: 

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

So what does this mean to us? How might God be speaking to us about His word and the soil of our hearts? Are we the kind of soil that bears no fruit? If not, this parable tells us why. Are we good soil? Then we should be producing good fruit that glorifies Him. In other words, we shouldn’t be like the dandelion farm called “my” yard.


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

I’ve always been amazed by John 4:23: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” Here Jesus indicates that true worship of all that God is necessitates worshipping with all that we are. This is the type of worship that God desires. Just as intriguing as the subject of this passage is its audience, an adulterous Samaritan woman who sought spiritual sustenance. Christ could have revealed His advice on worship to His disciples or the religious folks of the day, but He chose a commoner with deep rooted sin issues (See John 4:18). 

Worship, Jesus says, is a well-spring of spiritual vitality. But, like the Samaritan woman to whom He spoke, I have not always understood what it means to worship in a way pleasing to God. Part of my confusion was a misinterpretation of John 4:23. Growing up, I was led to believe that truth must be combined with the activity of the Holy Spirit in order for true worship to happen. Although there is truth in this point, I’ve since come to realize that the word translated “Spirit” to me as a child is actually “spirit” with a small “s.” That suggests something that many of us miss. While worship must be centered on an intellectual understanding of the truth of who Jesus is, it must also be done with the involvement of our emotions or affections. 

You see, true worship is both intellectual and emotive. I believed my worship was doctrinally orthodox, but I often felt my heart was unmoved as I attempted to come into God’s presence. I had the “worship the Father in truth” part down, but I wasn’t doing so well on the “in spirit” part. Since I have always struggled with suppressing my emotions, I had allowed the “in spirit” aspect of my worship to pale in comparison to my intellectual worship. Thankfully, God prompted me to ask Him for help in worshipping Him with my affections as well as my head. He graciously responded to my request. 

Suddenly, emotion began to play a new and amazing role in my worship experiences. I began to acknowledge God’s incredibleness with my whole heart. As I did, I found myself spiritually moved in much deeper ways. I discovered a new appreciation of God’s worthiness (from which the word worship comes), developed a sense of reverent awe, increased in thankfulness for all of His gifts, felt an utter dependence on Him, and established a greater and more intense vision of all of His divine attributes such as holiness, justice, wrath, love, and sovereignty. In short, I found myself falling more in love with Christ than ever before. 

This process of learning to worship with my heart came to a head at a typical baptismal service at the church I was attending. As water cascaded from the face of one who had just dedicated his life to the Lord, I became overwhelmed. Suddenly, all the truth packaged into the act of baptism swept over my heart. I felt as if I was ushered into the throne room of grace! I began to weep as my intellectual understanding of the sacrament crashed into and then merged with the core of my affections, Christ Himself. I was emotionally transported. My vision of God and His grace captured my spirit. I believe I have softly cried at every subsequent baptism. 

Emotion is not the most important aspect of worshipping God. I have come to believe, however, that it is an integral part of fully acknowledging who Christ is and what He has done. I have found that as I ponder God’s truth I am increasingly moved in my spirit. As my spirit is moved by His awesome presence, I seek more knowledge of God and His Word. I believe this dynamic is God-pleasing. He seeks worship based not just on head-knowledge but on heart application. 

Like the Samaritan woman, I desire nourishment that only comes from the total experience of worshipping God in “spirit and in truth.” May God increase in both my heart and my mind the desire for more of Him.


I, like million of others, am fascinated with the theatre that is called March Madness. The raw energy, effort, and emotion come at you in relentless waves. Even if you are not a basketball fan it’s easy to see these competitions as a microcosm of life. There are bad breaks and heartbreaks. There is reward and rapturous celebration. We vicariously experience the glory of winning and the despondency of defeat as we silently (and sometimes not so silently) rejoice with the victors and weep with the vanquished. But why such intensity? Because these tournaments are not double elimination. There are no do-overs, no mulligans. Keep winning and you hoist the trophy and wear the crown but if you lose you’re out, it’s over. There are no second chances. 

And I believe we so identify with this drama because we innately know life is the same way. And God’s Word confirms this. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27). Dwell on this truth for any length of time and it is both stunning and sobering. This is it, folks. We only have one life to live. Life is single elimination. We don’t get a second chance to get it right or do the right thing. The Scripture is clear about everyone’s progression: life, then death, then judgment, then eternity. It is unavoidable and we must be ready. 

But this seems so overwhelming. And actually it is. We have all made mistakes and sinned. I know no honest person that wouldn’t share a litany of regrets and poor decisions.  I believe this is because the law has been written on our hearts (see Romans 2:12-16) so we intrinsically know that we have all failed to do what is right and do so most of the time. Paul captured this reality by saying that, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And falling short in one area condemns us in all of them (James 2:10) Combine this with life’s brevity (James 4:14) and you have the perfect storm for becoming fatalistic or worldly, grasping for this life’s empty trinkets because we seem destined for constant spiritual and moral failure anyway. “Life’s short, so live it up, go for the gusto, and enjoy it while you can,” they say. Sadly, this is the dark, hopeless reality for so many. But it doesn’t have to be this way. 

The verses that immediately precede and succeed Hebrew’s announcement of appointed death and eventual judgment tell us some good news that is worth sharing. It’s true that we can’t live a life that measures up to God’s holy standard, but enter Jesus the Messiah, the Savior. Consider the writer’s words of hope: 

“For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf….But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself…so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:24, 26, 28). 

Yes, there is a righteous judge and judgment awaiting us all but there is also a Savior for all those who believe. Jesus is the one who has put away the sin, taking it on Himself, of those who see Him as their only hope, those who are “eagerly waiting for Him.” Jesus is now appearing before God and pleading His follower’s defense, saying, in essence, ‘look at my righteousness and not their filthy rags’. Yes, He is the righteous judge of those who reject Him but He is the also righteous defense attorney who makes the winning argument on our behalf before a God who demands absolute perfection. And He is coming again to reveal the culmination of our redemption. 

In other words, without Christ, life is a single elimination deal with no hopes of winning. We can’t be victorious in the battle for holiness nor hoist the trophy (reward) of a righteous life on our own. We will never wear the crown in life or death apart from Him, His mercy, and His grace. We can’t but He can for us. And He has. But we must receive His gift of triumph, the victory over sin and death He has secured for us. And we must forsake any thought there is any other way but Him. As Paul said, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).


“At the end of that time I…praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.  All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” Now I praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just…” (Daniel 4:34-35, 37, NIV).

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March 29, 2011

We have two friends, both who model their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, with serious liver problems. Sheila and Barry are similar in many ways – about the same age, faithful to their families and their Lord. Sheila has been waiting on both a liver and kidney transplant. Barry is suffering from liver cancer and was hoping for a new liver as well. Providentially, they are even in the same hospital. But in the space of just a few hours their stories diverged. Today, on the very same day, they got “the call.”   

Sheila’s call was one of hopeful expectation. A donor had been found and she was rushed to Vanderbilt hospital to await the donor harvesting and a next day surgery. This organ donation could give her restored physical health after years of dialysis and debilitation. Because someone had died with such grace, donating their body parts that others might live, she had reason to rejoice, even though it was with understandable anxiety.

Barry’s call was quite different. He had fought and waited, praying to see his youngest son grow into maturity. There was no transplant for him and it was too late. He had less than one week to live. The last time I talked to Barry, just after a Sunday school class, he affirmed his faith in a sovereign God and said he prayed daily that he would remain firm in his faith no matter what was in store for him in this life. Today we found out Barry was being called home. 

April 1, 2011  

From Sheila’s CaringBridge.com journal: 

“I [Sheila’s husband, Don] just got a phone call from Sheila’s nephrologist (kidney specialist) at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. This doctor, one of the few experts in Sheila’s disease has been following and driving Sheila’s care since the original diagnosis in 2007. The outpouring of love this week for Sheila (& me) has been enormous. Thank you to all the doctors and nurses who have been involved in Sheila’s care and to you all for your love, prayers and support. We couldn’t get through this without it. Sheila has enjoyed a mostly restful day and might move out of the ICU this weekend.”  

From an email updating Barry’s condition: 

“Barry’s ex-wife just called. They were preparing to take Barry home this afternoon, but his blood pressure continues to drop. So they are going to keep him at Vanderbilt and remove his IV’s and let him pass there.  That could happen any time today.” 

April 2, 2011 

From Don, Sheila’s ever-faithful husband: 

“Great news! Sheila is no longer classified as critical care. She’s just another average patient in recovery from surgery now, albeit one with 2 new organs in her tummy. Thanks for your ongoing prayer support.” 

The latest on Barry: 

The countdown is now calculated in hours. His family, including his two sons, has gathered by his side. His funeral service has been planned. Barry’s call will soon be answered and he will have a glorious face-to-face meeting with His Jesus. And he will soon exchange his worn out earthly tent for his “house from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:2).

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I know God is sovereign and I praise him for that, just like Nebuchadnezzar did in the 4th chapter of Daniel. It brings me great peace, hope, and joy that He is. But since I’m incapable of fully understanding or explaining Sheila and Barry’s story, may I be so bold as to take Paul’s words to the Philippian church and apply it to their situation? I hope this honors them and the sovereign God they serve – for to Him is all the glory forever and ever, Amen. 

[Sheila and Barry] – “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. [Sheila] – For to me to live is Christ, [Barry] –  and to die is gain. [Sheila]If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. [Barry]My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. [Sheila] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:18-24).

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