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“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”  So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.  He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”  So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry” (Exodus 32:1-6).

*Confession time: I have watched a good part of American Idol this year. I think Pia went home too early and Casey should have won it all. Can you believe Scotty won it? He was one of my favorites but is so young, still just an embryo!

I know American Idolatry is not the name of the TV show but, symbolically, maybe it should be. For our American culture is filled with idols. They may not look like the golden calf that the Hebrews erected and worshipped in Exodus 32 but they are real, very real. Although worshipping other gods is prohibited in the 10 commandments (see Exodus 20:3-5 for the broader implications of desiring something above the sovereign creator of the universe, God) and is the first of God’s commands, mankind has consistently violated this decree ever since it was first proclaimed. Claiming that even an attitude of covetousness qualifies, the New Testament is not silent on the danger of idolatry: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). Therefore, we must beware – I believe idolatry is probably more subtly pervasive in America than any other culture that has ever risen. How so?

Tom Steller aptly explains what idolatry is: “Idolatry is valuing any thing or any person more than the one true God. An idol is any thing or any person that takes center stage in our affections. God is a jealous God. He deserves center stage in our lives. Anything that usurps that place becomes an idol, whether it be a spouse, a child, a humanitarian project, or pornography, or drugs, or power over the poor, or religion. An idol is a god-substitute. Archeology limits idols to stone statues; biblical theology teaches that idols are any things that take the place of God in our lives. When understood this way, we can realize that idolatry is not ancient history but is alive and flourishing in America as we rush toward the twenty-first century.” Martin Luther captures the idea this way: “Whatever man loves, that is his god. For he carries it in his heart; he goes about with it night and day; he sleeps and wakes with it, be it what it may – wealth or self, pleasure or renown.”  And in America that could include TV, politics, careers, clothes, self-indulgent and consumptive pleasure, technology gadgets, entertainment, cars, hobbies, houses, sex, power, material possessions, “success,” popularity, and money, just to name a few.

The Apostle John earlier shared his motivation for writing this letter: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He wanted us to know!!! That’s why I believe John concludes his first letter in the most perplexing way (see 1 John 5:21). He knew the subtle and insidious nature of idol worship. He knew his reader’s eternal destinies were at stake. So let’s be discerning – our culture woos us with false gods and idol worship at every turn. The lure is so fast, furious, and stealth-like it’s easy to miss before it has overcome us. And let us gaze inwardly with objective honesty and question what thrills us the most and what we seek after to fill and satisfy us, what we love the most in this world. We dare not presume that we, too, aren’t involved in some form of idol worship.

The penultimate verse (1 John 5:20) of this letter describes the understood purpose and priority of those who prize and worship Jesus above all other things. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” Why then do we put nothing before God? Because He is God, the only true God as revealed in Christ Jesus, and true eternal life. Anything else we love, pursue, exalt, honor, or find more pleasure in than Him is just the opposite – a false god. And they keep us from Him and eternal life. That’s why John signs off with, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Jonah sums this up well with his sobering reminder: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8, NIV).

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Four – The Rich Inheritance of the Meek

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

In the third beatitude Jesus quotes the psalmist who said, Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes … But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace … Wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land” (Psalm 37:7, 11, 34). Christ, unlike the psalmist, spoke not just of a point when the Israelites would take possession of a certain property, but of a time when His Heavenly kingdom—the place where God dwells with man—would physically lower to the earth (see Revelation 3:12). On the day that happens, the meek will rule there with Him (see Revelation 20:6).

According to the Lord, the control of the wicked over this world is just a mirage. God allows godless people to sit on thrones, corrupt men and women to hold government positions, and wicked people to influence decisions; but the Lord still stands in charge. Ultimately, sin will die and He will visibly establish His dominion. When He does, the meek will inherit the planet—a new earth, renewed and transformed by its Creator.

We, like many listeners who heard Christ’s words uttered two thousand years ago, may recoil at the concept of meekness in this context because we do not understand its meaning. Often people equate meekness with weakness, but such is not the case. The Greek word for “meekness” brings to mind a person who is gentle, humble, and considerate in nature due to the exercising of self-control. The New English Bible translates this portion of Matthew 5:5 as “those of a gentle spirit.” Meekness, then, is not a lack of strength but harnessed and self-controlled strength. For example, a wild horse that has been “broken” was sometimes referred to as having been “meeked.”[i] The animal’s power had been gentled and harnessed. Likewise, when we learn to live in brokenness before God, His infinite power is unbridled in us (see 2 Corinthians 13:4). When we let go of our pride and self-promotion, God’s power is released in us, through us, and around us. We become more like Jesus, who described Himself with the term (Matthew 11:29).

Secular humanism encourages us to make much of ourselves while exalting the overall greatness, wisdom, and goodness of man. The philosophy essentially makes each person the ruler of his or her kingdom. I’m reminded of an acquaintance, an avowed humanist. “I can set my own rules,” he pompously barked one day. “I determine what is right and wrong and best for me. It’s all relative. It’s all about what makes me happy. Linden, you can do the same for yourself.”

As he paused for breath, I couldn’t help but interject, “It’s okay, then, if I steal your wallet? After all, I think that is what’s best for me and you’ve suggested that there are no real consequences.”

“Uh, uh,” he stammered, “I don’t think I’d take it that far.”

Thankfully, God later intervened in his life, humbled him, revealed the falseness of his ideology, and convinced him that he would eventually give an account to an authority higher than himself. But my friend’s old attitude that says, “It’s all about me,” represents a tragic and false view of life and eternity. While this line of thinking prevails in our culture, Jesus clearly teaches that those who will reign with Him in His kingdom do not busily build themselves up and sing their own praises. Only the meek will inherit His kingdom.

Living in meekness shows that a person holds an accurate estimation of himself in relation to others—most importantly, in relation to our King. This state allows us to rejoice in the mystery that the King of the universe considers us “miserable sinners” worthy of grace. It totally transforms the way we relate to God and others as we live in a posture of contentedness and joyful service.

Perhaps it doesn’t appear so in the present, but this earth is God’s gift to His people. In a very real but spiritual sense, the seemingly deprived and impoverished meek can enjoy all that is Christ’s: we can marvel at creation, thrive in relationships, grow in love, and work with purpose. Even though the Heavenly city has not yet descended, we can live in the contentment and blessedness of God’s spiritual kingdom as we “possess” all that is His. “All things are yours …,” Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthian Christians, “the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

Rudolf Stier sums up the blessed and counter-cultural power of meekness before God and others: “Self-renunciation is the way to world-dominion.”[ii] Only the plan of the sovereign King of Kings could devise such a kingdom and chosen grace as the means of entrance!

Apply It.

Read Zephaniah 3:11-12. Do an honest self-assessment. Do you often trust in your own abilities, act prideful, or consider yourself better than others? The trap of self-reliance entices all of us, so ask God to break you of any such attitudes, making you humble before Him and others. Daily choose to trust only in Him.

[i] Carter, J.W. “The Spiritual Integrity of a Holy Life” American Journal of Biblical Theology. November 23, 2003.

[ii] Stier, Rudolf. The Words of the Lord Jesus (T. and T. Clark, 1874), 105.

*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 –     

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

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!

The title of this post is an actual quote from a mega-church pastor in Minnesota. I’m not making this up. Really. Here is the link that my good friend Don sent me about this church’s attempt to “contextualize” (sometimes defined as snycritizing the world’s methods with the Gospel – something that has plagued the church since its origin) –

To further verify the authenticity of this shameless outrage, here is the complete article (I don’t want anyone to think that I’ve taken this out of context):

Church lures worshippers with TVs, Nintendo

ELK RIVER, Minn.– “The Crossing Church in Elk River has many seats to fill Easter weekend and they have a very unique way of doing it. They are bribing people with 3D televisions and Nintendo 3DS portable video game consoles.

“I have no problem bribing people with crap in order to meet Christ,” Pastor Eric Dykstra said.

The bribes maybe working. While other churches are struggling with attendance Crossing has grown from just 200 people to more 3,000 in just six years.

There is hope their $8,000 giveaway this weekend will bring in more. But Dykstra says the prizes are more than just gimmicks. They are tools to get people in the door.

“It’s awkward to say ‘hey come to my church.’ It just feels weird and you don’t want to twist somebody’s arm so to kind of alleviate some of that weirdness what we’ve done is said hey if you bring your friend to church they might potentially win a 3D television, a 3DS or a 3D movie ticket package,” Dykstra said.

Dykstra expects between 5,000 to 6,000 people to attend their Easter worship service.”

Are we shocked? I don’t think we should be at all. So this is what “church growth” has come to? Of course it is. This example is just more avant-garde than most. Many institutional churches are subtly luring folks with something other than Christ, the cross, and His Word. If these are the tools being used to attract people I’m curious what they do to keep them…a new car? If so, I’m signing up!!! Let’s be honest, most Americans prefer earthly “crap” over the cross – especially when they are called to take one up daily and follow Jesus to death (Luke 9:23).

Ok, I know this is an extreme case but it is also one that should raise our spiritual antennas. Without giving detailed examples (I’m resisting the temptation to do so), do we not see more of this dangerous trend the Americanized (and consumerized) version of the 21st century visible church? Think about it! What do many churches use as methods and tools to attract the masses in the name of a “throw enough against the wall and some of it will stick” evangelistic philosophy? Have we not grown many “churches”  with something other than the power of the Word, the cross, and the unction of the Holy Spirit? Actually, the better question may be: “Have we programmed Jesus and His Spirit right out of the way we proclaim the Gospel, experience authentic church growth, and do discipleship (which has become a forgotten practice, by the way)?

Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth,will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Now I know that this quote primarily refers to the manner and power of His death but, forgive me, I am inclined to spiritualize this verse based upon our subject. At the risk of upsetting most all theologians and Greek scholars, let me radically (and, to the purists, probably incorrectly) paraphrase this statement for my purpose here as, “If the church lifts up Christ above earthly things, God (not us) will draw men to Jesus and His saving power.”  OK, that is not exactly what Jesus may have had in mind, but is it not the truth? Paul, with his ubiquitous missional mindset, seemed to think so when he said:

“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Should this not be our focus? Or should we just give earthly “crap” away or water down what the church and the true Gospel is really about in the name of the greatest treasure imaginable, Jesus, and call it evangelism and church growth? Which do we think would most glorify Him?  Which would we think be of the most kingdom value? The church, after all, is not just a place for a wonderful family time or entertainment that is a poor facsimile of the world’s offerings. Nor is the true Gospel exclusive of Christ’s lordship.

Back to the TVs and video game consoles this pastor thought to be suitable tools to “bribe people” to come to a service. My always insightful friend Don (and the original source of this blog), reminding me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:20, made this sage comment: “After you get the new flat screen TV, you have to give it to the poor” (Mark 10:21). I wonder if that scriptural principle was considered in this “church growth methodology” (a concept which I find to be somewhat oxymoronic). Amen, Don – your treasure is in Heaven! And so is mine – His name is Jesus.

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Three – Comfort for Mourners

 “Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

The second statement Jesus utters in His Sermon on the Mount proves just as shocking as the first: God provides comfort for those who mourn. This passage speaks to God’s compassion, to His provision, to His willingness to act as supporter of those who face hurt and sorrow. Unlike the capricious gods of many cultures—supposed deities who do nothing to alleviate sorrow and sometimes manipulate mortals to inflict it—God the Father shows love for His children. The psalmist adds, “You who seek God [be encouraged.] The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his … people” (Psalm 69:32-34).

When taken in context with the previous verse, Matthew 5:4 also reveals a critical truth on how fallen humans should approach holy God. While the first beatitude points to the absolute necessity of confessing our unrighteousness before Him, the second speaks to the importance of contrition over our unworthy and unholy state. Taking root in God’s kingdom requires remorse over and repentance of our sin: this is the essential second step. While acknowledging one’s sin goes hand in hand with receiving Christ’s offer of salvation, truly recognizing the foulness of our sins helps us to understand the depth of His love.

Some teach that our faith journey is bubbly, positive, and sorrow free: a virtual rollercoaster of unceasing ecstasy. Jesus, however, says that mourning is mandatory in knowing the real comfort of God. In His classic contrarian style, Jesus explains that what is despised and avoided in many cultures, namely godly grief, is actually the posture that opens the door to divine and supernatural satisfaction and contentment. According to our Lord, joy comes from brokenness. In Luke’s account of the sermon, Jesus even adds this solemn warning: “Woe to you who laugh now—” as if to suggest that living too lightheartedly might actually lead to trouble (see Luke 6:25).

The idea fails to align with the “feel good” message often heard in modern churches, places where remembering our wretchedness is seldom in vogue. Candidly, weeping and mourning doesn’t sound too appetizing. Today’s mantra? “Happiness is found through the exercise of positive self-talk, the building of self-esteem, mental gymnastics, physical exercise, and making enough money to live like a king.” In this view, often shared from pulpits as well as self-help books, happiness gets characterized by self-actualization through self-effort. In other words, if we think positively about ourselves, we will feel good about ourselves; therefore, we will lead happy lives.

How shocking that Jesus preaches just the opposite! He says that real, lasting, and complete comfort comes only from God—not from man’s futile attempt at self-induced consolation. Second Corinthians 1:3 describes the Father as “the God of all comfort.” Jesus makes it clear that any pursuit to find satisfaction or happiness outside of God proves fleeting and ineffective. The “let’s get positive” philosophy of comfort espoused by finite man doesn’t come close to reaching the kind of contentment that comes from knowing the mercy of infinite God. It can’t! Why? Man and his thinking are not the solution for finding contentment; they are the essential problem separating him from the Lord.

In my own conversion, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the words of Isaiah reverberated in my heart: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6). I sobbed and shook as the Spirit pointed me to the humanly unattainable righteousness of Jesus. I had a frightening vision of the disgusting nature of my sinful disease that made me worthy of eternal punishment. The truth of my hopelessness and my inability to ever stand pleasing in God’s sight shattered my heart. But then I remembered Second Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” I recognized then that grace received by faith was my only hope. But once I grasped that, oh what a comfort!

Jesus, the Messiah, was called “the comforter” who would “bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1). In John 14:16 of The King James Version Jesus claims that the Holy Spirit also fills this Comforter role. I love that word! It explains so beautifully that Christ’s sacrifice, offering the absolution and forgiveness of sins, is the only source of eternal consolation. Blessing follows when we come in our brokenness to Jesus, and remember Calvary where He redeemed and liberated us from the bondage of sin and hell. When we give ourselves to the Lord, we find immeasurable and eternal blessing. As we remember our rottenness and mourn over our sin, Jesus speaks peace to our souls and heals scarred consciences. His grace, what comfort!

Jesus Himself was described as “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). Throughout His ministry, Christ wept over the sins of others, over the terrible consequences of judgment, and over the city of Jerusalem which refused to embrace His kingship. He mourned because He knew the utter hopelessness of our situation should we reject His sacrifice. The issue of where a person will spend his or her eternity proves no laughing matter. While I’m not suggesting that we should spend our lives sitting in sackcloth and ashes, we do well to remember what He did for us, to realize how much we need Him, to constantly remind ourselves of the horrible outlook awaiting those who don’t know Him.

Let us go to Jesus weeping over our sin, confessing, and desperate. There we will find the all-satisfying, infinite comfort of an unfathomably great God who loved us enough send His Son to die in our place. To provide us a future of endless joy, satisfaction, and the comfort of His embrace.

Apply It.

Read Romans 3:9-20. Look for yourself in the passage. How does your history of sin contrast with a holy God?

Read aloud 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, and praise Him for being the God of all Comfort. Remember, Christ comforts those who mourn over their sins.

*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 –     

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

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!

While checking out of the line at Kroger the other day we thought we heard the cashier say, “Do you have any complaints?” Quickly I launched into a muted tirade: “The economy is bad, food prices are outrageous, our country is in a mess, my knee hurts, I’m getting old and fat…” I continued to spew out a litany of other negative comments before the clerk quietly and graciously interrupted me, “Excuse me, sir, but I said do you have any coupons?” We had to laugh and then ceremoniously and ironically rang the bell labeled “Ring for Good Service” as we sheepishly departed with $85 in groceries and a keen awareness of how easy it is to grumble.

Speaking of the rebellious malcontents that the children of Israel were (see especially Exodus 16:1-8), after listing some of their more obvious character flaws, Paul states:

“nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say” (1 Corinthians 10:10-15).

Ouch! There goes God’s Word cutting to the very marrow of my soul. Again! There you have it – I’m no better than the Hebrews who clamored against their leaders, and therefore God, when they said, “”Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt…” (Exodus 16:3). Oh, it’s so easy to sit in self-righteous judgment on them. Don’t we wonder what they were thinking? God gave them what they more than they deserved (freedom from bondage in Egypt) and even provided for their daily necessities of food, water, shelter, and guidance. Don’t we scratch our heads and piously ponder what more they wanted from God? Then we realize that the same problem existed in Paul’s day. And the same issue exists today. Just do some honest navel-gazing and we see the ugly evidence.

My wise mother once said that some folks, “would complain that you didn’t give them $10 when you gave them $5 they didn’t earn or deserve.” That happened to me once. I gave a few dollars to a homeless panhandler. He scoffed at my donation as if it was a pittance but was unwilling to return it when I asked for it back (laugh as you envision that encounter – both of us tugging at the bill, him winning the battle and running off with the loot). ‘That lazy, ungrateful smuck,’ I thought. ‘Who is he to mock my generous gift.’ But, alas, aren’t we often like this beggar when it comes to God’s gracious provision?

Jesus even told a parable that has implications about this problem. It’s called The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Some workers felt they had been slighted when others received the same wages for doing less work. So they complained to the vineyard’s owner (God). And His response was a curt but profound, “…’Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:13-16).

Are we grumblers and complainers? Do we look for an opportunity to express our discontent even when the cashier is saying “coupons” instead of “complaints?” I think we need to be reminded that God doesn’t take too kindly to the grumblings of those on whom He has lavished His matchless love (1 John 3:1) and, “…through His divine power has granted…all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…” (2 Peter 1:3). James, in his typical direct and candid style, says it this way:  “Do not grumble…so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9). And something tells me that, when we eventually stand before Him, the complaint department will be closed.

But doesn’t this magnify the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus? For His grace covers even the most (seemingly) benign transgressions and Christ’s blood is powerful enough to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:19). And doesn’t this compel us to be more cognizant and convicted of our complaining and grumbling attitudes? For if He has given us forgiveness of sins and relationship with Him, and nothing else, due to His mercy and not our merit, can we really ask for anything more?

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Two – Hope for the Broken

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

Jesus’ entire, complex Sermon on the Mount begins with this mind-blowing statement: Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. Before a crowd called “His disciples” (Matthew 5:1) that likely included the down-and-out, the average laborer, the wealthy, the young and the old, as well as women, children, and some leaders from the local synagogue, Christ extended through these words an important clue regarding entry into and connectedness with God’s kingdom.

In Christ’s day, religious leaders called Pharisees held incredible power. These “holy” men were generally thought to stand in favor with God through their meticulous keeping of tedious laws and their pious ability to create new ones. If any man were worthy of God’s kingdom, some may have thought, surely I qualify! When, however, Christ explained that those who are “poor in spirit” are welcome—practically given—the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, every listener grew aware that wealth, confidence in one’s self, and knowledge of do’s and don’ts prove unhelpful in gaining God’s favor. With one brief comment Jesus dethroned the religious types and gave spiritual hope to the desperate.

An informed understanding of just what Jesus meant by “the kingdom of heaven” proves essential as we enter The Beatitudes or “the blessings.” Christ’s phrase referred to the kingdom of godly men and women over whom God would forever reign. It includes the spiritual, eternal, and eventually visible rule or dominion of Christ over His children and creation. Or, simply described, the kingdom of God is the manifestation of God’s ruling presence. Therefore, the kingdom refers not just to the place where the godly go when they die; instead, it encompasses the entire, living body of Christ—His church—as they work together and encourage one another in the days leading up to sin’s demise.

The sovereign Lord of the universe allows His creation to live as part of His kingdom! To honor Him through service that points people to Him and brings glory to His name. I can think of nothing greater than daily experiencing the kingdom of Heaven, of faithfully living as a servant of the King of Kings. When we consider that God created humanity for the purpose of glorifying Himself, we find that living as part of the kingdom of Heaven defines the purpose of our existence! This life-transforming way of life should be the highest pursuit of every man.

Jesus asserts that the means to participate in God’s kingdom comes not in the manner that mankind might think, and both His ancient audience and modern students of His Word stagger under the teaching. In Matthew 5:3 He proclaims that humility proves the key component. Self-love, self-promotion, and self-effort fall short. Only through poverty of spirit—the recognition that we lie helpless and hopeless in light of God’s holy standard—are we fit to enter His kingdom.

Christ spoke to those who could see their spiritual bondage and sin-debt before God (see Matthew 6:22). Only those listeners who were “poor in spirit” could recognize the pervasiveness of their sin and acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy (see Romans 3:10-17). They, along with all hearers of the good news, must see that fallen humanity stands condemned as guilty before God our judge (Romans 3:19). Like the prodigal son who “came to the end of himself,” we must realize that we possess no good thing that makes us pleasing to the Father. We must grasp that we are a spiritually impoverished mess before we’ll truly cry out for salvation.

The entire Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that fallible and frail humanity proves incapable of living up to the high standards of God’s new kingdom, a kingdom built on the sacrifice Christ made on the cross. The notion is reminiscent of the Old Covenant God extended to mankind, an offer of relationship made to the descendants of Abraham. The terms of both pacts reference the huge rift that man’s sin places between him and God.

No person could ever live out God’s high, holy standards. Since the moment Adam and Eve disobeyed the one rule God set over His garden paradise, humanity has suffered under the pain of separation from Him. We cannot satisfy His righteous demands on any level (Romans 3:10). All break His law, and we have broken all of it (James 2:10). Not one of us will ever be good enough or wise enough to win our way back into His favor. The only hope extended us comes through the emptying of self.

As if to remind hearers of this truth, Jesus refers to the most righteous folk of His day as a reference point: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). In saying this, Jesus clarified that no one can enter Heaven on merit. Only when people accept the perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus do they find forgiveness from sin and the hope of participating in His unending kingdom.

Spiritual poverty speaks of a humility that forces us to look to Jesus. Christ said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). We come to know God by letting go of our right to be big in our own eyes, by submissively and obediently recognizing Christ’s supremacy and surrendering all of ourselves to Him.

Remarkably, accepting who Christ is and what Christ did for us leads us to supernatural reward. Through poverty of spirit and the acceptance that Jesus provides our only means to understand His kingdom (John 14:6), we are blessed in the grandest sense of the word. For we then have access to the Creator of the universe and all that entails. Author and speaker C. H. Spurgeon said, “The way to rise in the Kingdom is to sink in ourselves.”[i]We must dismiss our reliance on self in any form in order to find acceptance through the One who draws unworthy humanity into His kingdom.

Sadly, the first beatitude and others, prove contrary to popular proposed messages regarding the means to blessing and happiness. In our post-modern culture we receive a constant diet of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, self-assertion, and self-absorption. The underlying messages? You can be good enough and wise enough to do anything on your own! The pursuit of your own happiness in your own strength is what satisfies! These ideas, however, ring false. Dependence on our misguided human strength and wisdom proves futile. Only Jesus’ way leads to ultimate blessing and entrance into God’s kingdom.

God chooses to fill empty vessels, those people willing to put away any form of self-reliance or self-focus in order to depend on Him. He serves as our infinite source for all spiritual blessing. When we accept our poverty of spirit—a denial of the teaching that we can produce in ourselves anything we really need—we become empty vessels. In that moment, we sit ready to receive God’s beauty and majesty.

Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). Essentially this means that we have to die to that part of us that chooses the world’s “live for me” attitude and find new life in adopting one that says, “Lord, my life is Yours.”

Being “born again,” becoming a follower of Christ, finding entry and acceptance in His kingdom, all come down to a decision. Experiencing the kingdom of the God of the universe and enjoying His blessedness happens only through Jesus and His cross (John 14:6). We’ve got to come to Him in brokenness over our sin, surrendering to Jesus as our only hope (see Romans 3:23; 5:8; 6:23; 10:9-10). God, desiring that we become His children by exchanging our life for His, compels us by grace through faith (see John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8-9). I pray that if you haven’t already, you will humbly and sincerely cry out to Jesus to receive His free and full offer of salvation.

Apply It.

Read James 4:6-10 and 1 Peter 5:4-6. Why is humility necessary for entrance into Christ’s kingdom? For living out His kingdom? Pray that God would give you the “poverty of spirit” necessary to receive and believe Him and critical in living for Him.

[i] Spurgeon, C.H. The Gospel of the Kingdom (Passmore and Alabaster, 1893), 21.

*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 –     

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

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!

*This is an annual post is in memory of my father. He entered into eternal worship and rest with his Savior on September 4, 2006 (appropriately on Labor Day). Today whould have been his 91st birthday. This is an excerpt from “Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him” which was published in 2008.

Nearly a year and a half after my father’s death, my mother sent me his one volume Bible commentary. Thankfully, she left it as he did: she didn’t even remove the papers he had slid between the binder and the text. It was The Liberty Commentary, a book published by the school from which I received my Master’s degree. The book’s significance, however, was neither in that fact nor in the helpful Bible background information it contained. The most impressive thing about the commentary was my father’s hand-written notes that adorned nearly all of the book’s two-thousand seven hundred pages. The book had well served Dad, a faithful Sunday School teacher, for many years. 

Next to my own Bible,  the picture of my son at 15 minutes old, and my wedding album, I consider Dad’s commentary my greatest earthly possession. My father left within it musings, highlights, underscores, outlines, and his own personal comments. The book is heavy with the authentic faith of a man who did life the right way: by the Bible he so honored with his study. To Dad, Scripture’s precepts were principles to apply to every aspect of life. 

Dad’s commentary is a tangible reminder of God’s grace in my life. I’ve often said that I thank God for giving me the Christian family that I myself would not have had the sense to choose. In our culture it’s quite popular to make our parents scapegoats for all of our issues and bad behavior, but I claim the opposite in my situation. My folks are one of God’s greatest gifts to me. 

Because my dad loved me so much―as evidenced by his life of sacrifices for all his children—I’m sure there are a few tear stains on the pages of his book. As he sought refuge in God’s words of hope and comfort, I’m sure he cried for rebellious me on more than one occasion. (In retrospect, I hope that he knew my rebellion was never a reflection on his parenting.) Dad parented as one should: God’s commands were at the center of all he did. I, however, was trying to escape a loving heavenly Father’s care. Thankfully both my heavenly Father and my earthly one continued to love me and give me support in spite of myself. Gloriously, they both saw me come home. 

I’m so thankful Dad modeled Christ in his spoken words and written ones, but the testimony he lived out daily proved even more significant in winning me to the Lord. You see, Dad’s most insightful and valuable commentary was written outside the bound pages I can hold in my hands. As much as his writings mean to me, the reality of his life leaves the greatest impact on my heart. Dad’s example spoke volumes. To me he was a real hero, one who applied the admonition of Second Timothy 2:15: “Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  I’ve decided that it was the reality of Dad’s life that most molded me. His commentary serves as a sweet reminder of why I so frequently thank God for him and Mother. 

One of the last things I heard Dad say followed my mother’s adoring words to him, “You are an angel!” He responded immediately: “Yes, I just haven’t gotten my wings yet.” Though Scripture is clear humans don’t transform into angels when they pass (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-50), it does support the sentiment Dad was trying to convey. Those who give their lives to Christ can live as blessings to all they know. Only in heaven, however, do they find glorious and eternal reward for their service to the Master. 

I love you, Dad. See you soon!


*Section 1: Kingdom Character

His Countercultural Kingdom

The Sermon on the Mount most clearly delineates what it means to serve as a follower of Christ and to live as a participant in His kingdom. In a sense, The Sermon on the Mount gives Jesus’ manifesto on the kingdom of God, and its truths stagger. The sermon speaks not just of God-fearing people living as part of the kingdom that He said “is within [us]” (see Luke 17:21). But surprisingly, Jesus reveals that His followers actually comprise the kingdom itself! Christ’s teachings invert virtually every guiding principle that both humanism and religion espouse, even as they reveal and encapsulate the mind and heart of God.

Christ’s profound Sermon on the Mount rises out of a deceptively simple context. Matthew 5-7 unfolds at a point near the beginning of His ministry. Jesus recently endured forty days of fasting and temptation in the wilderness, the prophet John baptized Him, and Christ began preaching. To all who listened He proclaimed, “The kingdom of Heaven (or kingdom of God—as these phrases are used interchangeably) is near” (Matthew 4:17). Interestingly, Christ’s theme was spoken against a backdrop of the religious and political imprisonment of the Jewish people, a nation awaiting a warrior Messiah who they believed would deliver them from persecution by military means.

When Christ communicated the premise and essentials of kingdom living to those desiring to embed themselves in the experience of God’s kingdom—in this life and forever—He stated His mission to the world. His teachings regarding love and humility, however, must’ve come as a surprise to those expecting Messiah to lead a militant rebellion. Modern believers who’ve heard Christ’s coming taught as a sign of entitlement to health, wealth, and prosperity might feel similar shock as they unpackage the startling realities of this message.

Just as Christ, the warrior King who leads and sets free by a law of love, is a beautiful paradox, so too is the nature of the kingdom. Jesus said that the kingdom had already come near (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15); it happened in His incarnation. We know, however, that the full consummation of His glorious kingdom is yet future: Jesus taught us to pray for His Father’s kingdom to come (Matthew 6:10). Christ’s description of His reign and rule is full of such mysteries, yet only when we grapple with these paradoxes do we begin to grasp the beautiful realities of Jesus and His kingdom.

Six pivotal concepts aid in understanding The Sermon on the Mount clearly and applying it effectively. Those desiring to fully follow Christ and grasp this great revelation from the Son of God should note …

Jesus’ supremacy serves as the common thread. Christ, based on the totality of His nature and mission, is both the message and the messenger of God. He provides the means through which the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount become a reality in us. Jesus is both lawgiver and the fulfillment of the law. In a real sense, He embodies the law of the New Covenant.

Relationship with God requires “new birth.” The sermon’s text presumes that we don’t live as a part of Christ’s kingdom and cannot understand His teachings until we first are born-again (see John 3:3). Jesus’ teachings present humanity with a New Covenant, a new means by which man can have relationship with God (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Entrance into God’s kingdom comes through salvation by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Jesus and His teachings stand as absolutely authoritative. Christ’s infinite wisdom and rule are projected in The Sermon on the Mount. He is portrayed as our ultimate Judge and the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1-3). Christ alone expressed the heart and mind of God in all of His teachings, and His deity was the source of His authority (see Hebrews 1:1-3).

Relationship with Christ encompasses the only means to true happiness—deep, rooted, abiding joy! Living as one blessed of God far surpasses any transient pleasure life offers (John 16:24). Typically measured in the temporal and tangible, true satisfaction in life comes only through divinely spiritual character qualities. The Beatitudes give the recipe for how to live in the blessing of being God’s royal children.

True disciples of Christ should prove different! Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus consistently repeats, “You have heard it said … but I say …” (Matthew 5:21-48). Cutting against the grain of popular secular and religious philosophies of His day (and ours as well), Jesus suggests a life diametrically opposed to contemporary thought. The wisdom of this world equals foolishness from God’s perspective (see 1 Corinthians 1:18-31); to receive God’s best believers must often break with societal norms.

Obedience matters. Within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a new moral code reminiscent of the Ten Commandments. Adherence to this new moral law is indicative of those that are “of His kingdom.” Living to please God should affect every aspect of our existence.

Matthew 5-7 powerfully, profoundly, and vividly portrays our King and His kingdom. The message inspires, challenges, stretches. For me, the message defines how I—as a child of God—should live and work and interact. It clearly outlines what the Lord expects from and has in store for those who love Him. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our hearts and minds as He reveals Jesus and His glorious kingdom.

Apply It.

Read aloud and internalize Colossians 1:15-20 and Ephesians 1:18-23. Ask God to show you how Jesus’ authority, power, and supremacy should change you and the way you follow Him.

*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 –     

Amazon Kindle – 

Barnes and Noble in book form – 

Other eReader formats –

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!

Did you watch the royal wedding? Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you first got a glimpse of the ornate ritual? I didn’t watch it (it was way too early for me) but you couldn’t escape the interminable media coverage even if you were a recluse. The pomp and grandeur were mind-boggling. Here is an interesting but very small glimpse into the size, scope, cost, and details of the opulence:

Three Titles

• Queen Elizabeth II gave Prince William the title of Duke of Cambridge and Kate Middleton the title of Duchess of Cambridge. In addition to the dukedom, William also became the Earl of Strathearn and Baron Carrickfergus, which means Kate will become the Countess of Strathearn and Baroness Carrickfergus. That makes three titles each for the royal couple.

How Many People Watched

• 2 billion watched on television; that’s 1/3 of the world

• 1 million people on streets • 1,900 people in Westminster Abbey Social Networks

• 4 million tweets (and still counting)

• 7 million Facebook comments (and still counting)

About the Couple

• Graduated at same time from St. Andrew in Scotland. Kate is the only college graduate to enter royalty.

• Couple plans not to have servants. Prince Charles has 25 personal servants. He doesn’t squeeze his own toothpaste on his toothbrush.

Wedding Vows

• Both said, “I will” not “I do” • Did not say “obey” in vows

How Long Was Kate Middleton’s Walk Down the Aisle

 • 3 minutes 14 seconds

The Dress and Train

• The dress was replicated in NY within an hour of first seeing it. Sells for $999.

• Train was 9 feet long

How Many Wedding Officiates

• 3 officiates

About the Rings

• Prince Charles wears wedding band under his signet ring.

• Prince William will not wear a ring.

• It took Prince William 9 seconds to put ring on Kate’s finger.

• Kate’s wedding band was cut from the same Welsh gold nugget that Princess Diana’s wedding band was cut from.

Flowers and Trees

• Flowers in bouquet came from same bush as flowers in Princess Diana’s bouquet.

• Kate’s bouquet was much lighter. Diana’s bouquet weighed 6 pounds.

• Six English field maples and two hornbeams, which are up to 20 feet tall, lined the Westminster Abbey; cost $8,000

The Cake

• Kate’s cake was 8 tiers with 900 iced flowers that took 5 weeks to make.

• William’s cake was chocolate biscuit cake.

How Many Horses

• 186 horses participated in the royal wedding procession from mounted cavalry to horse drawn carriages.

• Only one was known to have fallen because of the noise on the street.

All of this makes the following comical story from the Houston Chronicle make some sense: “After watching all of the beautiful pageantry of the Royal Wedding, Millie couldn’t help but notice the enormous chasm of difference between what she had just witnessed and the reality of her own marriage. She pulled out a bottle of wine and tried to console herself at the kitchen table. She limited herself to one glass but she lingered over each sip. When she reached the last swallow she called out, “I love you.” Her aging, portly husband put down his newspaper from across the table and asked, “Is that you or the wine talking?” She replied, “It’s me… talking to the wine.”

But this human wedding, or any that have come before or will in the future, pale in comparison the ultimate Royal Wedding – The Marriage Feast of the Lamb. There King Jesus will be forever united with His  purified bride, the church that has been purchased with His very own blood. Scripture’s description makes any earthly celebration seem absurdly insignificant. So, I will leave you with John’s revelation of this breathtaking event. I pray that we linger and meditate on this vivid prophetic picture and that we all ask ourselves, ‘where will I be and what will I be doing when this cosmic celebration takes place?’ Or even, “Do I know that I’m one of the invited guests?‘ Revelation 19:1-10 says:

“After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”–for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). 

Isn’t the Easter season wonderful?! We are moved and inspired as we marvel in our Lord’s crucifixion and glory in His resurrection. Hopefully, we all capture what these events mean, and especially mean to us, in all of their depth and richness. Although one could never exhaust an exposition of these topics, it is always, and I mean always, best for us to keep them top of mind and pondered in our hearts. For Jesus’ work at Calvary and His being raised from the dead frame the essence of our faith and hope. 

Since today is exactly one week since the Christian community celebrated Easter, I’m reminded that it is so very easy for the inspiration of that celebration to fade. We too quickly forget the way we were touched and changed during this most important holiday season. The impact of Easter, however, shouldn’t and doesn’t end on a date or after a designated time. Just as Rebekah and I were discussing during our “Celebration Wednesday” time, Jesus’ work did not cease after His Passion and ascension. Instead He has moved into a high priestly role and is now active in sustaining us and guaranteeing the efficacy of His earthly work that we celebrate during the Easter holiday. 

The writer of Hebrews tells us that one of the reasons for Jesus’ resurrection is that He now lives to intercede on His follower’s behalf. In other words, Christ’s redeeming and sanctifying work continues so that we are completely and utterly saved. And don’t we ever need this?! When we receive Christ our sin nature does not disappear. Sure, our desires change but our attitudes and actions continually fail to meet His holy standard. Though we grow more and more like Him, which is called progressive sanctification (see Romans 8:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:18), we will never in this life reach a state of perfection. We are counted as totally righteous because of our faith in the finished work of Christ, but in practical reality we don’t live in total righteousness. This is why Christ’s high priestly function is so critical for His people, a people still in desperate need of a Savior who continues His work from the right hand of the Father. 

Paul affirms this: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:33-35). And so does John: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). 

And what a comfort this is! But that comfort comes only from understanding that these three of Christ’s activities – the crucifixion, the resurrection, and His intercession – are inextricably linked. He died for our sins, He rose to give us victory over the grave and eternal life, and He is our righteous defense attorney (advocate) that sustains us by pleading His case (not ours) when we fall. Because He died for us and was raised again, Jesus is now appearing before God and stating His indisputable argument, saying, in essence, ‘look at my righteousness and not their filthy rags’. 

Some questions come quickly to mind when we contemplate Hebrews 7:25. The writer says Christ is interceding for, “those who draw near to God through Him.” He is only interceding for those who have surrendered, by grace through faith, to Himself. So, are you one of His disciples, someone who has Jesus pleading His righteousness on your behalf before a holy God? That’s one important reason we celebrate Easter – because our capitulation to a crucified and risen Savior grants us His eternal intercession. God’s Word says that we must believe with all that we are and fully receive Him in order to be given these amazing gifts and blessings (John 1:12). So, if you’ve never surrendered to Christ as your Master and Savior, I pray that God will draw you to Himself and that you will seek out someone who can fully explain the good news of Jesus. And I pray the Holy Spirit compels you to say an eternal “Yes!” to Him knowing that means He has already said an eternal “Yes!” to and for you. 

Or have you surrender to Jesus but aren’t fully experiencing the forgiveness found only in Christ, the righteousness He has purchased for you? Are you still looking at Jesus, as wonderful as this is, as only crucified, raised, and ascended?  If not, focus this day on Christ’s ongoing intercessory work for you that saves you to the uttermost! For in truth, He is now our perfect defense attorney that guarantees that we stand forgiven and counted as righteous before a holy God. So draw near to God in Christ and rest in this truth. And give Him the glory not just for what He did for you during the Passion Week but also what He continues to do in sealing the incomparable reality of His forever presence with those who believe on Him.

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