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Rebekah and I recently had the privilege of visiting the very prison cell that tradition says Paul spent his last days before he was martyred (probably beheaded). Unless you have seen it, it is impossible to comprehend just how awful that place was. Dark, wet (the constant water on the floor was filled with human excrement), and, given the impending fate of those incarcerated there, desperately ominous. It was a place so terrible that death may have been a relief. I can’t imagine feeling anything but fear, bitterness, and depression. But Galatians (focused on our freedom in Christ) and Philippians (focused on the joy found only in Jesus) were written from a prison cell. Though probably not as awful as the one we saw, I dare say it was not the Marriott! This is extreme evidence of a life transformed by God, a testimony that bears witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. We often talk about “our testimony,” yet Paul had an amazing testimony
about his suffering. It is recorded in 2 Corinthians 6:

“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything” (vs. 3-10).

Read that again. And again – this time more slowly, carefully, thoughtfully. That, my friends, is a testimony; a testimony fraught with a rich, dynamic relationship with God, through the Savior, Jesus. It is a testimony that reveals, as best one humanly could, the depth and scope of what it means to know God. To be radically transformed. To see all that is both good and bad in this life as a sign of His sovereign favor. It is a proclamation that, no matter what, in Jesus we “possess everything” of real, eternal value. He is the prize that far and away supersedes circumstance or situation – good or bad. He is the most valuable thing we can ever imagine or have.

Read it again. Is that your testimony? Is it mine? I pray that it is and that it is so authentic that it reeks with the reality of this attitude that only the beauty of Jesus can produce. Why? Because in Him, though our life may be one filled with only a semblance (just a trickle) of Paul’s suffering and we may never end up in a putrid Roman prison awaiting a cruel and excruciating human end, we cling to the “and,” “yet,” and “but” that becomes the focus of our hope found only in Christ. As Paul shares (all emphasis mine):

  • “Afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless night (can we at least relate to sleepless nights?), hunger BUT by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, AND the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the      right hand AND for the left…”
  • “…through honor AND dishonor, through slander AND praise. We are treated as impostors, AND YET are true…”
  • ”…as unknown, AND YET well known…”
  • “…as dying, AND behold, we live…”
  • “…punished, AND YET not killed…”
  • “…as sorrowful, YET always rejoicing…”
  • “…as poor, YET making many rich…”
  • “…as having nothing, YET possessing everything.”

So my testimony and Paul’s is quite similar. No, I’ve never faced the tribulations that he did, probably won’t suffer in similar ways, or die a martyr’s death, but I can say with him, “I was a sinner BUT, Christ died for me. YET, though life is not perfect, He is the Rock of my life. AND, although I have nothing material in this world that will endure, I possess everything in Jesus.” I pray this is your testimony as well. Paul staked his persecuted life on it and so do I. Why? Because God is the “and,” “but,” and “yet” of my life. And He is indescribably worthy of this and so much more. To Him be eternal praise, no matter what our circumstances or situation may be. This is a testimony worth having and sharing! Because He is so worth having and sharing. Just ask Paul. Or even better, read again what he left us as a reminder of what it means to trust in God as our everything.

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Eight- The Peace of God’s Children 

 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Matthew 5:9 proceeds logically from the previous beatitude. When purity of heart leads to internal peace, a peace-loving and peacemaking attitude arises. Those who allow the desire for peace to greatly influence their interactions, Christ explained, will be called “sons of God.” Our Creator set the world in motion with the desire that we live in harmony, enjoying relationship with Him and with others. These relationships were untainted by sin; but when humanity chose to disobey the Lord, we lost our peaceful fellowship with God. War and conflict and arguments with one another soon followed. We desperately needed intervention!

Jesus extended spiritual peace by reconciling us to God through His gospel: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him
to reconcile to himself all [people] … making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Colossians 1:19-20). The Apostle Paul further explains: “God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ … was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19). Through this plan, Jesus “create[d] in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace” for souls once torn by sin (Ephesians 2:15). He paved the way so that
humanity could catch a glimpse of His original plan: relationships, interactions, and lives should exist under the banner of harmony.

Military power represents an unfortunate need in our day, and Matthew 5:9 is not an antiwar cry. Instead, the passage points to an approach to life: Followers
of Christ—those who’ve accepted God’s gift of peace for their souls—must purvey peace in their families, communities, and among other believers as they serve
as ambassadors of the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Following the Prince of Peace should make us desire to live at peace. We can, in fact, demonstrate this
attribute to the world! Kingdom living requires that we be healers and not hurters. As we try to keep the peace and mend relationships, we foreshadow the
eternal peace of the eventual and ultimate culmination of our reign with Christ. Heaven’s atmosphere is one of ongoing and complete accord!

One day my friend Rick felt a stifling conviction that God wanted him to reconcile a broken relationship with a fellow church member. The two had not
spoken in over three years, and Rick could not even recall the real source of their conflict. In spite of this, he responded to the Spirit’s leading and sent a simple e-mail to his former friend. In it he asked for forgiveness for whatever he had done that did not reflect the love of Christ. To Rick’s amazement, the response was immediate: complete forgiveness and a return apology. As the two rekindled their friendship, word spread. Soon others throughout the church began mending their broken fences! Peace broke out! For Rick, the experience proved so liberating and empowering that he prayed that God would reveal others to whom he should reach out with humility and grace.

Unfortunately, the believer’s journey is not entirely without conflict. Sometimes following Jesus and adhering to His radical calling actually disturbs folks around us, even those closest to us (see Matthew 10:34-36). But living as one of Christ’s requires that we put Him first, follow His teachings, and often
make culturally difficult, radical, and sometimes misunderstood choices that may upset and confuse some people. Ironically, the contrarian nature of kingdom
living will inevitably result in conflict and perhaps even estrangement from those we love (see Matthew 10:37). That’s why, while we should never promote
unity at the expense of truth or sound doctrine, we must make sure that our words and actions are fueled by love and a genuine desire to please the Lord
and to help others come to know and grow in Him.

Peacemakers never intentionally seek conflict. They pursue peace unless it means contradicting God’s Word or will. The New Testament writers urge Christ-followers to question, Am I, as a disciple of this King of Peace, a nurturer of conciliation in my sphere of influence? Am I perceived by both believers and non-believers as peaceable? (see Hebrews 12:14). If the answer to either question is “no,” he or she may not live in full surrender to our peace-giving Lord. The internal peace from Him “passes all understanding.” That sense of inner harmony generally impacts relationships for the better.

In one of His most encouraging messages, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). Peacemaking and experiencing the blessing of living in peace demand complete reliance upon Him. He is our source. Let us demonstrate Jesus and His kingdom by being ministers of His gifts. By reflecting the Prince of Peace and His kingdom of eternal peace, we can point a troubled world to the God of reconciliation. Paul speaks to all kingdom believers when he says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace” (Colossians 3:15). As we do, we’ll shine as sons and daughters of God.

Apply It.

Read Hosea 3:1. Notice how God instructs Hosea to show conciliatory love to his  adulteress wife in the same manner the Father shows love to His rebellious
children. Consider a family, work, or church situation that generates ongoing  conflict in your life. What steps might you take to bring peace to the situation and demonstrate God’s love? Ask the Lord to reveal opportunities for  reconciliation. He will supply the wisdom and strength to initiate a  God-exalting solution.

 *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!

We just returned from a vacation in Rome, Italy. Since then we have often been asked, “What did you do in Rome?” I’ve been sarcastically responding, “We did as the Romans do.” Which begs other questions like: Where did this saying come from and what does it mean? Additionally, what is the spiritual application for us?

This saying is originally attributed to St. Ambrose in 387 A.D. Here’s the story behind it: When St. Augustine arrived in Milan, he observed that the Church did not fast on Saturday as did the Church at Rome. He consulted St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, who replied: “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.” The use of the proverb in English isn’t recorded until much later – well into the Middle Ages.  The comment was changed then to “When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done.” Later Robert Burton used a variation of the phrase in his Anatomy of Melancholy. This work was first published in 1621. Burton makes oblique reference to the saying, without using it explicitly when he writes: “…like Mercury, the planet, are good with good, bad with bad. When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done, puritans with puritans, papists with papists.” Eventually it became, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

And its meaning? Essentially, it is polite, and possibly also advantageous, to abide by the customs of a society when one is a visitor. It does not suggest compromise of beliefs or values but implies being flexible to certain ways of doings things that are common or unique in a particular culture. Today missiologists are involved in a practice called ethnographic research which is defined, per Wikipedia, as: “a scientific research strategy often used in the field of social sciences, particularly in anthropology and in some branches of sociology, also known as part of historical science that studies people, ethnic groups and other ethnic formations, their ethnogenesis, composition, resettlement, social welfare characteristics, as well as their material and spiritual culture.” For the purposes of evangelism, it is the study of a culture, and its people, so that the presentation of the Gospel can be adapted (not compromised) based upon the societal nuances and customs of a certain people group.

So what is the application? Let’s look at Paul’s thoughts on this in his letter to the church at Corinth:

“For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.  For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1
Corinthians 9:17-23).

Paul here is saying that he is willing to adapt to particular styles and customs, as long as they do not compromise the purity of the Gospel or his being “under the law of Christ,” in order to facilitate the proclamation of the Gospel. With this in mind, let’s take note of some key points that should impact the way we engage those of different backgrounds with the Good News of Jesus:

  • We are stewards of the Gospel. This is of great significance and worthy of our full attention. What a great responsibility this is!
  • Our Gospel commission demands that we have a servant posture towards all. Adapting to cultural differences in deference to our own style preferences amplifies our message.
  • The goal of “doing as the Romans do” is that we might reach (win) some for the glory of the Gospel, not for the sake of adapting alone.
  • Our efforts are for the sake (glory) of the Gospel, and the God of the Gospel, not personal acclaim or gain.
  • The Gospel we proclaim is a message of unfathomable blessings – which gives us an even greater impetus to share and share in the context of our audience’s culture.

So what is your “Rome?” Is it your neighborhood or “the hood” in your city? Is it a foreign land or a co-worker that speaks in broken English? Wherever it is, may we put our prejudices and preferences aside as true servants of Christ. And go with the pure Good News, for the sake of the blessed Gospel, and for the glory of the God of the Gospel.

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Seven- The Pure in Heart Know God

 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

In Matthew 5:8 Jesus once again shares an attention-grabbing truth: those pure in heart will see God. John 6:46 plainly states that no one—except Christ—has actually seen God face-to-face. In the Sermon on the Mount, however, Jesus announces that relationship and intimate fellowship with God are attainable. One day the pure in heart will even lay eyes on Him!

The Bible teaches us that God alone stands immortal and lives in unapproachable light, but when in Heaven He reveals Himself we will see Him face to face (See 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 Corinthians 13:12). To me, this thought proves both exhilarating and overwhelming. I will see Jesus! I believe that even the vivid description of Revelation 4 doesn’t begin to capture the majesty, transcendence, and glory of our God. Yet, beside Him we will reside: home in His presence, marveling at His perfection, adoring His supremacy, worshipping around the throne, dazzled by His beauty, basking in His radiant glory, seeing Him and knowing Him forever in the most perfect sense. How’s this miracle possible? Because He took our sin away, removing the barrier between us. Every time I dwell on the idea of seeing Him for the first time, I’m moved to tears. My inability to describe both the scene and my feeling reminds of the Apostle Peter’s words: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).

Christ-followers enjoy more than the privilege of anticipating Heaven; through relationship with God through Jesus we can “see” God’s heart now. Like children who watch and know their fathers, we can know what pleases and blesses Him. “Seeing” God suggests that we, through the lens of His revelation to us, know His ways and do His will. Knowing God means reveling in what glorifies and honors Him. This happens through relationship with Jesus, “the exact representation of [God’s] being (Hebrews 1:3). Total identification with Christ is the only way to see God (see John 14:4-14).

We must  nderstand that God is inherently and totally holy; therefore, a relationship and fellowship with Him requires righteousness. Given our lost and condemned state, how do we find moral purity? Well, we know that it comes not through shallow religious performance or self-effort. Instead, the beginning point requires that we receive a purity not our own. That comes only through faith in Jesus, the one who “was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Only God’s sovereign gift of grace through faith in Jesus allows us to see and know the Lord (Ephesians 2:8-9). Throughout His life Christ remained blameless. In His death, His righteousness could be imputed (meaning “declared as” or “counted toward”), to those “under wrath and without hope” (see Ephesians 2:1-3, 12). Faith in Him and in His completed work lay the foundation of any hope of purity before God.

Seeing and knowing God defines the pinnacle of our existence. The sovereign Lord of the universe desires that we know and worship Him! What truth could prove more life-transforming? Attaining intimacy with our Creator should be the highest pursuit of man, but we must recognize that getting to know our Lord
requires purity of heart. The Lord desires purity from His people. Sincerity, genuineness, and a lack of hypocrisy should characterize the attitudes and actions
of His followers. Jesus’ Jewish audience certainly understood the concept of purity. Ceremonial cleansing played a significant role in their worship. Many listeners were also familiar with the notion of internal purity: In Psalm 51:10, hundreds of years before Christ’s incarnation, King David asked God to “Create in [him] a pure heart.” Unfortunately, by the time Jesus delivered His sermon, the Jewish religion focused more on outward or ceremonial cleanliness than the
condition of their hearts. King Jesus, however, emphasized inward and moral purity. He said that our hearts, not just our physical actions, must be pure in
order to see and know God.

More than once Jesus addressed the disturbing religious trend of calculating righteousness from an external viewpoint. To the holiest men of His day He said, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). In His most scathing indictment of their shallow and performance-oriented religion He declared:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. … Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”   (Matthew 23:23-24, 27-28). 

Outward obedience, no matter how pious it may appear, does not satisfy the righteous demands of God. The Lord wants our thoughts and motives centered on
things pleasing to Him. Followers of Jesus, this different kind of King, should enjoy transformed hearts and minds that affect the way they act and speak. They
should maintain an internal purity that compels them to a life of total obedience, not just outward performance. Without purity and sincerity of heart, our religious “deeds” are meaningless. Ritualistic religion, without true cleanliness of heart, equals empty hypocrisy.

Pure vessels are more easily filled by God; the cleaner the lens of our heart, the more we sense His presence and power in us. The more we become like Jesus—pure in heart—the more we know and experience Him. If we want to see God in the fullest sense, if we want to enjoy dynamic fellowship with Him, we need
to allow Him to transform our hearts and the way we live. The Apostle Paul said, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being
transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Jesus declares His followers
righteous. Let’s love Him through sincere, God-pleasing attitudes and actions that bring glory to the Father.

Apply It.

Read Isaiah 6:1-6. Meditate on Isaiah’s glimpse of God and His glory. How does knowing God impact you? How do you react when you experience fellowship
with your Savior? Ask God for a pure heart and a life that pleases 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!

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was
to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”
(Romans 3:21-26).

OK, you might not agree with this title. After all, the prevailing thought of our culture (and Rob Bell) is that God’s love trumps His justice. Truly there is a divine paradox here but we are talking about God. It’s not as if He can’t have both the attributes of love and wrath in equal measure. Jesus Himself was said to be, in a similar sense, both completely full of grace and truth (John 1:17). I would suggest that the attributes of love and wrath are not contradictory (to the human mind, maybe) nor one takes precedence over the other – especially given the incomprehensible nature of an infinite being that entails what the very idea of “God” means. Furthermore, I would actually suggest they compliment each other in perfect harmony. Let me explain.

God is holy. He must punish sin. This is His justice and is a demonstration of His love for Himself and His righteous standard. God is angry with us because of our sin (see Ephesians 2:3, John 3:36, Romans 2:5, 8). God’s wrath is not just the natural fallout from sin but is His determined disposition diametrically opposed to unrighteousness. Scripture portrays Him as angry with us because of sin (Romans. 1:18-32). God’s wrath is personal. His anger is not some impersonal force that works itself naturally like “bad karma.”  The curse on the human race is purposeful and judicial. Our sin and disobedience is an offense to a holy and righteous God. Because of His faithfulness to Himself, justice must be served. God punishes sin and His wrath against it must be appeased.

Enter the doctrine of propitiation (a word excluded from many modern translations as “too theological”). Propitiation means to appease or avert divine wrath. And how is God’s anger pacified (a synonym for propitiation)?  By the death of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus takes upon himself the sin of His people and experiences the punishment that we so rightly deserve (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 1 Peter 1:18-21, 2:21-25). This was all foreshadowed in the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant and those various sacrifices gained their efficacy from Christ’s own death (see Hebrews 9:11-10:18). New Testament passages that show that the appeasement of God’s anger toward sin was accomplished through the propitiation provided in Christ (God’s wrath against sin being poured out on Him and not us) include: Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:1-2, 4:10.

In other words, sin is serious and forgiveness is costly. God is angry and can’t just “wink” at our sins without offending his holiness, righteousness, and justice. Sin must be atoned for. Sin is atoned for by means of God’s son, Jesus Christ, taking our place and bearing the punishment for our sins and thereby averting/appeasing God’s wrath. Our salvation was obtained at the costly price of our dear Savior and Lord’s life! Jesus was cursed for us. Jesus provided our justification. We are justified by union with Christ by grace through faith. Here we are reminded of the lengths to which God will go to rescue us from his own holy wrath. He did this by putting his Son in our place so that he could be both just (consistent with his own holy nature) and also the justifier of the ungodly. We see that only in the cross of Christ have we been rescued from the condemnation we deserve because of sin. Jesus’ sacrificial provision is our own justification as we trust in Him by faith.

Now this may seem like a bunch of theological mumbo jumbo; much of which was “borrowed” from this excellent resource –
So let me try to make this idea of God demonstrating His love through His wrath as clear as possible. Simply think of Calvary. There God poured out His anger against sin on His blameless Son for us. Can you think of any more loving act?  No, it is not, as some heretics have suggested, cosmic child abuse. At the cross God’s justice was satisfied and we were justified base upon His infinitely loving grace. God showed His love for us by satisfying His own justice, appeasing His wrath in the person of Jesus and not us. What love! Unfathomable, agape love that is demonstrated by God’s propitiation of His wrath for Himself and His chosen.

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Six- The Mercy Experience

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Often life seems merciless. Our days require constant work, whether we feel ill or well. Hunger gnaws, whether or not we have the means to buy food. And unfortunate circumstances and death happen, whether or not we toe a moral line. The relentless cycle of life, with its challenges and struggles, leads some to adopt a Scrooge-like sense of self preservation that routinely exalts itself over the needs of others. Unfortunately, this survival of the fittest, do-whatever-it-takes to come-out-on-top mentality has made the notion of extending mercy appear a sign of weakness. An old-fashioned idea that makes you vulnerable to manipulators.

When Jesus explained, in Matthew 5:7, that the merciful will receive mercy, He highlighted once more how different the lives of kingdom dwellers should seem when compared to the world’s ideals. In the days leading up to Christ’s delivery of this sermon, Jewish law made the stoning of an adulterer acceptable, though those who’d mete out the punishment were no less “sinful” than the one receiving it. Furthermore, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day was under Roman rule. Rome prided itself on merciless advancement. They routinely crucified those who questioned their ways, determined to wipe out any resistance. Mercy was not a widely embraced concept in either Jerusalem or Rome at large. In ancient times, too, mercy was often dismissed as an Achilles heel.

The Greek word translated “mercy” in this passage essentially speaks to situations of need, pain, and distress that will go unalleviated unless someone steps in with an offer of compassion.[i] That intervention, an undeserved act that relieves a need, defines mercy. It lifts a burden. It pays a debt that its beneficiary cannot pay. We best understand the concept in light of what God did for us. Because of sin, humanity remains hopelessly separated from holy God. Between us stands a moral debt that we cannot settle: we deserve only His wrath and condemnation (see Romans 5:13-21). Yet out of love for us, God sent His only Son to die as a sacrifice that would cover the sin debt of all who believe in Him.

The mercy extended to us through Christ’s offer of salvation and the incredible way that God sustains us reveal how God lovingly withholds from His chosen what we truly deserve. It reveals a divine attribute that the world finds surprising. Our holy ruler and judge exhibits love and grace towards us by removing us from the eternal consequences of our sin. It makes sense, then, that those who serve Him would choose to project to others the merciful attitude their King first extended to them. We can better identify with Christ and more fully understand His design for His kingdom when we choose to display His mercy. As we show unmerited kindness, we’ll find supernatural satisfaction.

In my own experience, too much negative introspection, self-pity, and self-absorption trigger discouragement and depression. When I find myself in such a state I need to “get outside of myself” and practice acts of kindness and mercy. Such was the case when I decided to start a Bible study at a local nursing home. Although I felt saddened by the circumstances of the attendees, I found my spirits lifted with each visit. As the elderly men and women began to depend on me for instruction from God’s Word and simple caring, I received the blessing of a renewed heart. The thoughts that clouded my perceptions crumbled, and I increasingly sensed Jesus’ movement in my attitude and life. The more I ministered to those nursing home residents, the more Jesus ministered to me.

As this story suggests, mercy goes beyond feeling concerned for people. The language of Matthew 5 implies that merciful people actually do something to alleviate dire circumstances. This verse suggests extending relief, healing, and helping whether the recipient proves worthy or not. Interestingly, mercy in action is a clear symbol to those outside of God’s kingdom: Someone out there is willing to extend unmerited favor. As Jesus’ disciples show mercy, we project a unique sense of God’s favor and the joy and blessing He brings. Demonstrating mercy shows that we live as examples of what He has done for us.

In Matthew 6 Jesus says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). Clearly, God expects the forgiven and aided to pass the blessings on to others. This does not mean that we must earn God’s mercy by being merciful. Instead, when we reflect the mercy God first demonstrated to us through Christ, we gain a heightened sense of the benevolence He shows us. For example, the more I give, forgive, and show mercy, the more I grow aware of the gifts that God graciously showers on me. Kindness to others simultaneously gains for us a greater knowledge and experience of God’s mercy in our own lives.

These days the weak and needy are often overlooked and abandoned as people seek after personal pleasure and ease. Many corporations give only for the purpose of gaining tax breaks, and they often avoid causes that won’t make the news. Charity giving dwindles as families spend more on their personal desires and set aside less for the needs of others. Even some churches have become more myopic, focusing their budgets around scrapbooking seminars and elaborate sound systems instead of meeting the more pressing needs of the hurting and pained people who live nearby. We must remember that our King loves benevolence. He desires that the Jesus follower’s life be defined by giving and forgiving—ideas often diametrically opposed to the philosophy of our culture.

Various actions exhibit mercy. At times, extending mercy requires that we offer forgiveness, even to those who wound, wrong, and malign us (see Matthew 5:44). In those instances we can choose to image forth the forgiveness and grace of our loving Lord, even though we may feel our “enemies” deserve our vengeance. Sometimes, as in the case in the parable of the Good Samaritan, mercy means providing assistance to someone we do not know (see Luke 10:30-37). Perhaps it requires making and delivering a meal. Maybe it means giving towards the medical bills of a family facing tragedy. Even personal involvement in local and foreign missions is an example of mercy as we seek to help spread the message of God’s saving grace. But whether extending kindness and generosity towards needy friends, strangers, neighbors, co-workers, or other believers who fall on difficulty, we show mercy as we meet needs and offer aid without thought of reciprocation. In all instances, merciful acts evidence that we understand the undeserved kindness God extends.

Apply It.

Read and internalize Matthew 25:35-45. Grasp the significance Jesus places on showing mercy to the undeserving and down-and-out. Who in your life could use some mercy, some help, or just a friend? Pray that God might raise your “spiritual antenna” to help you sense opportunities to serve. He’ll provide you the power to act in those situations.

[i] Lenski, R.C. H. Interpretation of St. Matthews Gospel (Augsburg, 1964), 191.

*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!

Do you ever wonder what the voice of God sounds like? Usually it’s depicted as thunderous and reverberating. Or we hear the Hollywood voice of Charlton Heston ring in our ears. No matter what we imagine, we can’t begin to capture the power, purity, and beauty of it. After all, it is the voice that spoke the vast universe with all of its majesty and complexity into being with just the poof of its breath (Psalm 33:6). Amazing!

The voice of God is difficult enough to wrap our minds around. His speaking voice, that is. But what about His singing voice? In spite of what is portrayed in church Christmas and Easter pageants, the Bible never mentions angels singing. God, however, is. And, in a most amazing thought, He is singing to us! We may have a vision of an out-of-this-world angelic choir but this is God doing a solo. Can we imagine? Absolutely not! But it’s true. Check out Zephaniah 3:17 in the ESV (my preferred version): “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Can we possibly imagine God our Creator taking such delight in His creation?! And yet this verse goes so far as to say that His joy in us will make Him sing!

I have heard beautiful singing. Unfortunately, it absolutely did not come from me. Think of the greatest voices you have heard – Sandi Patti, George Beverly Shea are just some examples for us Christians. Consider the greatest opera stars, like Pavarotti, that have ever performed. Or close your eyes and hear a massive choir of top-notch vocalists sing Handel’s Messiah and the thrill of “The Hallelujah Chorus” – and then multiply that to the nth degree. I’m sure we can all identify with the way we were transported when these great talents (whomever you have in mind) began to sing. It seems, at times, as if we are moved to some other place, some other universe as the melodic waves of their vibrato wash over us. But they are not the voice of God. Not even close!

We know that we are commanded to sing. We are told to sing encouragement to each other (Ephesians 5:19) and we are told to sing praise to God (Colossians 3:16).* And that is beautiful, a truly meaningful part of corporate worship. In corporate praise, nothing stirs me more than when the worship leader and the instruments go silent and, with an a cappella unison, God’s children edify each other and exalt our Lord simultaneously by ringing out our songs of adoration. Glorious, right? But this is still not the voice of God singing. Not even close!

Back to Zephaniah 3:17. What is even more amazing than the yet unknown tone of God’s vocals is what He has in mind as He literally “sings over us.” Clearly, He does all things for His own glory and the byproduct of His self-centered (Yes, you read that correctly. You might want to read chapter 6 of David Platt’s new book Radical Together. That chapter is entitled, The God Who Exalts God: We are Selfless Followers of a Self-Centered God.) pursuit of that glory is our eternal good and our unspeakable joy. Not to dive too deeply into the concept that God pursuing His own glory is the most loving thing He can do for us, His children, let’s see what Zephaniah says His singing to us involves.

According to this verse God sings to us:

  • because He is a saving God that dwells with (in) His people.
  • to acknowledge that glorifying Himself by saving us brings Him great joy.
  • to show His compassion towards us brings us peace. A peace with Him and a peace within that defies worldly understanding (Philippians 4:17).
  • because He is glorified in what He has done for us. Therefore He exults (to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy or delight – see Psalm 16:3) over uswith loud (I love that) singing.

This is the love of God for His own. A people that He has chosen, redeemed, and secured for Himself in Christ. His children that He sings over with a voice we can’t begin to fathom, with a divine melody that defies description. It is an infinitely loving lullaby that, I believe, will have Jesus central in the lyrics. This chorus of His passion for us has already begun even though, in the present, we tend to hear Him in that still, small whisper (1 Kings 19:9-13). But one day God’s amplified voice will resonate and echo throughout His entire creation as He sings to us this supernatural love song. From the very mouth of God a thunderous anthem of His indescribable gladness in us will rise with an ever-increasing, infinite crescendo of cosmic delight. It may be as faint as a whisper now but it is so very real. And one day every corner of the universe will hear the heavenly notes of this joyous, agape-saturated serenade trumpeting His love for us.

*This is dedicated to my friend Shaun Ljunggren – may you forever sing God’s praises!

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Five- Desiring Righteousness Brings Satisfaction

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

The first four beatitudes follow a logical progression: Conviction leads to confession which leads to repentance. These postures, when progressively combined, compel us to seek after what we cannot attain, the righteousness that comes only through the Lord! In Matthew 5:3, “the poor in spirit”—those who acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy before holy God—are positioned to receive entry into “the kingdom of heaven.” As they are confronted with the holy demands of God, they characteristically mourn over their sinfulness. Doing so allows them to enter into the type of humble state, or meekness, that’s required of those who will inherit God’s kingdom. When a person experiences this reality, he or she gains the key to happiness: the ability and incentive to pursue a godly life.

When His people get hungry and thirsty for His righteousness, God promises to satisfy their cravings and to bless them! Often that blessing comes in the form of joy. But humanity seeks carnal happiness instead. Sadly, we routinely grasp for contentment through pleasure, possessions, accumulation, relationships, climbing the ladder at work, and carving out a pain-free and comfortable life—none of which offer the joy and long-term satisfaction we crave. Real satisfaction and contentment remain elusive. Why? Because we won’t find happiness in the temporal and the tangible: we need a relationship with God that’s both spiritual and eternal. The idea that we can have happiness without holiness proves a fatal flaw. Jesus, in His Sermon on the Mount, clearly taught that true contentment comes from the pursuit of righteousness.

“Righteousness” in this passage speaks of a personal and practical standard of holy living that projects both the King (Jesus) and the type of ideals and principles on which His kingdom is founded. Humanity finds “blessing”—true joy and fulfillment—when they relentlessly pursue a life that reflects Christ. Living in moral uprightness and demonstrating faith through it leads to Christ-imitating growth, to contentment, to a blessed and purposeful existence. Poverty of spirit, brokenness, humility, and the pursuit of righteousness prove essential steps in attaining joy and in living in a manner worthy of the God who invited us to share in His kingdom.

At one time I got caught up in the world’s definition of success. I wanted the so-called American Dream: grow up, get an education, get a good job, marry your sweetheart, buy a house, have some children, climb the corporate ladder, buy a bigger house, have some grandkids, and then retire to the beach or golf course. But in spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t find deep-rooted satisfaction on that path. Once I began to pursue God and His righteousness, however, I realized that true contentment derives more from His description of holiness than our culture’s definition of success. In other words, when I hunger and thirst after Him I find a better way to live.

Though the notion completely clashes with popular secular belief, holiness—moral integrity— is a fundamental prescription for true happiness. Without Christ, a life of holiness can’t happen. When, however, we pursue righteousness-giving Jesus, He empowers us to live the holy lives that reflect the joy we find in Him. Through Jesus we can live rightly. As we do, we find the consummation of holiness and happiness in Christ. Through Jesus we are blessed with every spiritual blessing (see Ephesians 1:3).

A hunger and thirst for righteousness, a desperate desire to know right and to live uprightly, defines a fundamental ambition of God’s kingdom dwellers. While those without relationship with Jesus understandably pursue the things of this world as a means to fulfillment, believers find satisfaction in the righteousness that only comes through Christ. Those who follow Jesus should seek the spiritual and not the material, knowing that living the type of godly life Christ requires provides the only means to satisfying our thirsty souls. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). He has promised to fill those famished for Him, those who pursue His timeless righteousness over the latest thrill.

The desire for holy living and the joy it brings rise out of a passionate pursuit of the Lord. It flows instinctively out of our love for God and our gratitude for what He does for us. When Christ died for our sins, He justified those who would come to faith in God through Him. That means that He made us just as if we never sinned. This justification of sins and resulting positional righteousness before God through faith in the atoning work of Christ should create in us the desire to live free from sin. The desire to do right.

“Be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord,” the writer of Hebrews said (Hebrews 12:14). As we routinely ponder what Christ has done for us, we’ll desire no part of anything which would hinder our relationship with Christ or injure our ability to demonstrate His love. Let’s make it our passion to honor the Lord through every thought, word, and action.

Apply It.

Consider your life goals and daily priorities. Analyze your prayer life. How well do you integrate the pursuit of righteousness? Memorize Ephesians 4:22-24 and ask God to empower you to seek His holiness and to experience His joy in that pursuit.

*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!

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