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*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Thirteen – Guarding Our Thoughts

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell ou that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus continues to explain that our thoughts and motives—not just our physical actions—reveal the purity of our hearts. Christ spoke against lust in a time when the accepted religious stance on the subject was something like this: “if you don’t commit the act, you commit no sin.” This
idea, however, found no support in the Lord’s sermon. Jesus taught that a person who considers having sexual contact with another stands equally as
guilty as one who engages in the act. Morality, then, is weighed not in whether a person sleeps with his or her neighbor’s spouse, but in whether or not he or
she considers it!

Throughout the course of my ministry I’ve been shocked by how many professing Christians fall into the pitfalls that accompany lust. Through the media, fueled by the moral decline of our so-called progressive culture and the advance of technology, we are bombarded with sexually explicit images and messages. No one is immune to this danger. I have counseled many folks, male and female, including a disproportionate number of ordained ministers, who have fallen victim to this world’s sexual lure. Given what these experiences taught me about the serious and lingering consequences of succumbing to sexual temptation, we dare not consider these things harmless. The opportunity to fall is ever present. Once we surrender to the “lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16), the potential damage is immeasurable.

Some argue that allowing an inappropriate gaze to linger on a person of the opposite sex proves innocent, but Christ warns that we must control our physical urges and give up fleshly desires to follow Him. This is not a declaration against the natural process of attraction between men and women. Passion within a marriage relationship is God’s gift—part of the beautiful way He wired us; furthermore, the Bible offers no prohibition against attractiveness or appreciating beauty. We should, however, stand in constant vigil against misdirected desires and intentional seduction outside covenant relationship. Why? Because just as we can murder with our words and attitudes, we can commit adultery with our thoughts. Indeed, roving eyes lead us astray.

Righteousness requires more than external obedience. Kingdom living requires a purity of life that transcends perfunctory duty. Believers must constantly weigh themselves against God’s Word, seeking the conviction and guidance of His Spirit. God wants us to protect our purity by guarding our hearts: Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” We need the Lord’s power to control our sinful human nature, to guard ourselves as He desires.

Some scoff at Jesus’ advice to overcome lust: the suggestion of self-injury sounds unappealing and perhaps even life-threatening. But we must understand that this radical saying reflects hyperbole, a scholarly tool that exaggerates in order to make a point. In Matthew 5 Jesus calls not for literal maiming or physical mutilation but for decisive action that will lead to the cleansing of our hearts. He asks us to practice spiritual modification, a process often referred to as spiritual mortification.

The doctrine of the mortification of sin is found in numerous New Testament writings (see Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). It refers to the intentional practice of refusing to do things that displease God or put us in jeopardy of impurity. It amplifies Jesus’ teaching, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34) and promotes a lifestyle of purposeful self-denial. Galatians 5:24 restates the idea this way: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” As both Christ and Paul taught, we must do whatever it takes to avoid sin and to embrace God’s ways.

Jesus explained that if we know that the things we view will tempt us to sin, we shouldn’t look! Similarly, if doing something puts us at risk of a spiritual fall, we should stop! All of this may sound rather rudimentary, but this type of godly discipline is rarely promoted. Both hearing and practicing these principles may at first feel uncomfortable, but they will help guard our hearts against Satan’s devices and protect us from sins that cause broken fellowship with our righteous Savior. We cannot enjoy rich, intimate fellowship with Jesus when our minds are in the gutter! This is why we are commanded to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Kingdom living requires us to look beyond the external and focus on the attitudes of our hearts and minds. This proves important not only in avoiding sexual immorality but in sidestepping any worldly craving or desire that fails to honor God (see 1 John 2:16).We must diligently and practically distance ourselves from those things that would dishonor our King! Those who desire to live under the dominion and lordship of Jesus are called to deny fleshly urges. As Oswald Chambers said, “The only right Christians have is the right to give up our rights!”[i] Amazingly, when we give up our “rights” and submit to Christ’s rule over us we experience the fullness and richness of life that only He can bring. This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “How much more should we submit to the Father  of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9).

Apply It.

Read Matthew 18:8-9. Here Jesus explains that if our feet cause us to sin, we should go without: we must avoid going anywhere that might lead us to sin. Consider temptations you face. What should you stop viewing, what might you cease doing, or where should you stop going to protect your relationship with
God?


[i] Chambers, Oswald. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Discovery House Publishers, 1995), 32.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

In our Life Group we were studying this passage – probably the best known in all of Scripture. The study breaks down this verse by its critical components: God loved, God gave, we believe, and we live. If this sounds familiar, it is based upon Max Lucado’s 3:16: Numbers of Hope guide. Although admittedly not a huge Lucado fan, the lessons stimulated some lively discussion. And rightly so: this verse is pregnant with meaning often overlooked because we are so familiar with it. The 4th session turned to the word “believe” found in this powerful text.

What doe the word “believe” here mean? Unfortunately, there are masses that simplistically interpret this word as a mere acknowledgement of Jesus, that the phrase “believe in Him” suggests mere intellectual assent and nothing more. But the Greek word used here, and is often translated “faith” in many biblical texts, is much richer than that. Here are a couple of examples of the depth of the word pisteuo:

“To be persuaded, therefore to place one’s confidence and trust, signifies reliance upon and not mere credence” – Vine’s Dictionary.

Lexicographer J. H. Thayer, an authority on the Greek New Testament, defines pisteuo as being, “used especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus, i.e. a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah – the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ” (Greek-English Lexicon, T. & T. Clark, 1958, p. 511).

The point of our discussion was that a misunderstanding of what “believe” means is dangerous in our efforts to evangelize, employing the full truth of the Gospel, and detrimental to our walk with God. The word “believe” here clearly indicates something more potent than “head knowledge.” The faith that saves is one of not only placing our hope in Christ alone for our redemption but also one that bows to His lordship. It is dynamic, transformational, and dependant upon Him for our salvation and our sanctification. It is a trust that produces a desire to be obedient to Christ and is compelled by a holistic surrender to who He is and all that entails. The “believe in Him” of John 3:16 changes our hearts because He has changed our minds (repented) about who and what He is. Romans 10:8-10 clarifies this: “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that we are saved based on anything beyond faith. But saving faith changes us. This type of belief is the kind of trust and surrender that inherently alters who we are. Why? Because this faith is the conduit that accesses God’s grace, produces redemption, unites us with Christ, summons the indwelling presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit, and secures our eternal destiny. This faith is a gift from God that triggers all of the promise and provision of God that is found “in Him [Christ].” As Paul shared in Romans: “…Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as  righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (4:3-5). And this is so that God, and God alone, gets the glory for this miracle of new birth and everlasting life that “believe in Him” secures.

Although this righteousness (salvation) is a gift (just like faith itself is a gift, as you will see in the next  scripture passage quoted), it is a gift that radically alters those who experience it. It is a heart makeover that redirects every aspect of our being. This is aptly tied together by Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works,so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:8-10).

So, is this the kind of belief that we possess? Is this the kind of belief that we proclaim as the true gospel? Or have we, in our personal lives or our proclamation of the message of eternal life, watered down “belief” into some kind of clinical acknowledgment of God that doesn’t necessarily change us from the inside out? It’s worth pondering – eternal destinies hang in the balance.


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twelve – The Dangerous Consequences of Anger

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something
against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Settle matters quickly with
your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you
over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny”
(Matthew 5:21-26).

In Matthew 5:21 Jesus begins to systematically contradict secular wisdom with godly wisdom. Six times throughout the chapter He uses the preface, “you have heard that it was said … but…,” to introduce the new laws of His kingdom, laws revised to show the transforming power of the work He accomplished. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, believers receive not just the promise of Heaven but the ability to live abundantly and to love fully. In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ raises the bar on good behavior, showing us that we are responsible not for just our actions and words but for the thoughts
and motivations behind them.

I find it interesting that Christ chooses to first focus on the subject of anger. While Ephesians 4:26 suggests that anger alone is not a sin and the fact that Christ was sometimes angry supports the idea, wrath and its fallout encompass an all too common problem in our world. Even professing believers struggle with anger towards others. A friend, Tina, was eaten up by anger. She had endured numerous disappointing relationships with close friends, her ex-husband, co-workers, and even her parents. “My anger is killing me,” she admitted with tears in her eyes. Over the years her animosity festered until it affected every aspect of her life. She grew depressed, detached, and physically ill. After years of suppressed rage, she ended her own life. Each time Tina’s face comes to mind, I remember the importance of dealing with anger quickly and completely.

Jesus blessed those who promote peace, but He knew that conflict and persecution would come to those who follow Him. While Christ calls us to pursue
righteousness in a world filled with anger and even murder, the injustices heaped on us and those we love may tempt us to follow suit. But we must understand that while righteous indignation has a place, retaliation does not. The Bible does not prohibit killing of every kind: capital punishment, war, and self-defense are allowable. Murder, however, is never acceptable. From Christ’s perspective, anger nursed into unforgiveness equals murder.

Jesus took exception too with one tendency that often goes hand-in-hand with anger: casting doubt on someone’s value or inherent worth. The word raca, or “fool” often meant “empty.” It conveys the idea that someone is so worthless that they should get off the planet. Perhaps we understand this best through the modern phrase, “go to hell.” Taking this approach suggests that we desire an individual dead. Such an attitude, Christ taught, actually puts us in danger of the very thing we think they should face: the fire of hell. Hateful thoughts, attitudes, and insults put us in grave danger. Not just saying cruel, demeaning things but also thinking them puts us in jeopardy. God sees the attitude behind anger as tantamount to murder!

Out of control anger reflects a spiritual issue and a matter of the heart. Jesus indicates that it can create barriers between us and God as well as between us and others. These barriers pack severe consequences. For this reason, Jesus taught that anger should be resolved proactively and quickly. For example, issues with a brother must be settled before we worship and before they lead to unfortunate fallout. As we “settle matters quickly,” we remove the attitude behind anger and drain it of power. A believer must neither let anger dominate nor allow it room to damage relationships.

So often we allow anger towards others to smolder, shrinking and even killing our spiritual vitality. We often fail to heed Jesus’ cry for immediate action—an order that could restore relationships and put us in a better standing before God and man. Our great enemy in seeking to follow His will on the subject is pride. Kingdom living requires that we demonstrate character traits diametrically opposed to pride. Christ’s model of humility compels us to deal with our anger and to resolve lingering conflicts. We serve a righteous judge. He does not want us overly concerned with who is right or wrong in a matter; instead, He wants us to choose to do the right thing in every situation.

Unresolved animosity carries a steep price tag. The angry heart suffers more than the object of its fury. I have never met an angry person who I would consider “blessed” or content; in truth, living with a wrathful attitude proves its own kind of judgment and prison. We do not experience the fullness of God’s kingdom in us or live out the pure and profound principles of His kingdom with a heart filled with enmity. We must deal with anger quickly and completely through humility, repentance, and forgiveness. Only then will we find ourselves restored to a greater sense of favor with both our fellow man and our King.

Apply It.

Read Hebrews 12:15. Think about a time that your anger turned into bitterness. Journal about how you moved passed it to embrace the freedom Christ offers. If you currently struggle with anger, meditate on First Peter 5:6-11. Ask God to take away negative thoughts and feelings. Pray that He lifts you up and gives you the grace to cope.

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran” (Genesis 12:1-4).

Most of us want to know where we are going. Although, from what I see of Tennessee drivers, many don’t. Nonetheless, we have MapQuest, GPS, and various navigation systems. Every time I play golf I’m amazed at the number of folks pulling out electronic devices just to gather data about the hole so that they can better determine where they want their ball to go when they hit it (Of course, this is mere foolishness – the ball never goes where you want it to, even if you
have exact yardage and direction in mind).

And the older we get the more we tend to want to know where we are headed. We think about careers, retirement, vacations, and a variety of other life issues and want a map. Or, at least, our course marked. But here is Abram at 75 years of age. And God says, “Get up and go.” “Where” would be the natural response but there is no hint of that from him. God said go and I’m going was his attitude. Unlike Abram, we probably couldn’t keep ourselves from inquiring “Where though?” God’s potential response: “To a land that I will show you.” Now how do like them apples? Not my cup of tea at all. I’m thinking, Lord, I want to know where you are sending me or at least a map or markers. Tell me something. Don’t just say go and expect me to wander off into the desert with my family having no more information than that. Where’s my GPS?!

But Abram went without all the details. And aren’t we glad he did. For through his obedience a nation was born: he was blessed, his family was blessed, the world was blessed, and Christ-followers, as the spiritual Israel, are particularly blessed. By trusting in God, Abraham, as he was later called, believed in things unknown and was motivated by things unseen. He left his house and found a home, fled his country and found an eternal city, abandoned his land and
found his Lord. This is faith and this is what it does. It doesn’t have a map; it has a merciful Master. No well-marked course; but a compassionate Christ.

Some excerpts from the writer of Hebrews discourse on faith should shed some light on all of this:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible… And without faith it is
impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him…. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God”
(Hebrews 11:1-10).

The passage goes on to repeat the key phrase “by faith” 22 times in Hebrews 11 alone. Do you think the writer was trying to tell us something? He’s telling us that the “righteous live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4). Well then, how about them apples? God’s Word is a megaphone shouting that faith is not just part of the way we live but the only way we live – faith in Christ to save and faith in God to guide. When was the last time, trusting only in the compulsion of God’s Spirit and the truths of Scripture, did we journey to the land of promise and blessing, the land that, “[He] will show [us]?”

The typical retort is, “He hasn’t told me to. I haven’t even heard His voice?” But why hasn’t He told us and why haven’t we heard His voice? True, it could be that God doesn’t have some radical move planned for us (except a radical following of Jesus). But it could be that He does and we don’t hear because we aren’t open, we aren’t listening; we aren’t even open to listening. Or it could be (note to self) we have listened and heard but don’t have the faith to step out and totally trust God without all the details. In other words, living with saving faith – the kind of trust we placed in Christ when we asked Him to receive us as one of His own, even without all of the directions.


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eleven – The Source of Righteousness

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I  have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke  of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and  teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,  but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the  kingdom of heaven. 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 5:17-20).

When faced with the awesome and noble task of living as salt and light, I  can easily fall into the trap of thinking I’ve arrived. That I’m a better Christian than so-in-so. That I no longer need improvement. In truth, however,  I along with every other believer travel a journey towards perfection: we’ll not achieve it until we breathe our last. Anything good in me—anything good in any Christ-follower—comes not through our righteousness, but the Lord’s. Our best efforts, no matter how sincere, are always as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

The unvarnished truth? No one is righteous. Nothing about us and nothing generated on our own merit is good (Romans 3:10-11). Though the Pharisees and
devout people of Christ’s day sought holiness through ritual and ceremony and adherence to laws, Christ taught that their efforts were worthless. “Unless
your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees,” He said, “you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” But since righteousness proves a foundational need in participating in God’s kingdom and honoring His kingship, we must understand how one achieves it. We must grasp that the righteousness of Christ provides our only hope in satisfying the demands of holy God.

The writer of Hebrews sheds light on Christ’s role:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Before Christ came to earth in human form, mankind had only one avenue toward pleasing God: keeping the Old Covenant law given by God to the nation of
Israel. This set of rules, which included much more than the Ten Commandments, served as the yardstick by which God measured the love and obedience of His people. James 2:10 clarifies that in order to live as holy a life as God required people must keep all of the law. Not surprisingly, this standard proved too high and the people failed. No religious rituals could bring them acceptance before God who demanded perfect obedience; they desperately needed a Messiah, or a Savior from their sins (see Hebrews 10:1-9).

When Jesus gave His life on the cross, He completely fulfilled the perfect law that humans prove incapable of keeping. While God might have chosen to do away with His righteous demands regarding idol worship, lying, murdering, and committing adultery, He chose not to abolish them. Instead, He had Jesus fulfill the holy dictates; in doing so, God accomplished the obedience necessary to satisfy His own demands and plans. In a sense, God modified the original law, making it richer and deeper and giving it a new and enhanced meaning. In a real and profound sense, Jesus became the New Covenant law of God. Through the person, teaching, and finished work of Christ, we see the completion of all the Old Testament’s revealed teaching, ethical precepts, and prophecy. In Jesus we see the implementation of a New Covenant between God and humanity. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all who believe in Him can embrace the good news. The unchanging law of God was fulfilled in Christ. Those who believe in and receive Him by faith are declared righteous. This is our salvation!

Unlike the showy ways that the Pharisees and teachers of the law chose to obey the Old Covenant, obedience from the heart proves a requirement in keeping
the new one. Living out kingdom principles projects a different kind of personal obedience. The outward and shallow form of righteousness found in ritualistic religion doesn’t work. God requires inwardly prompted righteousness of mind and motive compelled by a transformed heart. This kind of obedience surpasses the religion of the Pharisees and typifies those who belong to God’s kingdom. Astonishingly, the Old Testament prophets predicted this new type of obedience long before Christ’s birth: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). And in Ezekiel 36:27, people were given a clue as to how this would happen, “[God] will put [his] Spirit in you and move you to follow [his] decrees and be careful to keep [his] laws.”

Jesus calls us not only to obedience but to a deeper heart-righteousness that has external manifestations. In John 3:3, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Truly, we cannot achieve true righteousness without first surrendering to Christ. After that, we receive indwelling power that comes through the Holy Spirit. Kingdom living necessitates a radical righteousness that comes only through the God Himself. In order to see the righteous demands of God’s kingdom fulfilled in us, we must look to Jesus and rely on His Holy Spirit.

Apply It.

Meditate on Second Corinthians 5:21 and John 1:29. Righteousness comes only from Christ. Consider why you obey God’s Word. Do you do so to justify yourself before God or to show loving and thankful acknowledgement that He is worthy of your submission? Ask God to reveal any self-righteousness and to give you an obedient heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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


I always dreaded the first day of classes but it wasn’t because I didn’t like school. After all, I thought school was more about playing around than preparing for life. Because my last name starts with a “W” I was usually forced to sit in the back of the class (when I wasn’t being put in the corner). This, because of having poor eyesight from a very early age, made it difficult to see the blackboard (I know, I’m so old we had real chalk and rectangular erasers also). The good news is this was a perfect excuse for my miniscule GPA.

But that wasn’t the worst part: It was the roll call I loathed. I knew what was going to happen. I was going to be one of the last names called. I would have napped until they got to me except for the impending embarrassment. “Linda Wolfe?” With many years of practice, I had my response down pat. I cleared my throat, summoned up my deepest bass voice and firmly (and sometimes sarcastically) replied, “Here! And my name is LINDEN Wolfe.” No wonder I struggled in school – it seems as if most of my teachers and professors had a reading disability (To all my wonderful academic mentors: This is an attempt at humor. And please don’t criticize my grammar and syntax – I continue to blame you for that.). But alas, this problem has persisted for my entire life. Rarely do folks pronounce my name right, never mind spell it correctly.

Simply said, this means I’m scarred for life and have a built-in excuse for all of my under-achievement and bad behavior. Except for the fact that one person got my name right. God did! Ponder the miracle of this from the lips of the prophet Isaiah:

“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:1-7).

And who is this Lord, this Holy One of Israel, your Savior? Jesus! Inhale these comforting words from His lips:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee
from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers”
(John 10:1-5).

What grace! What mercy! Because God loved me He sent a Sheppard (who was also the spotless Lamb of God) to find this lost sheep. He called me by name and His Spirit prompted me to listen. Jesus has made me His own. He has made me one of His flock yet I am not nameless to Him. It’s personal. So personal that He wrote my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life from the foundation of the world (see Revelation 17:8; 21:27). My name and the names of all His redeemed sheep. Beyond that, according to Isaiah, He gives us His name for His own glory! Amazing! He calls us by name and then gives us His name. We are adopted by the great Sheppard into the flock of God. Now and forever.

This is why I no longer dread roll call. Just the opposite. Because He has called me by name, when the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there! So if Jesus has called you by name and you are called by His, feel free to go ahead and sing along!

When the trumpet of the Lord
shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

On that bright
and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share;
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Ten- Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

Ever meet a useless Christian? Not a person lacking any value. All have that. I’m talking about the kind of professing Christ-follower who doesn’t positively influence the world around him. I’m reminded of a friend’s coworker, Jim, who one might describe as “anything but salty and bright.” Though a faithful church attendee and an admitted follower of Jesus, Jim comes across as a typically glum, negative, irritable, and sometimes even surly guy. Sadly, unbelievers who come in contact with him might never see the power of the gospel in his life because of this disposition.

After years of observing my fellow Christ-followers and knowing well my own habits and tendencies, I smile every time I get to Matthew 5:13. Here Jesus moves from explaining the character qualities kingdom-livers should exemplify to reminding them of the powerful influence they potentially wield. Jesus says
that believers must positively touch a world that often finds our pursuit of righteousness ridiculous and even offensive. Even when surrounded by a culture
that despises us, we are to respond with “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). For many Christians, however, the idea of positively affecting our world sounds
either impossible or not worth the effort. How, some wonder, could a rather docile follower of Christ, one whose life reflects poverty of spirit, meekness, and a  love for peace manage to leave any lasting mark?

Jesus taught that the power of His kingdom within us creates—even demands—that we take every opportunity to influence our world for His glory. This obligation, in fact, encompasses much of life’s purpose. In choosing to ignore it, we disobey and miss out on tremendous blessing. In thinking ourselves too ineffective or too busy to try it, we ignore the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives (see Romans 8:13-16). And when we choose to live as part of our culture without exerting Christ-empowered influence, we trivialize the eternal destinies of those in our circles.

Christ used two metaphors to describe the nature of and power behind a believer’s influence. He chose to first compare us to salt. This preservative was used extensively in New Testament times for nutrition, for flavor, and for its ability to hinder the natural decay process of both food and the dead. Salt’s domestic uses point to a vital spiritual truth. Our immoral, decadent, condemned, and lost culture writhes in the process of rapid decay. Although we often hear that humanity’s evolving, the moral and ethical challenges we face suggest that mankind is more likely de-evolving than growing more perfect. (Consider, for example, the emphasis on technology and entertainment and politics. Why is so little energy given to overcoming some of the deepest issues humanity faces: war, poverty, and hunger?)

In the winds of immorality and rage against God’s standards, the world spins out of control. Total annihilation will come (see 2 Peter 3:10-12). Only true servants of Christ serve as a restraint against absolute chaos and anarchy, and the day will come when the planet will lose our influence and God’s compassionate protection (see 2 Thessalonians 2). In the meantime, the moral fiber and stand for kingdom truth that disciples of Jesus should extend can
bring compassion, help, and hope to people desperate for peace. The gospel message, when shared boldly in the midst of evil, serves to offset the tide of
deterioration that proves eternally devastating. By opposing rebelliousness towards God and demonstrating a life of Christ’s truth, Jesus’ disciples preserve and flavor our culture with a dash of hope.

Jesus called God’s followers the “light of the world.” Light, with all of its practical uses, symbolizes right and good. It contrasts with the Bible’s description of the lost, people who live “in darkness” (Luke 12:46). In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus hints that our light shines through good works, actions, and outreaches intended to point people to God. As we shine as lights, we stand for God’s truth and in opposition to the world’s dim philosophies and blind spiritual ignorance. As we courageously proclaim God’s Word and demonstrate its transforming power, we labor in the trenches of our dark and lost society. Little flames of hope in a cave of despair.

As servants of Christ boldly proclaim and live God’s truth, people see Jesus—the true light of the world (John 8:12). John the Baptist was the first to do this as he took the truth of God to a people in darkness, pointing them to the divine light of Christ (see John 5:35-36). As a result of his ministry, the hearts of many were poised to accept Jesus. I think this helps us understand Christ’s reference that lamps belong on stands. When believers courageously and publicly allow their lives to shine for the honor of God, they help guide other people to Jesus. As more men and women come to know Him, their lights ignite too. As we combine our influence for Christ’s glory, a bigger, lighted city on a hill glows brightly against the world’s darkness.

Apply It.

Sometimes salt irritates and light exposes unpleasant truths. At times the world won’t appreciate that Christ-followers are salt and light. What can you do—in spite of resistance—to stand for the Truth and live worthy of your calling? List practical ways you can busily shine so that they may “praise [our] Father in heaven.” The Holy Spirit and the supernatural leadership of our King will strengthen you

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” Ephesians 4:26-27.

OK, you aren’t too sure about the title of this post. But don’t get angry with me yet. Please hear me out on this one. Yes, there is much debate about what Paul intended here, especially when you consider what he says in verses 31 and 32 found later in this chapter: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Some say that the tense of the Greek verb suggests concession: that we are bound to get angry but should manage our emotions in a Godly fashion. This is why the NIV translates this as, “In your anger, do sin.” Others, including John Stott and Gordon Clark, say it is not a concession but a command. I would agree with the latter but I need to explain. Either way, this is NOT a suggestion, as proposed by many secular psychologists and some “Christian psychologists,”  to ventilate one’s sin-induced and ungodly (never mind, unhealthy) inner rage (an emotional catharsis where “venting” leads to healing). This is a passage that speaks to a characteristic of God that we should embrace; anger with sin or righteous indignation.

To give credence to this idea, we need to remember these 2 verses are a reference to Psalm 4: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD” (vs. 3-5). In Psalm 4 God is rightly portrayed as righteous, a God who has an aversion to sin. His holiness demands it. Calvin suggested Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:26 are a command to be angry with one’s own sin, but I think it goes well beyond that. I believe it speaks to the new creation we have become in Christ as one that sees sin, injustice, and spiritual rebellion as God sees it – with a paradigm of holy vitriol.

Jesus displayed this same attitude when He cleansed the temple that had been desecrated by thievish moneychangers. We see this in John 2:13-17:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the
money-changers sitting there.  And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

Please do not misunderstand. I’m not talking about self-centered anger. We have way too much of that and Paul is speaking to this problem in Ephesians 4:31-32. This is not a license to rage against any and everything. This is about needing to have a God-centered anger against all that stands against Him (including our own sin). It is indignation toward sin, injustice, evil, and immorality. But this is not a dangerous, destructive, damaging type of emotion. This anger is a grieving, love-compelled passion for what is right and good. It’s similar to the way we get upset when our children disobey. Because we love them and want them to honor God, we are angry because they are not living in a manner that befits one made in the image of God. Our desire for what’s best for them fuels  disappointment and requisite discipline.

It is told that at a certain Christian conference John Piper was listening to one of the other panel members who was particularly known for his assessment and criticism of our godless culture. After complimenting him on his astuteness in identifying and decrying the moral decay of America, Piper said, “There is only one thing lacking in your ministry.” The fellow panelist then asked Piper exactly what that was. “Tears,” was his gentle response.

This should cause us serious contemplation. Do we have a God-centered, tearful disposition against all that is unholy (in ourselves, others, and our society) and disrespects our holy God? Or does our wrath only become enlivened when it is us, not God, who is the offended one. I think the church of Jesus Christ needs more God-glorifying, grieving anger towards all that separates us from God. A righteous indignation that is fueled by love for God and others and is communicated through tears. I pray that God transforms us to be the kind of people that images-forth His holiness as His Spirit motivates us to “Be angry and do not sin.” And may it start with me.


*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Nine – Great Reward for the Persecuted

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

The Prince of Peace follows His counsel on peacemaking with both an acceptance of persecution and the incredible idea that believers should “rejoice and be glad” when faced with it. In Matthew 10, Christ offers clues regarding suffering’s significance: All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. … A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:22, 24-25). Persecution, then, should surface in the lives of those who follow the Lord. It highlights authenticity. The world took exception to Jesus; as we seek to model Him in our attitudes and behaviors, we should expect similar treatment.

Jesus Christ suffered and died to erase the sins of all who would acknowledge their unrighteousness and embrace Him as the only way out. In light of Christ’s extreme sacrifice, I believe it makes perfect sense that His followers sometimes face a measure of rejection and ridicule. Martin Luther considered persecution and suffering marks of the true church: if Christ’s church displays God’s radical love and constantly points out the truths behind heaven and hell, “someone will surely take offense.”[i] Dietrich Bonheoffer, who coined the phrase “cheap grace” and was cruelly martyred by the Nazis in 1945, said, “Suffering is the badge of true discipleship.”[ii] I couldn’t agree more.

Consider Kim’s story. A competent, loyal, and productive worker, Kim avoided off-color conversations and office gossip, preferring to mind her business and
do her job. She consistently rebuffed invitations to join her co-workers for happy hour, choosing instead to minster at a nursing home and the local rescue
mission. Though she was always pleasant to those at the office, they soon left her out of all invites, replacing their offers with pranks and labels like “prude”
and “Jesus freak.” Over time hurtful notes mysteriously appeared on Kim’s desk, but she persevered in following her convictions and even added additional
service opportunities to fill her evenings and weekends. As the ridicule intensified, Kim looked to Jesus for strength and comfort.

Following the narrow way of Christ leads to life, but it forces a person to swim against the broad tide of evil that leads to eternal destruction. Though Christ’s followers are taught to pursue a lifestyle of harmony with others, they will sometimes suffer for their beliefs. Jesus said to expect the same type of rejection and persecution that He endured (see John 15:20). He understood that as we seek after Him and His righteousness, a barrier rises between those who enjoy freedom and acceptance in Christ and those who don’t. For some, the very idea of following Jesus and worse—letting one’s faith dictate decisions—is distasteful. It may even engender opposition and hatred. Christ’s followers live through a value system opposed to the world’s: the two approaches to life will inevitably clash.

When faced with faith-related conflict, we naturally tend to react defensively—maybe even with a superior attitude or harsh words. We do well in such instances to instead choose humility and a posture of forgiveness. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus captures the contrarian essence of kingdom living: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He further emphasizes this idea in Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat
you.” When Christ’s disciples follow this counsel, they show a marked respect for the life-purpose assigned to every believer: hold out the gospel and live
to please the Lord. As we pray for enemies, and those who mistreat us due to our pursuit of Christ, we bear the marks of His royal children. Encountering
adversaries to our faith proves a blessing.

A life of persecution hardly represents the type of existence the flesh yearns for or this world encourages, but Jesus says to rejoice and be glad when we encounter travail. When reviled because of Him or for His sake, we serve as reminders that God’s people have always faced persecution. The faith greats of
old, prophets like Isaiah, Samuel, and Micah laid out incredible testimonies for Christ and showed themselves God’s most committed warriors as they shared His plans with the world. Remembering this, the apostles rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41)!  Righteous suffering allows believers to exemplify Jesus, the Suffering Servant—a man acquainted with grief and sorrow (see Isaiah 53). As we do, we become more like Christ. When we lay down our pride, our comfort, and our pleasures, we get a taste of what He gave up in order to pave our way home.

Apply It.

Starvation and physical mistreatment do not always define persecution. Read James 1:2-4. Any time you feel belittled or left out due to following the convictions of your faith in Christ, spiritual maturity can ensue. Can you recall being mistreated due to your commitment to following Jesus? If so, rejoice! Trials indicate your obedience and make you more useful to Jesus. Ask God to strengthen your faith when persecution comes your way.


[i]
Luther, Martin The Sermon on the Mount  ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (Concordia, 1956), 102.

[ii]
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship  (SCM, 1959), 80-81.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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