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*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Seventeen – Loving All People

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you
love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”
(Matthew 5:43-48).

I find it easy to love certain people: My son, Samuel, my family, and my gracious, Christ-like next door neighbors for example. Loving other folks doesn’t come so easily. One particular fellow, who some describe as “our office jerk” sometimes comes across as so irritating as to border on downright repulsive. His actions? Caustic. His work ethic? Unreliable. He’s a shameless self-promoter. I know that Jesus calls me to love this man with the same kind of agape love that I show to my son and my respectful neighbors. And while doing so often seems much more difficult, it liberates me, glorifies God, and may help transform his heart.

By resisting a narrow and selfish scope of love, we acknowledge God’s rightful place in our lives and point others to Him. Matthew 5:43-48 provides a litmus test gauging our faithfulness to Christ’s kingdom principles. While people naturally tend to hate those who hate them and to love those who love them in return, Christ taught that His followers should demonstrate unbiased and assertive love to all. The King calls us to a sweeping and selfless goodness that differentiates us from the lost world.

Despite numerous Old Testament passages regarding equality and fairness in their treatment of people, the teachers of the law exhibited the natural and  human tendency to return good with good and evil with evil. Should a man show them honor or pay them homage, they would extend him favor. Should another man fail to show such subservience, however, they were disinclined to help him. The Pharisees felt justified to condescend on whomever they chose—including Jesus. Interestingly, they also approached life with the idea that only those of Jewish descent were “of their own” and therefore worth their time and investment. When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well and when He shared the parable of the Good Samaritan, He taught that the love of God transcends race, religion, and rank (Luke 10:29-37). Every individual is created and shown love by the Lord. He expects His followers to memorialize that truth through their actions.

Indiscriminate love projects the nature of our loving King and demonstrates that He is our Father and we are His royal children (Luke 6:27, 35). Dietrich Bonheoffer said that through prayer “we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.”[i] Truly, to show love to all humanity—including our enemies—we must care for others in our actions, our words, and through our prayers. The love God desires to see in us should supersede our feelings and involve practical service, both sacrificial and humble. Loving of this nature costs us time, energy, and resources, but it also demonstrates the authenticity of our devotion to Christ.

In First Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul describes the unorthodox loving that should define a disciple of Christ’s interactions: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” As we commit to interacting with others in accordance with these principles, we’ll project the perfection of God’s love. We’ll show the radical difference in those transformed by a love-extending and cross-bearing Savior. People who don’t know Jesus can’t understand this kind of spiritual metamorphosis, but it arouses their curiosity and serves as a magnet to draw them nearer to relationship with God.

Kindness in action points people to the cross: the lightening rod of God’s rich love and glory. Out of His extreme love for His creation and His own glory, God sacrificed Jesus so that He could restore His chosen sons and daughters. As we grow in Christ, we are called to image forth God-like (agape) love.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also
ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”
(1 John 4:7-12).

Apply It.

Read John 8:1-11. What does Jesus’ interaction with this woman teach you about extending love to those who seem unlovable? Ask God to give you insight into how to show Christ-like love to a difficult person in your life. Don’t forget to act on it!


[i] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship (SCM, 1959), 134.

*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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“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:7-17).

I write a blog. God be praised, captivatedbychrist.org will probably be hit nearly 14,000 times this year. I pray it is a platform for the sweetness of grace and the strength of truth. Both are necessary. I also read a lot of Christian blogs and realize it is so easy for this medium (or any other) to slant in either direction. There are times we should be “prophets” (as in exhorting) but do so with grace. At other times we need to be encouragers while never compromising the truth. It’s a  difficult balance and one can only discern the difference based upon what is in the communicator’s heart. I pray my motives are compelled by the objective truth of God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12) and my convictions are shared with both sweetness and strength. And when I fail to do this, I ask God and my readers to forgive me.

I find, however, some (it is the minority) of what I read (and maybe write) to be angry and incendiary in tone. In the name of, “This is my prophetic gift” or “This is motivated by the Spirit,” too much of what I read seems to be an attack and intentionally (or subconsciously) malicious. Frequently I find “grating words that come from gaping wounds.” And they seem to be derived from professing Christ-followers and directed at the institutional church. Yes, I have major issues with the abuse and misdirection that can be found in the organized church and I have been quite vocal about what I see and hear that doesn’t line up with Scripture. And what I say may be spot-on and even painfully truthful. But if written with a spirit of vengeance or self-absorbed anger it can be both unhealthy and unholy.

Both grace and truth are part of the proclamation of the Gospel and a true exposition of the Scriptures. But when it is building up? And when is it tearing  down? God’s Word consistently affirms that our motive should be to build up, even if, on the surface, it appears harsh or overtly critical. Tearing down, in and of itself, more reflects the style of the world and the flesh than God-inspired, love-compelled edification. Here are but a few examples of the Bible’s clear message that our ultimate goal for Christ’s church, in all communication, is to be building it up and not tearing it down:

  • “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit,  strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 4:12). 
  • “For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord
    has given me for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Corinthians 13:10).
  • “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who      hear” (Ephesians 4:29).  
  • “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for
    building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).

In Ephesians 4:7-17 Paul indicates there are certain benchmarks that allow us to know if we are building up instead of tearing down. Let’s restate some of them and ask ourselves; Are these things the impetus behind what I say or write?

“…to equip the saints for the work of ministry…

…[to] attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…

…to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…

…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…

…[so that] each parts working properly, [which] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” 

I know, for me, this is worth pondering and praying over. Because I believe God would have us to communicate with the sweetness of grace and the strength of truth but do so with graciously building up His church as our ultimate motive.


“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:7-8, 10). 

I was watching TBN (Don’t have a coronary; we were in a hotel room. It was the only “Christian” channel that was provided). I can’t name the particular show nor will I reveal the name of the show’s host, but the first guest’s name was Britt Merrick (and I knew nothing about him). The discussion was centered on his book, Big God: What Happens When We Trust Him, which includes the saga of his 7 year old daughter Daisy’s fight with cancer. This subject was the main topic that the host wanted Merrick to focus on, but the author clearly had a different message than the host, or the audience, expected. I watched in amazement as the crowd missed the most critical point, as well as the biggest blessing. 

Forgive me if my account is not totally accurate (it was past my bedtime, we’d had an extremely long day, and were lying in the hotel room bed trying desperately to go to sleep) but essentially Merrick’s daughter was discovered to have a nerf ball sized malignant tumor in her abdomen when she was 5 years old. The crowd and host groaned as he explained the doctor’s prognosis, which was grim, and the surgeries, chemo, and recovery. But Merrick was clear to describe his prayer during this ordeal: “God, I want more of Jesus and nothing else. I want to love Christ even more than my daughter and any thing else in this world. I want her healed but, even more than that, I want you!” The crowd and the host remained eerily silent until the host asked “And what happened to your daughter’s cancer?” “The doctors proclaimed her healed,” Merrick explained. And the crowd clapped and shouted as the host egged them on. 

“But,” said Merrick, “the cancer was soon to return.” The audience sank. This, however, did not hinder Merrick from his theme. “We prayed even harder for more and more of Jesus, that He would be our all in all and our greatest treasure…more than anything this world had to offer, including our precious daughter.” The host was now stumbling around and the attendees sat in sobered silence: “no healing…that’s a bummer.” Seemingly, this was not supposed to be the message intended for this broadcast so the host pushed ahead with his agenda: “What happened next?” “More surgery and treatments. And then, finally, now that she is 7, hope that my daughter is in remission.” The crowd, and the host, went wild!!! Little did they know that, to this very day, little Daisy continues to battle cancer and suffers from the awful side-effects of intensive chemotherapy. 

Merrick was undeterred. It seemed as if he thought they had missed the point – and the greatest blessing – as well as I did. “But God answered our prayer,” he passionately intimated to all the listeners, both in the studio and on TV. “We got more of Jesus!  And, yes, our daughter seems well but that isn’t the biggest blessing. We got more of what we can never lose…Jesus became our greatest treasure! Now He means more than anything this world has to offer. He is more beautiful than anything – even our daughter. Because, when you have Jesus, you have everything that really matters.” 

This was too much for the confused host (and the stunned, silent audience) so he felt the need to redirect. “Brother Merrick, could you lead us in prayer for those who are listening who need a miracle, those who are facing a financial or physical crisis and need to have God answer their pleas for His intervention, healing, and financial restoration?” Without a response, Merrick began to pray (and I paraphrase): 

“Loving Father, I pray for all those under the sound of my voice that are encountering difficulties. I pray that they may seek after and find more of Jesus, that they might find all of their satisfaction in Him. No matter what the circumstances, may we see Christ as the greatest treasure imaginable – far superior to anything this world has to offer. And we pray this because you are worthy and for your glory alone. Amen.” 

There was a long, unappreciative silence. So the host decided to move past the awkwardness by introducing the next guest. After all, there was no unexplainable financial restoration, no supernatural marital reconciliation, no instantaneous, complete, miraculous healing of the daughter. This wasn’t what these folks seemed to be looking for, what they really wanted. No wonder there appeared to be a pall of disappointment that permeated this tense moment – it seems all this family got out of this tragedy was Jesus as their ultimate prize and purpose. I may be wrong (and I hope I am), but from all indications the host and the audience missed the point…and the biggest and best blessing. But Paul didn’t (see Philippians 3). And I pray we don’t either.


Having recently visited the Coliseum, I was awestruck. There many men (probably including Christians) and animals were slaughtered in the name of base entertainment. Deaths were numbered in the thousands as drunken Romans cheered on the bloody scene of cruel, senseless death and heaped honor and celebrity on those who were the victors in these unimaginable games. Today, where the pagan Emperor once sat (think of it as a 50 yard line seat), there is now a simple cross. Symbolizing the church’s eventual influence in the Roman empire, it stands as a memorial to what the Gospel can do; change worthless, depraved sinners into forgiven and radical followers of Christ. This video powerfully shows that God’s amazing grace can invade the most vile of places and people. John Newton’s song now rings through the ruins that stood for everything ungodly and unholy. You will be moved as you watch!

http://www.clarrissegill.com/videoclips/amazing_grace.php


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Sixteen – Love Instead of Retaliation

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

In a statement directly related to His earlier teaching on persecution for righteousness’ sake, Jesus tackles the human tendency to strike back at those who injure us. Interestingly, His words stood against a practice adopted by the scribes and Pharisees: they routinely applied Old Testament concepts of justice and equivalent retribution within the court system to personal relationships (see Deuteronomy 19:18-21). In doing so, they claimed the power to personally punish those who offended them—completely ignoring the idea that only God and appointed judges could apply justice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day decided to usurp authority, demanding by their actions that true authority rested in their hands.

God allows the courts as well as parents a measure of authority in maintaining order. Outside of these contexts, however, judgment and the assignment of punishment erect barriers between people. Take the holier-than-thou, judgmental Christian you knew before you were born again. Did you see the love of God in that person’s attitude? Were you drawn to the gospel’s grace and forgiveness by observing his condescending treatment of those around him? Probably not. Jesus said our love for others shows the world that we are His disciples and points them to Him (see John 13:34-35).

Personal relationships in Christ’s new kingdom are based on love, not justice. After all, the Lord died on the cross to spare us the punishment our sins deserved. Grace and mercy prevail in this new kingdom, and vengeance or the determination of justice is up to God. Paul, who well understood the grace given him said, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Since our Creator willingly forgives the sins of those who turn to Him in repentance, we must do the same. We must lay down the “right” to  retaliate against the injustices of those who wound us. We are to turn the other cheek and “pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).

Jesus called individuals to refrain from taking matters (and the law) into their own hands. Therefore, the lives of those in His kingdom should exhibit an absence of revenge even towards our worst offenders. Forgiveness should summarize our response to those who hurt us. We must remember that we can commit every issue and every offense to God. A good and righteous judge who responds with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, He will see justice served. In the meantime—and as counter-intuitive as it may seem—we must try to overcome evil with good. We should not allow angry hearts to rule our responses; God wants us to seek after the highest spiritual good.

I love that Jesus encouraged listeners to go two miles with someone who pressed them to go one. In the time of Christ’s sermon, Roman soldiers sometimes demanded average citizens to carry their gear for the course of a mile. Doing so proved an incredible hassle for the conscripted person who would’ve had to cover twice the distance as he returned home. Imagine the shock a soldier might have expressed should a man not only happily agree to his selfish demands, but offer to go above and beyond them! Jesus desires a giving spirit in those who follow after Him and pursue His kingdom. We must embrace other-centeredness that gives without reservation, whether or not the receiver proves worthy of our gift. As we do, people will glimpse the love, selflessness, and mercy that Christ poured into our hearts and desires to add to theirs.

Before His accusers and abusers, Jesus allowed Himself to be led silently, like a lamb to the slaughter. Isaiah tells us He did so willingly: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). Mark’s gospel further describes the debasement Jesus endured:

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away
into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of
thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on
him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him”
(Mark 15:15-20).

Without retaliation, without a word in His own defense, Jesus laid down His life as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). By reacting to the evil done to us with good and calm acceptance, we bear witness to the grace and mercy of our King. Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Vengeance belongs to the Lord. As we acknowledge His power through humbly forgiving and helping others, we’ll reap great reward in His kingdom to come.

Apply It.

Read the story of Saul and David in First Samuel 19. A jealous and enraged Saul sought to kill David, but David refused to kill Saul when given the opportunity (see 1 Samuel 24:1-6). When did someone extend mercy to you? How did that affect your view of God? Ask God to show you how to extend grace and mercy to someone in your circle.

*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!


“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things…And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:18-25; 28-32 ). 

I say Mac is mean…and moody. Yes, he is a cat, and a Siamese at that. But, to me, he acts out and has inexcusable behaviors. Mac can be the sweetest, most loving pet, but he is also stubborn, spiteful to his sister Clara, and even hisses and swats at his “mother,” Rebekah, when he prefers not to be disturbed (even when tempted by “treats” to lure him to places he just doesn’t want to go). I know that the 10 years that he spent alone with me spoiled him. He came and did as he pleased. He ate like the king of the jungle, a veritable feast of canned food and snacks. He had freedom to roam and no sister cat to endure. But I refuse to blame my pet related parenting. He is genetically flawed and, I believe, psychotic. 

And that’s our diagnosis. He has a syndrome. Actually, he has multiple syndromes. After psychoanalyzing him and perusing the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria we have determined that Mac the Siamese has, at the very least, the following: 

  • ADD
  • ADHD
  • OCD
  • Schizophrenia
  • Multiple Personality Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Bulimia
  • PMS 

Clearly we are laypeople and not skilled in the ways of feline psychological disorders. So we desperately sought the advice of pet therapists, veterinarians, and even considered a “cat whisperer.” But to no avail. No one was willing to take Mac’s case. He, I guess, is incorrigible. And the professionals knew it. But we had our diagnoses, our list of syndromes, and, therefore, an excuse for all of his misdeeds and “issues.” We were pathetically deceived (and deluded) to label him without considering the facts. He is, after all, a cat! No syndrome can explain that away. No man-made excuse can quell our ravaging guilt over his behavior or justify our mental gymnastics. He is a rebellious, misbehaving animal without  respect for authority or our house rules, except when he selfishly believes it is his best interests. 

I know, you think this is silliness. You might consider us right to believe Mac is blameless because all of this stems from his nature. But hold on a second. Don’t we do the same with humans? Not that these disorders aren’t both real and sad, but we tend to excuse folks and rationalize all types of misbehavior and rebellion. We explain away their sinfulness with a trivial wave of the hand, “They can’t help it, after all, they are human. And we all have issues. It isn’t their fault. They can’t be held responsible. They (we) are just products of genetics and a dysfunctional home life.” Worse than that, we don’t think God will hold people accountable. After all, they are wired this way. And, I fear, subconsciously this includes ourselves, . 

“WRONG!” That’s what Scripture says. The Bible says we are sinners by nature and by choice. And holy God says there must be a price to pay for that which separates us from His absolute perfection, His holiness. And no matter what we may contrive that would sway God’s justice or alleviate our nagging, subconscious understanding of this great truth, it is the Word of God; sinners perish apart from participating in the righteousness of God that is His gift to those who believe. It sounds fatal. And it can be. 

But there is hope. There is salvation, the forgiveness of sin, when God’s grace is met with faith As the previous two verses tell us: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith,as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). So through His grace He atoned for our sin through a Savior. Jesus has cast away our excuses by dying on a cross. He justifies us through faith. For Christ is truly the only hope for those who believe – syndromes and all.


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Fifteen – The Reliability of  Our Words

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37).

The principle of “my word is my vow” has largely lost its power in contemporary culture; the same was true during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Middle Eastern peoples of the time were often required to swear in order to validate their word. Unfortunately, saying one thing and doing another was so commonplace that vows of sincerity were added to verbal agreements. When Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount, He encouraged listeners to live as people of integrity. In short, believers should not say it unless we mean it; we should not claim to take care of something unless we plan to see it to completion. A person of integrity speaks with such honesty that “yes” means just that. An added validation of sincerity proves unnecessary.

Jesus taught that the common practice of swearing—confirming one’s word by the taking of an oath—does not align with the character He desires to see in His new kingdom’s dwellers. He said that we should not swear or promise anything in order to authenticate our words; instead, we should prove our verbal  commitments through action.

Understand that Jesus spoke not against the taking of all vows, such as those required in a court of law, on a legal document, or at a wedding ceremony; Paul, for instance, was likely “sworn in” before he was allowed to speak to Roman authorities. Instead, Jesus taught that adding “I swear on this or that” serves as an indictment on one’s credibility. The issue regards a person’s internal and spiritual state. Why, Jesus’ teachings prompt us to ask, would anyone need to insist his words are true if he can just as easily prove himself trustworthy?

Modern Christians trivialize the critical concept of honesty to a rudimentary restatement of one of the Ten Commandments: “Do not lie” (Exodus 20:16).  Worse, we tell ourselves that God concerns Himself only with the “big lies” we tell—as if a sliding scale provides an appropriate measure for truth. I believe, however, that God desires that His followers show integrity in every word and action.

Consider this example. Jack, a disciple of Jesus who faithfully shares his testimony with anyone who’ll listen, promised his boss that he’d complete a company project by start of business on Friday. On Wednesday, the boss checks in to make sure Jack’s on target to complete the task. “I swear,” Jack says, “I’ll have it done before I leave Thursday afternoon.” Friday’s lunchtime rolls around before Jack turns in his assignment. Though he apologizes for failing to keep his commitment, the damage is done. Jack’s boss no longer trusts his word. One might call Jack’s oversight a mistake but his integrity has been breached. He gave a false statement; he failed to live out what he claimed. His late action expands upon the Decalogue’s concept of bearing false witness.

Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10). Christ saw our unwillingness to keep small commitments as a lack of trustworthiness and honesty. He knew that people’s perception of our character would suffer as we choose to display dishonesty through our words. Why, for instance, would Jack’s boss care to listen to him extol the virtue and beauty of our sin-forgiving Savior when Jack doesn’t bother to do what he promised? The boss might wonder if the Jesus his employee claims to serve proves as untrustworthy as His follower.

The Lord rightly demands that His followers demonstrate integrity. Our hope is built upon the veracity of who Christ is and what He has said. We trust His words and stake our eternal destiny on them, but if we want others to do the same, we must project honesty and uprightness in all we do. Paul taught, “In  everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be  condemned” (Titus 2:7-8). We’ve got to help people understand that One exists who will always keep His word. We must serve as illustrations to this truth.

Let’s make sure that our “yes” truly means yes and that our “no” really means no! Living in Christ’s kingdom requires careful honesty. Ephesians 4:25 admonishes: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Our utterances must prove completely reliable so that others will see the steadfast nature of the One we trust.

Apply It.

Read and contemplate Numbers 23:19 and Hebrews 6:18-20. Does God’s inability to lie give you hope and a sense of security? How should God’s absolute integrity alter the way you use your words? Pray that others might see the integrity and promise-keeping nature of God in 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!


This powerful phrase represents the message of hope we find in the Gospel. You can put an infinite number of thoughts ahead of this phrase and then say, “But God,” and you get to the heart of His good news. So let’s do an exercise. I’m going to make some statements, comments that might be common thoughts to many of us, and let some Scriptures that use this encouraging phrase respond (all emphasis mine).

My sin is so great and I’m burdened with the guilt of my poor choices, mistakes, and unholy bent. How can God love and forgive me? – “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I have so little to offer my Lord. Really, I’m a “nobody” and don’t see how He can use me. – “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27).

There is so much I don’t understand about Him, His ways, His will, or His Word. How can I know God and how I can best be His servant?  – “…but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

I’m not sure how I can serve Christ’s church, how I fit in, and if I’m really needed?  Am I important to the body of Christ? – “…while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it” (1 Corinthians 12:24).

I feel endangered and unprotected in a cruel world. Sometimes I feel that everyone is against me and I have no real shelter from their attacks. – “…Yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, But God did not allow him to hurt me” (Genesis 31:7).

I feel defeated and powerless. Where do I get the wisdom and strength to live for Jesus and be the kind of Christ-follower that advances His kingdom and gives Him glory? – “…for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9).

I’m so discouraged, maybe even depressed. I can’t get out of this rut and I feel distant from Jesus. Where should I turn for hope and help? – “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus…” (2 Corinthians 7:6).

I feel as if I try so hard, but even with all of my effort I feel like a spiritual failure, as if my all resources and “works” don’t add up to much in the sight of God – “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4).

Looking at my circumstances, I feel as if I’m being punished by God. I know most of this is if of my own doing, but how is God involved? – “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

Who can I trust? What can I trust in? It seems like there is no one or no thing that I can really count on in this life – “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son: (1 John 5:9).

Is there hope? There have been so many defeats, broken promises, and my past is littered with a myriad of things that haunt me today? Can I trust that my future is bright and, if so, in whose promises do I need to trust? – “For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise” (Galatians 3:18). Or, But it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him’. But God has revealed them to us…” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

“But God…”  I don’t know what your thought or question might be today but I encourage you to make the statement and then search the Scriptures to find His answer. For in Christ we have received the promises of God and God can not lie (Titus 1:2: Hebrews 6:18). His promises are real and by believing in Christ you can find the great meaning and hope found in this simple phrase that changes everything – “But God!”

So how does this happen? By faith in Jesus through the grace given by God. Let’s add a couple more passages:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by His grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4 ).

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

All of this reminds me of a cliché that we often hear, an anecdote that actually has rich significance. I think it sums this up well. And that phrase? “But for the grace of God, there go I.”


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Fourteen- God Values Marriage

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).

Surely a few faces turned red and several took defensive stances when Jesus began speaking out against divorce. By the time Rome ruled over Israel, the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, were more concerned with how to acceptably justify divorce than they were inclined to stand against it. The Lord’s primary concern in covering this topic was to uphold the sanctity of marriage. While many of His day invented rational excuses to dispose of a partner, Jesus gave scriptural evidence supporting the idea that God intended marriage a life-long pact:

“Some Pharisees … asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries nother woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:3-9).

In the Old Testament, divorce was allowed in extreme cases of marital unfaithfulness—making provision for those who suffered adultery or abandonment. The Pharisees, however, twisted Moses’ word regarding marriage into a command that allowed marital annulment for any and every reason (Matthew 19:7). For example, a man could forever dismiss his wife if she merely burned his dinner. Should the husband one day consider his wife less-than-attractive, he could send her packing. Even if the wife lived blamelessly, he could set her aside to follow his attraction for another woman. These liberal interpretations completely
ignored God’s commands and plans for matrimony. They reduced marriage’s perceived value.

Divorce proves just as controversial today as in Jesus’ time, and our culture also believes marriage disposable for virtually any selfish cause. Within the church, in fact, divorces are considered an acceptable out whether abuse is involved, neglect is to blame, or just because one person grows tired of the other or finds someone else more appealing. In light of this, modern believers need a revised understanding of why God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). We need to recognize that He intended marriage to last a lifetime. A divinely created, exclusive covenant relationship between a man and woman, marriage provides a picture of the loving, selfless relationship God creates between Christ and His church. When we enter the sacred bond before God, He expects us to remain committed. We must not trivialize this God-ordained institution.

As the victim of divorce, I’m keenly aware of the painful ramifications it brings. I learned firsthand that because of humanity’s fallen condition, marriages do sometimes dissolve; in some cases, a marriage will fall apart in spite of a husband or wife’s best efforts to stay. But out of my experience comes a new appreciation for why Jesus placed such emphasis on a married couple continuing on together. He knew the shockwave that inevitably follows a breakup, and He recognized that if both partners would just forgive each other, faithfully loving in spite of faults, they could thrive with His help.

Christ’s theme of heart-righteousness continues throughout this passage of the Sermon on the Mount. According to Jesus, the hardness of our hearts proves
the fundamental cause of divorce. I think it safe to say that in every divorce one or both parties suffer from hardness of heart. The root causes of selfishness and a lack of willingness to forgive are the primary reasons that so few seek reconciliation, choosing instead to rationalize their choice to part. Our tendency to divorce reveals a deep and sad spiritual issue: we often choose to do what we want instead of living in submission to God’s purpose for marriage.

The Lord designed the marital bond to be both good and lasting. Kingdom living is about submitting to His ways, serving, and following Him. We need to
recognize that a flippant view of marriage indicates sinfulness and should remind us of our desperate need of a Savior. Jesus promises so much more than
an eternity with Him: He wants to redeem and restore our families. A merciful and gracious Savior stands ready to forgive our marital failures and to lead us
to repent of any attitudes that fail to align with God’s plans for marriage. No matter our backgrounds and stories, may we learn to treat the beautiful
institution of marriage with the respect God intended.

Apply It.

Read Hebrews 13:4. Consider the strength of your regard for marriage. If you are married, list intentional steps you might take to protect the sanctity of
your relationship with your spouse. If you are divorced, seek God’s wisdom and comfort in dealing with the hurt. In either situation, ask God to show you how the marriage union demonstrates Christ’s love for His bride, the church.

*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!


“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should   but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

*This is a continuation of a earlier post entitled, John 3:16: What Does “Believe” Mean?

In our Life Group we were studying this verse – 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 have 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.

Earlier we had defined “believe in Him” as a surrendered trust in Jesus as our only hope for salvation (eternal life) and a “faith” that suggests following after Christ with a transformed life that includes the desire to be obedient to Him as Lord. In our time together the question was raised: “This verse says that we have everlasting life if we “believe in Him. If so, does it make any difference what we believe as long as who we believe in Jesus?” In other words, is believing in Jesus all there is to saving faith or does what we believe about Him really matter? Or, for clarification: is the most important thing “who” or “what” we believe in? Good question! What do you think?

Karolyn spoke first and quickly said, “You can’t separate the two.” Exactly! History has been filled with those who claim to trust in Christ for salvation (or a form of it) but denied the essence of who He is. Early in the church, the Gnostics come to mind. Today, there many cults, sects, and religions which suggest that faith in Jesus can be central to redemption but cast Him in a lesser light than Scripture itself does. Pluralism does this by saying, Jesus is one way to heaven, but not the only way.” This, of course, discounts Christ’s own claim that He was the only way, truth, and life by which one can know God (John 14:6).

What about believing in a Jesus who wasn’t sinless, really didn’t perform miracles, or was never physically raised from the dead? The latter of these was the constant drumbeat of the early church’s preaching and foundational to true faith. What about a Jesus that wasn’t really God and isn’t the only hope for fallen humanity? Or what about a Messiah who never will return again to rule and reign as He promised?

The core Christian belief is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and thereby are offered salvation and the
promise of eternal life. Essential beliefs held by Christ-followers include his divinity, humanity, and earthly life as depicted in Scripture. Adhering to authentic Christian faith requires a belief that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. As one theologian has said, “The whole of Christian teaching would fall to the ground if it were the case that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were not events in real history, but stories told to illustrate truths which are valid apart from these happenings.” Also, true disciples of Christ believe that Jesus was both human and the Son of God: God in human form—sharing human frailties and temptations but never acting on them, only seeking to do the will of His father in heaven, never once seeking to make Himself happy in any way but willfully submitting to God as a man, never doing what He wanted to do but what He saw His Father in heaven doing.

Beyond this, believing in Jesus means that He, as God, spoke for God. He was both the message and messenger of the way God expects us to live. The Sermon on the Mount is but one example that Jesus claimed His teachings had the very authority of God. What we believe is that His words are truth and life: “…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

So, just as Karolyn said (and the group concurred), the answer to the question, “who or what?” is, “Yes!” To “believe in Him” is part and parcel of trusting in what the Word of God reveals about Him. “Who” we believe in and “what” we believe about Him are two sides of the same coin. To believe the “what” of Jesus to be something other than what Scripture reveals and He claimed to be is, in essence, a failure to “believe in Him” with the kind of faith that, as Jesus said, allows us to “not perish but have eternal life.”

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