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Imagine with me a fictional Small Group. In order to offer a more positive alternative to the ghoulish Halloween holiday that has become so popular, they decided to have a Holy-ween costume fellowship (we don’t have parties, you know). They determined that attendees would dress up a Bible characters instead of ghosts and goblins. The following will be a mythical (and somewhat silly) effort to capture what might have been the scene (and the insights of the party hosts) as each character came through the front door – which was decorated as a very large Bible – and acted in character. Here is a snapshot of some who showed up: 

  • The “Apostle Paul” –  he was first  through the door. Stooped over and blind, ‘Paul” was scratching the hardwood floors with his ball and chain and clumsily knocked over the punch and hor douvres table. 
  • “Noah” – bringing with him a host of animals (2 by 2, no less), he and his entourage created quite a stir. Although well behaved, the animals kept leaving “residue” behind while “Noah” kept checking his iPhone to see when the weather forecast was calling for rain. 
  • “Peter” – brandishing a sword and a 4 day old beard, “Peter” came in dirty sandals and smelled of freshly caught fish. He impulsively moved about the room carrying around a tray of snacks muttering, “Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep.” 
  • “Pontius Pilate” – one rather unique (OK, strange…all Small Groups have someone who is a bit off-beat. Usually it’s me.) attendee thought coming as the 5th Prefect of Judea would “different.” However, “Pilate” seemed out of place, guilt ridden, and spent the entire time in the bathroom washing his hands. 
  • “Judas Iscariot” – he showed up carrying a bag with 30 pieces of silver, a forlorn look, and kept attempting to jump off the elevated deck at the back of the house. 
  • “John the Baptist” – dressed in camel-hair and with honey dripping from his beard, “John” brought a covered dish of locusts and said nothing all night but a repeated, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Later in the evening he was observed filling up the bathtub in an effort to create a makeshift baptistery. 
  • “Abraham” – brought his son along with a live ram and they continuously dramatized the saga of “Isaac’s” near sacrifice. All the attendees were fearful that, as the climax of the play, the poor ram would inevitably be slaughtered right before their eyes . 
  • “Jonah” – sopping wet, “Jonah” arrived smelling of whale vomit and kept asking, “I really don’t want to go, but which way is it to Ninevah?”  
  • “Rahab” – an older woman thought the most famous prostitute of the Old Testament would be a good character for her. Frighteningly, the costume was far too skimpy and certainly not age-appropriate. Much gossip and unwarranted accusations ensued. 
  • “Salome” – entered the door dancing provocatively. Carrying a platter in one hand she kept asking, “Where’s’ John? I need to see him for just a minute. If he’s around, please give me a heads up.” 
  • Jezebel – loud, rude, and arrogant, “Jezebel” annoyed nearly everyone (including “Satan,” who had not yet arrived) at the fellowship. Ironically, she brought her 2 pet dogs with her. 
  • “Moses” – came in carrying 2 large stone tablets and claiming he was very thirsty. All night he continued “smiting” everything that looked like a rock (including the Apostle Paul). 
  • “Satan” – he slyly slithered in wearing a serpent’s costume. “Satan” spent the entire fellowship time attempting to beguile and deceive all of the guests. Especially the last ones to show up. 
  • Adam and Eve – they were the last to show up and “The Serpent” was thrilled at their arrival. The rest of the crowd, however, felt quite awkward as the couple came wearing their “garden attire.” 

The original family’s appearance (and exposure) was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. A chaotic and mass exodus commenced with Moses leading the way and Peter not far behind. Simultaneously, the church’s new young pastor called and said he was on his way. As guests were fleeing to the exits and, amidst the pandemonium, giving Satan, Adam and Eve, and Rahab a very wide berth, the hosts apologetically explained to their tardy minister that the “party” (train wreck) was just breaking up.  

The pastor couldn’t hide his disappointment as he softly commented that he had created just the perfect costume. The hosts obligingly asked, “And what was that?” “I was going to be the Demoniac of Mark 5.”  Which makes me think: too bad “Legion” didn’t come as well – he and the other guests would have had much to talk about. 

Happy Holy-ween!

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*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-five –  The Golden Rule

 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

In a brilliant assertion that practically sums up the teachings of the entire Old Testament, Jesus instructs listeners to treat others in the manner they’d prefer for themselves. Unlike religious teachings outside the Christian faith, which base morality on negative sounding “don’ts,” this principle describes an active, intentional lifestyle of doing for and giving to our fellowman. Believers should treat others with fairness and sacrificial love, constantly asking, “How would I like to be treated in this case?” As we learn to approach one another with this question, we learn the meaning of loving our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 19:19).

Surely the legalistic and unloving Pharisees were shocked by Christ’s radical claim. They spent decades poring over the intricacies of the law, the system of justice, and the concept of equivalent retribution. In claiming that neighborly love encapsulates God’s Old Testament teachings, Christ pointed out that respectful behavior satisfies a significant portion of the Decalogue. If followed, the Golden Rule removes the need for judgment based upon our offenses towards one another. The Apostle Paul explains:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

Despite its simplicity, no greater foundation for morality exists. Christ founded His kingdom on this code of ethics. Here, then, rests the moral standard by which we must live. As we learn to, “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart[s] and with all [our] soul[s] and with all [our] mind[s] and with all [our] strength” we can do no less (see Mark 12:30).

Imagine the peace enjoyed by a society who regularly practices the “do to others as you would have them do to you” principle. Even atheists, agnostics, or those who believe only in situational ethics find it difficult to deny that this standard would benefit all human relationships. Fatalists, postmodernists, and secular humanists, too—those who deny the need for a defined moral code—are hard pressed to claim that they find no appeal in the thought of fair, loving treatment extended to all. (Remember that one friend who claimed not to believe in moral absolutes at all but felt slighted over the injustice of a stolen wallet?) Humanity possesses an innate sense of fairness. This speaks to the divine origin of doing right and gives evidence for a moral deity: the loving God of the Bible.

The Golden Rule commands that we apply Christ’s love-your-neighbor-as-yourself principle to “everything.” Not in some things but in all things we should lovingly do to others that which is good and right. Consideration and fairness should permeate our lives. In response to a God who draws us to His love, embraces us by His love, and showers undeserved grace on our lives, we should model loving grace to others.

The Apostle John said,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God … 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” (1 John 4:7, 9-11).

As representatives of our loving King and His kingdom, we must project fairness and goodness in all interactions. We should proactively care for, give to, and respond to others with the same grace, mercy, forgiveness, and generosity that God shows us.

The contrarian lifestyle Jesus taught amplifies His glory, images forth His beauty, and draws those who don’t know true love to the only place it exists. As we serve others in love, we point them to life in Christ. 

Apply It.

Review Jesus’ teaching in Mark 12:28-34. Loving God requires that we love others. How might you put the Golden Rule into practice today? Ask God to help you identify a person or situation in your life that could benefit from the “do unto others” approach. Pray for His guidance in applying this kingdom principle.

*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!


“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:4-5). 

In our culture the word “jealous” invokes a myriad of negative concepts. It’s called “The Green Monster” and suggests envy, covetousness, and other unwholesome qualities. That’s why many struggle with God being a jealous God. But His jealousy is in every way good. As a matter of fact, in Exodus 34:14 we find that one of the many names of God is “Jealous.” Some commentators indicate this maybe the only time in Scripture where God is named something that is a pure emotion (they would say love is not a pure emotion). To many this is confusing and even hard to accept. Because the way the world uses this word, as opposed to the way God demonstrates His jealousy, is a turn-off to many. Including Oprah Winfrey. 

According to this article – Oprah Winfrey and God’s Jealousy – and many more you can find similar to it, Oprah chose to seek other paths to God due to the seeming incongruity in the God of the Bible being jealous. It appears that when Oprah was about 27 years old she went to church one Sunday and listened to a very charismatic preacher. She was caught up in all the positive, “warm and fuzzy” things the speaker had to say but was confused and disturbed when she heard that God is a jealous God. She, it seems, could not reconcile a loving God with a jealous one. But, with Him, they are one. God’s jealousy for His children is one of His greatest demonstrations of pure, unconditional love. He wants us to love Him above all else and covets our affections. 

In the verses above, Exodus 20:4-5, God is talking about people making idols, bowing down, and worshiping those idols instead of giving God the love, adoration, and worship that He alone rightly deserves. God is possessive of the affection and love that belong to Him. It is a sin (as God points out in this commandment) to worship or serve anything other than God. We are called to love Him above all else as a reflection of His initiatory love for us (1 John 4:19). 

It is a sin when we are envious or jealous of someone because they have something that we do not have. It is a different use of the word “jealous” when God calls Himself Jealous. What He is jealous of already belongs to Him. He has purchased us with the love-saturated shed blood of Christ, therefore we are His. Yes, we are called to love others and, in reality, all people, (see 1 John 4:12) but we are not to love anything (see Matthew 6:24) or anyone (see Luke 14:26 – which is a statement of comparison) more than Him. So our final affection is due Him alone; our love is to be given to Him above all else.  

Interestingly, in 2 Corinthians 11:2 Paul describes his love for the church at Corinth with the term jealousy: “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” I also believe, due to the marriage analogy of Christ and His church and the picture of purity represented in the term “virgin,” that this passage is also encouraging us to love each other and, of course, God with a divine and holy possessiveness.  

God is love (1 John 4:8) and He is jealous. These are not contradictory but complimentary ideas because He is jealous for us. And aren’t we so very thankful that He has redeemed us for Himself. That He loves us with a possessive love and demands that He, above all, is the focus of whom and what we adore. Jesus has paid the price so that we can become God’s treasured possessions. I can think of nothing more wonderful than being the object of God’s jealous affection. And I can think of little that glorifies God more. For in His jealousy resides supernatural and supreme love, grace, and mercy! 

The words of the David Crowder Band’s song “How He Loves” ring in my head: 

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

He loves us

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.

 


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-Four– Ask, Seek, and Find

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11).

The model prayer encourages believers to approach God with this request, “give us today our daily bread”; this indicates that we should pray daily for our daily needs (Matthew 6:11). The teaching aligns perfectly with Christ’s message throughout His sermon: Release anxiety. God provides for His children’s necessities! Jesus’ suggestion that we should ask, seek, and knock, however, encourages us to go beyond a request for the basics. It implies that the Father desires us to seek His provision in overflowing measure.

James 1:17 states, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” But what constitutes a perfect gift? And what types of things does God want us to request? The answer rests in Matthew 6:33: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” “All these things” refers to the divine blessings given to those who follow God and pursue His kingdom. These gifts include the pleasures of God’s dominion in us, Heavenly comfort, desperately needed mercy for our sins, supernatural satisfaction, relationship and intimacy with our Father, a hopeful eternal reward and, in essence, divine contentment (see the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12).

Unfortunately, some read Matthew 7:7-11 as a license to ask God for anything: luxury car, vacation cottage, yacht, new spouse. But the Lord never intended us to go to the Father with a wish list designed to enhance our comfort and increase our laziness. Our human tendency? To seek after the tangible and temporary. We often approach God with this mentality: Lord, please give me comfort, success, convenience, pleasure, and a pain-free existence. But in doing this, we miss out on the greater spiritual treasure of intimacy with Christ and undervalue the eternal provisions of His kingdom.

The broader context of “ask, seek, and find” centers around authentic spiritual vitality. As we seek true communion with our King and ask Him to let us experience the full power of His kingdom within us, God opens the door to real fellowship with Him, our Creator. This passage, then, could be loosely interpreted: “Ask for God and He will come to you … seek after Him and you will find Him in all of His beauty… knock on the door that is Jesus, and He will let you in to a feast of unimaginable fellowship” (see John 10:7; Revelation 3:20). When we seek after the best and perfect gift, the Lord, we find real treasure.

Our Father desires not to give His children just good things; instead, He wants to give us the best. Even evil people desire to provide good things to their children, but God—holy, caring, and generous Father—desires to shower lasting, life-changing blessings on His children. This should prompt us to ask, “Do I ask God for His best for me? Am I asking, seeking, and knocking after God’s greatest gifts; or am I selfishly seeking after things instead of what God really wants for me?”

Years ago I asked God for a good gift. I desperately wanted a spouse, someone with whom I could share the rest of my life. I constantly pleaded with God to fill this void. At the time, I wasn’t really concerned about the kingdom’s best for me. I allowed my selfishness to keep me from truly receiving what I needed most: a heart fully focused on my Lord and trusting dependence on Him in every aspect of my life. In that season I allowed the pursuit of a life partner to numb me to my own spiritual hunger. James 4:3 teaches, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” God stood capable to provide provision and help for my spiritual void, but He wouldn’t move without my surrender to His will. As long as I approached Him as a genie to meet my pleasures, I missed out on His best and undervalued His ability to thoroughly provide just what I needed.

Our King and Father stands ready to give us spiritual gifts far superior to the “good” gifts we so often seek. When we pursue Him and His righteousness we receive the greatest treasure of all—a fuller and richer experience of God and His kingdom. May the Lord change the desires of our hearts, compelling us to ask, seek, and knock in humility and with the right attitude. May we passionately pursue Him and His kingdom until all of our temporal “wants” fade.

Jesus Christ implores to us replace our fleshly requests with a hunger and thirst for Him. Our patient Father desires for us to seek after Him so that He can open the floodgates of His spiritual bounty.  

Apply It.

Read and internalize Philippians 4:6-9. When praying about life’s difficulties, we will not always get the situation “fixed.” Scripture does, however, promise us God’s peace when we seek Him. In what situation do you need to ask God to give you His peace, joy, and comfort to trust Him no matter how it turns out? Choose to place it in His hands.

*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!


“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, NIV).

Understanding that God is not always worshipped at His “house” and we can and should worship God anywhere and everywhere in “spirit and truth” (see John 4:19-26), Solomon gives us some sage advice on the purposefulness and sincerity involved in rightly worshipping God. In these seven verses he speaks of some areas that directly impact whether or not we experience the awesomeness of God (v. 7) and the heartfelt worth we should be ascribing to Him. This best happens when our lives, hearts, and minds are aligned in such a manner that we don’t trivialize being in the presence of holy God. These worship instructions are profoundly simple. Solomon talks about our steps (our behavior), our words, and our vows (commitments) being pivotal in experiencing God.

In the first verse Solomon reminds us that we must be ready to experience God. We have often heard of the hypothetical family riding in the car on their way to corporate worship. They are snipping and biting at each other until the mysterious line, usually found near the church parking lot entrance, appears and then suddenly they become “spiritual” and stop their bickering (only to resume their behavior as they exit the parking lot after the service). This story is only funny because we all have done this type of thing. But this passage points to being prepared for worship. We can’t expect to experience God or genuinely adore Him when our steps (behaviors) do not honor Him. So How can we presume that God will visit us and we will hear His voice when we are living in a manner that is unworthy of His holiness (see Romans 12:1)? Although Solomon is not suggesting that our house must be perfectly in order to effectively worship Him at His “house” (which, of course, is everywhere) but living in willful disobedience hinders our ability to fully experience His presence.

Verses 2-3 are about our words. Solomon, like other passages (Psalm 46:10), indicates that frivolous thoughts and speech serve as a barrier to genuine worship. What are we thinking about, thus probably uttering, when we are seeking to experience the presence of God? It is easy to forget that worship means engaging a holy God and that requires our thoughts to be laser focused on Him. Often we are much better off and He is more honored when we are reverent and silent as we approach Him. We need  more to listen for His voice than to be “quick with our mouth” and talk like a “fool” who isn’t cognizant that God is to be central in our worship. He expects that we be so enamored with His presence that sometimes we are mute before Him – with feelings that defy articulation. For example, because my thoughts are so easily distracted from Him, sometimes I prefer to focus on the words of the worship song or hymn with eyes closed as opposed to singing and easily ignoring the meaning of the words (and that’s not just because I sing like a frog with a man in his throat – yes, you read that correctly).

Verses 4-7 talk about the vows (commitments) that are often a part of intentional worship. Virtually every time I truly experience God and am rocked by His awesomeness I’m moved to make commitments to Him. This makes sense – as we catch a vision of God in all of His holiness, light, and perfection we grasp our shortcomings. Then we are typically compelled to make a vow of service or obedience knowing how far short we fall. But how long do these vows last? How real are our commitments if they don’t linger much longer than the seconds it took to contemplate them? True worship radically changes us and we realize the gravity of making promises to an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and absolutely holy God. Understanding the bigness of the God we serve and worship should make us hesitant to babble meaningless promises as if He is not offended by our triteness and insincerity.

The overarching thought that comes to mind when I study this passage is “sacred.” Have I lost the sense of the sacredness of God and worshipping Him? Our worship is to be sacred because God is sacred. He is about sacred things. Anything, therefore, we do, inside or outside of formalized worship, is to never be treated as ordinary. In other words, as followers of Jesus we must be acutely aware that we always walk on holy ground, especially when we intend to worship. And, according to wise Solomon, approaching God with behaviors that do not honor Him, words that do not focus on Him, and making meaningless vows before Him does not please Him. For He is a transcendent God who is infinitely worthy of our full focus and endless adoration.


“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands” (1 Peter 3:1-5). 

First, let me say what this post is not; it is not a statement regarding wives’ submission to their husbands (although this passage clearly speaks to the complimentarian role God has designed for families). This post is about the tragedy of what our society is saying and doing to women, young an old alike. The not-so-subtle message is clear; your value and worth is based on the way you look. Society views women primarily from an external perspective, not an internal one. In other words, their beauty is really only skin deep. 

And this message is pervasive. Even the grocery store checkout line screams at women, “This is the way you are supposed to look to be beautiful.” Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and a host of other periodicals shamelessly portray women as physical objects to be look at and lusted over and not God’s creatures to be cared for and adored for their inner qualities. Both men (especially men) and women are guilty of promoting the false notion that a real woman’s appeal is about visible adornment and “looks.” This, in my opinion, has done much to alter many females’ view of their worth and led to a myriad of eating disorders and obsessions. This tragic and shameful. 

To my point, the quote that is the title of this post came from a 5 year old girl at church. These were her words when a Sunday School teacher encouraged her to be an example to the younger kids. This isn’t a negative commentary on her, her parents, or the values and principles espoused by this family. On the contrary, I know otherwise. They are pursuers of Christ and I believe they are in no way suggesting to their precious daughter that her value and worth is to be found in her appearance. Which makes her remark even more disturbing! No, this is a commentary on our culture. For even this small, innocent child can’t escape the insidious and ubiquitous message from our society, in all its forms, that assails her. Like so many others, she is hearing the distinctly worldly mantra that beauty is physical and not spiritual. 

But isn’t this the MO of so many of today’s celebrities. Their fame is not predicated on class and character (or even talent). On the contrary, misbehavior coupled with physical attractiveness have garnered them fame and fortune. Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, and Kim Kardashian come to mind. But there are so many more. Just watch a snippet of The Bachelor and you quickly get the message – looks prevail and character is boring. Their appeal is not based on talent, intellect, or spiritual wisdom. It is based upon their so-called beauty and outlandish, rebellious behavior and nothing more. Whatever happened to “pretty is as pretty does?” 

And for these celebrities, and the millions of children, teenagers, and even mature, adult women that are swayed by such nonsense, I’m truly sad. They live lives seeking to achieve something that has no real value (according to God’s Word). And if they do find some sort of acceptance based upon their looks they rarely enjoy it (still thinking they are not beautiful or thin enough) and find it empty and fleeting (age is a cruel tyrant). Most women can’t measure up to the “cover girl” image and feel inferior that they don’t. And if they do accept themselves physically, checking out at the grocery store, a quick glance at a billboard, the constant current of “sexy” internet and TV advertisements, and Hollywood in general will quickly remind them of what they aren’t. 

So here’s my recommendation to Christian women (actually all women): Don’t buy the lie! Read the passage above over and over. And then saturate yourself in Proverbs 31:10 -31 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Read the book of Ruth and see the Lord’s view of a godly woman in her and Naomi’s story. Know and believe that your value to God (and truly godly men) is found in your faith, not your fashion; your heart, not your hair; your spirit, not your size. Then adorn yourself with the beauty that only God can give, a beauty that never fades but increasingly grows and glows through the light that He has put within you. And that is the light of Jesus Himself, the light of the world. And what could be more beautiful than that?


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

 Twenty-ThreeSlow to Judge, Quick to Discern

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

Having already addressed His followers’ character, influence, righteousness, and aspirations, Christ turns His focus to a believer’s interactions and relationships. Jesus knew that a loving community serves a critical role in helping bring the lost home to God. Further, community drives Christ’s kingdom as His people help one another to reach their full potential in the Lord. Maintaining the health of relationships and extending godly love requires that we overcome the tendency to act judgmentally toward others.

One local church was virtually destroyed by judgmentalism. A small faction targeted one of the church’s outreach programs—the bus ministry—and in the process began to attack the pastor behind it. Through the ministry the pastor sought to reach inner city families with young children who had no other encouragement or transportation to attend church. He hoped the program would allow caring followers of Jesus and the teaching of God’s Word to reach those without access to either. The dissenters, however, accused him of “trying to pad the church’s numbers by shuttling in the dirty, unruly, and disadvantaged.” Their complaints caused such a congregational rift that the ministry was eventually shut down, the scorned pastor resigned in embarrassment and frustration, and the fractured church has yet to fully recover from the subsequent fall-out.

Jesus understands the sinfulness of humanity; He knows that followers will not live perfectly. He also recognizes that we often deal with the sin, poor decisions, flaws, and misbehavior of others. This passage does not prohibit the use of discernment, insight, wisdom, or criticism. Parents, for example, must pass certain judgments on misbehavior in order to discipline. But what Christ condemns in the passage is a condescending, harsh, destructive, and censorious attitude that passes judgment against a brother’s faults, rather real or perceived. The Lord speaks strongly against those who take a “holier than thou” approach.

Most often those guilty of condemning others themselves conceal the biggest issues. Often we find it easy to exaggerate another’s faults while minimizing our own. In doing so, we rest in a false sense of self-righteousness that’s better understood as hypocrisy (see Luke 18:9-14). This builds a major stumbling block in our relationship with others and intimacy with our King. Each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. What proves tempting to one may not affect another, but each person fights his own spiritual battles. Although our sins may vary in type, they do not vary in degree: all sin offends God. Therefore when we, despite our best efforts, fail in keeping any of God’s commands and then judge others, we essentially condemn ourselves (see Romans 2:1). We need to compare our own lives to the standards of holy God before we begin nitpicking the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Intentionally finding fault, while ignoring our own problems and spiritual issues, is wrong.

We tend to forget that in God we have a higher judge who fairly judges us all. He provides the ultimate measuring stick, the perfect standard. How differently would we treat fellow Christ-followers and humanity in general if we remembered that we will be measured against the same standards to which we hold others? In First Corinthians 11:31 Paul writes, “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” Those who forego a hypocritical attitude and choose transparency before a holy and omniscient God will avoid His wrath (see Romans 2:3).

At times we must speak the truth with God’s Word as our guide, correcting misbehavior and helping people to strengthen their walk in the Lord. However, this must be done with grace and love. Paul encourages us to speak the truth but to do it with a heartfelt compassion for the audience (Ephesians 4:15). In every case, our attitudes and motives must prove pleasing to God.

Interestingly, Christ concludes His warning against a judgmental attitude with a call to discernment. This serves to remind believers: don’t turn a blind eye to sin; instead, approach all situations with wisdom. Jesus used two dirty animals—the dog and the pig—to portray those who live such filthy lives that sacred things and the notion of eternal life are wasted on them. Sadly, some who hear the precious gospel of the kingdom and enjoy ample opportunity to receive that truth, steadfastly and belligerently refuse God’s free offer of grace. Perhaps they live in a place of such incurable godlessness that God’s spirit no longer pursues them. Christ’s words remind believers that while we should try to reach all with the good news message, we must act prudently in how we spend our time. When people constantly refuse to receive Jesus’ truth, we should direct our efforts elsewhere. I believe Christ provided an example of this in His interaction with the two criminals crucified beside of Him (see Luke 23:32-43). The one who sneered at him with scathing cynicism, Christ ignored: the one who defended Him with a receptive heart, Christ embraced.

God’s Word clearly instructs us to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Matthew 7:6 highlights the approach we should use, suggesting that we need not allow the wicked to trample the truth of Jesus and His grace. Therefore, after doing our best to exalt the King and His kingdom, we should release mean and unresponsive types to the hands of sovereign God. We must keep them in our prayers, but we should not expend all our energies on them.

This concept is reinforced in Jesus’ call for His disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus knew that He sent the apostles into a hostile environment that required both discernment and a peaceful, purposeful spirit that sought to point a lost world to His beauty. Since we too are sent as messengers of the kingdom’s good news, we must go with His wisdom, daily discerning without being judgmental.

Apply It.

Paul was keenly cognizant of his own sin (read Romans 7:19-25). Identify the “specks” in your own eye. Ask God to reveal things that need to be surrendered to Him. Then, as Paul did in Romans 7:25, thank the Lord for the forgiveness that comes only through Christ Jesus.

*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!


*Due to popular demand, this week I will repost this 2-part series. I pray that you are blessed by these thoughts.

”After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid,Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. “But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me…” (Genesis 15:1-2, NIV).

“…so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles [us], so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14, ESV).

Last time we saw that Abraham’s life had been radically transformed by the understanding that God Himself, not His promises or provisions, was his greatest reward. He so treasured God above all other things that he was willing to sacrifice God’s gift of Isaac, the very thing that would allow God’s promise of Abraham being the father of a great nation to become a reality. As we mentioned, God intervened, spared Isaac’s life, and set into motion the beginning of that great nation and the eventual habitation of the land by Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 22:15-18). God did so by providing another sacrifice (in God’s economy there must always be a sacrifice to restore relationship with Him and the inheritance of covenant blessing). This provision was a ram (Genesis 22:13).

But this was no ordinary ram; for it prefigured Jesus. Notice in Genesis 22:13 that the ram was caught by its horns in a thicket (the thicket always reminds me of the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus brow as he was being mocked just before His crucifixion). Because of the way he was trapped, this ram was unmarred or unblemished, which made him an appropriate sacrifice. If his body had been cut or injured he would not have been the “spotless” sacrifice that God required. Here we see the picture of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice for our sins (see John 1:29). Just as Abraham believed, “God Himself will provide the lamb” (Genesis 22:8) we see this sacrifice taking the place of Isaac – the ram was offered so that Isaac would live. Likewise, Jesus died in our place so that we might have eternal life.

So this is why we are to love God as the greatest thing, our ultimate reward. We are to admire, cherish, value, and adore Him above all else. Again, why? Because He is infinitely worthy: He has provided the sacrifice that extends to us eternal life (John 3:16) and life more abundant (John 10:10). And for this reason Jesus, our sacrificed Savior, calls us to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). But, again, what does seeing God as our great reward (to love Him with all that we are) have to do with Jesus? Well, we can’t know God apart from knowing Jesus. And we can’t love God without loving Jesus. We can’t experience God as our great reward and treasure without knowing Jesus in that same way. So, in a very real sense, we love God by adoring Jesus as our greatest reward and treasure.

Why is this? Because the person of Jesus is the promise and provision of God that makes even knowing Him a reality. Actually, in a most amazing passage, we see Paul write to the Galatian church that really Jesus, the Seed, is Himself the promise made to Abraham (see Galatians 3:15-25)! This is because Christ is the fullest revelation of God (John 14:9). He is the one who interprets, or “exegetes,” God to and for us (John 1:17). Jesus is the only way to come to God (John 14:6). This is why He says, “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me” (John 5:42-43) and, “the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Therefore, if Jesus is not worshipped and adored as our ultimate treasure then God is not our great reward. And when Jesus is cherished, valued, and admired above all else then God is our great reward.

I can think of no better way to tie all of this together than to ponder and model the priority of Paul, a man who discovered the rich reward of knowing Jesus (and therefore God) as His greatest treasure:

“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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:7-10).


*Due to popular demand, this week I will repost this 2-part series. I pray that you are blessed by these thoughts.

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me…” (Genesis 15:1-2, NIV).

Although one of the heroes of the Christian faith, Abraham was by no means perfect. But God came to him (not the other way around), chose him (not the other way around), and, in a unique demonstration of His sovereign grace, promised to make him the father of a great nation. Since Abraham and his wife Sarah were childless, the pivotal blessing would be the giving of a son. Without a son there would be no one to carry on Abraham’s lineage and, therefore, no “nation.” But Abraham had to wait on God’s timing and, much like us, he failed “God’s waiting room” test abysmally.

Abraham showed flashes of faith by moving to Canaan. But, in just one example of his impatience and doubt, he fled to Egypt to seek provision in the midst of a famine (Genesis 12:10-20). I’m confident he didn’t fully believe God would provide and bless because he took matters into his own hands (sound familiar?) and moved to a land that God had not led him to (Egypt – which, providentially, God would lead Abraham’s descendants out of many years later). There he lied – and had Sarah lie as well – about the nature of their relationship in order to protect his own skin (as if God was not willing or capable of protecting him). Once Abraham did return to the place God had told him to go and stay, Canaan, he was wondering when all of these promises were going to happen. Especially the promise of Isaac, the son.

That’s where we pick up in Genesis 15. God now explains to Him the greatest blessing and gift that He had for Abraham. That blessing and gift was Himself. God was the ultimate provision, promise, and reward He had for Abraham. Even though Abraham’s reponse to the Lord (Genesis 15:2-3) indicates the significance of God’s statement hadn’t sunk in, I believe we see evidence later in his life that he finally understood what God was really saying. It is 7 chapters later that we see the person of God being more important to Abraham than God as provider and promise-keeper (even though God truly is both of these things). My point is that Abraham learned to treasure God more than His blessings and provision.

It is in Hebrews 11:17-18 that we get the best snapshot of the faith and priority of a more mature Abraham:

“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

Wow – what an amazing transformation! Earlier Abraham had doubted God and pestered Him with, “where is my land and where is my promised son?” Now, when God commands him to take His provision and promise (Isaac) and put him to death, Abraham goes without any hint of denial, doubt, or disobedience (Genesis 22:1-10).

Why the radical shift? I believe it is because Abraham finally and fully realized God’s greatest promise and provision is Himself (Genesis 15:2). And when he had come that point, God’s other promises and provisions (like Isaac and land) had become secondary. Abraham eventually began to love, worship, and follow the Giver instead of the gift! He was seeking God’s face and not just His hand. So he was willing, because he had God, life’s greatest treasure, to sacrifice all the rest.

Oh yes, there was a happy ending. God thwarted Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice his son. Isaac lived, the nation began, and the land was eventually inhabited by his descendants. But these promises did not begin to see their original fulfillment until Abraham knew and lived as if God was his all, his highest treasure, and his great reward. And that, as Abraham’s spiritual descendants (Romans 9:8; Galatians 3:7), is where God expects us to be as well – His people seeing, knowing, and living with God as our ultimate pursuit and great reward.

But, for us, how does Jesus fit into all of this? Abraham’s story does not end with the cessation of Isaac’s sacrifice. There was another offering, another sacrifice, which God provided to make His promises real – literally for Abraham and spiritually for us. Tune in next time and see how Abraham’s story foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus and shows us that treasuring Christ above all things allows us to have God as our great reward.


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-Two – First, Seek the Lord

“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:32-34).

How will I afford new clothing, that next meal, the wine for my son’s wedding? Questions like these represented legitimate concerns faced by the crowd gathered to hear Christ’s sermon. While Jesus recognized that life brings challenges, He encouraged hearers to exchange their anxiety for faith in God’s provision. To let go of the need to secure their own tomorrow. To hand control over to God. Here, in the last three verses of Matthew six, Christ reiterates His earlier message and clarifies the essence of His kingdom.

Christ’s followers should sell out in the pursuit of His kingdom and His righteousness. Rather than wringing their hands in worry like pagans who live without the hope God provides, believers should trust that God’s in control: Tomorrow belongs in His hands. As people seek after the things of Jesus and faithfully live in the present with a hopeful eye on a glorious future, they discover peace and grow in the ability to help others. By regularly and seriously considering our ambitions and aspirations, we can gauge the depth of our relationship to King Jesus.

Within those who pursue Him, Christ places His kingdom (see Luke 17:21). In teaching hearers to “seek first his kingdom,” the Lord encouraged believers to seek after His rule in all aspects of their lives. Taking a good look at how we handle relationships, considering how we spend leisure time, appraising our approach to work, and assessing the value we place on His church reveals how completely we yield to Christ’s invasion of our hearts. True followers submit willingly and joyfully to His reign. They allow the pursuit of His honor and glory to alter their attitudes, actions, and activities. God uses our surrender to expand and enhance His kingdom. This differentiates believers from a lost and spiritually dead world (see Ephesians 2:1-6).

We must obsessively pursue Heavenly things and store up for ourselves eternal treasure by living through Jesus while faithfully acknowledging His kingdom in the present. Paul reiterates this principle when he tells the Colossian church, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above … not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). Men and women who remember that life serves as a precursor to eternity with God are better positioned to most fully experience God in the here and now, to serve as ambassadors for His kingdom, and to accumulate eternal rewards.

Jesus calls us not to a balanced life, but to one completely imbalanced and weighted by Him. By placing an undivided focus on Christ we receive His power to live in such a way that the kingdom within us is most evident. This type of Godward fixation demonstrates a supernaturally powerful experience radically different than those who don’t know Christ and, thus, they are drawn to His beauty. This—not the accumulation of things or the fattening of our retirement accounts—summarizes the true purpose of life (see Luke 12:15).

To those who pursue God and wholeheartedly serve Him, Christ promises: “All these things will be given to you as well.” These “things” certainly refer to the necessities: food, clothing, and shelter (Matthew 6:25-31). I believe, however, that Christ also refers to more lasting blessings. Throughout the sermon His earnest followers find contentment in the knowledge that the kingdom of Heaven exists within them, that He provides divine comfort, that spiritual possession of the earth and divine satisfaction belong to them. Further, they enjoy God’s incomprehensible mercy, may see and know God, and they can live as God’s children. Nothing the world offers can touch the immeasurable value of these gifts of grace!

We begin to experience God’s blessings in the here and now as we learn to abide in Christ and to saturate our hearts in Him. Christ and all of His “unsearchable riches” come to those raised with Him; those whose lives are hidden in His (see Ephesians 3:8-12). Jesus is our power, hope, and purpose. When we seek His kingdom we receive the greatest treasures—relationship with Him now and the promise of eternity in His presence. Christ is our life. Our past, present, and future belong in His capable hands. 

Apply It.

The New Testament condemns “selfish ambition” on six occasions. Do a word search in The New International Version to study each passage. Then, take an honest inventory of your actions. Use two columns to list selfish things you do versus actions done for the kingdom of God. Sincerely ask God to reshape your priorities to better reflect Him as needed.

*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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