You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2011.

*This is my annual tribute to the bizarre ritual of Black Friday.

“But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro…” (Daniel 12:4). 

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand),  then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:15-22).

OK, I know these apocalyptic words of the prophet Daniel and our soon returning King may have little to do with the crazy commercialization of Christmas (actually these passages are somewhat random selections). I’m not suggesting that retailers are openly in league with The Beast. Nor do I believe that the self-absorbed hoarders that we euphemistically call “shoppers” are all self-pronounced followers of The Antichrist, but I must say that something has gone terribly awry. Although maybe not quite Armageddon, our culture has drifted into bizarre holiday rituals that border on insanity. Black Friday is a perfect example.

So maybe “souped up” shoppers and chaotic malls aren’t clear harbingers of the Second Coming but I still think participants in Black Friday are, at least, masochistic. Or maybe they are just demon possessed. At best, subjecting oneself to such carnage in the name of “getting the best deal” or “getting a limited-supply product” must be some type of mental disorder. Yet millions of ravenous consumers dive in to this mosh pit of a Christmas tradition every year. Is this what the holidays have come to? Are we willing to risk life and limb to snatch up gifts (right out of the hands of those weaker and less skilled combatants) we can’t afford to pay for, to give to people we don’t even like? God help us!!! 

What is the most dangerous place in America? Toys R Us on Black Friday! Or maybe it’s Christmas eve. I can’t remember due to the concussion I suffered there when a mob of angry, obsessed, and greedy women ran me over in the video game aisle a few years back. I vaguely remember the frightening vision just before the onslaught – droves of normally demure mothers and grandmothers who had morphed into shopping mutants. With eyes glazed over, hair spiked from the g-forces, and probably juiced up on steroids for peak performance, their ruthless pursuit was not to be encumbered. And I was the unwitting victim…all in the name of an XBox. 

And to think, this year Target (and others) started the violence at 4:00 AM (Wal-Mart began Black Friday on Thanksgiving – which is a Thursday –  at 10:00 PM, proving that this phenomena has driven us mad). I guess if you want to get trampled or pepper sprayed while bargain hunting it is best if it’s still dark. Trust me, Friday I was sleeping peacefully while so many put there very lives at stake in order to “beat the crowd.” Or is it get beat by the crowd? Nonetheless, there is no end in sight, no hope for a ceasefire. As a matter of fact, this madness is happening earlier and earlier in the year. Now on-line retailers are moving Black Friday deals up to early November.

Before you know it, the tinsel and trinkets that have already replaced the manger scene will adorn malls, shops, and yards all year around. Christmas commercials that whet our appetite for more and more, bigger and bigger, and newer and newer will be incessant and ubiquitous. Black Friday will be every Friday. And throngs of Visa-wielding, bag-totting, discount-hungry scavengers will rejoice as they make their demented dash to get mauled at the mall. Which, by the way, I think  would make a very ironic place for Jesus to  return.

Merry Christmas -:)!

For proof of the continued frenetic lunacy see:

This is the 3rd of a 3-part series for Thanksgiving, 2011.  

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” (1 Chronicles 16:8). 

From the background of the 2 previous posts we now tackle the psalm of praise that occupies 1 Chronicles 16:8-36. The Ark of the Covenant, and all that it symbolizes, has been brought into Jerusalem and a worshipful frenzy ensues. David has created a song for his musicians to play; a psalm of thanksgiving to communicate the goodness, greatness, and ultimately, the presence of God that should necessarily spark uninhibited gratitude. There is much we can learn from the outpouring of David’s heart, a heart after God’s own heart. 

This thanksgiving hymn (I urge you to read it for yourself) is a cry of remembrance, praise, and victory. It speaks of the adoration of God’s people but it’s also a prompt to the whole world and creation that God is to be (and will be) worshipped. David beckons all people and things to recall God’s wonderful acts. The term used in this song is “judgments.” But judgment here indicates more than displays of wrath or condemnation. The term implies the act of God doing as He pleases. He is acting to fulfill his own purposes and to set things right as He sees them.  “His judgements” refers to God making things the way He wants them to be.  

This psalm is a command to all the world to recognize what God has done – to celebrate that their God is the living God, the creator of all things, and sovereign over all. The earth, and all that is in it, is called ascribe glory to the Lord that He alone is worthy of. The Ark’s coming to Jerusalem is a picture of the Lord enthroned above all peoples, His dominion unhindered. As such it is a foreshadowing of far greater things that God is yet to accomplish. One day He will come again; this time to visibly rule and make all things right. On that day the entire creation will rejoice just as David and the Israelites celebrated on this day as the Ark was brought into Jerusalem. On that day the Lord God will manifest His reign over every known people and thing.  

But today we don’t see things this way. The world in which we live appears to be out of control and in utter chaos. And, in a sense, it is! Often we wonder, “What is God doing?” Even the writer of Hebrews recognizes that Jesus is Lord of all but simultaneously he acknowledges that this is not evident in the current state things. He concludes, “At present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus … crowned with glory and honor.” (Hebrews 2:8-9).  In other words,  Jesus is Lord, by virtue of his death and resurrection. He is enthroned over all the earth. And one day this will be revealed to all when He comes again in glory and power to set all things right. On that day the entirety of His creation will dance and rejoice at his coming. 

So all of this points us back to Jesus…and the Ark. This thanksgiving psalm express the longing that God would gather His scattered people from all the nations and establish His everlasting kingdom, just like the unification of the nation of Israel culminated with the Ark’s return. Ultimately this cry finds its answer only in David’s greater son, Jesus Christ. It is only by Him that this prayer is fulfilled: “Say also: “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise” (v. 35). 

All of this reaches a climax on another day in Jerusalem hundreds of years later. Instead of a wooden chest being carried into that city with psalms of celebration, this is the day when Jesus carried a wooden cross on His back.  On “that day,” instead of joyous songs, there were shouts of murder and mockery, and the sounds of great suffering. Let’s contemplate that day when Jesus was nailed to that cross and then was raised up from the earth. For here, like the Ark’s storied return, is also a day of triumph and of enthronement. Here is the event marking the defeat of all the powers opposed to God’s kingdom. God was putting things right in Jesus. Our Lord, reigns from that tree, for it is by Christ that God is pleased to gather to himself a people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. As Jesus prophesied, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32). 

So what do we learn from this? First, what God has done for us in Christ calls us to jubilant thanksgiving. It beckons us to celebration that is marked by marvel, amazement, and praise! The Creator, the God of the entire universe, has remembered His people and has come to save us through his Son, Jesus. We are invited, even commanded, to join the rejoicing as we recognize that Christ is King, the Lord of all creation. And that, above all, He is our God! 

Second, what God has done for us calls for an announcement. We must let all the world know that He working all things according to His own good pleasure. We are prompted to share with all the earth that God is King over all and has demonstrated this most fully in what He has done in Jesus Christ. We must trumpet to all peoples the invitation to be joined with Christ and join in the celebration.

May our hearts be full of anticipation and thanksgiving as we await the day when God will finally comes to set all things right. When His children, along with all of creation, will sing and worship in His presence. And may the celebration and rejoicing begin today.

Author’s note: I have drawn upon many sources for this 3-part study. As this study has developed over time and my research and writing for this piece has been intermittant, unfortunately, I can’t find the original sources in order to properly cite them. If I have overly borrowed for someone’s work (and I may have), I apologize. I pray, however, that God still uses this series and He alone gets the glory no matter where these thoughts originated. 

This is the 2nd of a 3-part series for Thanksgiving, 2011.  

“Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:7). 

We rarely read 1 and 2 Chronicles as part of our devotional diet but they sum up the story of Israel, beginning with Adam (1 Chronicles 1:1) and concluding with the nation’s return from exile. This history is written looking back over the many years of God’s direction and dealings with His people. 1 Chronicles 16:7-36 (you will need to read it for yourself) occupies a pivotal place in this entire drama. David’s psalm was composed for the musicians of Israel to perform during this great time of thanksgiving and celebration – the return of the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence with His people. 

So, what is the context of this song within this documentary of Israel’s history? Or, more precisely, what is the “that day” we read of in 16:7? As discussed in the previous post, it is a song which was prompted by the return of the Ark but the background to this story gives us additional depth. David had defeated all the major enemies of Israel. So, in a sense, we see the conquest of the Promised Land completed. David had also united Israel – both the northern and southern tribes – under his kingship. He then captured Jerusalem and made it the capital city. It is here that he had built a palace for himself and was reigning. And now was a crowning moment in the saga of God’s covenant faithfulness and presence: the one thing seemingly missing, the presence of God as found in the Ark, was soon to be in its rightful place. 

David’s first attempt to bring the ark up to Jerusalem was disastrous. It had been loaded on  a cart and during its transport became unsteady. So Uzzah, one of the men guiding the cart, put out his hand to stabilize it. And in doing so, he was immediately struck dead by God. As a result, David was struck with fear (see 1 Chronicles 13:12) Paralyzed by these events, he became hesitant to make any further attempt to move the Ark.  

But, over time, God blessed the household where the Ark resided after that terrible day. So David finally decided to make another attempt to bring the Ark into the capital city. During this second effort all things were done in a very different and detailed manner. Based on God’s command, the Ark was now carried by the Levites (15:2) and David assembled singing Levites (priests) to accompany the Ark. At last, with great chorus and celebration, the Ark of the Lord was brought into Jerusalem (15:28).  

David himself accompanied the Ark’s entry, reveling in its arrival in Jerusalem with dancing and song as an expression of his uninhibited joy. Although David’s dancing was a very normal display of ecstasy and zeal in that time, his behavior was unusual enough that it disgusted his wife, Michal, the daughter of Saul. She thought that David’s lack of dignity was no way for a king to behave.

But in reality he was just celebrating, along with the entire nation, this powerful and prophetic moment. We need to understand that David’s dancing was not a display of silliness or attention seeking. Instead we find his words in 1 Chronicles 16:29-30 show his thoughts were focused on the presence and greatness of God: “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Tremble before him all the earth!”  

I believe this was an intentional act on David’s part. He was dressed in plain linen clothes just like the priests who accompanied this treasure. He purposefully refused to behave in the typical decorum of a great king on that day because he was welcoming God, God’s presence, and God’s rule into Jerusalem. David, it seems, was most concerned that the people realized that no earthly ruler, but the Lord their God, should occupy the highest office among them. By this very act David was declaring that he was not the real king of this city or nation. Instead it is the Lord God enthroned between the Ark’s cherubim that is the King over all of His creation. He alone is the great Ruler and now is fully revealed as sovereign over His people and His incomparable kingdom.  

And isn’t this the essence of true thanksgiving? God is present! He rules and reigns and is the creator and center of all things. He alone is exalted for who He is and what He has done. And He is our great King, ruling over His chosen ones, coming to us in the form of God the Son who became Jesus the Christ – the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The One to whom we owe all things, including hearts that overflow with gratitude, praise, and adoration.  

In another psalm – a true Thanksgiving prayer – we see David’s gratitude compelled by a profound sense of God’s presence and greatness: 

“You are my God; save Your servant who trusts in You.  Be gracious to me, Lord, for I call to You all day long. Bring joy to Your servant’s life, since I set my hope on You, Lord. For You, Lord, are kind and ready to forgive, abundant in faithful love to all who call on You. Lord, hear my prayer; listen to my plea for mercy. I call on You in the day of my distress, for You will answer me. Lord, there is no one like You among the gods, and there are no works like Yours. All the nations You have made will come and bow down before You, Lord, and will honor Your name.  For You are great and perform wonders; You alone are God. Teach me Your way, Lord, and I will live by Your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear Your name.  I will praise You with all my heart, Lord my God, and will honor Your name forever” (Psalm 86:2-12, HCSB).

This is the 1st of a 3-part series for Thanksgiving, 2011.  

“And they brought in the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD and distributed to all Israel, both men and women, to each a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:1-7). 

What a sight of uninhibited thanksgiving! The Ark was Covenant was now in Jerusalem and this sparks a scene of dancing, offerings, blessings, physical provision (a meal) praise, music, banging cymbals, and trumpet blasts. All of this was in an exuberant spirit of gratitude over this momentous event – the returning of the Ark to its rightful place. But why all the hysteria and joy over this religious artifact, something almost like a piece of sacred furniture? 

Basic research tells us that the origin of the Ark is to be found in Exodus 25:10-22. God ordered Moses to construct it to hold the tablets on which He had written the Ten Commandments. The Ark was a box that was approximately 4 feet long, 2 1/2 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet high. It was made of acacia wood and was overlaid with gold inside and out. The lid that covered the box was called the “mercy seat” and it was also made of pure gold. Two angel-like creatures called cherubim were mounted on the top, one on each end. These worshipful figurines faced each other and their wings were spread out toward each other, thus overlooking the mercy seat. 

This wooden chest pictured God’s presence with his people. Symbolically it represented the throne of God (see 1 Chronicles 13:6). This Ark had been carried ahead of them during their time in the wilderness and as they crossed the Jordon to entered the Promised Land. We are told the Israelites had been able to possess the land Yahweh had promised them because God was with them, “enthroned between the cherubim.” 

Later the Ark was housed in the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat. This ritual was to atone for his sins and the sins of the Hebrew nation (Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9). Because God had promised Moses that He would fellowship with Israel “from above the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:22) the concept developed that God Himself was present above the cherubim of the Ark (see 1 Samuel 4:4 and Isaiah 37:16). 

So what does all of this mean? Well, the Ark symbolizes many things that would illicit thankfulness and gratitude. It symbolized the presence, greatness, and works of God but, for us, is most fully understood in light of how it points to Jesus. Much has rightfully been made of the symbolism of the Ark. In other words, most scholars believe nearly every aspect of the Ark prefigures Jesus in some fashion. 

Biblical interpreters would tell us that the acacia wood symbolizes our Lord’s humanity. The gold overlay denotes His deity. The Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch (at one point) inside the Ark pictured Jesus as the of law of God in the flesh, living in perfect obedience to it. The pot of manna that once was laid in this chest spoke of Jesus as the Bread of Life and our sustainer. At one point Aaron’s rod that budded was encased there – which conceivably prophesied Christ’s resurrection.  

The mercy seat is seen as a symbol that points to the prophesied Messiah. It was representative of the work of Jesus on the cross that would atone for the sins of His people, making it possible for those who put their faith in Jesus to be reconciled to God. The mercy seat is also possibly an illustration of how God’s throne was transformed from a judgment seat into a place of grace by the cleansing blood of Christ that was figuratively sprinkled on it. Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, which foreshadowed the permanent cleansing of sin that would come through Jesus’ shed blood and the sacrifice of His death. 

Can we now see how this picture should spontaneously spark our thankfulness? For this Ark was no ordinary artifact or piece of religious furniture – it speaks of God’s mighty work of salvation that was eventually fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ and His sacrifice for sin. It speaks to God’s permanent presence with His sin-covered children. This is why Jesus is called Immanuel, which means God with us. Can anything touch us more than this? Could anything cause our hearts more celebration and gratitude? For His redeemed, I would think not.

“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…” (Exodus 20:4-5).

Per Wikipedia (how ironic), Mike Daisey is an acclaimed American monologist, actor and social commentator best known for his full-length extemporaneous monologues . In this Daily Ticker piece (found on Yahoo Finance), Daisey tells us what all astute followers of Christ and Bible students know; people worship technology. Read, watch, and listen for yourself:

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: Mike Daisey Says Technology Is ‘New Religion’ | Daily Ticker – Yahoo! Finance

It’s really not an outlandish idea that Dasiey is promoting here. The love of technology mimics the following of a religion. In this paradigm, Steve Jobs is worshipped like a saint and the products and services created by these inventors are adored (people stand in long lines at the break of dawn for this stuff). It has come to the point that many “can’t live without” their Smartphone, tablet, notebook, iPod, or Kindle. They go nowhere without their gadgets much like one would carry a copy of the Scriptures with them at all times. The information and amusement (After quickly becoming addicted, I believe Crazy Birds to be the spawn of Satan) derived from these small electronic boxes can become central to a person’s time, interests, and even motivation. They have become a type of religious artifact and many’s passions are to be found in their pursuit of the latest technology trend or application. I guess wi-fi would represent the Holy Spirit in this “new religion.”

To say the least, the use of technology has attempted to replace (or facilitate, for you techies) a myriad of essential human activities (even though using technology certainly involves human activity). Via technology, we have replaced human intimacy with images and typed words. We have allowed technology to “shortcut” the learning process by replacing analyzing and cognition (understanding) with information accumulation. We have allowed technology to be the slave-master called amusement (the word has 2 components; “a” meaning “not” and “muse” meaning “think.” When combined, the word means “not to think.”) Tragically, our heart’s main focus has often become our “hardware” and replaced more important spiritual pursuits. When we count the time and energy devoted to them, it’s clear that sometimes our gadgets have become our gods.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think technology is inherently evil any more than the silver dollar sitting on my dresser. After all, I’m typing this on a desktop (OK, now you know how “uncool” I really am) and will post this article on my blog so that it will be exposed to billions through the “miracle” of the internet. I own an iPhone and my books can be found in an eReader formats. I’ve even been know to (legally, I must add) download Christian music from iTunes so that I can listen and be encouraged no matter where I am. I must confess that I get a bit of an adrenaline rush when I can find helpful information while browsing the internet on my Smartphone and never leave the couch. Also, I have more than once coveted the 4G speed that I don’t have. And I often use my most treasured gadget – the TV remote control (Or have we forgotten that is a form of technology too?).

No, we probably don’t see Androids displayed on mantels nor do we physically bow down to our laptops, but idolatry involves more than a wood carving, golden calf, or a “graven image.” It is something that has become central in our life. An idol is something that controls us, our time, interests, and affections. Having a false god is when we care more for something that has been created than the Creator (God) Himself. And when we believe that technology is the solution (“eventually technology will fix everything”) then it has become a savior. Instead we are called to, “love the Lord [our] God with all your heart and with all [our] soul and with all [our] mind and with all [our] strength” (Mark 12:30).

Now I’m not suggesting that Christ-followers eradicate all uses of technology (Excuse me as I pause…I just got a text from my Pastor).  This is impractical in modern society and many of our jobs demand it. But this discussion does bring into question where our devotion lies (which is usually correlated with what we spend our disposable time, money, and thoughts on). I’m thinking a Christian response cannot mindlessly let these tools control us nor can we outright reject them. Rather, I believe that we must seek to redeem technology (see Colossians 4:2-6, where “redeeming” is often translated “making the best us of”). This means, when such is the case, unveiling it as an idol and dethroning it by bringing any unhealthy and unholy activity under the Lordship of Christ. However, we must also, after embracing our God as the only one worthy of our adoration and worship, be good stewards of these advancements, use them for the expanse of His kingdom, and multiply our effectiveness. Let us not treat our gadgets as gods but let us never forget that using them in a way that glorifies Him is a worthwhile use of the technology at our disposal.

As Paul said,To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:22-27).

As Christians (and Americans) we have been taught since birth that there is a direct cause and effect that governs our lives. You know, if we “do” this then we will “get” that. It is kind of quid pro quo formula. For example, if I work hard, I will get ahead at my job. Or, if I lead a healthy lifestyle I will enjoy good health and a long life. Although I believe in the theory of cause and effect as a principle in the physical realm, I’m not convinced it works in the spiritual realm. I’m not even sure it works in life. This thinking was the basis for the Old Covenant but is not the basis of the New Covenant that Jesus has ushered in.

This A + B = C sequence is clearly defined in Deuteronomy 29:9: “Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may [be prospered] in all that you do.” There we see that our efforts (A) plus the working of God (B) equals His blessing in this life (C). And, whether consciously or not, we believe this because we have subtly (and not so subtly, I’m afraid) been told this is true. This message has been echoed from church pulpits, Christian counselors, and the shelves of Christian books stores. But it is wrong. It is a system intended to make this life better but it doesn’t work. It didn’t work for the Israelites and it doesn’t work for us. Leviticus 26:14 and following tells us what happens when the covenant (or equation) is broken . This system worked only if they kept all the law perfectly and there was a dangerous downside if they didn’t. They didn’t and they couldn’t. We don’t and we can’t.

But we still try. It’s engrained in us (it’s called pride) and we are indoctrinated in this linear equation. We often continue to pursue the blessing of a better life by trying hard, asking God to give us what we want, and expecting to see the blessings unfold. We are a slave to this law that often doesn’t work, which leaves us exhausted and filled with doubt about ourselves, God, or both. So our worldview goes down the tubes when we try really hard, tust God, and crisis comes. We did our best to do “A” and we trusted God to do “B” but we don’t see the evidence of the “C” that is the blessing of a better life. We have but two options here; we didn’t try hard enough and do all the right things or God is not good and faithful to His promises. Neither one is a good conclusion.

And, if this system does seem to work, it inevitably leaves us empty because we have this “better life” but have missed the point. That’s because the formula is wrong. It is based upon the Old Covenant, not the New Covenant. It is the way of the law, a law of cause and effect that Jesus came to do away with. For Christ has introduced a radical shift from the pursuing the blessing of a better life to one where our passion is the beauty of His presence. Because relationship and intimacy with Him is the point. It is that, and that only, which truly fulfills us and is our great blessing. Everything else is a weak, useless idol without any substance or value (see Psalm 115). And this Old Covenant formula is often the very thing that keeps us from fully experiencing Him as we seek His hand and not His face, His “presents” instead of His presence.

The writer of Hebrews explains: “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (7:18-19). Notice in particular that last phrase, “a better hope [of] nearness to God.” Actually, the writer of Hebrews said much about those who looked to God in faith not for His earthly blessing but for the hope found only in His presence (see Hebrews 11:1-12:3). For we, in the end, do not find real satisfaction in “success” but in our Savior. For it is He who had crucified this old law so that we might live in Him, He might fill us, and allow us to enter into the life of liberty He so gloriously purchased:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:9-14).

*I’m deeply indebted to Dr. Larry Crabb and his book The Pressure’s Off for a significant part of these ideas and content. I highly recommend this book!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-seven– Beware of False Teachers

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Interesting that Christ included this warning in His best remembered sermon: “Watch out for false prophets.” The statement encourages people to remain wary of those claiming to speak on God’s behalf: testimonies should be tested and weighed against Christ’s teachings. Jesus’ words to the crowd gathered by the mountain presume that false teachers were present that day; and since He labels the Pharisees as hypocrites and blind guides, we can assume that His warning included them. Later, Jesus cautioned about the end of the age when “many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Matthew 24:11). The Apostle John indicates this increase of such teachers predicates the end (1 John 2:18). Christ-followers, then, should constantly compare the sermons they hear and the devotional studies they read against God’s written Word.

Before we regard all Sunday school teachers and pastors with suspicion, we must recognize that true, godly teaching does exist. God’s Word contains objective truth, and a remnant of teachers who know, study, and proclaim the true message of our King share His teachings accurately. Sadly, their number diminishes as the contemporary western church trends toward Timothy’s prophecy: “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). How important that we learn to measure what we hear at church against the standard of God’s Word!

Recently I heard a professor of theology with a universalistic philosophy (the belief that all people are saved and go to Heaven) echo a common sentiment in describing humanity. With great passion he claimed, “Everyone is a child of God!” Unfortunately, many folks accept and believe this false teaching. Although this idea sounds good and appeals to our flesh, the Book of John clearly teaches, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). In other words, the truth of God’s revelation is that only those who “receive and believe” Jesus are born again and adopted into God’s family—no matter how “unfair” that may seem

Understand that not everyone who misquotes a Bible passage or misinterprets a verse is a false prophet; everyone makes mistakes and can benefit from gentle, private correction in those instances. In Matthew 7:15-20, on the other hand, Jesus focuses on habitually false teachers who look as innocent as sheep but are as destructive as ferocious wolves. While the teachings of such instructors may sound good, their motives are impure; they may have a form of godliness, but they lack heart-righteousness. They may look polished and sincere, but they worry more about draining listeners’ pockets than helping to guide hearts to God. Scripture indicates that false teachers will enjoy popularity as “many follow their ways,” so we must prove discerning as we seek spiritual advisors.

Sincere, righteous teachers of Christ are not identified by the number of followers, adherents, book-buyers, or church members who sing their praises. The size of their operation, their ministry budget, and the number of “healings” or baptisms they perform do not testify to their authenticity. Jesus taught that evaluating the fruit of a person’s character and life provided the best means of weighing their validity. And the fruits that evidence authenticity are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money,boastful, proud …without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous,rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power” should be avoided (see 2 Timothy 3:2-5). Such people fail to teach the Word of God with integrity. They take license with it, twisting Scripture to say what they want to hear. Any teacher who handles the Bible lightly usually carries a basketful of rotten spiritual fruit.

Jesus warns of the eventual destruction awaiting false teachers. In a frightening and graphic description He says false teachers will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Second Peter 2:1-3 elaborates:

“[These] false prophets … [and] false teachers among you … will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.”

I can’t overstate the consequences of following shepherds who fail to honor God. We must take care to follow those headed not to eternal destruction but to eternal reward.

The kingdom of Heaven requires that we center our lives on the truth of Jesus and His teachings. We must test what we hear and read against God’s Word, regularly checking the quality of fruit produced in the lives of our instructors. The Bereans who “were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true,” were vigilant in protecting their hearts from ungodly teachings (see Acts 17:11). In following their example, we show seriousness and genuineness in serving Christ.

Apply It.

Contemplate Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:33. Do a “fruit” check. Does your life evidence the production of good fruit due to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in you? Ask God to make you a bearer of God-honoring fruit as you daily live for Him.

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

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

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

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.” And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen these.” Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he” (1 Samuel 16:7-12).

Several years ago, when a church was in search of a pastor, they turned to the Pulpit Committee. One day churches realized they had a pulpit but didn’t have a pastor. So they changed the name to Pastor Search Committee but the endeavor was the same; find a man of God to shepherd the congregation. Although I’m not sure the methodology was correct, I presume the intention was; they were searching for the just the right man to lead their flock. So let me ask: Would you, if you were on the Pastor Search Committee, hire the preacher I’m about to describe? 

This candidate brings an unimpressive resume (I guess it would be a Curriculum Vitae these days). Let me tell you about him: 

  • He had never been to seminary.
  • He has no denominational credentials.
  • He had previously followed another religion and was so zealous he was willing to kill for it (sounds like a radical Muslim).
  • He would be considered homeless.
  • He was in poor health.
  • He was physically unimpressive.
  • He had been previously married but was now single.
  • He was a poor public speaker.
  • He had been to jail more than once.
  • He was a known trouble maker.
  • He often was fleeing the authorities.
  • He had never stayed, since his “conversion,” in the same place for very long.
  • His profession was “tentmaker.”
  • Many church leaders rejected him outright.
  • He had offended many Christians and churches.
  • He preached a Gospel of grace and not religion. 

The only thread of hope for this candidate is the opinion of but a few that he was filled with God’s Spirit, a great apologist for the Gospel, and that God seemed to move in many of the places that he ministered. But that, more than likely, would not gain him an interview, much less a trial sermon, in many contemporary churches. For this man’s story is even more tawdry than the résumé reveals. Beyond his horrendous Curriculum Vitae, he had even been an accomplice, in his former days and ways, to the murder of deacons, disciples, and believers and was at the forefront of the early church’s persecution.  

But now he says he is radically changed, transformed by the Good News of the Gospel. He has no pedigree, except in another religion. He has a questionable reputation and, seemingly, little to offer. Heaven forbid; how could we even consider this man as our pastor? Just look at his work history, lack of training, and, my gracious, his dubious of past! No way!!! 

Can you imagine the scene as the Pastor Search Committee peruses this résumé? It’s almost as if this is a joke. This man? Our Sheppard? File 13! Honestly, would you hire this man as your flock’s leader? Would you even considered him? Probably not. Nor would 99.9% of contemporary evangelical churches. But on what basis do we make such decisions? From what source have we acquired our “formula” for finding church leaders? 

Certainly you’ve figured this out by now. This hypothetical pastoral candidate is none other than the Apostle Paul. The one whose resume we would laugh at and never give a second thought to. But what’s most disconcerting to me is that Paul’s resume is not much worse than Christ’s would be. After all, Jesus didn’t come with sterling Curriculum Vitae and influential references. What in Christ’s resume and pedigree would make Him the top candidate to lead our congregation? Think about…even His hometown and family rejected Him: 

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief…” (Mark 6:1-6). 

Could it be that we wouldn’t consider either Jesus or Paul qualified to pastor “our” churches today. If this it true, then God help us! For, if so, we have become so secular and “corporate” that we would discard those most preeminently qualified to lead us. It’s no wonder the institutional church is drying up and God’s Spirit seems to have moved, if it were possible, almost entirely to the 10/40 window, the persecuted church, and the house church movement. Because, I would venture to guess, almost all of the leadership of the early church (fishermen, tax collectors, and the like) would have no place in our pulpits today. But this ragtag, unlearned bunch turned the world upside down with the Gospel of Jesus. 

So maybe we need to get turned upside down ourselves.

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-six – Two Paths: One Choice

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Throughout His sermon on the kingdom of Heaven, Jesus contrasts two kinds of righteousness, two types of devotion, two treasures, two masters, and two ambitions. Each comparison points to the question that every person must ask: Will I choose to follow Christ or the world? Matthew 7:13-14 begins to wrap up the sermon, leaving us to choose between two paths. Psalm 1 defines these paths as “the way of righteousness” and “the way of the wicked.” Each individual must choose to live as a citizen of the kingdom of this world or to live in and in anticipation of the ongoing kingdom of God—a decision which necessitates living a godly life. God allowed only one way to enter Heaven: relationship with Jesus (see John 14:6). Humanity cannot create a valid alternative.

In ancient times people felt that doing good works and appeasing the gods led to a peaceful eternity. The Egyptians, for example, believed that a deceased person’s heart would be weighed against a feather.[i] “If the heart was free of the impurities of sin, and therefore lighter than the feather, then the dead person could enter the eternal afterlife.” If not, eternity looked bleak. Many cultures today spread similar ideas, suggesting that an individual can earn his or her way into Heaven or miss out on it should they commit too many wrongs. But Jesus left very different and very specific directions on how one might enter into eternity with God.

First, we must understand that the burden of sin weighs heavily on every heart. This sin separates us from holy God and makes us worthy of condemnation and eternal death. Only when our sin debt gets paid and His wrath against our unrighteousness is satisfied is there forgiveness of sins and restored relationship with God. This happened at Calvary through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus and the required shedding of His blood (see Hebrews 9:22). And how do we receive this forgiveness, the free offer of the salvation that Christ purchased? By faith, believing His Word, and trusting wholly in Him and His redemptive work instead of in ourselves or our self-righteousness (see 2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 1:9). In other words, we must see Jesus as our only hope, the only way that we can have a relationship with God, forgiveness of sin (justification), and eternal life.

Make no mistake; entering into a relationship with Jesus provides the only way to bridge the sin gap that separates man from God. While many take offense to the idea that God does not allow people to approach Him through religion, spirituality, or good works, Scripture clearly teaches that Christ is the “narrow gate”: the only way to enter Heaven. In order to follow Jesus, we’ve got to let go of the self-righteousness, pride, and self-sufficiency that will hold us back as we step through the door. His road—one requiring self-sacrifice and loving service—leads to abundant and eternal life (John 10:10, 3:16).

The easy, broad way Christ mentions describes the path followed by the majority. It appeals to the crowd because it has no boundaries or restraints, allowing people to live as inclined. The road offers a diversity of options to achieve earthly happiness and to gain “Heaven.” Because the broad path is literally of the world, its travelers find little resistance. The broad way proves comfortable; it appeals to pride and the natural bent toward self-determination and self-will. Those who follow the path believe that a happy afterlife (should one exist) requires no sacrifice, no surrender to the will and purpose of the Master, and absolutely no dependence on holy God. The broad path allows people to carry all their baggage—sins, arrogance, selfishness, and self-righteousness—down the road to destruction. Sadly, separation from God now and forever awaits those who choose it.

In His wisdom God designated acceptance of His Son’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection as the toll to the narrow path. Anyone who sincerely confesses with his mouth and life that Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart that God raised Him from the dead, experiences His eternal life (Romans 10:9). Through the mystery of grace and the gift of simple faith, God allows those who come to follow the way of the kingdom of Heaven.

Receiving Jesus allows us to experience God’s presence now and look forward to the fullness of His presence in Heaven. As we surrender completely to Him, denying ourselves and taking up our crosses to follow Him, we’ll find the kingdom of God and all of the glory it comprises (see Matthew 16:24, 1 Thessalonians 2:12). As we yield, submit, live selflessly, and love God “with all [our] heart[s] and with all [our] soul[s] and with all [our] mind[s] and with all [our] strength” (Mark 12:30), we acknowledge God’s rightful rule in our lives. And those who do enter through the narrow gate that leads to His life. 

Apply It.

Revisit John 3:14-18. In First John 5:13 John shares that he wrote so that we might know we have eternal life. Are you certain that you do? If so, do you have a burden for those outside of Christ and on the track to hell? Ask God to give you a passion for sharing His words of eternal life to the lost in your circle.

[i] McDevitt, April. “The Feather” Ancient Egypt: The Mythology last updated April 8, 2010. (May 8,2010).

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

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

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

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14). 

John 15:13 has, to a degree, always puzzled me. I understand that Christ’s dying for us, which He was about to do in just a few short hours, was the greatest demonstration of love in history. I also understand that the sacrificial act of allowing my life to be physically taken so that another would be preserved would be the most loving act I could perform. But it doesn’t seem as if I’m called to be a martyr or even a foreign missionary risking my life for the spread of the Gospel. So how can I lay down my life in a way that honors Jesus’ idea here? And how can the context of John 15:13 instruct us, in a practical sense, about what constitutes this type of death? 

I think these verses tell us that “laying down our life” has two dimensions. One is vertical and the other horizontal. Great love, love that is willing to die, is both Godward and directed towards others. This kind of death has at its root the sense of putting someone else’s best interests ahead of your own. This is “dying to self” and is in keeping with Mark 8:34: “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” 

First, we see that God’s love for us, and thus our love for Him, is the catalyst in laying down our lives, which is our own self-interests and aspirations (v.12). The concept of dying to self and living a service-driven, others-oriented, self-sacrificing lifestyle has at its core that we are compelled by love. And this love is for Him. This is the vertical aspect of laying down our life. John 15:14 gives us the evidence of this kind of death: “…if you do what I command you.” This is capitulation, absolute surrender to Jesus – His calling, His commands, and His cause. In this we “die” by seeking His glory and pleasure as opposed to our own. 

In order for us to fully realize this we must first acknowledge and internalize that we can only love Him because He first loved us. His love, exemplified in His crucifixion, creates the inertia to love Him in such a way that He is our Lord, our King, our Master, and the One to whom we are willing to give all for. We die to self because He died for us. He died that we might “live unto Him” and not ourselves. This is the vertical nature of laying down our life and is the prerequisite for the second aspect of self-mortification – the horizontal aspect. In other words, unless we lay down our life and take up His we can’t lay down our life “for [our] friends.” 

Now we see the horizontal component to laying down our life; loving others in a way that puts their best interests and joy ahead of our own temporal pleasure. “Dying” for those we love has to do with putting them ahead of ourselves. We may want our selfish way, but the calling of Christ is to crucify our wants and wishes and surrender to what is the best for Christ’s kingdom and those we love. Those whom we should love in a similar fashion to how He loves us and how we love Him. 

This all comes full circle in Philippians 2. Here we see that Christ’s death leads to our self-denial. We lose our lives to Him and therefore to others because of the cross and His initiatory love demonstrated there. Let’s see how Paul puts all three of these things together – Christ loves us, therefore we love Him, and then we love others in a self- sacrificing way – in the context of our pursuit of Christ and being like Him: 

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11). 

Yes, we may be called to lay down our lives in a physical sense, but this is what I believe it means to “die” in a spiritual and practical manner. We love Him and others more than ourselves. We glorify Him and serve others by crucifying self and living for Him and those we love (and even some folks we don’t “like”). In this we find joy and we honor His name.

And in doing so, what have we lost? Nothing! And what have we gained? Everything! For the same passage, Mark 8:34, that tells us to take up our cross (die), deny ourselves (put God and others first), and follow Him (glorify Him above all else) next says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 57 other followers

Faithful Blogger

%d bloggers like this: