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“When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7).

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I don’t like failure. I’ve tried – because it seemed like a good idea – but usually what I resolved to do had little spiritual value – exercise more, eat less, stop and smell the roses…that kind of thing. And, inevitably, my vows had little sticking power. By February it was back to the same old Linden. But maybe my focus was wrong. And maybe my motives were as well.

Jonathan Edwards is famous for his 70 resolutions (which he read weekly). As my gift to you for 2012, I want to share some of them. Maybe you’ll find them as inspirational as I did. Maybe we all can find a way to integrate these kind of resolutions into the way we live; a way that should always seek to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The older English language may be a bit challenging (it is for me), but I believe there is great value in considering these vows. Here is my sampling for you:

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad’s of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.

5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved, to live so at all times, as I think is best in my devout frames, and when I have clearest notions of things of the gospel, and another world.

20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved, to cast away such things, as I find do abate my assurance.

28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. Dec.26, 1722.

34. Resolved, in narration’s never to speak anything but the pure and simple [truth].

37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year. Dec.22 and 26, 1722.

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God, which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this twelfth day of January, 1722-23.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s, agreeable to what is to be found in Saturday, January 12. Jan.12, 1723.

48. Resolved, constantly, with the utmost niceness and diligence, and the strictest scrutiny, to be looking into the state of my soul, that I may know whether I have truly an interest in Christ or no; that when I come to die, I may not have any negligence respecting this to repent of. May 26, 1723.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

53. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer. July 8, 1723.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination. July 4, and 13, 1723.

62. Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph. 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord.” June 25 and July 13, 1723.

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help. July 23, and August 10, 1723.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Aug. 17, 1723


It’s so hard to fathom – 2012 is upon us. Where has the past year gone? How quickly the pages of the calendar turn. Given life’s brevity, here are some thoughts on what our focus should be as we enter into a new year and, hopefully, a new season.

My son was born just yesterday. Not literally, but figuratively. He’s 23 now – grown, mature, and independent. But it seems like just a second ago that I held him for the first time and smelled the newness of life. As joyous as it has been, my time with him has quickly vanished. But, if you think about it, all of our lives are rapidly disappearing – just like a mist. The years have sped by and picked up steam as they have progressed.

That is what James is referring to in the 4th chapter of his epistle to the scattered believers of the 1st century:

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4: 13-17).

The word for mist in this passage is a picture of when we breathe out on a cold winter day. There is a vapor that forms but speedily dissipates and vanishes. Right before our eyes – it is there and then it is gone. Once we exhale this mist, it forms and evaporates before we can get our hands around it. Such is life – fleeting, temporal, and picking up its pace. It is here today and gone tomorrow and we never seem to quite catch up to it before it has left us behind. Subconsciously, we want to believe that this life will go on forever but, in reality, we know that our existence on this earth is quickly moving toward its final scene. Suddenly, we are more than half way through our life expectancy (if we should even consider such a thing) and we begin to ask some very serious questions. To name but a few:

  • Is this all there is to life?
  • Is this but a dress rehearsal for eternity?
  • What will we be able to present to our Lord when we do meet Him?
  • Has our life been spent (wasted) on the trivial and temporal?
  • Have we pursued our own earthly pleasure and comfort above eternal rewards?

The conclusions we reach can be quite sobering. Thus James gives us great insight as to how we are to live in these fleeting days of our lives. He says:

  • Don’t plan based upon what we want but, instead, be led by God’s plan.
  • Don’t let money dictate what we choose to do and be in this life.
  • Only God knows our earthly future and we must trust Him in all things.
  • This life passes with such rapidity that we must have our eyes focused on eternity.
  • With eternity in mind, we must always do the right thing and not the most comfortable or convenient thing.

And, by the way, the correct answers have little to do with “us” having “purpose” in our life but they have everything to do with finding pleasure in Him and glorifying Him. Finding Him as the end and not just the means is the only suitable paradigm for those who want to have meaningful and true answers to these compelling questions. The real issue, in view of the magnitude of eternity, is not wasting this life given to us by and for Him. Paul says:

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:15-18).

That is why, given this critical issue, I’m drawn to the words of Jesus, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35). May we all be compelled to lose ourselves and our vanishing life here for His sake. May we surrender to storing up treasures in Heaven for His glory. An eternity of joy awaits those who do. Let’s choose this now – before this life is gone and we face the Savior who laid down His life for us. That meeting will be here before we know it.

**Since it is our cultural’s tendency to want to leave the Christ of Christmas as a small baby who perpetually stays in our imagined manger scene, I wanted to remind us all that this infant did grow up. And this Jesus, in all His fullness, is the Christ I want us to know this holiday season.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This is the second part of a discussion (see the previous post for part 1) concerning who the Christ-child of Christmas really is. In the last post we looked at Isaiah 9:1-5 and saw that the baby Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah. He came to emancipate the captives, enlightened the darkened, ensure the joy of His people, ease the burdens of His chosen, and eventually end all conflict. So let’s continue in Isaiah 9, focusing now on verses 6 and 7, to more fully answer the question, what Child is this? This time we will find the Christ of Christmas as Ruler (and King). 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). 

Here we see baby Jesus depicted as: 

  • God the Son (v. 6)
  • Eternal Governor (v. 6)
  • Wonderful Counselor (v. 6)
  • Mighty God (v. 6)
  • Everlasting Father (v. 6)
  • Prince of Peace (v. 6)
  • Forever King (v. 7)
  • Righteous Ruler (v. 7) 

Much could be said of each of these designations but the one theme that is unmistakable is power, or authority. When we ponder the Christ of Christmas, do we see Him with these attributes and titles? The manger-born baby seems harmless enough to many. Our primary perception of Jesus is as Savior. For the most part, Jesus as Savior is relatively inoffensive. But ruler, King and judge? That’s usually not our view of this infant whose birth has sparked our holiday festivities. But just as much as this child is Savior, He is also Lord – King of kings and Lord of lords. And before Him eventually all will bow down and confess Him as such. 

This worship is foreshadowed in the saga of Christ’s birth. The Magi from the east recognized the kingly nature of the Christ-child. They brought Him gifts worthy of a great ruler. Whether they knew it or not, this baby would one day be the lightning rod of both the redemption and condemnation of mankind. All men will be judged based upon their relationship with Jesus; the One God the Father has given all things. 

Although Jesus took on the “tent” of humanity, He is still God of very God. And His humbling of Himself and coming to us as a child is the reason not only for our hope but also for His eventual and ultimate glorification and reign: 

“…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 2:6-11).

This Christmas season, and beyond, I urge us all to contemplate the significance of the titles given Christ in Isaiah 9:6-7. They are truly awe-inspiring. They reek with attributes and character worthy of adoration and exaltation. They compel us to worship Him, not only as the child of Christmas, but as the sovereign Savior. This baby is mighty and almighty. The manger-born Jesus is more than “the reason for the season” but the reason for and ruler over all things. We can’t box Him up like a Christmas gift and open Him only once a year and still call Him Lord. We can’t keep Him a babe that never grows up – He is so much bigger than what we have twisted this holiday into. For the Child of Christmas is the Christ of all creation.

So what Child is this? John explains Him this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:1-4;12-14;16-18).

**Since it is our cultural’s tendency to want to leave the Christ of Christmas a small baby who perpetually stays in our imagined manger scene, I wanted to remind us all that this infant did grow up. And this Jesus, in all His fullness, is the Christ I want us to know this holiday season.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

We all know how commercialized Christmas has become. This is to be expected in our secular society. But the twisted and homogenized view of baby Jesus that has evolved is causes me the most consternation. Yes, He was born in a manger and eventually evacuated Bethlehem in fear of a mentally ill and threatened Herod’s commanded slaughter of all newborn males under 2 years of age. These things are true of the Christ-child. But He is so much more than a helpless and powerless infant who conjures up innocent and heartwarming feelings that desensitize us to this newborn’s true might. So let us look to the prophet Isaiah to answer the question, “what Child is this?”

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:1-5). 

Here we see this baby Jesus as Savior. Lets notice that this child has come to: 

  • Emancipate the captives (v. 1). This passage establishes Jesus as our emancipator. He claimed such as He read the prophecies of Isaiah regarding the release of the oppressed in Luke 4:14-19, which is a passage that corresponds nicely to Isaiah 9:1-5.  Jesus came to set the captive free, to unfetter the wayward in bondage to sin, to tell and be the Truth that releases us from the wrath of God that rests on those who don’t believe. He has come that we might be emancipated from all that binds us – sin, religion, legalism. Apart from Jesus we are all slaves in desperate need of His power to free us from all that separates us from Holy God. As He tells us in Luke 4:18, “[God] has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”
  • Enlighten the darkened (v. 2). The Christ-child is the light of the world. Darkness has covered humanity since the sin of our forefather Adam. We stumble along in deceptive pride and self-sufficiency. Jesus even called the religious elite blind guides (Matthew 23:16). Nothing apart from the shining brilliance of Jesus can make the blind to see and the dead be raised to new life. In Luke 4:18, Christ says, “[God] has sent me to proclaim…recovery of sight for the blind.”
  • Ensure the joy of His people (v. 3). This manger-born baby came to give life and life more abundant (John 10:10). On the eve of His crowning achievement, the crucifixion, Jesus prays that, “I am coming to you [the Father] now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13, NIV). Not only did Christ ensure the joy of His followers but it is His joy He gives us. And is to be known in full measure.
  • Ease the burdens of His chosen (v. 4). As an adult this child would proclaim, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus came to “release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19, NIV)
  • Eventually end all conflict (v. 5). This infant is the Prince of Peace. He came to reconcile us to God, facilitate reconciliation between people (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-19), and eventually banish all that causes conflict and disharmony: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). 

What child is this? He is the Savior of the world (see John 1:29)! He is more than a baby whose birthday gives us cause to erect and decorate trees, exchange gifts, and share meals. As Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV).  

I pray that this is the One we worship this Christmas. The One sent to redeem all those who put their trust in Him. He’s the only One who can emancipate us from sin, enlightened us to God’s truth, ensure our joy, ease our burdens, and will ultimately end all that causes suffering and sorrow. This Christ-child of Christmas is our Savior.

Today (12/16/11) the passing of Christopher Hitchens, at the age of 62 from throat cancer, was announced. A famous (or infamous) apologist for the atheistic faith, his voluminous writings included the best-selling antitheist (which is how he categorized himself, not as an agnostic or an atheist) manifesto entitled God is Not Great. Whether you celebrated or cursed Hitchens, were an advocate or an adversary, this is significant. No doubt, he fomented strong emotions and opinions on both sides of the God debate, as well as contemporary religion, philosophy, politics, ethics, and society. There is much that can be said in disrespect towards Hitchens’ beliefs, elitism, condescension, and vitriolic demeanor. His legacy is that he did much to resurrect and popularize historic atheistic ideologies. Although not really new, his version of the Enlightenment was dubbed “The New Atheism.”

However, as much as we would disagree with him, followers of Jesus have no grounds to be a “Hitchens-hater.”  For he was a man with an eternal destiny, a person, like the rest of us, who desperately needed Jesus. And, despite his antagonism towards God and religion in general, there is much we can learn from him.  Hitch, as he was often called, passionately proclaimed his faith, his faith that there is no God. He vigilantly defended what he believed in and stood by it until the end. He was bold in promoting the belief system he based his life on, his worldview. Although I believe Hitchens was dreadfully wrong and disastrously deceived, we all could use more of his fervor and valor. Oh, that we would all trumpet our faith just as publicly and intensely. And do so until we have breathed our last.

Today, tragically, many professing Christ-followers will cheer his death and demise. For many so-called believers, it is difficult to estimate the total amount of collateral damage he has done to Christianity. I believe, however, the advance of God’s kingdom is unhindered no matter the efforts of Hitchens and his antitheistic counterparts. As Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). God has not moved and His plan has not changed. He still sits on the throne of the universe and does as He pleases, despite the unbelievers’ rants to the contrary.

Nevertheless, let’s look at Hitchens’ life (and death) as depicted in a couple of quotes about him found in news articles concerning his passing:

The Associated Press’ Hillel Italie:

Eloquent and intemperate, bawdy and urbane, he was an acknowledged contrarian and contradiction—half-Christian, half-Jewish and fully non-believing; a native of England who settled in America…He was a militant humanist who believed in pluralism and racial justice and freedom of speech, big cities and fine art and the willingness to stand the consequences.

ABC News’ Joel Siegel:

Hitchens became the public face of atheism. Critics assumed his cancer diagnosis, in 2010, would lead Hitchens to relent and embrace God. But he remained a proud non-believer to the very end, as he made clear in an early October 2011 speech at the annual Atheist Alliance of America convention in Houston, as he accepted the Freethinker of the Year Award. His body gaunt from the ravages of cancer, Hitchens said, “We have the same job we always had: to say that there are no final solutions; there is no absolute truth; there is no supreme leader; there is no totalitarian solution that says if you would just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you would simply abandon your critical faculties, the world of idiotic bliss can be yours.”

How does that strike you? For me, it makes me both sad and sober. But why?

Sad because Christopher Hitchens, it seems, died without knowing the hope and joy found only in Jesus. I’m heartbroken that so many, maybe not God-haters in the same sense, are drifting off into an eternity that is as real as this life. And they are doing so without embracing Christ as their Redeemer and King.

Sober because death is a reminder we live in a fallen world filled with fallen people. None of us can escape eternity. Therefore I pray we are prepared for it. The news of Hitchens’ death causes my lighthearted mood to turn intensely serious because “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).

Christopher Hitchens is now dead and has faced his Maker. This is sad. We too will do the same. This is sobering.

Are we ready? Have we surrendered to Jesus and found new and eternal life in Christ, the One who is ” the way, the truth and the life?” These, not our opinions about Hitchens or his legacy, are the real questions for today.

“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children” (Matthew 14:13-21).

Evangelicals tend to be critical of Roman Catholics for being too liturgical. Evangelicals even label Lutherans and Presbyterians as “God’s Frozen People” for their systematic and ritualistic approach to worship, among other things. Ah, but how often do we, the “orthodox” evangelicals, deviate from the all too sacred “order of worship?” Yes, I know that God is not the author of confusion (or chaos) in worship or anything else (see 1 Corinthians 14:28-38). But this passage doesn’t preclude God from moving outside of our self-imposed routines and order. He, after all, is much larger than that. Have we taken this text out of context and done so for our own emotional comfort? After all, Jesus did criticize the Pharisees for their “vain (empty) repetitions (see Matthew 6:7).

In the account above (which is presented in all four Gospels) we see something surprising. To say the least, it was unexpected. The meeting, it would seem, was over. Jesus had preached (Mark 6:34) and healed and now, according to the disciples, it was time to shut it down. “Send them home,” they wearily told the Master. “We have exhausted our ‘order of worship’ (implied), it’s late, and we are getting hungry. Off to get some chow and rest!” But much to their amazement (and maybe chagrin), Jesus had another idea. He chose to move in an extraordinary way (please do not let the term “extraordinary” pass you by – it simply means out of the ordinary or norm). He decided that this experience should continue and be drastically changed. A miracle was about to take place; food for five thousand from five loaves and two fish. Thankfully, this “service” didn’t end after the benediction or closing praise and worship chorus. Jesus, spontaneous Jesus, had something bigger in mind!

Jesus was not going to be put into a box. He was not going to let God’s work be short-circuited by the comfortable parameters of boundary-inducing men. He knew there was hunger and He was going to feed those who were in need even though those closest to Him clamored for their dismissal. This wasn’t the only time Jesus took what would be considered ordinary and spontaneously made it extraordinary. He wasn’t predictable at all. Some of His greatest revelations and works came during impromptu gatherings, dinners, stonings, casual strolls, fishing expeditions, from boats, and in the midst of storms. In none of these situations was He or God’s movement stifled by some man-made, predetermined plan or order. Jesus let God out of the corner, so to speak, and let His work be accomplished by being sensitive to the situation, aware of God’s movement, and surprisingly spontaneous. Just ponder the number of times the Gospels demonstrate that Jesus caught His listeners off guard as He quickly changed directions.

Now I’m not advocating disordered worship or chaotic church services. Nor am I against tradition itself. Not at all! What I’m suggesting is that we allow God’s Spirit to move in such a way that our practices, methods, orders, plans, formulas, routines, traditions, and, sometimes even, prescriptions don’t hinder true worship and ministry. In other words, let’s not be so programmed and predictable that we don’t allow for God’s Spirit to take us where He wants us to go. Yes, we certainly need structure but not at the expense of missing God’s presence and power. As someone has pointedly said, “Many churches have become so routine and regulated that if the Holy Spirit did show up they would have no room for Him to visit. And they wouldn’t even recognize that He had been there.”

If you are a pastor or small group leader, try something “radically” different. Change the order of things (do something really crazy like preaching or teaching at the beginning of the gathering), expect and allow for Spirit-led spontaneity, and pray God moves outside the boundaries of our self-determined boxes and routines. Who knows, He just may just surprise you…just like Jesus often did.

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-nine – Jesus: The Messenger and the Message

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29).

Both the message and the messenger of the Sermon on the Mount prove unique, distinctive, and powerful. The Lord’s discourse is unlike anything ever heard; it completely contrasts ancient teachings and threatened the theological powerbrokers of the time. Not before Christ’s earthly ministry or after it has the world witnessed teaching of such authority, received instruction to prompt such radical change, or found education that so thoroughly challenges and inspires.

Jesus holds the position of the ultimate communicator and was often referred to by the honorable title of “Teacher.” But that designation proves a tremendous understatement. Christ told His followers that as the Messiah, He should be their only teacher (Matthew 23:10). In other words, His message is the only one that truly matters. The Sermon on the Mount, therefore, stands not just as the greatest sermon ever delivered; instead, it serves as the prologue to the incredible sacrifice Christ made at Calvary. It sets the stage for God’s redemptive strategy, proving that God has a plan to change human interactions, to reintroduce selflessness, and to restore fellowship between Himself and man. Two thousand years ago, on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus unveils much about His role as King as well as the intricacies of His kingdom. He speaks with divine authority. His words hold life-transforming power!

The Sermon on the Mount reveals Jesus as the Savior of the world. The narrow gate leading to eternal life. Further, Christ fulfills Old Testament Law: only through Him do sinful humans find forgiveness and reconciliation with God. As they sincerely surrender to Jesus, people begin to live by “the law of Christ,” the New Covenant standard (Galatians 6:2). This law of love supersedes, enhances, and deepens the principles of the Old Covenant and sums up the law of the prophets without nullifying them (see Matthew 22:34-40).

To one outside the Christian faith, the standard of living Christ sets in His sermon seems outrageous and impossible. But we must remember that all things—including loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety, and walking in righteousness—are possible in His power (Philippians 4:13). Further, Jesus never asked us to do anything He was unwilling to do. For thirty-three years He lived a mortal life, loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety to the Father, and walking in perfect righteousness. Jesus embodied the message He taught.

As we learn and are empowered to walk in Christ, we live out the mountainside message He shared. What a privilege to follow Him! 

Author’s Note

Not long ago a thirty minute lunch encounter shook my world. On a brief visit to the Wycliffe Bible Translators Ministry in Texas, I met an eighty-year-old translator and missionary who—along with his wife of fifty years—planned a return to the deepest jungles of Africa. I do not remember the man’s name, but I’m certain that God does.

For over ten years the man and his devoted wife worked with a remote and primitive people-group. In that time they translated small portions of the Bible into the villagers’ native tongue—a language for which there were virtually no books. By endearing themselves to the people by giving insight on how to keep the tribe’s newborns alive and free from pestilence, the two earned acceptance and eventually befriended them. Over the years, as they translated the critical New Testament texts and placed them in the hands of those who could communicate biblical truth to the tribe, the missionaries lived in tents and their target audience in huts. Their lives were not easy.

All of this happened several years before I met this devout man. The couple had long ago returned to the States in pursuit of retirement. God, however, gave them a new vision for how to spend their last days: they’d return to that African country to continue their outreach.

“This time we will tell stories of Jesus,” the man explained with a gleam of joy in his eye. “That will be quicker and more effective. The people will pass these stories along to later generations who will never be able to read.”

I asked, as the old missionary rose from the table, when they’d return home to the States.

“Actually,” he quickly replied, “we are going home. We will never return to America. We plan on dying there, in Africa, with our tribe. We have the good news to spread and little time remaining to do so. We have a King to serve and a kingdom to share.”

*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!

*I rarely repost other’s work but this insightful and humorous article is well worth reading. It is found on the open source SBC site called SBC Voices. I’m sorry for the length but this post needed to be presented in its entirety. It is written by Dave Miller.

“All week long, my car ran great. Here and there, across town and back, up hills and down; no problems. I turned the key, the engine fired and I was on my way. Then, suddenly, on Friday, a terrible thing happened. I was cruising along when it coughed a couple of times, sputtered, harrumphed, and then quit. Nothing. It would turn over, but not fire. I was stranded. Being the master mechanic that I am, I walked around the car and gave all four tires a firm kick. I opened the hood, jiggled a few wires, pulled and twisted stuff and burned my hand on something hot. But no matter what I did, the engine would not start.

I was at the point of despair when I noticed a large sign about a hundred yards ahead. It said “BMW” – Baptist Motor Works. Perfect, I thought. If anyone can help me, surely my Baptist Buddies can. I pushed the car over, and as I rolled it into the parking lot, a man in a loud sports coat, white shirt, and ugly tie came out, grabbed my hand, slapped my back, and welcomed me to his shop. He had me fill out a visitor’s card, popped the hood and took a look inside.

“Brother Miller,” he said. “Your car seems to be functioning below statistical standards.”

“Yes, sir,” I nodded. “I can’t argue with that.”

“I think I can help you. First, we will need to form a committee to study the statistics on this car. They will get the input of experts and others who own functioning cars of this model. We will get together, appoint a task force, write a report, then formulate a program that will get your car’s statistics up. I will give you an 800 number for the experts in Nashville and Atlanta who can help you to figure out why your numbers have slipped.”

“Thank you, sir, but…”

“Please, call me Brother Billy Bob.”

“Well, Brother Billy Bob, I appreciate all that. But can you fix my car – this car?”

“You are in luck. I have a new curriculum that just came in last week – look, here’s the box right here. A shop down in Florida has had great success in getting their cars running using this program. If it worked for them, I am sure it will work for you.

“What is it?”

“I don’t have all the details, but it has a catchy slogan and some great graphics. There’s even a website with 10 pages of FAQ’s. Just what you need.”

I thanked him and scanned the street. I am no mechanic, but I knew that my car needed something a little more than a catchy slogan and new program. I didn’t need an expert in Florida to tell me how well his car runs, I needed someone in Sioux City to get my car running.

I pushed my car back out into the street and saw another shop, just a couple of doors down. It was called the “Car Growth Strategy Mechanics Shop.” Mechanics. That’s what I needed. Maybe they could fix my car. So, I pushed it over to their shop and was invited to wait in their lush, air-conditioned lobby. As I waited, I perused some of the books and magazines. I glanced through “Experiencing Cars,” flipped through “The Purpose-Driven Car” and scanned a pamphlet called, “How to Make Your Car More Driver-Friendly.”

Before I got a chance to digest any of the advice a mechanic came out, dressed in Khakis and a golf shirt, with a neatly trimmed goatee. After I explained my problem, he smiled and said, “I think I can help you, Mr. Miller. What you need to do is take a survey of your community and find out what people feel their automotive needs are. Find out what the most popular color of paint is, and what interior style and color people like the most. Once you know what the people around you like in a car, we can totally redesign your car to fit those tastes. Then we can begin a new advertising and marketing strategy that will make your car the envy of the whole community.”

“Will that make my car run better?”

He shook his head sadly. “Mr. Miller, you will never get the right answers as long as you are asking the wrong questions.”

I could tell I was getting nowhere with him. My car did not need a survey or a new marketing strategy. It needed to be fixed. I looked up and down the street one more time. I saw another place a block away. The sign said, “CP&W Repair Shop – We can make your old car new.” Perfect! I huffed and puffed and pushed my car up the small hill to the CP&W shop. Out came a man with long, curly hair, in blue jeans and sandals with a Switchfoot t-shirt.

“Can you help me?” I asked. “My car won’t run.”

He looked inside and nodded, then turned to face me. “Mr. Miller, I have spotted your problem. Look at your sound system. You have an old AM Radio with a cassette player. That thing will only play old-fashioned, out-of-date music. We, here at Contemporary Praise and Worship Repair Shop can fix you right up. We will replace your old clunker with the newest CD/DVD surround sound studio quality satellite music system. You will be able to get all the best stations with all the newest music.”

“Will it make my car run?”

“Run?” he responded. “Why would you want to run when you could sit in your car and enjoy the experience of your wonderful modern sound system. That’s all this car needs – contemporary music.”

I thanked him and headed back out. I may be a mechanical moron, but I know that whatever was wrong with my car cannot be fixed by a new program, new marketing strategies, an exterior paint job or a new sound system. None of that would bring my dead car to life.

I spied one more little shop, tucked back in an old brick building. The sign read “Superior Automotive Knowledge Repair Shop.” Maybe these folks knew what to do with my car. My back was aching from pushing it around town and I needed help. But, when I rolled the car into their parking lot, no one came out to help.

I poked my head in the door. Hearing some soft organ music in the background, I walked down a hallway and opened another door. There, huddled in a small circle, was a group of men in a very intense discussion.

“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “Is this a repair shop?”

With a look of faint annoyance, one man said, “Yes, it is.”

“Well, I have a car that won’t run, and I was wondering if you could take a look at it.”

He pursed his lips. “If you are interested and able, you may join our group as we study the true Doctrines of Cars. We are just now exploring the various aspects of free wheel and carlection. We are not like some of those silly groups out there that focus on methods and manuals and such things. We seek a superior knowledge of the inner workings of cars and it provides us with a sense of awe and humility, knowing that we know more about how cars work than anyone else.”

I was a little confused. “Do you actually fix cars?”

He seemed a little irritated. “That is not our job. Only the manufacturer can fix the cars.”

I wandered back out and leaned against my car in superior frustration. I was out of options. I could not see any more shops, and I was dead tired from all the pushing. At that moment, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw an average looking man in jeans and a t-shirt.

He said, “Sir, I have watched you push your car up and down the street. I think I can help you.”

I was a little cynical now. “What are you going to do for me? Form a strategy team, call in an expert, form an elite study group, repaint my car and fix my stereo?”

“No, sir. I own that little gas station over there, the B&P Filling Station. I thought you might try something simple. Maybe your car is just out of gas. Want to give that a try?” At this point, I was willing to try anything. So we pushed the car over to the B&P Gas Station. I pumped gas into my car until the tank was full. I sat down in the front seat of my car, put in the key, turned it, it chugachugged for a second, then roared to life. Nothing was really wrong with the car; it was just out of gas!

I went inside and thanked the mechanic. Never had I been so happy to pay for a tank of gasoline.

“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Miller. It happens all the time. People drive their cars and never stop to fill them up. Then, when they go dry, everyone has a suggestion, but so often they forget to do the one thing every car needs – fill the tank.”

He handed me a receipt, I shook his hand and I went on my way. As I sat down in the driver’s seat, I started to put the receipt into my notebook. That’s when I saw the name at the top. “Bible & Prayer Filling Station.” I was sure glad I stopped there that day.

Perhaps all the experts’ advice, the marketing strategies, the new paradigms, the head knowledge, the modernization and new programs are not what we Christians and our churches need most. Each of them has value in their proper place. Maybe what we really need to get into God’s Word and seek Him until our hearts are full of our Savior’s presence. Perhaps our churches should focus on seeking God and listening to His Word.

I recently realized I was burned out, discouraged, nearing depression. I took some time off and that helped. But I also realized that as I got busy with life, as I ministered, as I blogged, as I worked, I was often forgetting to fill my tank by spending time in God’s Word, by praying, by seeking the Face of the One who sustains our souls. It is a fundamental mistake and I should have known better. You can’t drive a car without gas and you can’t succeed in Christian life or ministry without taking the time to fill your soul with the presence of Christ.

And, in our churches, maybe a new program can help. There is a lot of great new music being written for the purpose of praising God. It is possible that your church could find a new strategy that will help you be more effective in reaching your community. And undoubtedly Christians need to know more about the basic doctrines of our faith. But none of these things will fix the real problem most Christians, and their churches, have. Nothing will fill an empty tank but the Presence of God. Nothing cultivates the presence of God like the Word of God, prayer and genuine worship.

Could it be that simple?”

As much as I’m prone to agree, please tell me what you think?

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-eight – Radical Transformation Required  

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:21-27).

Central to Christ’s sermon stands the concept of radical transformation. Throughout His discourse Jesus encourages listeners not to just hear the Word of God but to practice it. Repeatedly He states the importance of not just right living, but of living right for the right reasons. When people truly surrender to Christ and allow Him to take ownership, their entire approach to life changes. They exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, value others more than self, and seek to spread Christ’s love. Even when difficulties arise believers can thrive, overcoming life’s storms through the strength He provides.

In Matthew 7:21-27 Christ makes an important distinction between those who check the Christian box on a census form with those who truly accept Him. Our King calls followers to unconditional surrender of our lives, wills, and minds. He confronts us with two truths: neither a verbal profession of His deity nor an intellectual understanding of what He came to accomplish prove sufficient in securing our entry into the kingdom. Neither proves an acceptable substitute for the faith and deep-seated obedience required. Jesus debunks the myth that our relationship with Him can rest solely on what we say about Him or to Him. No creed, formulaic “sinner’s prayer,” or verbal affirmation of Christ’s divine role can save us. God demands absolute capitulation to Christ as Lord. Confession proves a real and necessary part of our conversion, but it must be sincere (see Romans 10:9-11).

Interestingly, the verbal profession “Lord, Lord” made by those Christ rejects proves quite orthodox. But while the designation is accurate and respectful, the Lord hears it as empty words when coming from the mouths of those who claim to know Him without evidencing heart transformation. Although they called Him Lord, these “evildoers” did not fully submit in servitude to His lordship. When to their praise Jesus replies that He never knew them and that they should depart from Him, He reveals that radical transformation is required of those who live as part of His kingdom. This serves as a warning to those who “play Christian.” Claiming we know Christ without allowing Him to transform us proves dangerous and utterly destructive.

Luke’s account of the Sermon provides further insight. In Luke 6:46 Christ asks, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” The critical distinction between an acceptable profession of faith in Christ as opposed to an unacceptable one is this: true followers of Jesus demonstrate heart change through doing Spirit-empowered good works and aiming toward God’s righteous standards. Jesus expects to see Holy Spirit inspired obedience and good works as evidence of our sincerity.

Understanding the gospel message without doing anything to spread it shows a lack of spiritual foundation. Likewise, doing good works in our own efforts or out of a desire to be seen, fails to please God. Jesus refers to a home’s foundation to reveal that the substance of one’s belief is rooted deep within. Should our foundation stand strong, our efforts will follow. Unless we allow the knowledge of Christ’s truth to form a root to nurture transformational obedience, however, we’ll eventually find devastation and destruction.

Chris grew up in the church, was baptized at an early age, and even memorized significant portions of Scripture. But once at college and away from her Christian home and church, she felt overwhelmed by the temptations offered by her new-found freedom and worldly friends. It wasn’t long before Chris dove headlong into parties, drugs, and a promiscuous lifestyle. Her evangelical upbringing no longer influenced her choices. In retrospect she commented, “That was because I was a ‘believer’ but had never really bowed to Christ.” Thankfully, God intervened and made her aware that despite her religious background she was lost. Chris needed to submit totally to Jesus in order to experience His radically transforming presence.

Understand that Jesus never taught salvation by works. We cannot earn our way into Heaven. The Apostle Paul clarified this in explaining that we are saved by grace through the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). As we humbly accept the undeserved grace God bestows and allow our faith in Him to change us from the inside out, we begin to realize the truth of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We realize that “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”; therefore, we set out to serve the Lord in tangible, meaningful ways (see James 2:17).

The Lord desires that we approach Him with hearts brimming with love for Him and genuinely grateful for who He is and all He provides. Acknowledging His existence with shallow words, fleshly deeds, and mere intellectual assent fails to glorify God. We must instead live out His lordship with the heart-righteousness that comes only from the Holy Spirit. As we do, we will view everything in a new light, His light. Our paradigm will change: we will see life as a ministry that images forth the beauty of Jesus. We will look through the lens of Christ-exalting love and find ourselves moved to God-honoring obedience. Once we truly meet Jesus, everything changes.

Apply It.

Read and absorb Second Corinthians 6:3-10. Here Paul mentions that our service should be “in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love.” In what ways do you demonstrate love for the Lord? Does gratitude compel you to live a life that says “thank you” to Him? Commit to let this attitude transform every aspect of your life.

*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!

Here is an excerpt from an article that was quite disconcerting to me – Reclaiming the Mission » The Mars Hill Seattle “Cease and Desist” Letter: Why Branding Is the Ultimate Anti-Missional Act:

The part of the story I know goes like this: There was a church in Sacramento that named themselves “Mars Hill” several years ago. It is the same name as the well known Mars Hill church led by Mark Driscoll in Seattle Washington. A couple weeks ago the Sacramento congregation received a “Cease and Desist” letter which came from attorneys representing the Seattle Mars Hill Church. They were told that the Seattle Mars Hill had copyrighted the name “Mars Hill” and they demanded that the Sacramento California Mars Hill church stop using the name and any logos with similar lettering.” These events were made known by a blogger/pastor in the area (see here). A storm was stirred up. Then the Mars Hill Seattle pastors contacted the Mars Hill pastor in Sacramento. There was some good discussion, apologies and reconciliation. Sacramento Mars Hill agreed to change its logo so there would be less confusion surrounding its identity with the larger Mars Hill church in Seattle. (These events are reported here, here and here).”

My purpose here is not to attack Mars Hill Church (any of them) or Mark Driscoll, but I’m saddened that this seems to be what the institutional evangelical church is coming to – let’s trademark “our church,” and send threatening “Cease and Desist” letters to other ministries who use any portion of  “our” kingdom’s marketing tagline. Has the contemporary church become all about “logos and egos?” If this is being “missional” then I’m inclined to believe the goal is misguided. I know there are 2 sides to every story and my opinions here will offend some (I do have a right to be wrong, you know) but what is so disappointing to me is that this ministry (which includes Mars Hill Church, Acts 29 Network, and The Resurgence), one I have often appreciated and applauded, should not be anywhere close to this fracas (actually, none of these ministries should be).  

Known for their emphasis on missional living, the theology of Driscoll’s ministries may be pretty solid but this sounds like a sound bite from the Google vs. Apple controversy, with similar innuendo, greediness, and sensationalism. Why are respected ministries resorting to the world’s tactics when God’s Word strictly forbids one Christian suing another (alright, there was no actual lawsuit, just the threat of one – see 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 anyway)? Understanding we all make mistakes and God’s grace covers a multitude of sins, this situation makes me question my approval of this ministry and its leadership.

Why? Because a lost and gospel-antagonistic world celebrates our pettiness and self-promotion. Since when do we think it is “missional” to brand or trademark a ministry (or church name and imagery… I do, however, totally understand content copyright) that is supposedly called to exalt the name of Jesus and His kingdom above all else? How many funds are being diverted for these kinds of secular tactics that are better served spreading the Good News and reaching those who are in spiritual darkness? Is this good stewardship (attorneys don’t come cheap)? Also, let’s not give the unregenerate more reasons to discard the claims of Scripture while we haggle over names and logos.

Let me continue my rant. Since when is the name Mars Hill so sacred? After all, we find the first example of the connection between Mars Hill and the preaching of the gospel in the book of Acts (see Acts 17 for the text). It (the Areopagus) was the place where Paul spoke God’s truth to pagans and polytheists. Figuratively speaking, “Mars Hill” was providentially designed as a platform for the proclamation of God’s truth not a scene of litigious protectionism. Haven’t we, like Paul, better things to do? 

With no disrespect towards Mars Hill Church or Mark Driscoll intended – I could insert the name of any ministry or minister, mine included – let me take some radical (and to some, unacceptable) liberties with a passage from the great Apostle himself.  You can find this text in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. It is part of Paul’s letter to a church filled with worldliness, strife, and carnal self-promotion. Please take particular note of the very last phrase of this passage:

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by [the Media] that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow [Mark Driscoll],” or “[I follow Mars Hill Seattle],” or “I follow [a church growth methodology or the “missional” creed],” or “I  follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was [Mars Hill] crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of [Mark Driscoll]? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of [trademarks, branding, and threatened lawsuits], lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”


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