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“…and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:26, 30-33). 

God, some have said, is wholly “other.” We know, by definition, God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. When we attempt to ruminate on His greatness we can feel infinitely small (and we are) and seemingly insignificant (but we aren’t). He can’t be totally and accurately defined but we describe Him as glorious, sovereign, transcendent, majestic, incomprehensible, and almighty, among many other lofty adjectives. And God is all of this and more!  But it is one particular aspect of this “more” that I’d like to drill down on: God is also personal. He is our perfect Father! 

All of our physical fathers are imperfect, many are disengaged, and some are downright negligent and mean. And because of this we live in a world of hurting people whose view of God as Father has been skewed by their experience with their earthly fathers. We tend to assign to God the same character and personality traits of our human fathers. If our dad was absent then we think God is also. If our earthly father was angry, God is seen as a condemning and hostile (and He can be to those who aren’t His own). If dad was loving, we project the Creator as kind and beneficent (and He is). Generous, then generous. Cruel, then cruel. Distant, then distant…and so forth. Praise God, I can say nothing negative about my Christ-like earthly father but, given the dysfunctional and disintegrating nature of the contemporary Western family, many don’t feel this way. It’s no wonder that the idea of God is unappealing and many have been prompted to avoid, rebel against, or reject such a notion.  

But we have good news! For all whose view of God is tainted by your physical father’s failures, please know God can be very personal, even more intimate than our own family. He has initiated a familial relationship with us that is most amazing. God can be, as Jesus often said, “your Father.” Yes, most recognize that the Scripture portrays Jesus as the Son of God but what about us? Are we too unlovely and insignificant, given the way we may have been treated by our own fathers, for the ruler of the universe to be that perfect Father to us, to love us in a way that reminds us of the way He loves Jesus? Could the Almighty claim us as His own children? Despite what we may feel, the fact is that God’s Word says He can and does. Again, what great news! 

As a matter of fact, we can be adopted into God’s family, become one of His children, share in Christ’s inheritance, and be glorified with Jesus, the very son of God! As you read the words of Paul, notice the terms of endearment “Daddy,” “children,” heirs,” and “son.” And don’t overlook the promises and provisions made to those that experience God’s adoption and familial affection: 

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “[Daddy]! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17). 

So what’s the catch? For us to experience this glorious reality we must do 2 things – receive (turn from ourselves and our ways and turn to Him) and believe in (put our total trust in) the person and work of Christ. As the Apostle John said, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], 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” (John 1:12-13).  

Do you feel disappointed and disenfranchised with your earthy family? As scarring and sad as that is, God says you can join His eternal family. You can call Him “Daddy.” You can become joint heirs with Jesus. You can personally know a Heavenly patriarch who will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). You can find comfort and security in an incomprehensibly loving Father who will receive you back with seeking arms, an embrace, and a sumptuous feast when you return to Him from your wanderings (Luke 15:11-24). You can find in Him a love that is eternal and filled with hope (Romans 8:31-39). 

So my plea is simple: Despite the tragedy of families that fail us, don’t let that keep you from your perfect Heavenly Father. The God of the universe beckons you to call Him “Daddy” and receive His unequaled paternal provision. Receive and believe in Jesus and be “born again” into the family of the Father of the heavenly lights, “from whom every good and perfect gift is [received and] who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17, NIV).

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“And [the son] arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.…the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate…And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20-22-24).

There is only one A&W root beer left in our refrigerator. After over a decade of a 12 pack being kept cool, I won’t be buying more anytime soon. I don’t drink root beer; my son does. But Samuel has moved away to graduate school, has his own apartment, and is looking for long-term employment. His frequent and treasured visits to the Wolfeden will be less common. Samuel is 23 and a man. He has now left home to make his mark in the world. He is moving forward to answer God’s call on his vocation, as he presently understands it. As we all know, this is sometimes difficult to determine due our sinfulness and human limitations. But he is trying, and he is seeking. God knows that it took me nearly 50 years to figure this out and still I sometimes wonder if I have.

As unwelcomed as this is to a parent, this is the way of life. I, too, left home for undergraduate studies and then, later, 7 hours away to seminary. Children grow up and move on. They find their way; they find their place. They discover, we earnestly pray, exactly where God wants them to be, doing precisely what He wants them to do. This is not an exact science and I pray forgiveness for any barriers that I have unwittingly created in Samuel’s pursuit of a life full of loving and serving his Savior. Mercifully, I’m confident that our God is big enough to overcome my poor choices and lack of wisdom. Parenting, as I have been consistently reminded, is not an exact science either, and is subject to the frailties and foibles of those who are blessed to parent.

Samuel isn’t going to a far country to sew his wild oats and waste his life – he’s only going 3 hours away to continue his studies at a Church of God university. He will carry on with his studies in psychology and today is his first day of classes. Why psychology? Maybe it’s to figure himself out or to understand and help others. Probably both. Maybe it’s to undo the ill-effects of my parenting. No matter the reason, he feels this is what he must do to grow up and move forward as an independent, responsible adult and a contributor to our culture and Christ’s kingdom. If, in the end, Samuel is pursuing his greatest purpose – to glorify God and enjoy Him forever – then he really isn’t leaving home at all but, instead, finding His God-ordained dwelling place. With that in mind, I wish Samuel our Lord’s best, fruit for his labor, and the joy of Jesus. It’s the least I could do after all the delight he has brought to me.

Don’t think for a second that he is a prodigal. Nothing could be further from the truth. I chose this passage because of the father’s reaction to His son’s return, not as a commentary on why Samuel left. It’s because, when he returns to visit, I will react in a similar fashion. No, there won’t be a splendid robe or a special ring and shoes. But a cow will have been sacrificed and the grill will be prepped for the finest steak his father can cook. There will be a celebration – probably muted by biblical standards, but a joyous event nonetheless. But there will be that root beer – the one that has remained in the fridge awaiting Samuel’s homecoming. And there will be another 12 pack already purchased, stored, and cool, in the hopes that he lingers for awhile and comes back again soon.

Samuel Wolfe, Rebekah and I, like the father in Jesus’ parable, longingly look forward to once again watching you drink that A&W, savoring a specially prepared ribeye, chatting about things both important and not, and enjoying the gladness that comes from you blessing us with your presence. We are so very, very proud of you! Godspeed!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eleven – The Source of Righteousness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apply It.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


When you get to be my age the Christmas gifts you receive aren’t what they used to be. When we were a child we pretended to sleep on Christmas Eve and, much to the chagrin of your parents, dashed to the decorated tree at the earliest possible moment – around 4:30 AM. We danced with glee as we tore into the packages and beheld, with great joy, what delights that awaited us. The toys were our treasures  and the object of our ecstatic desire. (On a side note, isn’t it a shame that many folks still think that their “toys” are their treasure and fail to recognize Jesus, the real gift of Christmas, is what lastingly captivates and fully satisfies).

Later we become adults, sometimes spouses and parents. We then live out this process vicariously through children. We find a measure of gladness in watching them mesmerized by the magic of Christmas (or at least mesmerized by the presents and lore of the holiday). They behave as we did when we were young and we, in a sleep deprived stupor, relive those moments of exhilaration that we once felt. The tree, and its treasure, is the pivotal and central figure in the experience we adoringly call Christmas.

Finally our children grow up and we pray for grandchildren so this delusion can continue. Such is the case with me. My son is a mature 21 year old trying to figure whether to enter a Master’s degree program or go directly into doctoral work (My gracious, he was just born last week!). This year I will get some new tennis shoes (which I desperately need) and I got my son a new Nike golf bag (I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how all of his golf equipment costs three times as much as mine did). My son, Samuel, got his gifts early this year and picked them all out himself. It seems as if he’s lost the childlike magic found in packages and presents way too quickly for me. I never know what he might get me but it usually is a mall gift card. That works for me – I can use it to buy the golf balls I will lose as he totes around his fancy golf bag, clubs, and apparel while beating me by 4 strokes.

But this year I got a surprise gift from my son. After my verbose and mindless driveling on the attributes of social networking he joined Facebook. Is that a great gift, you think? No, not really. The gift came when I “friended” him (I was his second friend and the first to write something , and I literally wrote “SOMETHING”, on his wall) and was able to peruse his profile. In the section labeled “religious views” he simple put “Jesus is the man”.  Wow! “Jesus is the man” – I’ve never heard it put any better.

Talking about joy, glee, delight, treasure, gladness, and satisfaction all rolled into one surreal moment – that was it for me. It was the magic of Christmas in the most profound sense – the holiday spirit of all of my years captured in four very significant words. But of course it wasn’t about physical presents or toys. No toy or present under a holiday tree can compare to the gift that Christ has given Samuel by becoming cursed and hanging on the tree of Calvary for him (Galatians 3:13). This is the best gift I will receive this year – knowing that my only child believes that “Jesus is the man”! And knowing that I do, too!

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