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“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

Christian Teens Tell Churches: Challenge Us, Don’t Water Down Gospel, Christian News

For years I’ve been saying that our watering down, liberalizing, and softening of the claims and demands of the kingdom of God (and the Gospel) is the problem with reaching our culture with the truth of Jesus. The false logic goes like this: “If we make receiving and following Jesus easy and palatable then more will choose to do so.” Not only is that awful theology and an inexcusable compromise but it doesn’t work either. People (youth in particular) are looking for something so extreme they are willing to “sell out” to it. Look at much of what our young people have become attracted to (such as Goth or gangs – there are a lot of ugly subcultures into which our youth are willing to submerge themselves) and see their passion once they commit to a lifestyle or “cause.”

People are looking for a radical calling to devote themselves. And there is nothing more outrageous than the claims of Christ and the demands of discipleship. Die to self, hate your life, take up your cross, sell all, lose your life that you might gain something far greater (Jesus) – these are the drastic messages of true, undiluted Christianity. And this is not only the truth but also what people or hungry for. They don’t long for some passionless, stoic, simplistic, easy, lazy, disengaged belief system. They don’t desire to just go through the motions of shallow religion. They want to live for something worth dying for!!! This article is just another reminder that our weak, fearful, faithless approach to reaching people is actually turning them off. They want the real deal, the real Jesus (the Lamb and the Lion), and His extreme calling. And the real Jesus is the real deal!

I think a personal story is in order. Several years ago at a Christian youth rally the leader of the band that was the focal point of the meeting concluded the service this way: “Please remain seated and don’t bow your heads. We are going to stop the music now. If you are interested in surrendering to Christ and following Him please stand. While everyone watches, please come forward. We would like to spend some time with you and more fully explain what receiving Jesus means.”

Out of an audience of over 2000, 3 young people stood.

The worship leader continued: “Now come to the front so that a counselor can spend some time with you. We want you to know why we are doing this. If you choose to follow Jesus tomorrow there will be no background music and all eyes will be on you to see if you meant what you said when you made this decision to give all of yourself to serve all of who He is – and rely upon Him to live the way He calls you to live.”

The 3 young people walked to the front and were greeted by counselors.

Can you imagine the uproar from pastors and youth leaders? They were livid! “The world makes it hard enough to become a Christian, we don’t need to make it any harder,” they screeched. “Last year,” one said, “we had dozens come forward.” The band leader softly and graciously replied, “I’m sure you did. And I’m also sure these 3 are more likely to continue in the faith.”

The thing that made such an impression on me, and I’ll never forget it, was what I learned when I spoke to all 3 of those kids. All had come to the front the year before. And they all said essentially the same thing: “It wasn’t real last year. It was pure emotion. It seemed like the popular thing to do. Now I have a better idea of what I’m signing up for, what it means to follow my Savior.”

And, I believe, follow they will.

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“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.  They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9). 

I beg your forgiveness for the disjointed, unpolished, and sentimental nature of this post but it is typed through tears.

What is an ode? In English culture, an ode is typically a lyrical verse written in praise of, or dedicated to someone or something which captures the poet’s interest or serves as an inspiration for the ode.

Who is Clara? She is our “tortie” female cat. She has been a faithful friend to Rebekah for over 16 years and to Samuel and me for nearly 3. In the last 18 months in particular, it has been disheartening and even gut wrenching to watch Clara’s physical strength and health fade to the point where she became almost motionless and incapacitated. Between her diabetes, arthritis and, finally, renal failure, she became but a “shell” of her former self. Her energy and vigor dissipated but there was still a sparkle in her dimming and cloudy eyes. It was the gleam of unconditional love. Isaiah’s words above describe the culmination of kingdom of God. And I don’t think it coincidental that he features animals to give us a glimpse into the happiness, peace, and love that will be present there. Strikingly similar, I think, to the comfort, tranquility, and devotion that Clara has blessed us with.

Clara passed away today and there is real grief and many tears in the Wolfe household. I’ve often wondered why we sometimes ache and suffer more over animals than people. Although we shouldn’t, I think I can explain it. Our pets have never done us wrong. They have never criticized, intentionally wounded, or abandoned us. They delight in us no matter how we have behaved and lived. They love us in such an exhaustive sense, in way that we rarely see among people. Actually, the way they adore and treasure us is probably one of the best images of the way God loves, and ultimately showed that in Jesus – the One who lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death that we deserved so that we might have abundant and eternal life in Him.

I don’t pretend to be a poet – not even close. What is to follow will be technically poor and, to many, somewhat silly. But it is from the heart. The intent is to capture something in this precious creature that will memorialize her, although I admit a total inability to do so. It is a feeble attempt, but a worthwhile effort no less, to define the essence of a cherished animal who, as many of you have experienced with your own pets, became an integral part in the fabric of our lives. For those who have or had such beloved furry friends, you will also know how much the way they give and love points us to a God who gives and loves beyond measure and imagination, who prizes us to infinity.

And now for the ode: 

Sounds of affection – always waiting and ever longing

For a word, a touch – with gazing eyes her adoration sharing

Looking with pure gladness and resting in perfect peace

Constantly delighted and satisfied in her family’s presence 

Her hurting and weakness and sickness have ceased

In living and loving she was forever most pleased

Blessed were those on whom she lavished her love

To have learned from her more of Grace from above 

Clara is on her couch no more but hasn’t ventured far

Even though she has vanished now from our earthly sight

She remains as close as her stare and reassuring purr

As she will always be embedded in our memory and our heart 

Good bye, our sweet friend. You will never be replaced. You have loved and been loved in an extraordinary way and we know in our hearts that loving will never end. Rest in perfect peace, ClaraBugs. You deserve it.


*Preface 

“On hearing [His unorthodox teaching], many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’

 … From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

 ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’ ” (John 6:60-64, 66-69). 

Scripture abounds with “hard teachings,” difficult concepts that make readers scratch their heads. God’s Word, and Jesus’ instruction in particular, often disturb our flesh and pride: they make us uncomfortable, point out things about ourselves that need improvement, make us conscious of our complete failure to measure up to God’s standards. While closing the Bible on such passages proves tempting, followers of Christ must grasp that both our relationship with the Lord and our spiritual growth suffer when we do. God does not call us to always understand or even “agree” with His Word, but He does call us to love, believe, and live it! 

Even those who walked with Christ for nearly three years, saw His miracles, and observed the perfection of His life sometimes struggled not to reject His teaching simply because they didn’t comprehend it or because it made them feel uncomfortable. In fact, the tendency led Peter to actually take the Lord aside for a quick rebuke—a decision that did not go over well (Matthew 16:21-23). And even Christ’s own mother surely felt confused by His words as He identified not her personally but “those who do God’s will” as His “mother” (See Mark 3:31-35).

Christ spoke of the utter sinfulness of man, of the absolute authority, holiness, and glory of God; He elaborated on the “foolishness” of God’s plan of salvation, and He gave—particularly in The Sermon on the Mount—a myriad of seemingly unrealistic demands to those who would follow Him wholeheartedly. Truly, some of the Bible’s teachings are difficult to accept. At times, we can even find ourselves offended by them. We will not, however, reach our full potential as Christ’s disciples unless we choose to open our hearts and minds to them.

Sadly, some people reject the hard teachings of Jesus and Christianity from the beginning. Atheists, agnostics, and followers of other, easier-to-follow religions reject Christ outright. They prove unwilling to accept any of Christ’s claims and will not surrender their lives to a sacrificial, spiritual, and God-centered ideology. Other individuals gladly accept Christianity, only to abandon their faith when the entire counsel of God’s Word fails to meet their expectations. These individuals feel attracted to what Jesus offers, but they are often repelled by what He requires. Taking up a cross and denying themselves proves too much. In both instances, teachings wrongly perceived as overbearing and exaggerated prove too taxing to those on the fringe of faith in God. Even some who profess to follow Jesus so water down, rationalize, and liberalize God’s Word that it hardly resembles the true gospel. In doing so they reject Christ as soundly as those who never fully embraced Him in the first place.

God’s Word is often offensive and so is the cross, yet their message is wholly reliable. Every true follower of Christ must affirm that Jesus is the Holy One of God. They must embrace that His words are the truth of eternal life. When in John 6 Peter asked, “Lord, to whom should we go? You have the words of life,” he got it right. The Bible offers the only teachings that reveal how we can know God. It shows that Jesus provides the revelation of the kingdom of Heaven. He is the King of Kings. He alone stands worthy of our trust and obedience because only through His sacrifice and His words—no matter how challenging—do we have any hope. 

God enables those who will believe and accept His Word (v. 65). Jesus stated, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). The word translated draw in John 6 pertains to drawing water from a well. It could be translated “to pull” and indicates our utter dependence on God to both understand His gospel and come to Him.[i] Simply stated, we can’t get our heads around Christ’s difficult teachings without God’s intervention! That’s why I often say that I can teach the truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart it (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16).

Growth in discipleship requires us to believe Jesus’ teachings even when we don’t fully understand them, to affirm them even when we might prefer to reject a particular passage, to live them out by faith even when they seem a puzzle. This kind of trust and yielding demonstrates obedience to God who truly draws us to His truth by His Spirit and gives us His life: it encompasses the story of one who means to follow the King and serve as part of His kingdom. Oswald Chambers said, “The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of principles to be obeyed apart from identification with Christ. The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the way we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.”[ii]

As you saturate yourself in this in-depth look at the Sermon on the Mount, know that while following Christ’s teaching is neither for the weak nor the faint of heart, the Holy Spirit serves as your guide in the process. Ask the Lord to grow you, to stretch you, and to teach you how to patiently grapple with His teachings. Through faith and surrender, every true believer can thrive in the knowledge that God’s words are truth and life. Jesus is who He claims; you can stake your eternal destiny on His words.


[i] Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon (Clarendon Press, 1889).

[ii] Chambers, Oswald. The Psychology of Redemption (London: Simpkin Marshall LTD, 1947), 34.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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