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“[John] said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”  (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:23-27).

Sal Mattson appropriately died on Good Friday. His legacy is partly captured in the University of Tennessee campus newspaper:

Campus evangelist passes away | The Daily Beacon

If you have not watched (I know the video drags quite a bit but it really is worth watching)  and read the links above, what I say next won’t have near the impact that it should. At least not the impact it had on me.

My brother attended Sal’s funeral. He described it as a joy-filled celebration despite Sal living only 53 years and leaving behind a wife and 5 children. There was much rejoicing over Sal’s homegoing and His Savior. The stories told there magnified what we learn from the links above. He gave his life to preach the Gospel from a sidewalk on the rabidly secular campus of a state institution of higher education. What we might not know is how he was treated by those he ministered to. His eulogists’ shared how Sal was often reviled – cursed, mocked, and even spat on. But he never uttered a harsh word, instead, we are told, he looked lovingly at his nemeses and kept pleading that they hear and believe.

One such account symbolized his self-denying, cross-bearing pursuit of rejecting everything that might hinder knowing and following his Savior. I paraphrase:

“One day a group of students was particularly cruel to Sal, saying and doing terrible things. Profanity laced names were thrown his way and objects were hurled in his direction. One of the group was convicted enough about this injustice that he returned to apologize for the group. And he did. Sal’s response? ‘Thanks, but it’s OK. Let’s talk about your salvation.’ The young man soon professed Christ and returned often to visit Sal as he continued to stand and preach to an unwlecoming audience. The boy sometimes stood by his side in an attempt to deflect the insults and harassment.”

Sal was so committed to evangelism that the weekend before his transition, weighing only about 70 pounds and moving in and out of consciousness, he telephoned his father-in-law to share the Good News. I’m sure that the man’s profession of faith was a very powerful and meaningful going away present for the dying evangelist. Think about it – the last task Sal Mattson accomplished was to share the Gospel and hear a loved family member say “yes” to Jesus.

And when was the last time we told someone about our Savior? Would that be the most important thing on our mind as we were wasting away with cancer and our death imminent?

I wish I were more like Sal Mattson than I am. Really, I desire to be more like Jesus – for He truly is the ultimate example for Sal, for me, and for you. So often we sit in our comfortable pews, we serve on our committees, we attend our Bible studies and “Christian concerts,” we blog, we give back a portion of God’s provision, we pray, we read our Bible…we do most of “the right things.” But do we give ourselves? All of ourselves…like Sal did. To Jesus and others, that is. More importantly and clearly, do we give like Jesus did? 

So I think it only fitting we conclude this tribute to Sal and his Savior with Christ’s own words. I think they are quite appropriate:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

Please know we can only live like Sal did, and like Jesus wants us to, when empowered by Him and His Word and not through self-effort alone. We must be compelled by loving Christ because we know He first loved us, and how much that cost. So, in the end, it is not Sal or us who gets the glory…it’s the Savior. And I’m convinced Sal would have it no other way.

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“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

Many of you are familiar with is what commonly referred to as “the seven ‘I am’ statements of Jesus.” They are pregnant with meaning about who Jesus is and who He claimed to be. Simultaneously they create awe and bring us great comfort. Here is a list of them as they appear in the Gospel of John:

“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 6:48)

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5)

“I am the door” (John 10:7).

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11-14).

“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am the true vine” (John 15:1,5).

Given this is the Easter season, I would like to focus on the 5th of these: “I am the resurrection and the life.” To understand this we must look at the context (Isn’t this always the case?). In John 11 we see what appears to be a tragedy. Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, is dying. They send a message to Jesus telling Him of his sickness (11:1-3). Jesus was not startled but quickly told His disciples this illness was not going to end in death but ultimately demonstrate His own glory (11:4).

Strangely, the Great Physician tarried for 2 days without going to Lazarus’ bedside. By the time He decided to go (11:7) his friend had perished (11:11, 14). He arrives at a grieving household, making his entrance with the claim that Lazarus will be miraculously raised from the dead after 4 days (11:23). And on what basis did He make this claim? He tells them plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He points to Himself – not the dire situation, the suffering family, or the stench of the deteriorating body. He says, “I am!!” He has the authority to overcome death and life and soon proves it (11:43:44). Based upon the command of Christ – “Lazarus, come out” – the dead man lives.

I could go on about the implications of this event in light of our being born again or regenerated. How dead men don’t make decisions and the power of God alone awakens us from our spiritual death (see Ephesians 2:1-10 if you want to examine the correlation) but I choose to focus on the physical aspect of this display of God’s power through the glory of the Son. As Jesus said to Martha, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And I believe this is true both spiritually and physically.

As we celebrate Easter, Christ’s willful death and eventual rise from the grave, it makes us ponder a painful reality of living in a fallen world; physical death. It is all around us and, as we age and have more experiences in life, we know that inevitably it will be our turn. If we don’t die from a terrible disease or accident, our bodies waste away, slowly eroding through toil and the passage of time. We have also lived through the grief of loved ones passing away, just like in this story. And their death and the prospect of our own can create an ominous outlook that begins to shape our thinking and our living.

The good news? Jesus is telling and showing us here in John 11 that through faith in Him we can physically live forever. Oh yes, His children will die an earthly death, but it is a transport not a termination. Because of His mercy and might, He will once again shout “come forth” to all those who believe and we will be raised and given new bodies (for more than a dash of comfort and hope, see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57). We will be healed and whole, spiritually and physically, for all of eternity. And we will be forever joined with Jesus and family and friends that have put their trust in Him, the Lord over death and life.

Do you believe? This is what Christ requires. This is what He told Martha – whoever believes in him, though he will die, will live on in Heaven – and this is what He is telling us. This Easter I urge you to surrender to Him so that what we celebrate, Jesus’ resurrection, will guarantee that His victory over the grave has been applied to you by His grace and faith.

If you don’t understand what all this means, please send me a note and I will gladly follow up with you. Or reach out to a trusted follower of the risen Jesus and ask them to help you. I’m sure they, like me, will be thrilled to do so.


*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.   

Never is a good time for a funeral. With this in mind, on one snowy December night in East Tennessee, I found myself attending two. I didn’t look forward to either, but I forced myself to go. I’m so glad that I did because the events of that night created an inescapable and profound memory that changed me. The night played out like a parable: it taught a valuable lesson about life and, more importantly, death. 

As a pastor I had attended my share of funerals. Some were depressing, while others were celebratory. Some of the deceased were young and some were old. Some had professed Christ and some had not. Most of those for whom services were held died of natural causes, but occasional accidents and inexplicable suicides happened, too. Every victim of death left families and legacies behind. Those legacies played out at their final services. 

What I expected as I entered the funeral for a wealthy, prominent heart surgeon was the usual fare: a body, some grieving mourners, a simple sermon, and a quick exit by those made uncomfortable by death’s visit. But this night was unique: a sense of hopelessness and futility defined the evening. Dr. Gates was barely fifty but had achieved great earthly success and wealth. His services were held at an older funeral home. The room was dark and smelled musty. The mourners were primarily his older patients who seemed to know little about him personally. Only a handful of visitors gathered around the room and nearly all of the women wore expensive fur coats, including his ostentatiously dressed wife who was nearly thirty years his junior. The chapel was hauntingly quiet; the air was thick with morbidity. I felt that the atmosphere reeked with sadness and despondency: Jesus didn’t have any part in Dr. Gates’ life. Clearly there was no joy and very little evidence of faithful hope beyond this life. Also, I deeply sensed an overwhelming lack of real love. 

I left that dusty and dank funeral home and drove toward Jenny’s funeral. Jenny was 22 when she died. She had recently graduated college and had become engaged to one of my friends. Having little in the way of material possessions, she had one desire: to serve as a missionary. Jenny never achieved the dream. I felt as dreary as the inclement weather as I braved the icy roads and dodged inexperienced commuters to locate the church where her body lay. Surprisingly, it was easy to find; bright, welcoming lights shone on the pillars of the church’s entrance. The sound of singing streamed out of the building and into the night. 

Even though I was running late I stopped the car, paused and prayed. I remember that the prayer was more for me than the deceased or their families. After Dr. Gates’ funeral I needed God’s strength to face the next funeral and the seeming tragedy of such a young life’s end. But as I approached the entrance I realized that the singing I heard was anything but sad. I entered the church to find hundreds of folks crowding each pew standing and praising God in unison. “Victory in Jesus” was their joyous hymn. 

The eulogist at the service spoke of Jenny’s faith and ministerial dreams. He spoke of hope, love, glory, and Heaven. He extolled the infinite virtues of her majestic Lord. He confidently proclaimed that our friend was at home with Jesus and all was well. At Jenny’s funeral, joy was such an intense and prevailing theme that it made me jealous of her death. The words of psalmist rang in my ears and resonated in my soul, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). I saw firsthand why Paul felt confident to ask, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57). 

As I drove home that night, the snow stopped and the clouds receded. My mind, however, wasn’t on the weather. My heart explored the lesson taught by two diametrically opposed exits from this earth. The scene at Dr. Gates’ funeral reminded me of Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus. He described those outside of Christ as being “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Jenny’s service, on the other hand, pointed to death not as a sad, pointless end; but as a bridge to glorious, eternal life with Jesus.  “[She] overcame … by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [her] testimony” (Revelation 12:11a). 

Suddenly things became crystal clear. While Dr. Gates’ life may have seemed a success based on his financial worth and community standing, Jenny was the real winner. Though she had little of material value, she had Jesus. The testimony of her death trumpeted His truth.

When life’s curtain draws closed, nothing else really matters. Those who have Christ are the only ones who have anything of eternal value. For when our days on this earth reach a conclusion what do we really have to cling to but Him?


I always dreaded the first day of classes but it wasn’t because I didn’t like school. After all, I thought school was more about playing around than preparing for life. Because my last name starts with a “W” I was usually forced to sit in the back of the class (when I wasn’t being put in the corner). This, because of having poor eyesight from a very early age, made it difficult to see the blackboard (I know, I’m so old we had real chalk and rectangular erasers also). The good news is this was a perfect excuse for my miniscule GPA.

But that wasn’t the worst part: It was the roll call I loathed. I knew what was going to happen. I was going to be one of the last names called. I would have napped until they got to me except for the impending embarrassment. “Linda Wolfe?” With many years of practice, I had my response down pat. I cleared my throat, summoned up my deepest bass voice and firmly (and sometimes sarcastically) replied, “Here! And my name is LINDEN Wolfe.” No wonder I struggled in school – it seems as if most of my teachers and professors had a reading disability (To all my wonderful academic mentors: This is an attempt at humor. And please don’t criticize my grammar and syntax – I continue to blame you for that.). But alas, this problem has persisted for my entire life. Rarely do folks pronounce my name right, never mind spell it correctly.

Simply said, this means I’m scarred for life and have a built-in excuse for all of my under-achievement and bad behavior. Except for the fact that one person got my name right. God did! Ponder the miracle of this from the lips of the prophet Isaiah:

“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:1-7).

And who is this Lord, this Holy One of Israel, your Savior? Jesus! Inhale these comforting words from His lips:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee
from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers”
(John 10:1-5).

What grace! What mercy! Because God loved me He sent a Sheppard (who was also the spotless Lamb of God) to find this lost sheep. He called me by name and His Spirit prompted me to listen. Jesus has made me His own. He has made me one of His flock yet I am not nameless to Him. It’s personal. So personal that He wrote my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life from the foundation of the world (see Revelation 17:8; 21:27). My name and the names of all His redeemed sheep. Beyond that, according to Isaiah, He gives us His name for His own glory! Amazing! He calls us by name and then gives us His name. We are adopted by the great Sheppard into the flock of God. Now and forever.

This is why I no longer dread roll call. Just the opposite. Because He has called me by name, when the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there! So if Jesus has called you by name and you are called by His, feel free to go ahead and sing along!

When the trumpet of the Lord
shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

On that bright
and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share;
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.


“When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.”  So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron.  He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.”  So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry” (Exodus 32:1-6).

*Confession time: I have watched a good part of American Idol this year. I think Pia went home too early and Casey should have won it all. Can you believe Scotty won it? He was one of my favorites but is so young, still just an embryo!

I know American Idolatry is not the name of the TV show but, symbolically, maybe it should be. For our American culture is filled with idols. They may not look like the golden calf that the Hebrews erected and worshipped in Exodus 32 but they are real, very real. Although worshipping other gods is prohibited in the 10 commandments (see Exodus 20:3-5 for the broader implications of desiring something above the sovereign creator of the universe, God) and is the first of God’s commands, mankind has consistently violated this decree ever since it was first proclaimed. Claiming that even an attitude of covetousness qualifies, the New Testament is not silent on the danger of idolatry: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). Therefore, we must beware – I believe idolatry is probably more subtly pervasive in America than any other culture that has ever risen. How so?

Tom Steller aptly explains what idolatry is: “Idolatry is valuing any thing or any person more than the one true God. An idol is any thing or any person that takes center stage in our affections. God is a jealous God. He deserves center stage in our lives. Anything that usurps that place becomes an idol, whether it be a spouse, a child, a humanitarian project, or pornography, or drugs, or power over the poor, or religion. An idol is a god-substitute. Archeology limits idols to stone statues; biblical theology teaches that idols are any things that take the place of God in our lives. When understood this way, we can realize that idolatry is not ancient history but is alive and flourishing in America as we rush toward the twenty-first century.” Martin Luther captures the idea this way: “Whatever man loves, that is his god. For he carries it in his heart; he goes about with it night and day; he sleeps and wakes with it, be it what it may – wealth or self, pleasure or renown.”  And in America that could include TV, politics, careers, clothes, self-indulgent and consumptive pleasure, technology gadgets, entertainment, cars, hobbies, houses, sex, power, material possessions, “success,” popularity, and money, just to name a few.

The Apostle John earlier shared his motivation for writing this letter: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He wanted us to know!!! That’s why I believe John concludes his first letter in the most perplexing way (see 1 John 5:21). He knew the subtle and insidious nature of idol worship. He knew his reader’s eternal destinies were at stake. So let’s be discerning – our culture woos us with false gods and idol worship at every turn. The lure is so fast, furious, and stealth-like it’s easy to miss before it has overcome us. And let us gaze inwardly with objective honesty and question what thrills us the most and what we seek after to fill and satisfy us, what we love the most in this world. We dare not presume that we, too, aren’t involved in some form of idol worship.

The penultimate verse (1 John 5:20) of this letter describes the understood purpose and priority of those who prize and worship Jesus above all other things. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” Why then do we put nothing before God? Because He is God, the only true God as revealed in Christ Jesus, and true eternal life. Anything else we love, pursue, exalt, honor, or find more pleasure in than Him is just the opposite – a false god. And they keep us from Him and eternal life. That’s why John signs off with, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Jonah sums this up well with his sobering reminder: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8, NIV).

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