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“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

My good friend Don forwarded me this article in CNN’s Belief Blog section. Although I’m immediately dubious of almost anything that CNN says about religion they have, on occasion, surprised me. This is not one of those times. This is a perfect example of the so-called “higher criticism” that has infected theological study and, therefore, the church. Read for yourself.

My Take: The 3 biggest biblical misconceptions

One of the finest definitions of this method of biblical interpretation is found in John Rothra’s work, Critique of Higher Criticism. He defines this school of study as “a historical approach to scripture that investigates the “composition, date, and authenticity” of scripture in order to determine its “place in history.”  In other words, higher criticism looks beyond the text and into the historical setting surrounding its construction and development. This endeavor requires the critic to accept a presupposition of doubt, meaning he must acknowledge uncertainty exists regarding the precise origins of the present-day biblical text.”

Alarmingly, higher criticism, despite its unique ability to cloak itself in semantics that cover what disbelief lies underneath, is alive and well in many mainline seminaries and denominations, secular graduate schools of theology, and pulpits. I would be curious about your pastor’s response to, “What do you believe about JEDP or the Q Source?”Although my purpose here is not to deep-dive into the intricate arguments for and against higher criticism – as the amount of literature on this subject is absolutely massive – I would like to state 4 simple but critical issues surrounding this scholarly strategy as we see it in this CNN blog.

First, it is based upon dangerous presuppositions. Although every system of thought has them, higher criticism’s starting point is doubt, presuming that the Bible is inaccurate. And, quite often, they use these “unreliable texts” to prove that Scripture is unreliable. Using doubt as a platform for any faith (See the contradiction?) or study is almost certain to pre-determine that the object of your faith or study is false. The blatantly misguided statement of this article’s author – “First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it” – reflects this logic. This is patently false – there are many erudite biblical scholars who maintain the total veracity of the Scriptures. All men, including scholars, are biased in some way. Christianity and Scripture, however, is self-authenticating when we start with the idea that it is God’s Word and, therefore, reliable.

Second, we see as another subtle and insidious problem – the notion here is that the Bible contains truth but is not THE truth. This can be then said of virtually any book ever written (even some of mine would fit into that broad category). The Bible then is not the Word of God but God does speak His truth through it. But, then, so does the Koran, Shakespeare, Keats, and Hemingway. Scripture, in higher criticism, is nearly relegated to the same standard as all great human writings (to be fair, these scholars would probably claim the Bible does contain more of God’s truth than nearly all other writings).

Third, if my second point is true, then who determines what part of Scripture is true or false, relevant or irrelevant, correct or incorrect, applicable or not? The reader (or scholar). The final authority on what has God has really said or done is not objective but subjective. It is left to the interpreter or theologian to decide. Do we see the danger in this? We, then, become the god of what we believe, because we have made ourselves the final arbiter of what is truth. Not the Bible, but us. At that point what we believe is not Christianity but “Selfianity.” We, and what we decide to be true, have become our god, deciding for ourselves what is worth believing and how we should live. And, if you are like me, I don’t trust myself or my intellect that much.

Last, the basic premise of higher criticism is the rejection of anything supernatural (creation, miracles, physical resurrection, etc,). Those parts of Scripture must be inaccurate as such events aren’t “scientifically verifiable.” This is both false and causes the definition of God (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. etc.) to be invalid. And who would want to worship a God who has been stripped of His powerful attributes? Not me – because, at that point, He is no longer God.

I choose to believe Scripture of be God’s Word without error and the final source of truth and authority. This is a wonderful statement of what I believe and I pray what you believe as well – The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

So I will leave you with a quote from the Apostle Peter. He nails this issue dead on:

“And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 19-21).

*Please note this is not a discussion about those who believe in the plenary inspiration and authority of Scripture having different interpretations of the Bible. Those who trust in the reliability of God’s Word are in consensus that fallen man cannot fully apprehend His truth and will often disagree. These differing opinions, however, are not an argument against the validity of Scripture but, in a real sense, affirms what it says about the transcendence and holiness of God and man’s sinful nature. No, this post is about those who think themselves to be so smart that they have concluded that the Bible, in its original text, is filled with unexplainable errors, myth, and legend and its primary value comes from them discerning what is true and false (i.e. what Jesus actually said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do).


*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.  

I’m always amazed when I consider what the early church did without. How, for example, was the early church able to function without ecclesiastical hierarchy? I can find no popes, bishops, presidents, vice presidents, or directors mentioned in the book of Acts; and while congregants trusted the leadership of the apostles, they didn’t seem to require a complex organizational chart to know who was responsible for what. Further, I see little proof of any committee that “organized’ the events at Pentecost (Acts 2), and I’m astonished by the absence of a “Committee on Committees” to oversee each house church’s evangelistic efforts and to keep all groups in check. When I heard of one modern church that named a Minister of Conflict Resolution, I thought, I bet Peter never considered appointing one of those! Soon after, I found myself wondering how the early church managed to win any souls for the Lord without modern “helps” in place. What I discovered changed the way I think about evangelism. 

Devoid of top heavy structure, the early church seemed to rely on an abundance of supernatural gifts and spontaneity to bring people to Christ. They didn’t need business administrators and marketing and advertizing campaigns. No one printed informational fliers and advertizing slicks to draw new people in. Congregants were unconcerned that they would run over budget or need to get the masses to pledge funds for an upcoming building program or to secure construction loans. They didn’t worry about the color of the carpet or whether or not stained glass would be most appropriate. Instead, they trusted God to provide for their needs and to draw people to Himself. 

One would think that the early church would need some type of church growth program to make sure they were on track for global evangelism. But they didn’t think to survey the crowds in the street that had gathered to celebrate Pentecost, and they weren’t particularly concerned with the advice of the latest pop-psychology guru or the throng’s “felt needs.” In fact, the early believers didn’t consider a seeker sensitive approach at all because they realized that “no one seeks God” (Romans 3:11). Given their lack of sophistication, then, one would predict only church growth futility among the first circles of believers. Instead, exponential growth quickly made Christianity a force to reckon with on the world stage. 

But what did the early church do without technology and media? There was no television, radio, God Tube, e-mail, tapes, DVD’s, or MP3’s to use to help new believers get connected and to grow in Christ. In fact, communicating the gospel used to happen primarily via personal relationships in which the Jewish Scriptures and some poorly circulated letters were shared (See Romans 10:17). The early church did without big-screen televisions. Yet even without high definition pictures and quality surround sound, people grew infatuated with the pure gospel and dedicated themselves to life-style evangelism.  

Many modern believers consider church without entertainment antiquated, yet the early church went without. Thespians, comedians, performers, and paid musicians are so commonplace now—worship and music style of a church ranking among the top three reasons that contemporary folks choose a church. No one within the original group of believers, however, had the creative vision of using a rock band called “Peter’s Call” to draw an amusement-infatuated crowd. Surprisingly, the early church cared little about crowd-pleasing; a fact highlighted by their obvious lack of Starbucks coffee and donuts to help congregants begin their day. But in spite of the early believer’s adherence to the archaic concept of drawing people to Christ through a culture of Christ-centered community, neighborly love, and the communication of transforming truth, the early church exploded with growth!  

Acts 2:40-41, 47 reports, “With many other words [Peter] warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day… And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” The Lord was adding to his church by the thousands and doing so daily! Amazing! Obviously the church of Acts was prospering without all of the ministry tools to which we have become so accustomed and dependant. 

The tools that the contemporary church uses are not inherently wrong or unscriptural (and may, when rightly used, be helpful), but the early church’s approach was quite simple and had few moving parts. Listen to the description of their message:  

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:36-38). 

The early church had the supernaturally and exponentially powerful combination of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit at work on their side. I believe we are also capable of thriving in our modern churches should we choose to seek an extra measure of both and relinquish a few of our trappings in the process. It may be that many of our outreach tools have become a very poor facsimile for what we must promote and pursue: Jesus Christ. We must remember that the message our churches should send is that He is all we really need.

*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.   

All who’ve received Christ inherit a marvelous gift: spiritual freedom. In Jeremiah 33:8 the Lord says, “I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against me and will forgive all their sins of rebellion.” Quite literally, He lifts sin’s stranglehold. In John 16:8 Jesus explains the role of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who dwells in all believers: “[He] … convict[s] the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” Though believers are no longer bound to sin, we still require a counselor to guard our ways. The Holy Spirit checks the heart of each Christ-follower, gently prodding him or her to stay in tune with the Lord. This He does not to condemn us, but to guide us in the abundant life Christ offers. 

I’m constantly amazed at the number of professing believers mired in a pit of toxic guilt. Rather than accepting the Spirit’s leading with joy, they become despondent and defeated, wallowing in past mistakes and the sins which cause them to experience little motivation to serve the kingdom. We must understand that while the Holy Spirit does convict us of sin, He does not paralyze us with shame. Everything He does guides us closer to Jesus, the source of all truth (John 16:13).  

The Holy Spirit does not condemn us. He merely convicts us of the reality and guilt of sin, thereby reminding us that we are sinners in need of Christ’s salvation. We can’t get by without Him; righteous Jesus is our only hope. Conviction is meant to nudge us closer to the source of life and mercy. When we focus on our guilty feelings instead of reaching out to Christ, we quickly become completely self-absorbed. We mentally scold and abuse ourselves until we think not of realigning ourselves with Christ but only of our own failure. This form of self-flagellation causes us spiritual paralysis and a morbid and lifeless disposition. Those entranced with this cancerous syndrome shelve their Christian service and give up on abundant life. In this process Satan gains an upper hand. By deceiving us into a depressing malady of defeat and paralysis, he induces a spiritual coma that sidelines us from our calling and purpose. 

This is not an issue of self-esteem – just the opposite. Believers shackled by shame and toxic guilt share a commonality; they hold too low a view of Jesus! They allow guilty feelings to diminish and demean the power of Christ’s death as if it was not enough to cover all their sins. In wallowing in self defeat, we suggest that Christ’s atonement was insufficient. At that point our feelings of unforgiveness supersede the fact of His perfect sacrifice.  

True, without the Lord, we are all “without hope … in this world” (Ephesians 2:12). We cannot save ourselves or remove the shame of our sin. The beauty of the gospel, however, is that God gave us the gift of Himself and declared us righteous through His Son. Jesus became our perfect high priest and intercessor. Hebrews 2:17 says, “For this reason [Christ] had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” That same pure and exalted high priest intercedes for us before God, arguing for His righteousness as our standing before a holy God (Hebrews 7:25).  

When we receive Christ in faith, He forgives all our sins—past, present, and future. This is not to say we should willfully keep on sinning or become insensitive to the urgings of the Holy Spirit. Instead, we should embrace the freedom Jesus offers as a gift while constantly pursuing Him and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Calvary and His resurrection mark the victory over our failures. When we receive Christ we can live with liberty. His infinitely valuable sacrifice gives us freedom to be and do what He calls us to.  

In accepting Christ’s remedy for our guilt we become motivated to live and speak by His power and for His glory. Second Corinthians 5:17 reminds us that those who are in Christ are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” We must turn our attention to the Lord and away from ourselves. Let us pursue Him as the only One with the power and provision necessary to free us. When we daily respond to His urgings, our lives will testify to His transcendent glory and infinite worth.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 1:11-13).

It was a nervous plane ride to Texas for some. Not for me; I’m used to traveling by air. But for the man seated in the same row, with an empty seat in between, it was uncomfortable and unfamiliar. “I haven’t flown since 9/11,” he said. In my fatigue, all I could babble was, “things have changed, haven’t they?” He asked me a couple of questions before disappearing into an uneasy stare towards the skies from his window seat. I disappeared into my Christian book and was all too happy to have no further dialogue. Though he was pleasant enough, I wanted to lose myself in the lofty thoughts of great theologians and apologists. Shame on me…God had a different plan.

Given my small bladder and that a friend was going to pick me up immediately upon landing, I decided to go to the restroom (as if one can get any rest in the bathroom of a commercial airliner). I laid down my book on the empty middle seat and made the trek to the back of the plane. With the flight nearing its conclusion, I didn’t expect any more conversation. But I was very wrong. The blue-collar gentleman next to me was about to startle me from my missional slumber and into my Great Commission mandate.

“Are you are Christian man?” he inquired. “Well, yes, I certainly am…are you?” He paused and mumbled, “I think so.” I was unprepared for this turn of events (that’s the norm for me) and tried to gather myself. But I failed to come up with a coherent response. So I quickly asked God for wisdom and guidance. Soon my thoughts began to organize and I was empowered to speak again. But I could only think to say, “God wants you to know for sure. In the Bible, John wrote a letter for this very purpose.” Even though silence ensued, at this point I knew that I had nothing to do with my retort – the Holy Spirit had taken control.

Then came a flood of questions and answers. He had been baptized, gone to church, left the church, had faith, lost his faith, had hope and now doubted. He believed he was a good man but knew, deep in his being, that wasn’t enough. He understood that it was about a relationship with Jesus and not about religious dogma and practice. He knew the Bible held the key to understanding and knowing Who held his future. He comprehended that he was a sinner, that he must cast himself upon God’s mercy, and surrender all of who he is to all of Who God is. All I could then do was to ask if I could pray for him. He  appreciatively said yes.

Suddenly I was reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the religious of his day:

“One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”“This is the most important,” Jesus answered: Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. “The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Then the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher! You have correctly said that He is One, and there is no one else except Him. And to love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is far more [important] than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:28-34).

Perry is not far from the kingdom of God. How many teeter on the edge of hope and assurance? Many don’t embrace the simple yet profound words of the Apostle John: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” And we most fully know that we know that we have Jesus’ life, His new life, His eternal life when we “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, with all [our] soul, with all [our] mind, and with all [our] strength. [And we] love [our] neighbor as [our self].”

I am praying for Perry. I pray that Perry knows that he knows that Jesus is His and Jesus has him – now and forever. And I pray that one day I will see him in Heaven and we can talk about how wonderful Jesus is…and that bumpy flight between Nashville and Dallas. The one, I hope, where he began his pilgrimage from doubt to assurance. When he affirmed in his head and his heart that he loved Jesus above all else – with all that he is, with all that he has, based upon all of Christ’s worth.

So, what about you?

Evangelical Churches Catch Suits From ‘Spirit’ Falls – ABC News

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (my first impulse is to cry) at this ABC News story. It seems as if charismatic churches are the target of numerous law suits alleging they are negligent when parishioners, while being “slain in the Spirit,” uncontrollably fall during their fits of ecstasy and injure themselves or other attendees.

I know we live in a ridiculously litigious society and decry the stereotypical “ambulance chasing lawyer,” but this is outrageous. Taking a clue, I guess, from the Nebraska State Senator who sued “God” and lost (see State Sen. Ernie Chambers Sues God – Omaha News Story – KETV Omaha), these folks have decided that suing the 3rd person of the Trinity would be considered frivolous by the court system. So they take legal action against churches that practice these types of services, during which they are presumably injured.

Which takes me to our focal passage. Now I’m in no way saying that these claimants are literally “grieving the Spirit” anymore than I’m saying that the defendants aren’t. I’m thinking about the broader context of Paul’s warning to the church at Ephesus. Grieving the Spirit is serious; it’s an affront to God. But the context here has much to do with our attitudes, words, and actions toward others. The Apostle talks about building others up in grace and putting away all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander. He tells us to be kind to others and to be forgivers. Doing, or not doing, these things can grieve the Spirit of God as well.

So the lesson to us? Though we may be disgusted by those would charge the church with negligence because they couldn’t litigate the Holy Spirit, we must be careful that we aren’t offending God in a different way. How do we treat others? How do we talk to and about them? Are we divisive; ones who harbor grudges? Our answers may indicate if we are potentially grieving the Spirit just as much as those who choose such senseless and despicable legal actions. Maybe the charge God would bring against us is that we grieve Him in our relationships with others, whether we file a suit against them or not.

Think about it!

“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!

*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!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-Four– Ask, Seek, and Find

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11).

The model prayer encourages believers to approach God with this request, “give us today our daily bread”; this indicates that we should pray daily for our daily needs (Matthew 6:11). The teaching aligns perfectly with Christ’s message throughout His sermon: Release anxiety. God provides for His children’s necessities! Jesus’ suggestion that we should ask, seek, and knock, however, encourages us to go beyond a request for the basics. It implies that the Father desires us to seek His provision in overflowing measure.

James 1:17 states, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” But what constitutes a perfect gift? And what types of things does God want us to request? The answer rests in Matthew 6:33: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” “All these things” refers to the divine blessings given to those who follow God and pursue His kingdom. These gifts include the pleasures of God’s dominion in us, Heavenly comfort, desperately needed mercy for our sins, supernatural satisfaction, relationship and intimacy with our Father, a hopeful eternal reward and, in essence, divine contentment (see the Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12).

Unfortunately, some read Matthew 7:7-11 as a license to ask God for anything: luxury car, vacation cottage, yacht, new spouse. But the Lord never intended us to go to the Father with a wish list designed to enhance our comfort and increase our laziness. Our human tendency? To seek after the tangible and temporary. We often approach God with this mentality: Lord, please give me comfort, success, convenience, pleasure, and a pain-free existence. But in doing this, we miss out on the greater spiritual treasure of intimacy with Christ and undervalue the eternal provisions of His kingdom.

The broader context of “ask, seek, and find” centers around authentic spiritual vitality. As we seek true communion with our King and ask Him to let us experience the full power of His kingdom within us, God opens the door to real fellowship with Him, our Creator. This passage, then, could be loosely interpreted: “Ask for God and He will come to you … seek after Him and you will find Him in all of His beauty… knock on the door that is Jesus, and He will let you in to a feast of unimaginable fellowship” (see John 10:7; Revelation 3:20). When we seek after the best and perfect gift, the Lord, we find real treasure.

Our Father desires not to give His children just good things; instead, He wants to give us the best. Even evil people desire to provide good things to their children, but God—holy, caring, and generous Father—desires to shower lasting, life-changing blessings on His children. This should prompt us to ask, “Do I ask God for His best for me? Am I asking, seeking, and knocking after God’s greatest gifts; or am I selfishly seeking after things instead of what God really wants for me?”

Years ago I asked God for a good gift. I desperately wanted a spouse, someone with whom I could share the rest of my life. I constantly pleaded with God to fill this void. At the time, I wasn’t really concerned about the kingdom’s best for me. I allowed my selfishness to keep me from truly receiving what I needed most: a heart fully focused on my Lord and trusting dependence on Him in every aspect of my life. In that season I allowed the pursuit of a life partner to numb me to my own spiritual hunger. James 4:3 teaches, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” God stood capable to provide provision and help for my spiritual void, but He wouldn’t move without my surrender to His will. As long as I approached Him as a genie to meet my pleasures, I missed out on His best and undervalued His ability to thoroughly provide just what I needed.

Our King and Father stands ready to give us spiritual gifts far superior to the “good” gifts we so often seek. When we pursue Him and His righteousness we receive the greatest treasure of all—a fuller and richer experience of God and His kingdom. May the Lord change the desires of our hearts, compelling us to ask, seek, and knock in humility and with the right attitude. May we passionately pursue Him and His kingdom until all of our temporal “wants” fade.

Jesus Christ implores to us replace our fleshly requests with a hunger and thirst for Him. Our patient Father desires for us to seek after Him so that He can open the floodgates of His spiritual bounty.  

Apply It.

Read and internalize Philippians 4:6-9. When praying about life’s difficulties, we will not always get the situation “fixed.” Scripture does, however, promise us God’s peace when we seek Him. In what situation do you need to ask God to give you His peace, joy, and comfort to trust Him no matter how it turns out? Choose to place it in His hands.

*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!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

 Twenty-ThreeSlow to Judge, Quick to Discern

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

Having already addressed His followers’ character, influence, righteousness, and aspirations, Christ turns His focus to a believer’s interactions and relationships. Jesus knew that a loving community serves a critical role in helping bring the lost home to God. Further, community drives Christ’s kingdom as His people help one another to reach their full potential in the Lord. Maintaining the health of relationships and extending godly love requires that we overcome the tendency to act judgmentally toward others.

One local church was virtually destroyed by judgmentalism. A small faction targeted one of the church’s outreach programs—the bus ministry—and in the process began to attack the pastor behind it. Through the ministry the pastor sought to reach inner city families with young children who had no other encouragement or transportation to attend church. He hoped the program would allow caring followers of Jesus and the teaching of God’s Word to reach those without access to either. The dissenters, however, accused him of “trying to pad the church’s numbers by shuttling in the dirty, unruly, and disadvantaged.” Their complaints caused such a congregational rift that the ministry was eventually shut down, the scorned pastor resigned in embarrassment and frustration, and the fractured church has yet to fully recover from the subsequent fall-out.

Jesus understands the sinfulness of humanity; He knows that followers will not live perfectly. He also recognizes that we often deal with the sin, poor decisions, flaws, and misbehavior of others. This passage does not prohibit the use of discernment, insight, wisdom, or criticism. Parents, for example, must pass certain judgments on misbehavior in order to discipline. But what Christ condemns in the passage is a condescending, harsh, destructive, and censorious attitude that passes judgment against a brother’s faults, rather real or perceived. The Lord speaks strongly against those who take a “holier than thou” approach.

Most often those guilty of condemning others themselves conceal the biggest issues. Often we find it easy to exaggerate another’s faults while minimizing our own. In doing so, we rest in a false sense of self-righteousness that’s better understood as hypocrisy (see Luke 18:9-14). This builds a major stumbling block in our relationship with others and intimacy with our King. Each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. What proves tempting to one may not affect another, but each person fights his own spiritual battles. Although our sins may vary in type, they do not vary in degree: all sin offends God. Therefore when we, despite our best efforts, fail in keeping any of God’s commands and then judge others, we essentially condemn ourselves (see Romans 2:1). We need to compare our own lives to the standards of holy God before we begin nitpicking the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Intentionally finding fault, while ignoring our own problems and spiritual issues, is wrong.

We tend to forget that in God we have a higher judge who fairly judges us all. He provides the ultimate measuring stick, the perfect standard. How differently would we treat fellow Christ-followers and humanity in general if we remembered that we will be measured against the same standards to which we hold others? In First Corinthians 11:31 Paul writes, “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” Those who forego a hypocritical attitude and choose transparency before a holy and omniscient God will avoid His wrath (see Romans 2:3).

At times we must speak the truth with God’s Word as our guide, correcting misbehavior and helping people to strengthen their walk in the Lord. However, this must be done with grace and love. Paul encourages us to speak the truth but to do it with a heartfelt compassion for the audience (Ephesians 4:15). In every case, our attitudes and motives must prove pleasing to God.

Interestingly, Christ concludes His warning against a judgmental attitude with a call to discernment. This serves to remind believers: don’t turn a blind eye to sin; instead, approach all situations with wisdom. Jesus used two dirty animals—the dog and the pig—to portray those who live such filthy lives that sacred things and the notion of eternal life are wasted on them. Sadly, some who hear the precious gospel of the kingdom and enjoy ample opportunity to receive that truth, steadfastly and belligerently refuse God’s free offer of grace. Perhaps they live in a place of such incurable godlessness that God’s spirit no longer pursues them. Christ’s words remind believers that while we should try to reach all with the good news message, we must act prudently in how we spend our time. When people constantly refuse to receive Jesus’ truth, we should direct our efforts elsewhere. I believe Christ provided an example of this in His interaction with the two criminals crucified beside of Him (see Luke 23:32-43). The one who sneered at him with scathing cynicism, Christ ignored: the one who defended Him with a receptive heart, Christ embraced.

God’s Word clearly instructs us to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Matthew 7:6 highlights the approach we should use, suggesting that we need not allow the wicked to trample the truth of Jesus and His grace. Therefore, after doing our best to exalt the King and His kingdom, we should release mean and unresponsive types to the hands of sovereign God. We must keep them in our prayers, but we should not expend all our energies on them.

This concept is reinforced in Jesus’ call for His disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus knew that He sent the apostles into a hostile environment that required both discernment and a peaceful, purposeful spirit that sought to point a lost world to His beauty. Since we too are sent as messengers of the kingdom’s good news, we must go with His wisdom, daily discerning without being judgmental.

Apply It.

Paul was keenly cognizant of his own sin (read Romans 7:19-25). Identify the “specks” in your own eye. Ask God to reveal things that need to be surrendered to Him. Then, as Paul did in Romans 7:25, thank the Lord for the forgiveness that comes only through Christ Jesus.

*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!


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