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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s the catch? For us to experience this glorious reality we must do 2 things – receive (turn from ourselves and our ways and turn to Him) and believe in (put our total trust in) the person and work of Christ. As the Apostle John said, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).  

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

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

On Tuesday, March 27th Ed Bergdorff passed from this life to the next one. He was 65 years old. The last time we saw him was less than a month ago and we had our usual Bible study. The last devotional was about the throne room of Heaven (Revelation 4). Rebekah and I went to visit him as often as possible, even though he spent his last days in a nursing home nearly an hour away. Ed meant so much to us. He became a friend, someone we cried over and cried with.

It is our sincere prayer that Ed has entered glory, He is in the majestic and radiant presence of Jesus, and is waiting on us to come and stay with him for all of eternity, and not just an hour or 2. Although unsure who might feel this same way, we love and miss Ed, and we long to see him again. Over the last 2 years, since the post below was written, we have seen a real change in Ed. He loved to hear the Bible read and explained, he longed for our visits and prayers, he confessed his sin when he did wrong, he was kinder to those who waited on him, he seemed to have a sense of peace despite his very troubled life. We believe this was evidence that Ed had met Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification was under way.

This post is over 2 years old. Suffice it to say, the Ted in this story is Ed Bergdorff. This is in memory of him:

It’s Not Too Late for Ted (3/20/10)

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).

Ted is a drug addict. Due to multiple back surgeries and other debilitating illnesses he is hooked on numerous prescription drugs. I watched Ted groan and writhe in pain and nausea as he suffered from unintended morphine withdrawal. After a trip to the ER and the healing power of an IV bag dripping the necessary medications back into his desperate body, he was back to “normal” within 24 hours. The hospital visit precluded what I thought was the perfect day to share the Gospel with Ted. But God, in His divine orchestration, had determined that this Saturday was not His perfect time for an explanation of His unfathomable free offer of grace and forgiveness. That was ordained to take place 72 hours later.

Ted was forthright on that overcast Wednesday, “I’ve committed every kind of sin. I’ve even killed a man…not because I wanted to but because I had to. My life has been a mess since I turned my back on God.  I got saved and baptized as a teenager but chose other things over Him.”

He described the day that defined his life: “I was 18 and standing outside of a pool hall. The preacher was on the other side of the street. He told me to leave the joint, cross the street, and do the right thing. You know, to come over to that side. I wanted to. I knew I should. But I turned around and went back into the bar and never looked back. My life has been a mess ever since”.

Now in his mid-60’s, Ted has been homeless, sick, hurt, medicated, fighting, alone, and just surviving for most of his life. He is also illiterate. There is no family and but one friend to care for him. Ted now sits in a government furnished apartment for the indigent having nothing more than the bare necessities. He worries constantly about his Medicaid coverage and Social Security check and whether his pain and panic medicines will be available and affordable. He has a dark past, a dreary present, and, seemingly, a hopeless future. Ted is the type that most folks, including our society in general, have given up on. But, in His infinite love, Jesus (and Ted’s one friend) hadn’t.

Ted started listening to some tapes he had been given that shared “The Gospel Made Simple.” As much as I was suspicious of that tagline, I found the tapes to be an accurate representation of the true message of salvation. Not forgetting the faith of his youth, these tapes reminded Ted of the essentials of being born again; our sin, God’s holiness, the necessity of righteousness, the rightful judgment of God against our rebellion, and, most of all, how Jesus has made a way for sinners to be redeemed, forgiven, and receive eternal life (see John 3:14-18). Ted understood the Gospel and knew it was all wrapped up in Jesus and the cross of Calvary. He knew he had to know Christ as his only hope and believe and receive Him through the power of God (see John 1:12-13).

Ted said on that providential weekday,“But how can this be? I’ve been too bad for that. It’s too late for me.” Quoting Romans 10:9-10, I told him there were a few simple things necessary to experience God’s mercy and unmerited favor, receive forgiveness for all his sins, and inherit eternal life in the presence of Jesus; sincerely believe (“if you believe in your heart”), have a life so transformed that it confesses Jesus as your Savior (“and confess with your mouth”), and surrender your life to the dominion and lordship of Christ (“that Jesus is Lord”).  To ease Ted’s concern his sin was too great, I shared that Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). “What you have to do,” I explained to Ted as clearly as I could, “is to cry out with genuine desire the prayer of the wretched tax collector; ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” (see Luke 18:9-14).  Then I waited in deafening silence.

With his eyes fixed on mine, Ted paused. Finally, his emphysema filled lungs gasped and he carefully, tearfully, and emphatically said, “That is what I need.” An interminable, stunning silence ensued. “And that is what I want…I want to live the rest of my life for Jesus. Will you pray with me?” And we did.

Do I know with certainty the state of Ted’s soul? I do not. That is in our Lord’s hands. I do know, however, this opportunity came about because one devoted, sacrificial woman, a true follower of Jesus, took Christ’s words to heart: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40). She came often to visit Ted and brought food, love, and prayer. She took her Saturdays to make sure his meds and refrigerator were stocked. She came with warm, caring words and a comforting presence. She also introduced me to Ted. And, just maybe, by God’s grace and through her demonstration of Christ-like love, reintroduced Ted to Jesus.

And, by the way, I’m so blessed to have married this woman –  Ed’s friend and my Rebekah.

Scum of the Earth Church

While driving to see my in-laws, scanning the radio channels for something edifying to listen to, I ran across a Bible study (I don’t know what station or program it was as the channel quickly became static) that mentioned this church (link above). Along with this intriguing site, there was a story told that is worth repeating. But I’m going to make you wait for that. Instead I’m going to take you to 1 Corinthians 4:10-13, 20:

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things…For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

To understand this passage one must consider the context. Paul was chiding the Corinthian church because of their arrogant attitudes. They were judgmental, condescending, and “rich” (but not in a good sense). He is showing that the humble state of the Apostles was more of a testimony to the power of God’s kingdom than their affluence and haughtiness. They were unwilling to get their hands dirty but he was happy to be considered as rubbish (The HCSB translates verse 13 as, “We are, even now, like the world’s garbage, like the filth of all things.”) for the sake of the Gospel.

Recently, driving again, I ventured through a ritzy and glamorous suburb of Nashville, one of the richest counties in per capita income in America. There was church piled upon church, new building after new building with, I would suppose, comfortable theatre seats, cushy carpet, and a temperature controlled environment. The week before I had been in dangerous and dreaded East Nashville and downtown. Not so many churches there. I guess they couldn’t fund the lavish creature comforts from the contributions of the disenfranchised and down-and-out.

Have we abandoned those who might seem to be most in need because they have no jobs, leave a trail of stench, and have dropped out of society? Maybe. Truth be told, I will be sitting in the most comfortable seat this coming Sunday morning where I attend church. And I will probably eat a sumptuous meal soon after the service; a meal whose cost could feed dozens.

And now for that story. The radio broadcast stated it something like this: In an urban church, after the sermon, the pastor headed to the church door. There he was greeted by a homeless man, who smelled of stale booze, urine, garbage, and vomit. Being used to beggars attending the church, the minister assumed what the man wanted and began to reach for his wallet. But the vagrant protested, “No, no, no! I don’t want your money! I want to know the Jesus you were talking about.” And he buried his head in the preacher’s chest and sobbed. The pastor immediately felt God speak to him in his heart with these piecing words: “This is what the world I came to save smells like.”

I think Paul would agree. And so should we. We are often inclined to go up to meet the needs of the lofty and exalted, but are we willing to get smelly and dirty and go down to those who aren’t? So let us (that would mean me) not be like the haughty hypocrites in Corinth – let’s go and give and serve “the least of these,” the scum of the earth, in the name of Jesus. For in doing so, we are embracing and loving Him (Matthew 25:40).

I will leave us with some of the lyrics from Todd Agnew’s My Jesus:

Blessed are the poor in spirit
Or do we pray to be blessed with the wealth of this land
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness
Or do we ache for another taste of this world of shifting sand

Who is this that you follow
This picture of the American dream
If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side or fall down and worship at His holy feet

Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
But the Word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part
Sometimes I doubt we’d recognize Him

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud
I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the rich
So which one do you want to be?

Not a posterchild for American prosperity, but like my Jesus
You see I’m tired of living for success and popularity
I want to be like my Jesus but I’m not sure what that means to be like You Jesus
Cause You said to live like You, love like You but then You died for me
Can I be like You Jesus?
I want to be like you Jesus!
I want to be like my Jesus!

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Rick Warren builds bridge to Muslims | muslims, warren, saddleback – Life – The Orange County Register*

Let me say up front that I love Muslims. Jesus called us to love all people (see Matthew 5:38-48) but also called us to be discerning and speak the truth. Love and truth are connected in Scripture. We see this in the person of Christ Himself (John 1:17) and in Paul’s admonition to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). And speaking and doing the truth is one of our greatest acts of love. With that in mind, let me make a few comments on this article (link above).

First, on a positive note:

  • We call called to pursue peace with all men (Psalm 34:14).
  • We are called to treat others with respect and dignity (Matthew 7:12).
  • We are to be reconcilers in the name of a reconciling God (2 Corinthians 5:18).
  • We are called to befriend and aid even our enemies (Luke 10:25-37).
  • We should avoid being adversarial and antagonistic in sharing Jesus (Colossians 4:5-6).

Second, a critique:

  • Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God (Exodus 20:3-5).
  • Only the Bible (not the Koran) is the inerrant, inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).
  • We are mandated to teach all people and make disciples/evangelize (Matthew 28:18-20).
  • Telling people the truth of the Gospel, because we believe it is their only hope, is the most loving thing we can do for them (2 Corinthians 5:20).
  • Jesus’ boldly confronted those whose religion was false with the truth of God (Matthew 23:13-36).

Am I contradicting myself? I don’t think so. Loving means showing respect and caring for others, even those who hold divergent views on religion and faith. We are also commanded to love them so much that we tell them that God is love and has ultimately demonstrated this in Jesus Christ, our sacrifice and our Savior; “the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.” He is our hope and the only hope for all, including our Muslim friends.

And I believe this is what our focal text is telling us. Reconciliation is not just cooperation, finding commonalities, and getting along (although, in and of themselves, these are not bad things). Our ministry of reconciliation has, first and foremost, reconciliation to God as its foundation and platform. Reconciliation to God can’t happen apart from Jesus Christ (John 14:6). If we want true, biblical reconciliation we have no choice but to lovingly and graciously tell them of them about our God of love and grace. The only true God, the One who will reconcile to Himself all those that put their trust in Jesus and surrender to His Lordship.

Anything less, in my opinion, is compromise. So…what do you think?

*Please note that I didn’t say Rick Warren was necessarily in error here – these were just my comments on the article above as I read it. To be even-handed, I must add this link to Rick Warren’s rebuttal (we actually may be in total agreement…who knows) – Rick Warren: Report ‘flat out wrong’ (

*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 love the mental picture John 2:14-17 paints:  

“In the temple courts,” John writes, “[Jesus] found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

Modern church culture attempts to make Jesus more palatable, politically correct, and culturally popular than the way that Scripture presents Him. Though Jesus was a radical and a revolutionary, we have tried to domesticate Christ—almost as if we are embarrassed by His “zeal.” According to God’s Word, Jesus was such an extremist that He was convicted of treason and crucified by the religious and political leaders of His day. He upset the cultural applecart by contradicting virtually every known tradition and religious standard. Moreover, Jesus’ message irritated almost everyone but true spiritual seekers. His unorthodox band of followers was made up of outcasts, including marginalized women, the disenfranchised, and the poor. He was maligned and impugned for His ministry and was devalued by most respected theologians and rulers. But don’t think of Jesus as a victim; everything He did spoke to His authority as God’s Son. While His ways may have chafed against the culture, they were completely right and good. 

Our Lord was never one to uphold tradition over truth, and He minced no words while exposing the hypocrisy of those religious authority figures. Consider the method that Christ used to teach. His greatest sermon began, “You have heard … but…”, an introduction pointing to radical new teachings that would revolutionize the world (See Matthew 5).  Jesus’ approach led some to verbally align Him with Satan (Matthew 12:24). His teachings and behavior sometimes seemed so outlandish that even His own family questioned His mental stability (Mark 3:21).  

Christ was admired by some but understood by almost no one. Eventually, His life was deemed of less value than a murderous criminal and the sinless Jesus was crucified in a convict’s place. Understand that Scripture gives a drastically different picture of Jesus than is portrayed today. He is often viewed as passive, weak, popular, politically correct and altogether tame. Jesus seems so sweet and loving that people forget His sternness and wrath. We must remember that Jesus is just as much “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5) and he is “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). 

Why do so many believers forsake Jesus’ radical and revolutionary image? I think the truth lies in the fact that many want peace, harmony, ease, and comfort more than we desire to make an unpopular stand based upon His Word. Each of us must love Jesus enough—and others enough—to become a cultural extremist for Him. We must strive to be more like Him, the real Him, as we seek call out the spiritual hypocrisy, bad theology, and the man-centeredness that waters down today’s evangelicalism.  

We, “[Christ’s] called, chosen and faithful followers,” are to be radicals and revolutionaries with the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 17:14). We do this so that we can effectively share the gospel with a world in desperate need of a powerful Savior. In First Corinthians 2:13-16 the Apostle Paul said,  

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”  

I pray that we take on the “whole mind of Christ” as we carry the gospel message to the world. In following Him we will cut against the grain of our worldly, hypocritical, and self-indulgent culture. This stance for the Truth will not always be popular or easy, but we can rest in the assurance of victory as we radically imitate Christ’s radical mission: to fearlessly testify to the truth of God and demonstrate His eternal Kingship (John 18:37).

“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.

*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?

*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.

When I was a very young pastor, the Lord used an unlikely person to teach me a valuable lesson. I pray I never forget it. That Sunday morning I preached the sermon of my life, having prepared and presented a theological treatise that would make John Calvin proud—or so I thought. While I planned diligently, chose a “deep” topic, and even threw in a few Greek and Hebrew terms, I was (in retrospect) a little too pleased with my presentation and myself that morning. I just knew that my wonderful speech would inspire the congregants. 

And I thought they needed inspiration. They were a little too rural for my taste. Although the church of 800 members resided in an upper middle class community in West Knoxville, Tennessee, it remained true to its informal roots. Much to my chagrin, their worship was unordered: hymns were chosen randomly as the names of each were called aloud by the attendees. Testimony time in that church could break out at a moment’s notice and would occasionally serve as the primary focus of the service. Sometimes, in fact, I was unable to deliver my intricately prepared sermon as the service took on a life all its own. Those times left me feeling as if my seminary education was a waste. 

On this particular Sunday, however, things went smoothly; I was brilliant! As I left the dais and moved to the altar area, I just knew that I had “wowed” them. I asked, as was my custom, if anyone had anything else they would like to add to the day’s message. I secretly hoped that there would be silence so that I could move on to the closing prayer and dismissal. Much to my shock, Mrs. Jones raised her hand and began to shuffle to the front of the auditorium.  

Mrs. Jones had been a member of our church for over sixty years. Though widowed, she never missed a worship service and always sat in the same place. Mrs. Jones would say “hi” or “good morning” but little else, and she certainly never testified. I was surprised to find myself gripped with fear and even a little resentment as she slowly made her way down the aisle. She was about to take the focus off of “my” sermon. Could it be that she’d noticed my pride? Was she about to call me out in front of the whole church? 

The usually restless group (who always seemed to run home after church as if they had roasts in the oven) was hushed in silent respect at the sight of Mrs. Jones tottering towards the front. I didn’t breathe as she slowly grabbed the microphone from my hand and paused. Here stood the lady whom everyone turned to for prayer. Here stood a servant who didn’t have to be the center of attention to teach that her faith was genuine and powerful. 

Faintly, her breath stirred through the PA system as she clutched the mike. When she spoke, it was in a whisper: “I love Jesus.”  

That was it. Nothing more.  

I was absolutely stunned and overwhelmed as her shaking hand returned the microphone to mine. As she shuffled back to her pew, tears flowed from every eye in the house—including my own. Thankfully, I was at a complete loss for words. There was nothing of value that I could add. Mrs. Jones’ words were so true that everyone was touched by the divine simplicity of her faith. I was reminded of the marvelous truth that we find in First John 5:10, “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.” “I love Jesus,” was her testimony. It should be that of every believer.  

Mrs. Jones’ is still the greatest sermon I have heard. I was devastated yet consumed by its profound beauty. No Greek or Hebrew words. No theological jargon. No alliteration or three points and a poem to capture listeners’ attention. Mrs. Jones needed no seminary training. She had all she needed: Jesus and her love for Him. Paul’s words in First Corinthians 1:17-21 ring true:  

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 

I’ll always thank God for the role Mrs. Jones played in my life.  She reminds me that our testimony, no matter how simple, should confirm the indwelling presence of Christ. Her genuine words of faith powerfully reflected a life submitted to her Savior. I especially think of her when I read Paul’s words: “I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge– because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you” (1 Corinthians 1:4-6).

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14). 

John 15:13 has, to a degree, always puzzled me. I understand that Christ’s dying for us, which He was about to do in just a few short hours, was the greatest demonstration of love in history. I also understand that the sacrificial act of allowing my life to be physically taken so that another would be preserved would be the most loving act I could perform. But it doesn’t seem as if I’m called to be a martyr or even a foreign missionary risking my life for the spread of the Gospel. So how can I lay down my life in a way that honors Jesus’ idea here? And how can the context of John 15:13 instruct us, in a practical sense, about what constitutes this type of death? 

I think these verses tell us that “laying down our life” has two dimensions. One is vertical and the other horizontal. Great love, love that is willing to die, is both Godward and directed towards others. This kind of death has at its root the sense of putting someone else’s best interests ahead of your own. This is “dying to self” and is in keeping with Mark 8:34: “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” 

First, we see that God’s love for us, and thus our love for Him, is the catalyst in laying down our lives, which is our own self-interests and aspirations (v.12). The concept of dying to self and living a service-driven, others-oriented, self-sacrificing lifestyle has at its core that we are compelled by love. And this love is for Him. This is the vertical aspect of laying down our life. John 15:14 gives us the evidence of this kind of death: “…if you do what I command you.” This is capitulation, absolute surrender to Jesus – His calling, His commands, and His cause. In this we “die” by seeking His glory and pleasure as opposed to our own. 

In order for us to fully realize this we must first acknowledge and internalize that we can only love Him because He first loved us. His love, exemplified in His crucifixion, creates the inertia to love Him in such a way that He is our Lord, our King, our Master, and the One to whom we are willing to give all for. We die to self because He died for us. He died that we might “live unto Him” and not ourselves. This is the vertical nature of laying down our life and is the prerequisite for the second aspect of self-mortification – the horizontal aspect. In other words, unless we lay down our life and take up His we can’t lay down our life “for [our] friends.” 

Now we see the horizontal component to laying down our life; loving others in a way that puts their best interests and joy ahead of our own temporal pleasure. “Dying” for those we love has to do with putting them ahead of ourselves. We may want our selfish way, but the calling of Christ is to crucify our wants and wishes and surrender to what is the best for Christ’s kingdom and those we love. Those whom we should love in a similar fashion to how He loves us and how we love Him. 

This all comes full circle in Philippians 2. Here we see that Christ’s death leads to our self-denial. We lose our lives to Him and therefore to others because of the cross and His initiatory love demonstrated there. Let’s see how Paul puts all three of these things together – Christ loves us, therefore we love Him, and then we love others in a self- sacrificing way – in the context of our pursuit of Christ and being like Him: 

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:1-11). 

Yes, we may be called to lay down our lives in a physical sense, but this is what I believe it means to “die” in a spiritual and practical manner. We love Him and others more than ourselves. We glorify Him and serve others by crucifying self and living for Him and those we love (and even some folks we don’t “like”). In this we find joy and we honor His name.

And in doing so, what have we lost? Nothing! And what have we gained? Everything! For the same passage, Mark 8:34, that tells us to take up our cross (die), deny ourselves (put God and others first), and follow Him (glorify Him above all else) next says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-five –  The Golden Rule

 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

In a brilliant assertion that practically sums up the teachings of the entire Old Testament, Jesus instructs listeners to treat others in the manner they’d prefer for themselves. Unlike religious teachings outside the Christian faith, which base morality on negative sounding “don’ts,” this principle describes an active, intentional lifestyle of doing for and giving to our fellowman. Believers should treat others with fairness and sacrificial love, constantly asking, “How would I like to be treated in this case?” As we learn to approach one another with this question, we learn the meaning of loving our neighbor as ourselves (see Matthew 19:19).

Surely the legalistic and unloving Pharisees were shocked by Christ’s radical claim. They spent decades poring over the intricacies of the law, the system of justice, and the concept of equivalent retribution. In claiming that neighborly love encapsulates God’s Old Testament teachings, Christ pointed out that respectful behavior satisfies a significant portion of the Decalogue. If followed, the Golden Rule removes the need for judgment based upon our offenses towards one another. The Apostle Paul explains:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8-10).

Despite its simplicity, no greater foundation for morality exists. Christ founded His kingdom on this code of ethics. Here, then, rests the moral standard by which we must live. As we learn to, “Love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart[s] and with all [our] soul[s] and with all [our] mind[s] and with all [our] strength” we can do no less (see Mark 12:30).

Imagine the peace enjoyed by a society who regularly practices the “do to others as you would have them do to you” principle. Even atheists, agnostics, or those who believe only in situational ethics find it difficult to deny that this standard would benefit all human relationships. Fatalists, postmodernists, and secular humanists, too—those who deny the need for a defined moral code—are hard pressed to claim that they find no appeal in the thought of fair, loving treatment extended to all. (Remember that one friend who claimed not to believe in moral absolutes at all but felt slighted over the injustice of a stolen wallet?) Humanity possesses an innate sense of fairness. This speaks to the divine origin of doing right and gives evidence for a moral deity: the loving God of the Bible.

The Golden Rule commands that we apply Christ’s love-your-neighbor-as-yourself principle to “everything.” Not in some things but in all things we should lovingly do to others that which is good and right. Consideration and fairness should permeate our lives. In response to a God who draws us to His love, embraces us by His love, and showers undeserved grace on our lives, we should model loving grace to others.

The Apostle John said,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God … This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7, 9-11).

As representatives of our loving King and His kingdom, we must project fairness and goodness in all interactions. We should proactively care for, give to, and respond to others with the same grace, mercy, forgiveness, and generosity that God shows us.

The contrarian lifestyle Jesus taught amplifies His glory, images forth His beauty, and draws those who don’t know true love to the only place it exists. As we serve others in love, we point them to life in Christ. 

Apply It.

Review Jesus’ teaching in Mark 12:28-34. Loving God requires that we love others. How might you put the Golden Rule into practice today? Ask God to help you identify a person or situation in your life that could benefit from the “do unto others” approach. Pray for His guidance in applying this kingdom principle.

*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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