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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.

*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).

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Nineteen – Kingdom Prayer

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:”

‘Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

 your kingdom come,

your will be done

 on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:7-15).

Countless volumes address the deep significance of the model prayer Christ shared in Matthew 6. The passage provides incredible insights into God’s character and the way He desires Christ-followers relate to Him. Perhaps more than any other section of Scripture, this passage demonstrates that our dialogue with God stands as an intimate yet reverential kingdom-centered privilege. It exalts God’s plans, purposes, and will while acknowledging our dependence on Him for daily provision and practical holiness. This simple prayer resoundingly captures the astonishing essence of the grace-wrought relationship we have with our Father. Unfortunately, many people still view the passage as a script meant for recitation. Thousands know it by memory, but few understand its depth.

I love that Jesus preceded the model prayer with advice on what not to do. He begins by acknowledging that even the godless pray, but their prayers are insincere and frivolous. The term translated as “babbling” here can also be understood as “empty repetitions.”[i] According to Jesus, uttering meaningless words and failing to approach God in focused sincerity ignores the inward realities necessary to truly dialogue with our King. Reciting clichés without backing them in heart-induced authenticity fails to honor the Lord.

My friend Robin beautifully summarized what many Christ-followers experience in their prayer life. She saw her prayers as sign-posts in her spiritual journey: “When I was just born-again I struggled to say anything that made sense. After a few years of being in church, I learned to use a bunch of tired, empty phrases that held little meaning to me. You know—the kind of stuff you mindlessly and hurriedly spit out before a meal? But as I grew in the Lord I began to experience the awesomeness of His presence during my quiet time. Then my words took on heart-felt meaning, and I found myself having a real, dynamic, life-transforming conversation with my Lord.”

At the heart of Jesus’ dialogue with His Father, come these words: “hallowed (revered) be your name.” God’s ultimate glorification defines the goal of every prayer. Magnifying the Heavenly Father and approaching Him with the intent to follow His plans and purposes is primary. Our King is transcendent, majestic, and separated from His creation. Even Christ—His own Son and the exact representation of His glory—approached God with awe and the humility of a servant, recognizing His magnitude. This posture stands in sharp contrast to the man-centered “vain repetitions” the pagans use in calling out to the divine.

Amazingly, Christ encouraged listeners to approach God as “Father.” In doing this He allows a glimpse into the supernatural grace that restores our fellowship with God; in spite of our failings, we are allowed to call Him “our Father.” The Apostle Paul used the term Abba, meaning “Daddy,” to capture the beautiful intimacy that we can have with our King (Romans 8:15). Authentic kingdom prayer shows the personal nature of our sovereign Lord without diminishing His deity. God, great and glorious, provides omniscient care for the needs of His royal children.

The centrality of God’s kingdom provides the basis for Christ’s prayer. We should offer all of our praise and everything we ask of Him with this in mind. We must constantly acknowledge His dominion over creation, allowing our prayers to reflect passion for the on-going revelation of His reign. Our hearts should surge with the attitude, “Your kingdom come, your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven”! As we approach the Lord with this mentality, we stop thinking about ourselves and begin to focus on Him. This allows us to find peace and confidence in God’s sovereignty and affirms within us that He will capably provide what we most need.

Our Lord acknowledges God’s promise of physical provision in this life for His children as a general principle (see Matthew 6:25-31). Interesting that He advises us to pray for things that God has already promised to provide (i.e. our daily bread) and about needs that He is already aware of (Matthew 6:8). Provider of all that we have, God imparts the necessities and often blesses us with nonessentials. By praying for what He has already promised to provide (and often times already gives) we humbly recognize Him as the only source of all good things (James 1:17). We recall God’s greatness as our Provider and recognize His caring and compassion in our lives.

The prayer clearly reveals that Jesus desires His disciples pursue righteousness. Holy living is predicated on our understanding of His gracious forgiveness. When we grasp the beautiful forgiveness Christ offers us, we will reveal that understanding by adopting lifestyles of forgiveness. In order to mirror God’s purity, we must passionately pursue godliness, an inherent attribute of His chosen people. Recognizing God’s holiness and falling in love with Him sparks within us a passion for purity. As we pursue blamelessness and extend forgiveness, we reflect Him.

Studying the model prayer always prompts my heart: Do my prayers come across as vain, selfish, empty, or shallow? Or does my communication with Him project an intimacy that compels me to glorify Him? Do I plead for His kingdom’s expansion? Do I exhibit a heart grateful for His underserved provision? How often do I yearn for a holy life that reflects His absolute purity? Jesus prompted us to pray kingdom-centered prayers to an incomprehensibly supreme King. Only when I give God the focus, reverence, and surrender He requires do my prayers match with the principles Christ laid out in Matthew.  

Apply It.

Jesus encourages us to find, as He did, a place of solitude to pray (see Mark 1:35; Matthew 6:6). Considering life’s busyness and distraction, we must consistently find a place and time that allows us intimate communion with our Father without interruption. Does this reflect your practice? Ask God to give you the discipline to daily fellowship with Him in a place of quiet.

[i] Robertson, A. T.  Robertson’s Word Pictures of the New Testament (Broadman Press, 1960).

*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!

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:7-8, 10). 

I was watching TBN (Don’t have a coronary; we were in a hotel room. It was the only “Christian” channel that was provided). I can’t name the particular show nor will I reveal the name of the show’s host, but the first guest’s name was Britt Merrick (and I knew nothing about him). The discussion was centered on his book, Big God: What Happens When We Trust Him, which includes the saga of his 7 year old daughter Daisy’s fight with cancer. This subject was the main topic that the host wanted Merrick to focus on, but the author clearly had a different message than the host, or the audience, expected. I watched in amazement as the crowd missed the most critical point, as well as the biggest blessing. 

Forgive me if my account is not totally accurate (it was past my bedtime, we’d had an extremely long day, and were lying in the hotel room bed trying desperately to go to sleep) but essentially Merrick’s daughter was discovered to have a nerf ball sized malignant tumor in her abdomen when she was 5 years old. The crowd and host groaned as he explained the doctor’s prognosis, which was grim, and the surgeries, chemo, and recovery. But Merrick was clear to describe his prayer during this ordeal: “God, I want more of Jesus and nothing else. I want to love Christ even more than my daughter and any thing else in this world. I want her healed but, even more than that, I want you!” The crowd and the host remained eerily silent until the host asked “And what happened to your daughter’s cancer?” “The doctors proclaimed her healed,” Merrick explained. And the crowd clapped and shouted as the host egged them on. 

“But,” said Merrick, “the cancer was soon to return.” The audience sank. This, however, did not hinder Merrick from his theme. “We prayed even harder for more and more of Jesus, that He would be our all in all and our greatest treasure…more than anything this world had to offer, including our precious daughter.” The host was now stumbling around and the attendees sat in sobered silence: “no healing…that’s a bummer.” Seemingly, this was not supposed to be the message intended for this broadcast so the host pushed ahead with his agenda: “What happened next?” “More surgery and treatments. And then, finally, now that she is 7, hope that my daughter is in remission.” The crowd, and the host, went wild!!! Little did they know that, to this very day, little Daisy continues to battle cancer and suffers from the awful side-effects of intensive chemotherapy. 

Merrick was undeterred. It seemed as if he thought they had missed the point – and the greatest blessing – as well as I did. “But God answered our prayer,” he passionately intimated to all the listeners, both in the studio and on TV. “We got more of Jesus!  And, yes, our daughter seems well but that isn’t the biggest blessing. We got more of what we can never lose…Jesus became our greatest treasure! Now He means more than anything this world has to offer. He is more beautiful than anything – even our daughter. Because, when you have Jesus, you have everything that really matters.” 

This was too much for the confused host (and the stunned, silent audience) so he felt the need to redirect. “Brother Merrick, could you lead us in prayer for those who are listening who need a miracle, those who are facing a financial or physical crisis and need to have God answer their pleas for His intervention, healing, and financial restoration?” Without a response, Merrick began to pray (and I paraphrase): 

“Loving Father, I pray for all those under the sound of my voice that are encountering difficulties. I pray that they may seek after and find more of Jesus, that they might find all of their satisfaction in Him. No matter what the circumstances, may we see Christ as the greatest treasure imaginable – far superior to anything this world has to offer. And we pray this because you are worthy and for your glory alone. Amen.” 

There was a long, unappreciative silence. So the host decided to move past the awkwardness by introducing the next guest. After all, there was no unexplainable financial restoration, no supernatural marital reconciliation, no instantaneous, complete, miraculous healing of the daughter. This wasn’t what these folks seemed to be looking for, what they really wanted. No wonder there appeared to be a pall of disappointment that permeated this tense moment – it seems all this family got out of this tragedy was Jesus as their ultimate prize and purpose. I may be wrong (and I hope I am), but from all indications the host and the audience missed the point…and the biggest and best blessing. But Paul didn’t (see Philippians 3). And I pray we don’t either.

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:9-14).

As Paul writes to the Colossian church, although he didn’t know them all that well, he had heard of their faith and love (Colossians 1:3-8). This compelled him to pray nonstop for them. He desired spiritual maturity for these fellow believers and this is my prayer for all of us for 2010. I beseech God that we:

  • are “filled with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (v. 9). The Greek word for “knowledge” in this passage is epignosis and it signifies practical, personal and experiential understanding and not just academic or intellectual knowledge. I desire that we all become imitators of Jesus (Ephesians 5:1-2) and thus spread the sweet fragrance of His beauty (2 Corinthians 2:14). How do we do this? “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
  • live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way (v. 10). The  Lord we serve, and the calling we have received, is certainly a worthy one! In Ephesians 4:1 Paul considers himself to be a slave to the Lord and this worthy calling. In a similar vein, Paul writing to the church at Thessalonica says, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
  • are bearing fruit in every good work (v. 10). Not just “one” or “some”, but “every” good work.  What sort of good works? Empowered by the Holy Spirit we demonstrate His fruit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25). These attitudes and attributes should permeate our every effort to please God.
  • are growing in the knowledge of God (v, 10). We need to grow in the knowledge of God Himself, not just His will. Knowing Him is man’s highest pursuit and the essence of seeking after Him as our greatest treasure. Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death(Philippians 3:10). These are the desires of those so in love with their Lord that they are obsessed with knowing Him (in the most intimate sense) and all about Him. As Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).
  • are being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might (v. 11). It is God’s desire that we demonstrate His strength in our living for Him. There is indescribable supernatural power available to the Christian. By trusting in Him and reliance upon the Holy Spirit Paul says we can “…be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10).
  • may have great endurance and patience, with joy (v. 11)  Paul captures the essence of joy and patience in enduring for Christ when he says “Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;  in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:45-6). Endurance with patience and joy is the mark of those that are “in Christ”.
  • are joyfully giving thanks to the Father (v.12). The Psalmist captures this so beautifully: “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.  Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations (Psalm 100:1-5).

And why can we receive all of these marvelous requests? Because God “has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (v. 12). Because our Savior “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (v. 13). And, most importantly, because “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (v. 14).  Furthermore, how can we have the full experience of this New Year’s prayer?  Abiding in Him and His Word – “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7).

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