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“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.

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This is the 1st of a 3-part series for Thanksgiving, 2011.  

“And they brought in the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD and distributed to all Israel, both men and women, to each a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:1-7). 

What a sight of uninhibited thanksgiving! The Ark was Covenant was now in Jerusalem and this sparks a scene of dancing, offerings, blessings, physical provision (a meal) praise, music, banging cymbals, and trumpet blasts. All of this was in an exuberant spirit of gratitude over this momentous event – the returning of the Ark to its rightful place. But why all the hysteria and joy over this religious artifact, something almost like a piece of sacred furniture? 

Basic research tells us that the origin of the Ark is to be found in Exodus 25:10-22. God ordered Moses to construct it to hold the tablets on which He had written the Ten Commandments. The Ark was a box that was approximately 4 feet long, 2 1/2 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet high. It was made of acacia wood and was overlaid with gold inside and out. The lid that covered the box was called the “mercy seat” and it was also made of pure gold. Two angel-like creatures called cherubim were mounted on the top, one on each end. These worshipful figurines faced each other and their wings were spread out toward each other, thus overlooking the mercy seat. 

This wooden chest pictured God’s presence with his people. Symbolically it represented the throne of God (see 1 Chronicles 13:6). This Ark had been carried ahead of them during their time in the wilderness and as they crossed the Jordon to entered the Promised Land. We are told the Israelites had been able to possess the land Yahweh had promised them because God was with them, “enthroned between the cherubim.” 

Later the Ark was housed in the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat. This ritual was to atone for his sins and the sins of the Hebrew nation (Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9). Because God had promised Moses that He would fellowship with Israel “from above the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:22) the concept developed that God Himself was present above the cherubim of the Ark (see 1 Samuel 4:4 and Isaiah 37:16). 

So what does all of this mean? Well, the Ark symbolizes many things that would illicit thankfulness and gratitude. It symbolized the presence, greatness, and works of God but, for us, is most fully understood in light of how it points to Jesus. Much has rightfully been made of the symbolism of the Ark. In other words, most scholars believe nearly every aspect of the Ark prefigures Jesus in some fashion. 

Biblical interpreters would tell us that the acacia wood symbolizes our Lord’s humanity. The gold overlay denotes His deity. The Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch (at one point) inside the Ark pictured Jesus as the of law of God in the flesh, living in perfect obedience to it. The pot of manna that once was laid in this chest spoke of Jesus as the Bread of Life and our sustainer. At one point Aaron’s rod that budded was encased there – which conceivably prophesied Christ’s resurrection.  

The mercy seat is seen as a symbol that points to the prophesied Messiah. It was representative of the work of Jesus on the cross that would atone for the sins of His people, making it possible for those who put their faith in Jesus to be reconciled to God. The mercy seat is also possibly an illustration of how God’s throne was transformed from a judgment seat into a place of grace by the cleansing blood of Christ that was figuratively sprinkled on it. Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, which foreshadowed the permanent cleansing of sin that would come through Jesus’ shed blood and the sacrifice of His death. 

Can we now see how this picture should spontaneously spark our thankfulness? For this Ark was no ordinary artifact or piece of religious furniture – it speaks of God’s mighty work of salvation that was eventually fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ and His sacrifice for sin. It speaks to God’s permanent presence with His sin-covered children. This is why Jesus is called Immanuel, which means God with us. Can anything touch us more than this? Could anything cause our hearts more celebration and gratitude? For His redeemed, I would think not.


“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, NIV).

Understanding that God is not always worshipped at His “house” and we can and should worship God anywhere and everywhere in “spirit and truth” (see John 4:19-26), Solomon gives us some sage advice on the purposefulness and sincerity involved in rightly worshipping God. In these seven verses he speaks of some areas that directly impact whether or not we experience the awesomeness of God (v. 7) and the heartfelt worth we should be ascribing to Him. This best happens when our lives, hearts, and minds are aligned in such a manner that we don’t trivialize being in the presence of holy God. These worship instructions are profoundly simple. Solomon talks about our steps (our behavior), our words, and our vows (commitments) being pivotal in experiencing God.

In the first verse Solomon reminds us that we must be ready to experience God. We have often heard of the hypothetical family riding in the car on their way to corporate worship. They are snipping and biting at each other until the mysterious line, usually found near the church parking lot entrance, appears and then suddenly they become “spiritual” and stop their bickering (only to resume their behavior as they exit the parking lot after the service). This story is only funny because we all have done this type of thing. But this passage points to being prepared for worship. We can’t expect to experience God or genuinely adore Him when our steps (behaviors) do not honor Him. So How can we presume that God will visit us and we will hear His voice when we are living in a manner that is unworthy of His holiness (see Romans 12:1)? Although Solomon is not suggesting that our house must be perfectly in order to effectively worship Him at His “house” (which, of course, is everywhere) but living in willful disobedience hinders our ability to fully experience His presence.

Verses 2-3 are about our words. Solomon, like other passages (Psalm 46:10), indicates that frivolous thoughts and speech serve as a barrier to genuine worship. What are we thinking about, thus probably uttering, when we are seeking to experience the presence of God? It is easy to forget that worship means engaging a holy God and that requires our thoughts to be laser focused on Him. Often we are much better off and He is more honored when we are reverent and silent as we approach Him. We need  more to listen for His voice than to be “quick with our mouth” and talk like a “fool” who isn’t cognizant that God is to be central in our worship. He expects that we be so enamored with His presence that sometimes we are mute before Him – with feelings that defy articulation. For example, because my thoughts are so easily distracted from Him, sometimes I prefer to focus on the words of the worship song or hymn with eyes closed as opposed to singing and easily ignoring the meaning of the words (and that’s not just because I sing like a frog with a man in his throat – yes, you read that correctly).

Verses 4-7 talk about the vows (commitments) that are often a part of intentional worship. Virtually every time I truly experience God and am rocked by His awesomeness I’m moved to make commitments to Him. This makes sense – as we catch a vision of God in all of His holiness, light, and perfection we grasp our shortcomings. Then we are typically compelled to make a vow of service or obedience knowing how far short we fall. But how long do these vows last? How real are our commitments if they don’t linger much longer than the seconds it took to contemplate them? True worship radically changes us and we realize the gravity of making promises to an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and absolutely holy God. Understanding the bigness of the God we serve and worship should make us hesitant to babble meaningless promises as if He is not offended by our triteness and insincerity.

The overarching thought that comes to mind when I study this passage is “sacred.” Have I lost the sense of the sacredness of God and worshipping Him? Our worship is to be sacred because God is sacred. He is about sacred things. Anything, therefore, we do, inside or outside of formalized worship, is to never be treated as ordinary. In other words, as followers of Jesus we must be acutely aware that we always walk on holy ground, especially when we intend to worship. And, according to wise Solomon, approaching God with behaviors that do not honor Him, words that do not focus on Him, and making meaningless vows before Him does not please Him. For He is a transcendent God who is infinitely worthy of our full focus and endless adoration.


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twelve – The Dangerous Consequences of Anger

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something
against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
Settle matters quickly with
your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you
over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny”
(Matthew 5:21-26).

In Matthew 5:21 Jesus begins to systematically contradict secular wisdom with godly wisdom. Six times throughout the chapter He uses the preface, “you have heard that it was said … but…,” to introduce the new laws of His kingdom, laws revised to show the transforming power of the work He accomplished. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, believers receive not just the promise of Heaven but the ability to live abundantly and to love fully. In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ raises the bar on good behavior, showing us that we are responsible not for just our actions and words but for the thoughts
and motivations behind them.

I find it interesting that Christ chooses to first focus on the subject of anger. While Ephesians 4:26 suggests that anger alone is not a sin and the fact that Christ was sometimes angry supports the idea, wrath and its fallout encompass an all too common problem in our world. Even professing believers struggle with anger towards others. A friend, Tina, was eaten up by anger. She had endured numerous disappointing relationships with close friends, her ex-husband, co-workers, and even her parents. “My anger is killing me,” she admitted with tears in her eyes. Over the years her animosity festered until it affected every aspect of her life. She grew depressed, detached, and physically ill. After years of suppressed rage, she ended her own life. Each time Tina’s face comes to mind, I remember the importance of dealing with anger quickly and completely.

Jesus blessed those who promote peace, but He knew that conflict and persecution would come to those who follow Him. While Christ calls us to pursue
righteousness in a world filled with anger and even murder, the injustices heaped on us and those we love may tempt us to follow suit. But we must understand that while righteous indignation has a place, retaliation does not. The Bible does not prohibit killing of every kind: capital punishment, war, and self-defense are allowable. Murder, however, is never acceptable. From Christ’s perspective, anger nursed into unforgiveness equals murder.

Jesus took exception too with one tendency that often goes hand-in-hand with anger: casting doubt on someone’s value or inherent worth. The word raca, or “fool” often meant “empty.” It conveys the idea that someone is so worthless that they should get off the planet. Perhaps we understand this best through the modern phrase, “go to hell.” Taking this approach suggests that we desire an individual dead. Such an attitude, Christ taught, actually puts us in danger of the very thing we think they should face: the fire of hell. Hateful thoughts, attitudes, and insults put us in grave danger. Not just saying cruel, demeaning things but also thinking them puts us in jeopardy. God sees the attitude behind anger as tantamount to murder!

Out of control anger reflects a spiritual issue and a matter of the heart. Jesus indicates that it can create barriers between us and God as well as between us and others. These barriers pack severe consequences. For this reason, Jesus taught that anger should be resolved proactively and quickly. For example, issues with a brother must be settled before we worship and before they lead to unfortunate fallout. As we “settle matters quickly,” we remove the attitude behind anger and drain it of power. A believer must neither let anger dominate nor allow it room to damage relationships.

So often we allow anger towards others to smolder, shrinking and even killing our spiritual vitality. We often fail to heed Jesus’ cry for immediate action—an order that could restore relationships and put us in a better standing before God and man. Our great enemy in seeking to follow His will on the subject is pride. Kingdom living requires that we demonstrate character traits diametrically opposed to pride. Christ’s model of humility compels us to deal with our anger and to resolve lingering conflicts. We serve a righteous judge. He does not want us overly concerned with who is right or wrong in a matter; instead, He wants us to choose to do the right thing in every situation.

Unresolved animosity carries a steep price tag. The angry heart suffers more than the object of its fury. I have never met an angry person who I would consider “blessed” or content; in truth, living with a wrathful attitude proves its own kind of judgment and prison. We do not experience the fullness of God’s kingdom in us or live out the pure and profound principles of His kingdom with a heart filled with enmity. We must deal with anger quickly and completely through humility, repentance, and forgiveness. Only then will we find ourselves restored to a greater sense of favor with both our fellow man and our King.

Apply It.

Read Hebrews 12:15. Think about a time that your anger turned into bitterness. Journal about how you moved passed it to embrace the freedom Christ offers. If you currently struggle with anger, meditate on First Peter 5:6-11. Ask God to take away negative thoughts and feelings. Pray that He lifts you up and gives you the grace to cope.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Do you ever wonder what the voice of God sounds like? Usually it’s depicted as thunderous and reverberating. Or we hear the Hollywood voice of Charlton Heston ring in our ears. No matter what we imagine, we can’t begin to capture the power, purity, and beauty of it. After all, it is the voice that spoke the vast universe with all of its majesty and complexity into being with just the poof of its breath (Psalm 33:6). Amazing!

The voice of God is difficult enough to wrap our minds around. His speaking voice, that is. But what about His singing voice? In spite of what is portrayed in church Christmas and Easter pageants, the Bible never mentions angels singing. God, however, is. And, in a most amazing thought, He is singing to us! We may have a vision of an out-of-this-world angelic choir but this is God doing a solo. Can we imagine? Absolutely not! But it’s true. Check out Zephaniah 3:17 in the ESV (my preferred version): “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Can we possibly imagine God our Creator taking such delight in His creation?! And yet this verse goes so far as to say that His joy in us will make Him sing!

I have heard beautiful singing. Unfortunately, it absolutely did not come from me. Think of the greatest voices you have heard – Sandi Patti, George Beverly Shea are just some examples for us Christians. Consider the greatest opera stars, like Pavarotti, that have ever performed. Or close your eyes and hear a massive choir of top-notch vocalists sing Handel’s Messiah and the thrill of “The Hallelujah Chorus” – and then multiply that to the nth degree. I’m sure we can all identify with the way we were transported when these great talents (whomever you have in mind) began to sing. It seems, at times, as if we are moved to some other place, some other universe as the melodic waves of their vibrato wash over us. But they are not the voice of God. Not even close!

We know that we are commanded to sing. We are told to sing encouragement to each other (Ephesians 5:19) and we are told to sing praise to God (Colossians 3:16).* And that is beautiful, a truly meaningful part of corporate worship. In corporate praise, nothing stirs me more than when the worship leader and the instruments go silent and, with an a cappella unison, God’s children edify each other and exalt our Lord simultaneously by ringing out our songs of adoration. Glorious, right? But this is still not the voice of God singing. Not even close!

Back to Zephaniah 3:17. What is even more amazing than the yet unknown tone of God’s vocals is what He has in mind as He literally “sings over us.” Clearly, He does all things for His own glory and the byproduct of His self-centered (Yes, you read that correctly. You might want to read chapter 6 of David Platt’s new book Radical Together. That chapter is entitled, The God Who Exalts God: We are Selfless Followers of a Self-Centered God.) pursuit of that glory is our eternal good and our unspeakable joy. Not to dive too deeply into the concept that God pursuing His own glory is the most loving thing He can do for us, His children, let’s see what Zephaniah says His singing to us involves.

According to this verse God sings to us:

  • because He is a saving God that dwells with (in) His people.
  • to acknowledge that glorifying Himself by saving us brings Him great joy.
  • to show His compassion towards us brings us peace. A peace with Him and a peace within that defies worldly understanding (Philippians 4:17).
  • because He is glorified in what He has done for us. Therefore He exults (to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy or delight – see Psalm 16:3) over uswith loud (I love that) singing.

This is the love of God for His own. A people that He has chosen, redeemed, and secured for Himself in Christ. His children that He sings over with a voice we can’t begin to fathom, with a divine melody that defies description. It is an infinitely loving lullaby that, I believe, will have Jesus central in the lyrics. This chorus of His passion for us has already begun even though, in the present, we tend to hear Him in that still, small whisper (1 Kings 19:9-13). But one day God’s amplified voice will resonate and echo throughout His entire creation as He sings to us this supernatural love song. From the very mouth of God a thunderous anthem of His indescribable gladness in us will rise with an ever-increasing, infinite crescendo of cosmic delight. It may be as faint as a whisper now but it is so very real. And one day every corner of the universe will hear the heavenly notes of this joyous, agape-saturated serenade trumpeting His love for us.

*This is dedicated to my friend Shaun Ljunggren – may you forever sing God’s praises!


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

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

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

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

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

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


*This is an annual post is in memory of my father. He entered into eternal worship and rest with his Savior on September 4, 2006 (appropriately on Labor Day). Today whould have been his 91st birthday. This is an excerpt from “Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him” which was published in 2008.

Nearly a year and a half after my father’s death, my mother sent me his one volume Bible commentary. Thankfully, she left it as he did: she didn’t even remove the papers he had slid between the binder and the text. It was The Liberty Commentary, a book published by the school from which I received my Master’s degree. The book’s significance, however, was neither in that fact nor in the helpful Bible background information it contained. The most impressive thing about the commentary was my father’s hand-written notes that adorned nearly all of the book’s two-thousand seven hundred pages. The book had well served Dad, a faithful Sunday School teacher, for many years. 

Next to my own Bible,  the picture of my son at 15 minutes old, and my wedding album, I consider Dad’s commentary my greatest earthly possession. My father left within it musings, highlights, underscores, outlines, and his own personal comments. The book is heavy with the authentic faith of a man who did life the right way: by the Bible he so honored with his study. To Dad, Scripture’s precepts were principles to apply to every aspect of life. 

Dad’s commentary is a tangible reminder of God’s grace in my life. I’ve often said that I thank God for giving me the Christian family that I myself would not have had the sense to choose. In our culture it’s quite popular to make our parents scapegoats for all of our issues and bad behavior, but I claim the opposite in my situation. My folks are one of God’s greatest gifts to me. 

Because my dad loved me so much―as evidenced by his life of sacrifices for all his children—I’m sure there are a few tear stains on the pages of his book. As he sought refuge in God’s words of hope and comfort, I’m sure he cried for rebellious me on more than one occasion. (In retrospect, I hope that he knew my rebellion was never a reflection on his parenting.) Dad parented as one should: God’s commands were at the center of all he did. I, however, was trying to escape a loving heavenly Father’s care. Thankfully both my heavenly Father and my earthly one continued to love me and give me support in spite of myself. Gloriously, they both saw me come home. 

I’m so thankful Dad modeled Christ in his spoken words and written ones, but the testimony he lived out daily proved even more significant in winning me to the Lord. You see, Dad’s most insightful and valuable commentary was written outside the bound pages I can hold in my hands. As much as his writings mean to me, the reality of his life leaves the greatest impact on my heart. Dad’s example spoke volumes. To me he was a real hero, one who applied the admonition of Second Timothy 2:15: “Present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  I’ve decided that it was the reality of Dad’s life that most molded me. His commentary serves as a sweet reminder of why I so frequently thank God for him and Mother. 

One of the last things I heard Dad say followed my mother’s adoring words to him, “You are an angel!” He responded immediately: “Yes, I just haven’t gotten my wings yet.” Though Scripture is clear humans don’t transform into angels when they pass (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-50), it does support the sentiment Dad was trying to convey. Those who give their lives to Christ can live as blessings to all they know. Only in heaven, however, do they find glorious and eternal reward for their service to the Master. 

I love you, Dad. See you soon!

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