A Few Thoughts on Losing

Spending a few days in Ocean City, New Jersey with family. Enjoying the ocean breeze and a beautiful view, surrounded by my three precious kids and a loving wife.

I’ve been reading Tim Kelly’s book, The Legend of Red Klotz. Klotz was the player-coach of the Washington Generals, a team that played the Harlem Globetrotters in most of their shows. The Generals lost over 14,000 games. They only won once, when Klotz hit a game winning jumper.

Klotz stated: “ What is losing? Losing is a part of life. You can’t lose if you are striving to do your best. They keep score of the game to determine which team scores the most points. They call the team with the most points the winner and the team with fewer points the loser. But if you tried your best and didn’t score the most points, you still won. Only one team wins the NBA championship. Only one team wins the Super Bowl. You mean to tell me every other team is not successful, just because they didn’t win the championship? It just doesn’t work that way. What matters is getting up. If you lose a game you can get up and try again the next time. That’s a win right there. You learn that lesson and you learn a lot about life. If you can regroup after a loss and keep going, you’re going to be okay.”

Klotz’s statement reminds me of the Christian life. So often the world measures success by money, power, etc. But following Christ involves learning how to deal with disappointment, unrealized expectations, and many other things. And through such experiences, character is built.

The Apostle Paul wrote: in 2 Corinthians 4:7-11: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

So maybe “losing” in the world’s eyes is not really losing it all. It’s just learning, knowing that God is at work, as we follow Jesus Christ.

The Potter and the Clay

The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.  Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” Jeremiah 18:1-6 (ESV)

This is an interesting passage. The prophet is instructed by God to go down to the potter’s house and make a few observations. There, he sees the artisan working, molding a piece of clay into a vessel.

At first, the clay is “marred” (NKJV). But the potter does not discard the clay, but in fact molds it into something else.

Jeremiah is told that the House of Israel is the clay and that God is the potter. In other words, the Lord establishes nations and brings them to an end. And, from an individual perspective, the Lord is sovereign over your life. And the best decision that you can make is to offer it back up to Him for His use.

God in Christ has called you to follow, love and serve Him. The Apostle John wrote: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3 (ESV) This is the best decision you could ever make.

Ms. Adelaide Pollard was perplexed at a point in her life, wanting to travel to Africa and become a missionary. She attended a prayer meeting one evening in 1902 and a woman there prayed something to the effect: “Have your way with my life, O Lord.” So impressed with that prayer was Ms. Pollard that she penned what came to be known as a famous hymn in Christian worship, based on Jeremiah 18: “Have Thine own way, Lord; have Thine own way. Thou art the Potter; I am the clay. Mold me and make me, after Thy will. While I am waiting, yielded and still.”

May you renew your commitment to the Lord and follow His lead in all things.

God’s Word is Sweet to Your Soul

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16 ESV

These words found in the book of Jeremiah remind us how the prophet perceived God’s message for himself and for the people under his care. Jeremiah was a spokesperson for God at a difficult time in Judah’s history. Having been called into service during King Josiah’s reforms (circa. 626 B.C.), he saw the fruit of the efforts to hearken the people back to covenant faithfulness. Jeremiah observed the hearts of the congregation return to the Lord. And things were well for a season.

But it was not long until the people once again started playing the harlot and following after other gods. The wickedness reached a climax under the evil King Manasseh. It wasn’t long before the Jews were “tasting” another message and their ears had become dull to God’s word.

Ezekiel encountered the same experience- ministering in a difficult time, yet knowing of the sweetness of God’s word. Notice the imagery of consumption is used to illustrate Ezekiel’s receiving God’s message. Ezekiel 3:1-3 “And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat.  And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.”

As Christians, we are living in an unprecedented time. More and more people in America have no religious affiliation. Church attendance has been dipping for the last number of years. The effects of the Coronavirus have only sped things up in that direction. Could it be that God is sifting His church and separating the sheep from the goats? Is He calling you to a more genuine faith in the Lord Jesus, while seeing the church lose some of its popularity? Will you remain faithful?

Be encouraged to seek the Lord at this time. Reorient yourself to the more precious things, like Bible study, prayer and devotional reading. You will not be disappointed, as God said in Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” It is time to “take up and read,” while seeking the shepherd and guardian of your soul, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some Thoughts on “Doubting Thomas”

It was Will Rogers, the early 20th century Native American and cowboy humorist who was quoted in the Saturday Evening Post of November 6, 1926, on the Communist Leon Trotsky. “I bet you if I had met him and had a chat with him, I would have found him a very interesting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I didn’t like.” 

Will was a special guy. Sounds like he looked for the good in others. I’m not so sure I could do that. One person that gets written off is the man we know as Thomas. He is affectionately known as “Doubting Thomas.” Maybe that’s a bad rap.

Not much is given in the Scriptures about Thomas.  But keeping an open eye to the handful of texts that are given, he is introduced to us as one of the 12 in Mark 3:18. He is known as Thomas, called Didymus, which means “twin.” Today, I wanted to share with you an observation or two.

We only read of Thomas’ personality in John’s gospel.  Thomas comes across as an honest fellow and maybe a little slow to catch on.  In John 11, he gives us the impression of being a bit pessimistic.  When Jesus announces that He is determined to go back to Jerusalem, having just been there and encountering the Pharisees, Thomas responds in verse 16: “Let us go that we may die with Him.”  Little did Thomas know that he was about to witness the greatest miracle that Jesus ever did, when Christ would raise Lazarus from the dead. 

Sometimes our pessimism can get in the way of seeing God do something spectacular.  Being a Christian ought to be exciting, for we serve a God who never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121).  Jesus also said that His Father was always working and that He was working also (John 5:17).  There is never a lost opportunity with God.  But Thomas was not necessarily in the mood for another road trip, especially one that would probably end badly.

When we are stressed or subject to our sinful tendencies, we too can be pessimistic.  We rarely know how to turn a bad day into a better day.  We can dwell on the negative and see the glass as half empty. 

But in those times, we must remember that we serve an awesome God who has given His children by faith, joy and peace.  To know that your sins have been forgiven and that you are a new person because of Jesus and His work in you is a marvelous thing. 

Thankfully, the story turns for Thomas. He would later witness the risen Christ and respond: “My Lord and My God.” His life was truly changed after experiencing Jesus coming back from the dead.

Tradition tells us that he went on to do mission work in India, where he died for his faith in 72 A.D. He is sometimes known as “The Apostle to India.” His life is a reminder that God changes lives of individuals that trust Him. He can change your life, as you seek Him.

The Need for Spiritual Discipline

Today, I would like to talk about the need for spiritual discipline.  What is that, you might ask?  It could roughly be understood as soul care; the things Christians are to be active in, in order to promote their own spiritual health.  3 John 2 says: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” So spiritual disciplines are those things that promote soul wellness; just like diet and exercise encourage physical health, the spiritual disciplines develop spiritual health. 

Dr. Don Whitney, professor at Southern Seminary defines them this way:

“The spiritual disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are habits of devotion, habits of experiential Christianity that have been practiced by God’s people since biblical times.”[1]


There are many great examples of discipline in the Bible.  For instance, Jesus made it his custom to rise early and pray long. Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” 

Or the prophet Daniel, who while in Babylon, prayed three times per day, facing Jerusalem, even though it was illegal to do so.  Daniel 6:10 states:

“When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.” Daniel prayed three times per day facing Jerusalem and made it a habit.

It took discipline for the Israelites to march around Jericho, whereas there were probably those who said, “Hey, let’s just start dismantling the bricks!  Wouldn’t that make more sense?”  But they obeyed Joshua, who obeyed the Lord (Joshua 6:15).

As fallen human beings, we are prone to laziness and bad habits.  We welcome a lack of structure.  At the most critical time in Jesus’ life, during the all night prayer session in Gethsemane, the disciples did not cut it. 

“And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”[1]

The flesh is weak, Friends!  While on vacation, I throw out a lot of my structure.  I stay up late (10 p.m.).  I sleep in.  I eat what I want.  So I’m one of those that gains about 8 lbs. every vacation and it takes me a month to lose it or not at all.  The problem is when we take a vacation from our faith, it is detrimental. 

It took discipline to obey God when the Lord asked Moses to speak to the rock. Instead, he struck it and was prohibited from entering the promised land in Numbers 20:7-11.

It also occurs to me that every sin is committed out of a lack of self-restraint; a process of saying to God: “I know better.”  Spiritual discipline starts with coming before God and saying: “I need you!  Feed my starving soul, Lord.” 

It occurs to me in this time of isolation and curtailed freedoms, that the Lord is reminding us that He is our source for strength (Psalm 46:1) and rest (Matthew 11:28). May you seek the Lord in a new and consistent way. Start today.

[1] Matthew 26:40-41 (ESV)

[1] https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-are-spiritual-disciplines.

True Rest

Maybe you’ve been very tired; even exhausted. The present situation has taken a toll on you, not just physically, but possibly you’ve been emotionally drained. This new way of life has brought enormous stress to our lives.

We all are in need of rest. Jesus offers a type of rest that is unlike any that that world knows of. For that rest, we read in Matthew 11:28:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, ESV

This passage happens to be one of my favorites. It is an invitation like no other. It is an invitation to rest.

The context is about revelation. Jesus states that the Father alone reveals the Son to whomever He wills. And those who are willing to receive such revelation are given “rest for their souls.” This type of rest is of a spiritual nature. Maybe it is like what is spoken of in Psalm 23:

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Psalm 23:2-3, ESV

So the type of rest that Jesus offers is of a whole different order. It is the peace of mind that knows God is in control; that He is sovereign and that He is working things out around you, even when circumstances would indicate otherwise.

In order to experience this rest, there are actions things that must arise from a genuine encounter with God. First, there is faith. This is a whole-hearted trust in the Lord. It is giving Him your life. It means that you know longer live for yourself, but you live for Jesus Christ.

The second action is repentance. This means a change of heart and mind. Included in repentance is a deep conviction that you are remorse for the ways in which you have offended God. And the definition of sin, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “…any transgression against the moral law of God.” God invites you to come to Him, confess and turn from your sins and receive His forgiveness.

God makes a similar invitation in the book of Isaiah:

“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Isaiah 55:6-7, ESV

Jesus said: “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” The yoke was a piece of wood laid upon the shoulders of a team of oxen. It kept the animals moving in the same direction and forced them to pull at the same pace. Unlike the other “yokes,” of His day, Jesus said that His “…yoke is easy… .” The Apostle John agreed in his first epistle:

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

1 John 5:3, ESV

In the present crisis, it is easy to get overwhelmed. But now is a tremendous opportunity to slow down and consider your spiritual health and the need to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope that you will make that decision today. All other decisions are earthly in nature. But this particular decision is eternal. There’s no better time than today to trust Jesus Christ.

Practicing 1 Corinthians 13 in These Tense Times

You have probably heard of the love chapter. It is found in 1 Corinthians 13. Often used as the “go to” wedding passage, these words from the Apostle Paul have many other applications to the person who goes deeper into God’s word.

I personally think that there is no better time than the present to remind ourselves of these great lessons found in the love chapter. In the first three verses, Paul counts several actions that might give a person reason to boast. He states: “

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV

A person can be blessed with all kinds of gifts, abilities and generosity. But if love is not the motivation for one’s deeds, then all the good things that one does amounts to nothing.

In the next paragraph, Paul defines love with a number of descriptives. And it is these that helping us know that love is an action word. Love is found in behavior. Paul states: “

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV

It strikes me that during these difficult times, when we find ourselves out of our normal routines, staying home and spending more time with our families, it could be that you and I need to be reminded that love must be practiced intentionally. It does not come naturally to us. We are prone to selfishness and self service. But love presses us to consider others more important than ourselves. So consider the following applications while you’re “hunkering down,” at home.

  • When you are stressed, it is so easy to lose patience with those around you. This happens especially with those that you can take for granted, like a spouse, a child or a parent. Remember that “Love is patient; love is kind.”
  • Secondly, try not become easily offended, but practice forgiveness. I have found that when I’m stressed, I can say things that I deeply regret. Remember that love: “…does not insist on its own way.”
  • Thirdly, don’t be hesitant to take a break by going for a walk or sitting outside. Develop a rhythm between solitude and group time. It is important to keep things fresh. This will encourage consideration and service to others. Remember that love: “…endures all things.”
  • Lastly, try concentrating on the good qualities that one has, rather than what they do to irritate you. Love: “…hopes all things.”

No family is perfect. Different personalities add to a group’s dynamic. During these days of self-quarantine and sheltering in place, be the person that chooses love over inconvenience and frustration. May God bless you in these endeavors.

 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35 (ESV)

Thoughts on the Coronavirus

If you are like me, the news of the Coronavirus pandemic came with much shock and concern. To understand that this condition is far more contagious than the flu and has spread to many countries brings feelings of fear and anxiety. As Christians, it is important to “keep our heads,” as Rudyard Kipling wrote. And so, I thought I would share some truths from God’s word that may put some of the present milieu in perspective.

First of all, God is the Author of Life. Let us never forget that the world had its origin in the creative hands of the God of Scripture. The very first words of the Bible, found in Genesis 1:1 state: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God has created this universe and has its future in His hands. Furthermore, Human beings are the crown of His creation. Genesis 2:7: “…then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” And later in Genesis 2:18, God said that it was not good for the man to be alone, and so He created a helpmate to be with him, the woman, who was taken from man.  Both are the crown of His creation, made in His image, with a mind, will and emotions… a soul; something only able to communicate directly with God and have fellowship with Him!

In addition, death is in God’s hands. The Old Testament figure known as Job, received awful news that his sons and daughters had all died tragically in an accident. We are told that he grieved deeply by tearing his robe and shaving his head, then fell to the ground and worshipped. In Job 1:20 he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Life is in God’s hands. He brings about death at the appointed time. We must trust Him, even in times of great loss.

 Just as life and death come from God’s hand, you can be comforted that God watches over your life. Psalm 121:7-8: “The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” And David wrote of the greatness of God in knowing all of our days as if they could be counted. Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” When something like this strikes, it is a time to cleave to God; wait on Him.  Seek Him in prayer.  Receive of His mercy and grace.  And do not let fear rule the day. 

Because of these truths, do not succumb to fear and panic. The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to encounter life-threatening situations. He wrote from a Roman jail cell to the church in Philippi: “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:6-7). Therefore, trust God, who is full of love, power and grace.  He knows what is best for you!!

There are some common expectations over the next eight weeks. Life is far different now than it was just a few months ago. Therefore, consider the following:

  • Take this opportunity to work on projects you have been putting off. Keep busy.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat well and get your rest.
  • Wash your hands often: 15-20 seconds with warm water.  Use hand sanitizer, if necessary.
  • Practice social distancing. Keep yourself at a six feet distance from others. Avoid shaking hands or giving/receiving hugs.
  • Avoid public gatherings. The CDC has advised no gatherings of greater than 50 for the next eight weeks, until/after May 10 (Mother’s Day).

Lastly, pray for others affected by this virus. At the time of this writing, Italy has 21K infected and 1,400 deaths.  One of their officials is recorded as saying: “This is not a wave, but a tsunami.” Pray that the Lord would be glorified in this situation; that His church would be used; and that many people would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

This is Who I Am

What is your definition of blessed?  For some, it only applies to money or material possessions. 

Pastor Tom Shepherd shares the following story.  John D. Rockefeller lived from 1839 to 1937. In 1916 he became the first person in the world to reach a nominal personal fortune of one billion dollars. He was the founder, chairman and major shareholder of Standard Oil Company. By the time of his death it is estimated that his net worth was estimated conservatively at $340 billion dollars. If you adjust for inflation – he is often regarded as the richest person in history.

As a youth, Rockefeller reportedly said that his two great ambitions were to make $100,000 and to live to be 100 years old. He believed that “God gave me money” and followed John Wesley’s dictum: “gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” Rockefeller was a religious man and always gave a tithe to the church and also supported efforts in education and medicine.

It is reported that at one time Rockefeller was asked about wealth; “How much money is enough?” His reply was, “More than I have.”

By many peoples’ standards, we would refer to Rockefeller as a “blessed,” man.  But is that really accurate?  Is blessing always tied to your bank account? How does God define blessed?  There are many who are wealthy, yet still struggle with depression, guilt, and mistreatment by and toward others. 

For our answer, we turn to the section of the Sermon on the Mount known as “the Beatitudes.”  These series of short statements by Jesus can be challenging and troubling on the one hand; yet comforting and helpful on the other.  And all of them come from Jesus.  Matthew 5:2: “And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying….”  First of all, let us look at who is considered blessed from God’s point of view. 


We were taught in seminary that “context is king.”  And so, we must interface with the context in which Jesus made these statements. One is that they come in the context of His preaching on the kingdom of God.  Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The Beatitudes are the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  But before He ascended to the mountain and began to share what arguably is the greatest message ever given on earth, Jesus devoted himself to going from village to village in Galilee preaching the kingdom of heaven.  And the Sermon on the Mount shows us what kingdom life consists of. 

I would argue that being a member of God’s kingdom affords you an ability to resist temptation and the opportunity to be forgiven of sin.  David wrote in Psalm 32: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

And so what is the vehicle to which a man or woman may become part of God’s kingdom?  In order to be called “blessed,” we must respond to the invitation to the kingdom.  We must repent and believe in the gospel, as Mark 1:14 states. 

Important to note is that fact that no one is born into the kingdom of God from a physical sense.  No one is physically born a Christian, nor are you a believer because your parents trusted Christ.  Spiritual birth must truly take place in your life.  Jesus said in John 3:3: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”   It is not through being a good person or adhering to a moral code or being “religious,” as the world puts it.  It is through the gifts of repentance and faith. 

Repentance means to turn; a change of heart and mind.  It is implied in the act of confession; asking God to forgive you for your sins and offenses done to Him and to others.  It also means that you hate sin and love God and your life reflects that.   It is to the church, that John wrote: 1 John 1:8-9: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The other act is faith.  Faith is not just believing that there is a God, but embracing Him; following Him; becoming a disciple of Jesus. So there is urgency for you to repent of your sins and place your trust in Jesus Christ, in order to have citizenship in the kingdom of God and possess heaven as your home.  Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God….”  It is a wonderful thing that God reached out to us in the gift of His Son, so we could be reconciled to Him. 

Once the Lord has taken up residence in your life, you are forever changed.  Your status is new.  You have a different identity.  1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  Christians have a new identity. 

But with God’s definition of blessed comes a different way of life. 


What does it mean to be blessed?  The world has a different idea of blessing.  It usually means being physically fit and free from disease; being rich and having many material possessions; being popular among your peers, etc.  Being on top of the world, kind of like Leonardo DiCaprio as he stood on the bow of the Titanic and felt the wind in his hair.  This is unrealistic.  In a worldly mindset, you can never have enough money.  You can be famous and be incredibly miserable. Author and speaker Awdhesh Singh states:

“Most people are unhappy since they fail to get what they want in life. However, even when they actually get what they want, their happiness is short-lived because very soon they raise the bar to a higher level and again start struggling to achieve the next level. Their happiness level thus comes back to the original level as before.”[1]

That’s why Rockefeller said: “Just one more dollar.”  But God calls blessed those who from an outward sense are not!  The Greek is markarioi which can also be translated: “happy.”  One commentator explains that “blessed,” here is “…more than a temporary or circumstantial feeling of happiness, this is a state of well-being in relationship to god that belongs to those who respond to Jesus’ ministry.”[2]  Matthew 5:3:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

How can those who are poor in suffer various hardships or ill-fated conditions be seen as favored?  It is what those things produce in the caldron of God’s formative grace through the power of the Spirit that transforms a person on the inside.  And that Jesus was all of these things.  What’s more, they are promised the very thing that they want or need.  “Blessed are… for theirs is the…;” “Blessed are…, for they shall….” 

Sinclair Ferguson states: “In the context of the whole of Matthew’s Gospel, then, we discover that the chief theme is Jesus himself.  In each part of the Gospel we learn some new facet of Jesus’ identity.  The entire Gospel, and each part of it, centers on Jesus Christ- who He is, what He says, and what he does.  The Sermon on the Mount should be understood in light of this.”  And… Living the Sermon on the Mount means fundamentally, bowing to the authority of Jesus.”[3] 

Some argue that the Beatitudes have to do with future blessings.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (in heaven). But I would argue that it is a both/and condition, rather than an either/or.  Only God can give enormous comfort and purpose in this life while one experiences grief or mistreatment.  And so the Beatitudes offer a counter-cultural psychology to the present condition of living in a sinful world that produces heartache and trial. 

The Lord changes your identity and redefines the term “blessed.”  He said to His grieving disciples in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  Only Jesus offers you peace in the midst of your sorrow.  Money cannot do that.  Friends are only partly successful. 

Lastly, your blessings are always intended as instruments of ministry. 


The Beatitudes don’t stop with a classification of blessing.  Rather, they move on to what we’re supposed to do/be with those blessings.  Jesus calls us salt and light in Matthew 5:13-16 and then says: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  As a Christian, you have a profound capacity to change the world because of who you are and how you react to such events. 

God blessed Abraham and said to him after he was willing to sacrifice his one and only son at the Lord’s request in Genesis 22:17:

“I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

And so the experiences that you and I encounter in our Christian walk are meant to hold blessings for us, as well as for others.  Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:3:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

How can I help someone else?  What way can I minister to others?  Just as Jesus spent His life for you and me, we are to spend our lives for others. 


Writer Mitchell Dillon tells the story:

“When I was a boy, I always looked forward to our summer trips from San Francisco to West Texas to spend vacation time with extended family.  My two younger brothers and I would pile into our un-air-conditioned car, anxious to begin the long trek across the Southwest.  At the end of each day’s journey, the three of us would beeline our way to the hotel pool to re-hydrate—something we really looked forward to after hours of being blasted in the back seat by the hot desert air.  These were great adventures filled with the excitement of seeing new places and the extravagance of eating out (something we never did back home).

One year during our journey, my youngest brother did something completely out of character for his normally compliant nature.  Despite a tight budget and strict instructions to the contrary, James defiantly placed the same order every time we stopped to eat.  “I’ll have what Dad is having,” he would insist.  Apparently, my little brother had noticed that the plate of food placed in front of our father always looked a lot more appealing than the one typically placed in front of him.  That was all it took.  From then on, all he wanted was what our father was having.  At five years of age, my little brother didn’t know much, but he knew that anything Dad ordered would be better than what he knew to order off the Kiddie Menu.  Genius!

If only we were that smart about what we desired in life.  If we were, we would stop setting our hearts on things that are certain to disappoint us and start dreaming of things that promise to bring lasting satisfaction.  We would forget about the Kiddie Menu, where the portions and satisfaction are limited, and turn instead to God.  We would ask our Heavenly Father to do the ordering for us, trusting that His choices would be bigger, better and more satisfying.  We would order what He was having—not mere happiness, but blessedness!

This is precisely the prescription we find in the Beatitudes.  Rather than calling us to desire less, Jesus calls us to desire more.  Rather than asking us to let go of our dreams, Jesus exhorts us to dream bigger.  Rather than expecting us to be satisfied with mere happiness, Jesus invites us to experience what it is to be blessed.  Happiness is what we order for ourselves, while blessedness is what we get when we let God order for us.[4]

[1] Awdhesh Singh, 31 Ways to Happiness (Wisdom Tree, 2019).

[2] ESV Study Bible, electronic edition, Notes on Matthew 5:3.

[3] Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Sermon on the Mount: Kingdom Life in a Fallen World (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1987), 4-5.

[4] Mitchell W. Dillon, founder of Illustration Exchange, found at https://illustrationexchange.com/illustrations?category=229.  Accessed 14 September 2019. 

The Blessing of Forgiveness

Forgiveness can come from an unsuspected source and is sometimes met with odd responses.

An attorney, after meditating on several Scriptures, decided to cancel the debts of all his clients that had owed him money for more than 6 months. He drafted a letter explaining his decision and its Biblical basis and sent 17 debt canceling letters via certified mail. One by one, the letters were returned by the Postal Service, unsigned and undelivered. Perhaps a couple people had moved away though not likely. Sixteen of the seventeen letters came back to him because the clients refused to sign for and open the envelopes fearing that this attorney was suing them for their debts. How profound! We owe a debt for our sin and God is willing to cancel it but too many people will not even open the letter that explains how.

Today’s message is about forgiveness shown to a most unassuming person, a criminal. Many of us believe that a criminal is deserving of the punishment he stands to receive. And that is true. The law is based on justice. But what about forgiveness? And how does that relate to us?

Today, we turn to Luke 23 and see how Jesus treated one of the criminals hung beside him. And in it, we will find some unsuspecting lessons on the “The Blessing of Forgiveness.” Let us gain a context for this topic was we look at the scene of the Jesus’ crucifixion.

Notice verse 32:

“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide his garments.”

“…there they crucified Him,” This is no little thing. Crucifixion was the most painful of all executions that mankind has ever known. Spike impaling the person at the wrists and feet, exposing the victim to horrendous pain and agony. The person eventually dies of suffocation. All four gospels record Jesus’ crucifixion, but none of them go into detail. The reason for this is that they seek to explain why He was crucified more than describing the event itself. Everyone knew what crucifixion meant in the first century. But to us in 2018, we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus died the most horrible death you can imagine.

And yet even in His agony, he uttered these words over His persecutors: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” At what volume Jesus said these words is unknown. Safe to say it was loud enough for Luke’s source to record it and for the onlookers to react to it. And only Luke records the words of this prayer. Well known was it to the extent that Stephen, the church’s first martyr, repeats it for his persecutors in Acts 7:60. But notice that…


Notice the context that this forgiveness is proffered. It is in the most ruthless, venomous environment. Here, we are told that the rulers scoffed at him. The soldiers mocked him. The sign above him read: “King of the Jews,” but it was displayed out of disrespect. Lastly, the criminals hung on either side of him ridiculed him, one saying: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Each of these sneers come with mockery of Jesus’ true identity: “the Christ, the Chosen One of God or that He was King of the Jews- most unusual responses to the statement: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Only Luke mentions the comments of the two criminals. Walter Liefield states the reason for this is “…to emphasize the humiliation of his execution and perhaps also his identification with sinners in his death as well as in his life.” Remember that hundreds of years before this event, the prophet Isaiah preached : “Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.” We identify with these criminals from a human perspective. We all have gone astray; all have committed crimes against God and others made in His image. Jesus dying between two thieves is poetic in this sense. Secondly…


“But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'”

Walter Liefield states that the believing criminal’s words “…reinforces two characteristics of Luke’s gospel. One is the innocence of Jesus; The other is the immediate realization of God’s saving grace through Christ.”

What is the definition of forgiveness? According to Question number one of the Heidelberg Catechism, one part of the only comfort you have in life and in death is that Jesus has fully paid for all of your sins. You see, you incurred a debt against a holy and righteous God, through your sinful thoughts and actions. The word in the book of Ezekiel tells us: “The soul that sins shall die.”

But Jesus was sent to bear that punishment. 1 John 4:10 tells us: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And Psalm 32:1-5 reminds us that: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”

From this we know that the concept of forgiveness in “a covering.” This is where we get the idea of atonement. As one commentator states: “There is a contrast in the kind of covering: when God ‘covers’ sin, he graciously blots it out; when man ‘covers’ his sin, he is sinfully hiding it.” The Romans felt that what this man did was worthy of capital punishment. But
be that as it may, Jesus had the power and love to forgive Him, upon request!

Notice that Christ only says this to the one thief. Jesus does not make the same promise to the other thief who was reviling Him. We do not believe in universalism: the belief that everyone will eventually be reconciled to God and will be in heaven.

But here, we see firsthand what is involved in granting forgiveness here? Truth: “This man has done nothing wrong,”; confession of sin: “you and I are guilty;” and a request: “Remember me.” In this, He acknowledged that Jesus was the head of a heavenly kingdom and that He alone could grant admission.

Notice also that the repentant thief could not do anything to earn God’s favor. He could not serve at the local food bank. He could not witness door to door. He could not serve on the board of Deacons. He could not
even get baptized. He was helpless and in need of one thing: Forgiveness. A.W. Pink puts it this way:

“He had no moral life before his conversion and no life of active service after it. Before his conversion he respected neither the law of God nor the law of man. After his conversion he died without having opportunity to engage in the service of Christ. …Hence we are shut up to the conclusion that if saved at all he was certainly saved by sovereign grace.”

And none of you will be saved except by sovereign grace. That is why you must repent and believe today!

Confession rubs against the grain of society today. Guilt is seen as useless and unproductive at all costs. Very few want to acknowledge their wrongdoing. But Jesus taught us that it is a part of everyday prayer. He taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” And David wrote in Psalm 32:5: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not cover my iniquity.”

In contrast, our first parents attempted to cover their sin my hiding from God and making coverings for themselves. This did nothing. Today, people try to cover their own iniquity. They say: “I was mistreated as a child; therefore, I have every right to behave this way.” Or, pointing to others while saying: “I was done wrong,” in order to justify their poor decisions. Or some cite their genetic predisposition, their personality type, their financial plight or something else.

But God has given a special and kind formula for obtaining forgiveness: “repent and believe.” Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin and righteousness. Our sin can grieve the Holy Spirit. And He is faithful in showing us where we’ve gone astray.

Someone once described a proper response to Christ and the gospel as A, B, and C.

A: Admit that you are a Sinner; Confession. Someone once said that confession is “agreeing with the Holy Spirit.” 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

B: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; Romans 10:9: “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

C: Commit your life to Him. Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

In closing, notice Jesus’ response in verse 43: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That term “paradise,” is the Greek barrowing from a Persian word that means “park” or “garden.” It reminds us that God is about restoring things to their original beauty before the fall. The promise that Jesus made was that the repentant thief would be with Him in paradise, the place that God has prepared for those who love Him.

Notice that there is no mention of Jesus going to hell or of the thief paying for his sins in purgatory. Rather, he enjoyed the Lord’s presence immediately after he shut his eyes and breathed his last.

But so many misunderstand how to get there. During an edition of the news program “60 Minutes,” Dan Rather interviewed Jack Welch, the outspoken former CEO of General Electric. At the end of the interview, Rather asked Welch, “What’s the toughest question you have ever been asked?”

Welch replied, “Do you think you’ll go to Heaven?”

When asked how he had answered that question, Welch said, “It’s a long answer, but I said that if caring about people, if giving it your all, if being a great friend counts—despite the fact that I’ve been divorced a couple of times, and no one’s proud of that. I haven’t done everything right all the time. I think I got a shot. I’m in no hurry to get there and to find out any time soon.”
The truth is no one is good enough to get to Heaven except for Christ. We must trust Him and Him alone to forgive our sin and save our soul. The 17th century Puritan John Owen said: “Poor souls are apt to think that all those whom they read or hear of to be gone to heaven, went there because they were so good and so holy…. Yet not one of them, not any one that is now in heaven (Jesus Christ alone excepted), did ever arrive there any other way but by forgiveness of sins.”