Sacrifice: The Mystery That Turns Murderers Into Missionaries

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

While it may be that 1 Corinthians 13 is the most-quoted chapter about love, Romans 12 deserves far more attention for being a pretty good “love chapter” on its own. The last few verses offer some explicit applications about what love in action looks like, but the whole chapter is really a pretty good working definition of love. It is a love based on sacrifice rather than superiority.

sacrifice transforms


In John 15:13, Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Go back to all the things that were said and written about love before Jesus, and you will find a number of different words for love, many descriptions and definitions, and certainly lots ways it was expressed. But amazingly, Jesus Christ redefined love and set its standard in a very singular way that has stood above all others for over 2,000 years. Who WAS that guy? Where did He come from? Why haven’t there been other teachers the caliber of Jesus of Nazareth? You have to admit, he was different.

What made the Difference?

In Romans 12, Paul begins with Christ’s definition. (And does anybody besides me ever wonder where Saul, a persecutor of the believers in the fledgling church, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees”, achieved such harmony with and knowledge of the teachings of Christ, when he didn’t encounter Jesus at all until well after the resurrection and ascension? If you read his work closely, it reflects the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus incredibly well, even though the gospels were probably only just starting to be in circulation when Paul wrote. His conversion and subsequent education about Jesus have to be one of the amazing biographical stories of all time!) He wrote about love and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in ways that reflected the Jesus we see in the Gospels, even he had never followed the Messiah during his lifetime… Think about that!

What is a Living Sacrifice, Anyway?

And so here Paul begins Romans 12 with an earnest plea for us to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice, repeating the action of the one who gave us that definition and set that standard. Since Jesus did that literally for us, Paul maintains that it is only reasonable for us to give ourselves back to him.

Love responds to love, and love begets more love. As a result, Paul says, we will be different than the world, transformed and renewed, and will walk around as living proof of God’s will… The J. B. Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within”. It infers that we are all being molded, one way or another. We can conform to the world, or we can conform to God.

The world says, “Whatever you do is really ok; what’s right for me may not be right for you; get what you can; if you don’t like it, change it, hey, life is short…”
God says, “Love. Be redeemed by love, present yourselves back to me in love, be transformed by love, and remember that it’s not so much about your will as it is about MINE. If you trust me, you will discover that I have your best interests at heart, and I will perfect you in ways you never imagined. Others will look at you and say, ‘that must be kinda what God looks like’.” Have you offered God your life lately? Ever wonder what He could do with it if you really gave it to Him?

Living

This passage does much more than teaches; Romans twelve says Paul beseeches:
Sacrifice yourself and live; give everything you have to give,
And Paul says you will surely find a brand new heart and transformed mind.
Don’t follow the world. Don’t be that dude. Allow your mind to be renewed,
And you will live a life that proves that God transforms. And loves. And moves.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

A Good Body May Involve More than How You Look on the Beach

It’s that time of year when people are conscious of their “beach body” readiness, and are sure to work out and eat right to get in shape. While you’re getting ready for the beach, take a minute and think about ANOTHER kind of body: ”For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:3-5, NIV)

body of Christ

Self-Improved or Self-Absorbed?

There is a lot to consider in this passage in Romans. It refers to a sacrifice that stays alive, and a body that is more than a body…And it tells us not to think too highly of ourselves. Do you know anybody who thinks more highly of themselves than they ought to? Are they fun to be around? When someone is self-absorbed, that’s really the opposite of love, isn’t it?

Here in the (other) love chapter, Paul declares that the result of love is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but it is a life seasoned with humility and honest reflection. A life of faith does not abandon rational self-evaluation. On the contrary, it encourages us to look at ourselves honestly, and to see ourselves the way God sees us.

Seeing Yourself Through a Different Lens

On one hand, that’s a bit intimidating. God sees my inward failings, my secret sins, my selfishness, and my insecurity. If I think of myself the way God does, then I should probably be frustrated over my limitations and sad about all my failures, right? Wrong!
Because if I truly look at myself through the lens of Grace, then I can see my redeemed self the way God sees me, unblemished and full of potential, ready to be made into who He created me to be!

I have been given a place in the family, and a role as part of the body of Christ. No one is born in a vacuum; every one of us is designed for relationship, to be part of a bigger team. If I am willing to take MY story and subjugate it to HIS story, then I will find meaning and fulfillment in my role. Further, Paul says that in the body of Christ we ALL have different roles, and that “each member belongs to all the others.”

Anyone who has ever participated in a team activity knows how this works: you make the extra pass, take on extra duty to support a teammate, lay down the sacrifice bunt, take a meal over during stressful times, watch the kids, make the key block, contribute your creativity to someone else’s presentation…

There’s an old saying that it’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit. I’ve been privileged to be on that kind of team several times in my life, and it is absolutely true. If you are not seeing the results in your life that you’d like to see, ask yourself two questions: What team(s) are you on? And, Who do you belong to? Maybe it’s time to work on a DIFFERENT kind of body…

A Different Kind of Body

People work out every day to maximize their looks,
Striving to achieve a nice physique that really cooks.
While you flex or stop to see the beach’s latest hottie,
Don’t forget you also have another kind of body.
If you find your role with other people who believe,
And no one’s concerned with any credit that’s received,
You’ll be amazed at how it works, and what you can achieve!
You’ll do almost anything with this body, if you let it.
You’re part of the body of Christ, so do not let yourself forget it.
God will bless if no one cares about who gets the credit!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Persistence Pays Off: the Widow Who Wouldn’t Stop Praying

Calvin Coolidge once said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Long before that, Jesus told a somewhat surprising parable about persistence that perhaps confirms President Coolidge’s statement. Read it and see if you agree:

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5, NIV)

persistence

The Persistent Widow

Luke shares a significantly under-utilized parable about persistence in prayer. Do your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling sometimes? Are you ever doubtful that God answers prayer? The judge in this parable is an independent arbiter of justice who doesn’t fear God or regard men’s opinions. In other words, he rules without prejudice, and he is not swayed by religion, politics, or human influence. And yet there is a widow who has brought a case before him persistently, continually reminding the judge that she is expecting an answer. She is a pest; and she refuses to give up.

The quote from Calvin Coolidge ends, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”. This may have been “Silent Cal’s” most eloquent statement, but I wonder if he (or any of us) really thought about applying this to our PRAYER lives?

How often is too often?

In this case, the widow’s persistence won the day because she never gave up. She received justice against her adversary because the judge grew tired of being pestered. And Jesus spoke this parable to illustrate “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart”. Say, when was the last time you petitioned God so relentlessly that He granted your request? When did you pray against all hope, begging God each morning, noon, and night? And how often do you persevere in prayer with all your heart? I know–me neither.

James (the Lord’s brother) used Elijah as an example and said, “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man makes a huge difference.” Perhaps he knew about Elijah; perhaps he had watched his older brother get up “a great while before day” to pray, or he watched him “continue all night in prayer”. The Apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” It seems that both the Lord and those close to him were advocates of continuous, persistent prayer…

Is Jesus really saying here that we have the ability to wear God down, and to inflict our will upon Him? Not likely. So why does he tell this parable? Perhaps the widow’s persistence is simply an indicator of faith, and is an outward show of her continuous inner belief. To tie it more explicitly to Jesus’ other teachings, perhaps it shows that she has the faith of a mustard seed, and is about to move the mountain. Jesus says we should wear God out by coming before him continually. I know I don’t do that very often. I bet you don’t either. Don’t lose heart. Pray. Pray with persistence.

Never Stop Being Persistent

If you want to move that mountain, here is the place to start:
Persevere in prayer, and go to God with all your heart.
The widow showed persistence, pleading every single day;
The haughty judge relented just to make her go away.
Have the faith to be persistent, begging to be blessed:
Bring your case before the Lord, and He will do the rest.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Sinners Seem to Throw All the Best Parties. Should We Go?

“Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And the scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32, NIV)

What’s so Bad About Tax Collecting?

When Jesus called Levi the tax collector (known to us as Matthew), he sent ripples of social indignation through the synagogue. It was a dramatic cultural statement about values, righteousness, and the gospel. Tax collectors were a totally unacceptable social group in Judea. Most folks viewed them as turncoats who collaborated with an occupying enemy. Their job basically amounted to legal extortion on behalf of Rome, and they made lots of money. Tax Collectors lived comfortably in large, opulent homes with richly dyed fabrics and plenty of first century bling. (Think “The Godfather” meets “Scarface” in terms of style and general social acceptance…)

Because their wealth was built on Roman oppression, they were despised by their fellow Hebrews as traitors and criminals. I would imagine that as they sat by the pool in their private courtyards, the tax collectors took solace in the creature comforts their lifestyle provided (even though they weren’t welcome at church anymore.) When Jesus called Levi from the tax collector’s booth at the city gate, it was a radical move. It was one thing to call fishermen, or John’s disciples, but it was unthinkable to good Jewish citizens that Jesus would call someone like Levi. To make it even worse, Levi went and threw a big party for Jesus at his place!

sinners party

He invited his friends—the OTHER tax collectors and their girlfriends, and Jesus ACTUALLY WENT. Ok Christians, here’s a couple of things to chew on. How many friends do you have who would even qualify to go to this kind of party? If most of us Christians threw a party, wouldn’t it be too lame for any non-believer to want to attend?

What Kind of Party Do Sinners Want to Go To?

And of course the big question: when was the last time you threw a party at your house for sinners? A party that had other folks at church questioning your motives and behavior? There’s an Australian church called “Matthew’s Party” that reaches out to street people. I love their name and their mission. Tell me: Is their mission any different than ours? Jesus said, “It is not the righteous but the sinners who need to be called to repentance.” Is your life so insulated among the righteous that you’d have a hard time coming up with a good guest list of sinners who needed to come? Maybe it’s time to throw a party!

Sinners Party

Matthew threw a party and invited folks he knew;
According to the Pharisees, these friends were less than winners.
So, they threw shade at Jesus there, and his disciples too,
Criticizing them for hanging out with such big sinners.
Jesus said, I’m here because the sinners need me most;
Besides, I like this party and I really love the host.
You should be glad I’m here instead of being mad I went;
I came to call the sinners–not the righteous–to repent.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Trouble In This World is Inevitable. Refuge is Optional

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah.” (Psalm 46:1-3, NKJV)

The people of God were no strangers to trouble. From slavery in Egypt to captivity in Babylon they endured hardship and trouble of  Biblical proportions. Granted, by ignoring the prophets and chasing after idols they brought much of it upon themselves, but the children of Israel have spent a lot of time dealing with oppression, disaster, and tragedy. This Psalm provides some clues about how they have been able to deal with such things.

Do Great Circumstances Equal Blessing?

First, it presupposes that there WILL be trouble. It is not a prosperity gospel, and does not assume that God’s blessing is in the ABSENCE of trouble: it takes comfort from God’s presence in the MIDST of trouble. I think many of us equate God’s blessing with ease and material comfort, and our world can be shattered by tragedy because when bad things happen we question God, or even blame Him for what happened. While God often reveals His grace and goodness during hard times, trying to find the human logic behind tragedy can be a fruitless exercise. We may not ever see all ends, or find a reason for why something bad happened. We can, however, always find help when it does.

trouble

The Psalmist assumes that trouble will come, and is soothed by the fact that God provides strength and a place of spiritual refuge in the midst of physical tragedy. When trouble comes, doesn’t it make a lot more sense to turn TOWARDS the Father rather than AWAY from him? It may just be that blessing is not found in comfort, but in HE HIMSELF.

Trouble, Tragedy, and Refuge

The Psalmist not only finds comfort in God’s presence, he also finds courage. No matter what calamity falls upon him, he is able to react with confidence that God is with him and will provide help. Please don’t misunderstand this. This Psalm does not minimize tragedy or try to cover it with platitudes. It merely says that when bad things happen to you (and they will), find strength and help in God. Though the physical world fail and fall, the spiritual world abides. When there is no other refuge, there is ONE refuge…When the world gives you reasons to be afraid, the Lord gives you a reason not to fear. Selah.

When Trouble Comes

Mountains fall to troubled seas, the very earth will shake;
But shouldn’t blessings come my way? There must be some mistake!
Troubles are inevitable, my child, as you can see:
My blessing is not stuff or things; the blessing, child, is ME.
When calamity’s bony finger stretches out its length
My God is my ever-present help, my refuge, and my strength.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

If Only I Won the Lottery, that Would Solve All my Problems, Right? Think Again

Moses was tending sheep out in a remote area when he saw a curious sight. He may not have realized he had just won the theological lottery, but he ended up having a conversation that changed his life.

“Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14, NIV). Have you ever stopped to wonder God introduced himself to Moses as ” I AM”? It’s a fascinating descriptor, but what exactly did God mean by that?

If Only

Russ Massey, my Bible Study Fellowship teaching leader in Conroe during the 90’s, shared a situation that many of us could relate to. The Texas State lottery had begun, and he said that a couple of times he and his wife had fantasized about winning the lottery… No big deal, but they thought about all the good ways they could use the money (starting with a nice tithe back to God, of course). Nancy and I have done the same thing—played the “if only” game… Wouldn’t it be great if we won the lottery? If only we won the lottery, then life would be great!

lottery winners

If only we had that money, we could pay off the kids’ mortgages, set up some education funds for grandchildren, and generally provide many, many benefits for those close to us. (And yes, some of those benefits might come our way as well…) We could retire easily, we could have things, we could travel, and we would be set. The Lottery could solve all of our problems… “If only” seems like a pretty innocent exercise, one that most of us have played from time to time. But as Russ shared that scenario with us, he said something that stopped me in my tracks. He said we play that game and fantasize about something like that for many reasons, not just winning the lottery.

If only I got that promotion, if only we lived in a different neighborhood, if only my spouse were a better person, THEN life would be better. Russ said, “Isn’t it strange that we never put God in that blank after “if only”? What if we said, “If only GOD,”? Would life be better then? He went on to say that when we play the “if only ______” game, then whatever we use to fill in the blank, that is god to us. We may not consciously worship it, but it is. Kinda makes you stop and think about what we put into that blank and why.

A Sneaky Form of Idolatry

Russ finished his thoughts by connecting some important dots. God called himself “I AM”, which fits exactly into the “if only” game. We say, “Lord, if only I had what I need.” God says, “I AM” what you need. “Lord, if only I felt loved…” I AM love. “Lord, if only I knew the way…” I AM the way. “Lord, if only I had more of this or that…” I AM all you need.

The logic behind Russ’s conclusion is perfect. When we try to plug temporal things into our lives to complete ourselves, we stay incomplete. Moses objected to accepting God’s call because he felt unworthy. As he told God how he (a murderer and a fugitive) was not adequate or willing to lead, God understood. In fact, the Lord had already countered all of Moses’ objections when He told him His Name. Can’t speak well? I AM going to provide for that. Afraid of being ill-equipped? I AM sufficient.

What about you? What are your objections to serving God with all of your heart and soul? Lord, work and the kids keep me busy; just wait until I retire! Lord, if only I were a better speaker… If only I had more time… If only I were better prepared! God would say to you the very thing He said to Moses: “Whatever you need… I AM.” Don’t wait on the lottery. Just Go.

I Will Because I AM

Moses saw a burning flame and asked the Lord about His name:
"I AM", said God, but Moses asked if he was worthy for the task.
Speaking, he objected to the work that God expected:
"Oh Lord, he said, I'm just a man with halting speech! Without a plan!"
And God said, "Whatever you need, I AM."
See, Moses didn't calculate how much the great I Am was great!
He focused on his lack of skill, but God told him to say, "I will"!
"When people grumble or resent you, tell them that I AM has sent you!
If people say you are a sham, tell them that you serve I AM!"
Moses learned God's mystery. The rest, of course, is history.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Relationships Matter: When the God of Relationships Calls You, Answer the Phone!

What is life if not a network of relationships? Oscar Thompson, my Evangelism professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, used to ask his classes, “What is the most important word in the English language? Students would answer, “love” or “money”, or “God”, and Oscar would say, “Nope. None of those words had any meaning without the word I am thinking of: RELATIONSHIP.”

Sometimes relationships come out of nowhere to change our lives. Genesis records an instance where this was true. “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God… (Exodus 3:5-6, NIV)

relationships

The God of Relationships

I have always thought that the way God introduced himself to Moses was revealing, which makes good sense because He is and has always been the God of revelation. In this case, He also identifies Himself as the God of relationships — the God of Moses’ father, and of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Bible is the story of how God has revealed Himself to man, and how He has engaged in relationships with us. Here in Exodus He revealed himself to Moses when Moses least expected it. Does He still reveal himself to us? On this earth, we encounter the Lord on his terms, not ours. Moses grew up in a land with many gods, so it had to be somewhat of a shock to him to encounter the One True God.

If you think of it, however, we are all in Moses’ sandals, and some point we are all called to step out of them. We have all grown up surrounded and tempted by many gods—celebrities, material things, success, ego, power, lust—and the real question is, have you ever met the One True God? Do you know who He is?

Did God Create Us, or Did We Create Him?

To that end, the introduction to Buell Kazee’s Faith is the Victory contains one of the greatest statements about God I have ever read: “God creates man in his image, and man creates God in his image. It depends on who is doing the creating as to what kind of being we have in either case. Man, left to himself, will always have a god, and that god will always be like man himself. Because man is confused, he will make for himself many gods, but they will all be like himself. The conflict of the world is between the One God, who arises from beyond man’s realm of knowledge, and the many gods which he has created out of his own heart.” (Faith is the Victory, Intro, page 9)

This world is full of many gods (with a small “g”), man-made idols that people may not even realize they worship. When God reveals Himself, it is surprising to most folks that there is actually only one God, and that He is offering them a choice.

The way God identified himself to Moses is significant. He didn’t say to Moses, “I am the great cosmic all-powerful God of the universe.” He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” In essence, he was telling Moses: “I am the God who loves people. I am the God of relationships. You can know me personally, just as your forefathers did. Look at the people who have walked with me, and you will see who I am and what I do. Look for reflections of my character in those who have no earthly means to possess it otherwise. Accept my revelation of who I am, and you can walk with me just as they did. Ignore the many meaningless gods that clamor for your attention, and walk with me.”

Stop and take a look around your life. There are indeed still meaningless gods who clamor for your attention. Somewhere amidst all the material things, the celebrities, the agendas, the politics, the cell phones, the incessant ads, the sports, and the intrusive pervasive media, the God of relationships is revealing Himself to you. Don’t miss Him.

The God Who Is

In Egypt, gods were everywhere–
An idol here, a temple there–
Worshipping idols was the style:
They worshipped cats! The Sun! The Nile!
But Moses in the desert ran
Into the God who said, “I AM”.
“I am the God of Abraham–
Isaac and Jacob, too.”
Moses didn’t doubt and scoff;
He stopped and took his sandals off;
He knew this was a holy place
And so he stopped, and hid his face.
This relationship with God was new:
It gave him more to dare, and do–
Changed more than how he wore his shoes–
Changed everything that Moses knew,
His life, his plans, his point of view!
If God introduced Himself to YOU,
Tell me, then, what YOU would do:

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Covenant Keeping is Serious Business; Don’t Make One Unless You Mean It

In the old days, when people made covenants they would sometimes sacrifice an animal and walk between the two halves of its carcass to signify how important the agreement was. The act implied, “May this happen to us if we break this covenant.” It was a graphic reminder of the importance of their vow to one another, and it indicated that covenants should be taken seriously. The Prophet Jeremiah probably had this life-and-death image in his mind when he gave this revelation about God’s future plans for Israel.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

covenant

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, NIV)

The Pattern of Covenants

In the Biblical narrative, God has consistently reached out to mankind by offering covenants. In the Old Testament He made one with Adam, with Noah, Abraham and his offspring, Moses, and David. In these covenants He declared his intention to bless all of mankind, and He engaged in an intimate relationship with His people. Lest you think of covenants as an old, dusty practice that went out of style in the Christian era, consider this: In the New Testament, Jesus continued the covenantal practice with his disciples: “after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Even if you follow Jesus and major in New Testament, you are a covenant follower, too.

The Bible consistently affirms the principle of the covenant by comparing our relationship with God to a marriage. Even though God offered himself as a husband, his spouse (Israel) repeatedly (and consistently) broke their marriage vows and went off on their own, pursuing false gods and worthless idols. How could they DO such a thing? God delivered them from slavery and death, yet they cast him aside to chase other delights?? Today, we assume that’s all in the past, because WE don’t have graven images or little shrines in our houses where we blatantly worship other gods.

The Problem With Idols

But before you feel too smug, stop right there! There are idols in your life, other things that sometimes take God’s place in your priorities or in your heart. We are possessive about the wrong things. You may covet a better home or car. You might worship money or security. You may present yourself to the altar of self-righteousness. You could be depending on chemicals to make yourself feel better, or comfort food, or pornography, or Pinterest. (yeah, I said it, Pinterest could be an idol)

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis made this point when he said, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If the Lord loves you as a bridegroom loves His bride, beware lest you abandon your marriage vows for something so fleeting or temporary. He takes covenants seriously. The good news is that the Lord has promised to make us children of the new covenant, and He will write His law in our minds and in our hearts. And He is possessive in the RIGHT way. As the newlywed Husband who is smitten with his bride, God wants us to covet Him just as much as He covets us. We will be HIS, and He will be OURS. Covet that. Covenant that.

Your Covenant

A covenant is serious stuff, defining where and how
Two parties will agree to act; it is a solemn vow.
In ancient times, agreements would be sealed by sacrifice;
Before they broke a covenant, both parties would think twice.
Agreements based on life itself had mortal consequences,
So if you broke the terms, you’d taken leave of all your senses!
Have you ever stopped to think, in all you say and do,
That Jesus gave his life to make a covenant with you?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Scripture: It’s More Than a Collection of Writings. It’s the Right Tool for the Job

What if I told you that there was a tool that will help you be more profitable and do more good? Would you use it? There is such a tool, and it is probably as close as your bookshelf. It’s a book of wisdom that says this: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV)

scripture

What Good is the Bible, Anyway?

In order to guard against “evil men and impostors”, Paul tells Timothy to look at his own exemplary life, and to continue in the things he has learned and been assured of (v 14). Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures offer him the necessary assurance to bear opposition and uncertainty. What are you ASSURED of? When the chips are down, what gives you strength and confidence? What do you absolutely believe?

We live in a world assaulted by relativism, where we are told that truth is subjective and individual. Something may be true for you, but it’s not necessarily true for everyone. One of Satan’s great accomplishments in our lifetime is his assault on the truth. If he can make us, like Pontius Pilate, question the nature of truth, he can reduce the influence of Scripture and erode the underpinnings of faith. And since Jesus said, “I am the truth”, it follows absolutely that by attacking truth, Satan is attacking Jesus, the Gospel, and everything that offers hope in this world.

Paul reminds Timothy that the Scripture is still his foundation. First, it is inspired by God. The original language asserts that God’s word is “God-breathed”. It is a dynamic, living document that was infused into authors so that it can be infused into us. Are Scriptures as much a part of your life as breathing? Do you ever consult the Bible on issues of morality, ethics, or how to get things done?

The Tools for Almost Every Job

Paul says that if you use Scripture, it is profitable and useful. It will equip you for doctrine (you will understand what generates and maintains the foundation of faith), for reproof (you will know how to exhort and encourage others), for correction (you will know right from wrong and be able to act upon it), and for instruction in righteousness (you can continue to be infused with the same character that God has).

If you invest in the Word, Paul says, you will be “complete”, and “thoroughly equipped for EVERY good work.” That covers a lot of good works. Grab hold of the Scripture. Get equipped. Do good.

A Workman's Tools

Paul tells Timothy to stay and study Scripture every day,
To find within its pages all the wisdom of the ages.
It offers doctrine and correction, reproof and spiritual protection;
Follow what it says. You'll find it helps your heart & soul and mind.
When into its wisdom you have dipped,
You'll find you have a foot that hasn't slipped,
And furthermore, my son, you'll be equipped!
Life can be approached by any fool; 
It's better if you use this awesome tool.
If you apply yourself, and do not shirk,
You'll soon be well-equipped to do good work.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Citizenship Quiz: As A Legal Alien, What are Your Rights and Obligations?

There is a lot of talk about citizenship these days. We tend to focus on political citizenship, and it’s certainly a hot topic, but there is another kind of citizenship that has no barriers and doesn’t require any walls: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20, NKJV) Even though we live on this earth, we are just passing through. Paul reminds us that the physical world, and even our physical bodies, are temporary dwelling places. As a Roman, Paul placed great importance on his citizenship.

citizenship

Roman Citizenship

He boldly claimed rights as a Roman citizen when he was involved in conflicts, and he was well-versed in what protection he had under Roman law. In the polyglot world of different cultures and religions, Roman citizenship was the gold standard of political protection. He often used his standing in the Empire to his legal or practical advantage, and people reacted with respect when he invoked the name of Rome. In Philippi he demanded that the magistrates come to validate his release from jail; in Ephesus, the city clerk quelled a riot that threatened violence; and in Jerusalem his status as a Roman once again saved him from an angry mob. Yet as much as he valued being Roman, his political status in the Roman world meant nothing compared to his true citizenship in heaven. (If people took American citizenship as seriously as Paul took being a Roman, we would all we would all be far more thankful about enjoying the rights we have in the United States!)

What does Citizenship Involve in the Long Run?

But the Bible takes a longer view of citizenship. Peter says that we are merely “sojourners and pilgrims” here (1 Peter 2:11). James is more to the point: “Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14, NIV) Comparing our short number of years here on earth to the reality of the years we will spend in eternity is an intimidating exercise.

Perhaps you have seen Francis Chan’s very powerful illustration of our life’s timeline as a long, long piece of rope, where our earthly sojourn is shown as some tape wrapped a mere couple of inches around the end he holds, and our eternal life is represented by the rest of the rope. It stretches on and on, off the stage and out the door. It’s a very visible object lesson our an earthly life span compared to an eternal one.

We are not here on earth very long. Stop to imagine for a moment how long eternity is, and picture yourself in it. Think of the possibilities of growth and learning, about the opportunity to build everlasting relationships that grow in every way but never grow stale. Think about being part of a kingdom where the King is amazingly loving and incredibly wise, and where you are not only His subject but his heir, with rights and privileges you never dreamed of. While our flesh is corruptible, and our bodies live in a carnal world where everything dies, our spirit is already residing in heaven, taking baby steps into immortality.

Do you really live as if your citizenship is in heaven? As a citizen of heaven, what are your rights? What are your obligations? Where is your allegiance? These are questions that all good citizens should be asking. If you don’t know the answers, maybe it’s time to spend a little more time on your heavenly social studies.

Good Citizenship

What if you had rights and privileges that you could use,
And permanent legal standing that no judge could dare refuse?
What if you had citizenship with all the perks it brings,
And got to be a subject for a wise and gracious king?
Would you exercise the right to live in such a place?
Would you be obedient to the lenient law of grace?
You should. And furthermore, I’d go tell all my friends and buddies
That there’s still time to brush up on their heavenly social studies.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread