Turn Around: the non-Sailor’s Guide to Repentance

If you’re sailing against the wind, Turn That Boat Around!
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:1-2 NIV) John wasn’t preaching some casual message about being a little sorry for what you had done. He was issuing a challenge to a people who lived by the law to a fanatical degree, who sought righteousness through legalism, and who probably saw themselves as righteous already. The average Israelite in John’s day probably did not see themselves as having very much to repent FROM. “Did I take too many steps on the Sabbath? Did I do something that made me unclean? After all, I am a pretty righteous guy!” And yet John called these practitioners of self-righteousness to turn away from sin and REPENT. He said the Kingdom of Heaven did not involve self-righteousness, but a whole different approach. He was challenging his listeners to change their lives by changing their direction.

The Greek word metanoeo literally means to have a change of heart, but it was also used as a sailing term to describe coming about, and sailing back in the opposite direction. Sailors would use it to describe how a boat could “turn away, go the other direction.” This meant the boat had to reverse its course, tack against the wind, and make a commitment to head 180 degrees back the other way. It meant altering your course, and it involved full commitment to the new heading. Ever get frustrated? Ever feel selfish? Ever experience a lack of love? Repent! Change your approach! Turn around and travel the opposite direction from where you are currently headed. John the Baptist preached it; Jesus proclaimed this message repeatedly in the gospels; so did Paul. It must mean something important in the Kingdom of Heaven, right? So, ask yourself: what do you need to repent FROM? And, Where are you sailing TO? Is it time for you to turn around?

John the Baptist preached this sermon everywhere he went;
Jesus preached it, too: He called on people to REPENT!
They called on men to turn around, to make a brand new start,
And change their lives by changing what they had inside their hearts.
Repentance meant to come about, to sail the other way--
To do things differently tomorrow than you did today.
If you have run from God, or balked at having His protection,
REPENT! And make your way back in the opposite direction!
When you repent, I think you'll find your vessel needs less bailing;
There will be smoother seas in the direction you are sailing.
Turn about. You'll find the Father loving you--not hating--
And as you head for home, you'll find He has safe harbor waiting.

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
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There is Something You can do that an Angel Can’t. So Do. Your. Job.

There is an interesting story in Acts that indirectly describes what an Angel Can’t Do, And the funny thing is that it has something to do with YOU.
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?”

So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” (Acts 10:1-6, NKJV) Cornelius did as he was told and sent for Simon Peter, who came to his house and shared the Gospel. Cornelius and his entire household responded to Peter’s message and became believers. But here’s a very interesting Question: why didn’t the angel of God just tell Cornelius what to do? Angels are powerful, impressive, truthful messengers from God. An angel was sent to Mary and to Joseph to brief each of them on the coming birth of their son. Throughout history, Angels have delivered all kinds of important news from God… They are striking and unusual, and they command attention and respect. Why didn’t the angel just go ahead and share the Gospel with Cornelius? Surely he would have responded! Surely the average person, upon receiving such a message from an angel, would accept it and believe! So why didn’t the angel just say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved”? Have you ever asked that question? Well, here’s the Answer: because angels CAN’T share the gospel. There is only one set of messengers empowered to share the gospel on earth, and it is US. You and me. If the good news goes anywhere, it will not be because celestial beings appear to tell it. It depends on people like you and me. Which leads to this: if God sent an angel to someone seeking the truth, would that angel tell them to send for you? And if they sent for you, would you go? What would you tell them?
Something to think about…

 

Down in Caesarea one day
An angel came to Cornelius to say,
“Cornelius, we know you are seeking the Way!
So go find Peter at Simon’s place,
And he will talk to you face to face.”
Cornelius went, and he heard about Grace,
And believed everything that Peter said.
But tell me, this question is in my head,
Why didn’t the angel just tell him instead?
Why didn’t the angel just share the good news?
It’s something he knew that Cornelius could use!
If an Angel shared Jesus, why, who could refuse?
The reason he didn’t was not that he wouldn’t;
He reason he never shared was that he COULDN’T.
That mission is something that he couldn’t do:
The Gospel comes only through me, and through YOU.
So tell me, my friend, are you ready today,
If a curious seeker of truth comes your way,
Just what would you tell them? And what would you say?
If a guy comes along with a faith that’s unsteady,
Could you share the Gospel with him? Are you ready?
Angels have powers, but this is still true:
The Gospel comes only through me, and through YOU.

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
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When Casting Lots Isn’t Enough: Things to consider next Time you have to choose an Apostle

Need to choose a Thirteenth Apostle? There is lots to consider..
After Judas committed suicide, it was deemed necessary to replace him. The disciples followed a time-honored method, selecting likely candidates and casting lots. (Traditional Jewish wisdom held that God would reveal his will via this method, even if it seems cultural, or even a bit like flipping a coin…Even though decision makers would pray and seek God’s will, they still tended to rely upon a process that much of their society also used—kinda like modern search committees…) “So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”

Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:23-26, NIV). Churches everywhere follow a pretty secular template to selecting people to be on staff. They review resumes, conduct interviews, and they select the candidate who seems most worthy based on the process. They differ from mere business interviews because they pray over their selection, and they certainly ask the Lord to provide them with the one whom He has called. The current model that churches follow today is actually still very similar to the one used by the Apostles. (With the exception of casting lots, which was actually considered a good indicator of God’s will in first century Jewish circles.) I have no doubt Matthias was a godly man and a worthy choice to replace Judas. I have no doubt that the disciples had good intentions and followed the best process they knew… but here’s the thing: This is the LAST time Matthias is mentioned in the New Testament. I am sure he was an honorable man who had a meaningful ministry, but his name never comes up again in the records of the growth and development of the early church. Meanwhile, through another process, God acted to provide his own replacement for Judas—a guy named Saul of Tarsus, whose name was changed to Paul. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Let’s not forget that all the processes in the world can’t hold a candle to being selected, motivated and empowered by the Living God!

Disciples did the interview, and got the candidates down to two,
Proceeded in they way they knew by casting lots from which they drew.
Matthias' name became selected, so he was the one elected.
Though he was named Apostle then, we never heard from him again!
Meanwhile, God sent out a call to a Pharisee whose name was Saul:
A persecutor full of hate, a most unlikely candidate,
Who had to have a brand new start- 
God changed Saul's name, and changed his heart.
Just remember, understand that processes designed by man
Are doing things as best they can but they cannot replace God's plan.
If you question this at all, just think of the Apostle Paul,
On whom God's grace was once bestowed 
right there on the Damascus road!
God's choice in this was simply plain;
Instead of trying to explain,
Just read what Paul once wrote again:
"To live is Christ, to die is gain!"

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
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Witnesses who Matter: If You are in the Latest Group of Witnesses, What’s YOUR Story?

You see it in movies and on TV, the nervous person in the witness box, swearing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They are usually just people who happened to see or experience something pertaining to a trial in a court of law, and they are called upon to testify before a judge, perhaps a jury, and the plaintiffs or defendants. Witnesses tell the truth as it happened to them, and every witness has a story. Nike had a pretty effective ad campaign for LeBron, saying that we are all witnesses of his exploits. LeBron James does indeed have an impressive basketball resume, but here’s a more important consideration: When it comes to life, what’s YOUR Story? People in Jerusalem were challenged to be witnesses about what they ACTUALLY saw.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV)
When talking about the various witnesses to who Jesus was, it’s important not to forget one last group. He commissioned everyone who would encounter him, eyewitness or not, to be witnesses on his behalf.

Witness swearing on the bible telling the truth in the court room

It’s not surprising that Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses. After all, they were looking at him, and eyewitness testimony is a powerful thing, something that is used in courtrooms and product testimonials. Even the NBA challenges people to be witnesses. This verse is often used to illustrate strategy, and it certainly makes sense to “bloom where you are planted”, and then to extend your outreach to successive concentric circles, beginning with your city and extending to your region and your state. It’s a strategy that worked amazingly well in a time before there were marketing experts and demographic studies and focus groups. To me, one of the great proofs of Christianity is that so many first century believers were changed so radically by the good news. Everyday people were touched by the message and teachings of Jesus Christ, and lived differently as a result. When they were challenged by opposition, they could have recanted or back down to protect themselves, but they didn’t. Many of them died defending their beliefs, and it is truly astounding to think about the world-changing power that was unleashed through those first century witnesses. That includes everyone who heard the good news and found it worthy of a response, from those ordinary citizens in Jerusalem who heard Peter or Stephen preach, to Lydia the seller of purple, to Cornelius the centurion, to philosophers on Mars Hill, to martyrs who chose death over renouncing their testimonies…It even extended to the next generation of witnesses, to Catholic priests, to Reformers, to Lutherans and Methodists and Moravians, and through successive generations of believers who continued to be witnesses one after another, and even down to you and me. We are all the second generation witnesses, who are now empowered to testify about our experience in our neighborhood and our hometown, across social and cultural barriers, and everywhere. I was a fourteen year old who felt like love was not very dependable. I encountered the life, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus in a way that enabled me to feel loved, to love God, and to love others. Since then, I have seen God heal; I have seen Him change lives; I have been a witness to His deliverance of a small party of refugees from a war zone; and I have experienced His love and forgiveness in ways that have continued to enable me to love and to forgive.  What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Post it here in three sentences, go:
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
(Or post a comment, and PLEASE put your story here!!)

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The Eunuch who Encountered the most amazing Rabbi in History

After the crucifixion and resurrection, Philip encountered a eunuch from Ethiopia who was reading from the OT Scriptures. “The Eunuch was reading this passage (Isaiah 53:7) of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth… The Eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:32-35, NIV)

At one time it was pretty common for kings’ courts to have a resident eunuch or two. They were men who looked after the royal harem, and they were emasculated so they could look after the king’s harem without being tempted to make advances to them. In many ways a eunuch probably had a pretty good life (got to live in the palace, eat well, hang out with pretty women all day…) but they paid a high price to be the harem’s bodyguard. I would think most eunuchs would have to be somewhat philosophical, because they experienced something terrible for a man, but then had to consider that, well, life is still not so bad after all… This Ethiopian eunuch was riding along in his chariot, reading the Scriptures, and asked Philip to explain Isaiah’s metaphor about a lamb being led to slaughter. This conversation is really key in understanding something very important about Jesus. If you just take Jesus at face value, and consider only his teachings, he is at the very least an amazingly gifted Rabbi who taught revolutionary things about interpersonal relationships, the Kingdom of heaven, the law, forgiveness, priorities… The truth of his teaching resonates not only for first century Judea, but also down the corridors of history and into today, and stands brilliantly at odds with all of the “me-first” humans in a selfish world. But consider this: when you look at the Hebrew Scriptures (OT), they provide a lens through which Jesus of Nazareth must be viewed. Peter quoted them in his first sermon; Stephen was stoned to death while expounding upon them; Philip used them to tell the eunuch the good news; Paul logically connected Christ’s work to the Hebrew Scriptures. In every case these Scriptures create a context that makes it impossible to dismiss Jesus as a mere brilliant Rabbi. He is the one who the Old Testament foretold with detail and accuracy. He was the one about whom Isaiah was speaking, as well as Moses and Micah, and David, and Daniel. You can rightly be impressed with Jesus if you just read some of his teachings; but you’d be rightly amazed if you study even a few of the ways his life and mission were accurately predicted by men who lived hundreds of years before. If you think Jesus was only a good Rabbi who taught good things, think again: The Scriptures said he was coming, and that he would be our Savior. To paraphrase Philip, that’s pretty good news indeed!

 

The Eunuch in the chariot was reading from Isaiah;
(His life had been adjusted so he couldn't be a playa),
But when he had an inquiry about Isaiah's lamb
Philip helped him see that Jesus was the great "I am."
Jesus was a Rabbi, yes, whose teaching was so bold,
But more than that, he was the one Isaiah had foretold,
And who the Scripture said would come way back in days of old.
Ask the questions. Search the Scripture, and I bet you'll see
That Jesus was the man the Scriptures and he claimed to be!

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
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On the Road to Emmaus, These Disciples Connected the Dots. Have You?

Some disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus with a Rabbi who obviously knew the Old Testament pretty well…
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 NIV)

After the resurrection, several disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus, discussing the recent events. They were downcast because it had seemed to them that Jesus might have been the Messiah, but the crucifixion had shattered their hopes. This whole Messiah thing had not turned out the way they expected– no victory over Rome, no Messianic kingdom… Jesus (whom they did not recognize) joined their conversation and used the Prophets and the Scriptures to give them a more comprehensive view of the Messiah’s purpose and mission. Perhaps he quoted Isaiah 53 and talked about the suffering servant; maybe he directed them to Zechariah 12 (“they will look on him whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son”) or Psalm 22 and its graphic depiction of a crucifixion; maybe he quoted Isaiah 40:3 to remind them that John’s mission was to prepare the way of the Lord… Walking along the road, Jesus pointed out that the Old Testament was full of references to him and his work, something the disciples had not noticed and did not understand. The disciples had to see the larger context and lay aside their own preconceived notions about Jesus to see who he really was. Question: what preconceived notions do you have about Jesus that keep you from seeing who he really is? How well do you know what the prophets and the Old Testament Scriptures said about him? If the Bible is a tapestry, then the Old Testament contains dozens of threads woven into its fabric of law, genealogy, history, poetry, and prophecy that point to a coming Messiah, and which find fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. As Hebrews 1:1 points out, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” It was ABOUT His Son that the Old Testament foretold. It is THROUGH His Son that God speaks today. What road are you on? Are you listening?

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You Don’t Just Sow Seed Any Old Way: But if you Sow wisely, You will Reap Well…

Have you ever sown seeds and watched them grow? I remember the bean we put into a jar in kindergarten. It was so cool to sow it properly and watch it come to life!! Well, think about what it means to Sow and Reap: Consider both the process and the outcome.
“Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12, NKJV) What a full verse this is! The Bible often uses farming terms, which makes a lot of sense since it was written in agrarian societies and it speaks so often about growth. Hosea preached using this farming analogy, which says a great deal in a short verse. First, he says that we should “sow for ourselves righteousness”. Think about what it means to sow seeds. You have to begin with the end in mind. You need to have the right seeds and you also need the right environment, with appropriate conditions and surroundings. Good fruit won’t come from just any kind of dirt, you need to prepare the soil.

Hosea says that you must break up the fallow ground. You can’t just toss seeds out on hard, packed earth and expect results. You must break through the dry crust and till the soil to expose the richer dirt beneath. Our spiritual growth is a lot like that. You can’t grow healthy crops without disrupting the status quo and breaking through the crust of our assumptions. Sometimes we grow a crust of sin, hardening our hearts against God’s character or standards; and sometimes we put on the stifling armor of self-righteousness, smugly judging others while hunkered down in our bunker of holiness… Hosea is talking about God’s righteousness, and he says that if we sow in righteousness, we will reap in mercy. I think this applies in two ways. If we find righteousness through repentance and faith in Christ, we will receive mercy. God always responds to repentance with mercy. Always. When is the last time you turned a repentant heart to the Lord? Second, those who have found such righteousness will themselves be merciful. I think we often grasp salvation as something wonderful God has done for US, and that is certainly true; but I think the more important thing is that salvation is something God does THROUGH us. “Sow in righteousness, reap in MERCY”. We are given God’s righteousness not for our OWN benefit, but in order to extend mercy. Have you been forgiven? Forgive.

 

Think of how this world would be if there were no forgiving:
Life without forgiveness almost wouldn't be worth living.
God's amazing mercy makes us whole, when given TO us;
And His forgiveness, sown in righteousness, will then renew us;
But then His mercy, as intended, is extended THROUGH us.
Sow in righteousness, but here's a scripture you can keep:
Mercy is the only crop that righteousness should reap.

 

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
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If you’ve Ever Been Thirsty for a Cold Beer, This Post is for YOU

Ever get REALLY thirsty? Been working in the yard when it’s 90+ degrees, sweat keeps getting into your eyes, and you just gotta have something cool and refreshing? David talked about that, but he gave it a twist and applied it to something more than physical thirst, which brings up a question: What Are You Thirsty For?
“O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your loving kindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.” (Psalm 63:1-4, NKJV)

Read through David’s prayer again, and consider the way he describes how he feels about the Lord… “You are my God! My soul thirsts for you! My flesh longs for you! Your loving kindness is better than life. My lips shall praise you. I will bless you!” When was the last time your everyday prayer was close to this? Yes, I know my Creator is awesome, but when I compare my hurried “bless this day” prayers to David’s love songs, perhaps I have fallen just a bit short in my estimation of who God is, and how amazingly blessed I am. Perhaps the omniscient Lord of the Universe is waiting for me to fall in love with Him, and would love to hear me tell Him just how much he means to me… If you pause for just a moment and think about all the blessings in your life, even amidst the irritations, the inconveniences, the troubles, and the sorrows, consider this: God is just as open to this kind of relationship with YOU as He was with David. He is thirsty for you. The Almighty God of the universe longs to be intimate with you. David spoke to Him like a lover, with passion and affection and possession. But He isn’t just David’s God; he is MY God. He is YOUR God. Do you thirst for Him? Do you long for Him? When was the last time you poured your heart out affectionately to the Father and told Him that you loved him dearly, that you longed for Him, and that couldn’t bear to live without Him? When is the last time you crawled up in His figurative lap and huddled close to Him, overwhelmed with love and joy? I thought so. Stop and tell Him. Use David’s prayer as a template if you need to, but I bet He’d love hearing it in your own words.

Father, when I pray to you from dry and thirsty lands,
I never shout my joy to you; I never lift my hands!
I ask you for all sorts of things, but never sing you songs,
And rarely say that You’re the one for whom my spirit longs…
I pray for people who are sick, and ask you, Lord, to heal them;
But I don’t see your glories, Lord: I ask you to reveal them!
Bless me Father, as I pray, give me a holy thirst
To know your heart as David did, and help me put you first.
Help me look into your sanctuary; help me see
That I am yours, and that your sanctuary, Lord, is me.

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
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Jealous FOR Someone is Much Different than Jealous OF Someone

Have you ever stopped to consider that the Lord proclaims Himself to be jealous? What do you think He means by that?
“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6, NIV) God’s first instruction to Israel was to worship Him alone. That certainly makes theological sense, because given that He is GOD, He is Supreme and above all human frailty, and worthy of our singular worship. He goes on to say that He is a jealous God. Wait, say what?! We normally see jealousy as a sin, akin to envy and driven by insecurity. Being jealous OF someone has overtones of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and often displays a resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage. It is possessive, demanding, and overbearing. But God is not speaking here of being jealous OF someone. He is talking about being jealous FOR someone. He is passionate that no harm come to those whom He loves. He has a righteous zeal and anger against anything that can cause pain or death for His children. The Old Testament word for jealousy literally comes from someone getting red in the face, and it has to do with a zealous emotional response. A selfish, insecure person is never justified in being jealous of and resenting someone else; but a husband can be passionate about his wife’s affection; a mother can be jealous FOR her children’s safety. The entire Bible is centered on God’s jealousy for us and His concern that we would allow anything else to come between ourselves and Him. I think that you could take every sin there is and relate it directly to idolatry. We may not bow down to little carved statues, but we all dabble in idolatry from time to time…

All selfish sin, whether it is generated by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life (1 John 2:16) comes from putting your own desires before God’s, so it is essentially worshipping yourself instead of your creator. Tell me, what things do you worship instead of God? What selfishness do you justify, and what subtle desires do you rationalize as “ok”? Don’t. Bow. Down.

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
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Importance May not be what You think: The Important Man Who Discovered Something More Important

A funny thing regarding importance happened on the Way to Damascus…
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. The he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as to one abnormally born.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV) Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew scholar, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a famous rabbi of that era. Saul was a career Pharisee who spent his formative years studying the Hebrew Scriptures, teaching and spreading the message of Judaism. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (He referred to himself as “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was mentioned as the official consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, but a short time after that encountered Jesus in a vision while traveling to Damascus.

It was certainly a dramatic conversion that sent shockwaves through the early church. He embraced the reality of the resurrection and began to follow Christ with the same zeal he previously applied to persecuting believers of the Way. He became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the world. At the time he wrote this passage to the Corinthians, most of the witnesses he referred to were still alive, and could still verify that what he said about Christ was true. Had his statements been false, he would have been branded as a lunatic, and the Christian movement would have died along with the generation who invented it. Instead, believers with changed lives held resolutely to the Gospel in spite of persecution and even martyrdom. That’s what Paul did, along with thousands of other believers. If you haven’t read his letters, they can be life-changing, and they are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. His testimony still counts as eyewitness because in the real world he was an enemy of those who followed Jesus until he encountered Jesus himself, and then he began to connect the dots. It’s really the same for all of us—a lot of things aren’t clear until we encounter Jesus. But once we put him in the proper place, there are so many things that suddenly make sense. Once you have received the things of first importance, give them first importance.

Tell me, do you think it strange that everything in life can change?
Can a Scholar change his mind? Can the sighted see, though blind?
Will a zealot cease to kill and change his heart, and change his will?
Somehow in the darkest night a blinded man can find his sight,
Can see that love–not law–is right, and move from darkness into light.

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