Saul the Persecutor Became Paul the Apostle. Why?

There was once a zealous man named Saul who hounded the young and growing Christian church at every turn. He persecuted and attacked the followers of the Way, and accused those who preached Jesus’ resurrection of blasphemy. This same man had an experience that transformed him and changed his life completely.

We know him as the Apostle Paul, the same man who said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” How could a Pharisee of such unparalleled zeal make such a change? How could an enemy of the Church become one of its staunchest defenders? What changed him from Saul the persecutor into Paul, the Apostle? Apparently the power lay in the Gospel, which Paul defined so well in his first letter to Corinth:

“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, a famous rabbi of that era. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (He referred to himself as formerly “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, but a short time after that encountered Jesus in a vision while traveling to Damascus. (By definition an Apostle had to have seen Jesus, and this was Paul’s encounter. It changed him forever.)

Saul apostle

He embraced the reality of the resurrection and began to follow Christ with the same zeal he had previously applied to persecuting the church. He spent three years in Arabia communing with and learning somehow from Christ himself, and then taught in Damascus, strengthening the church. The Apostle Paul became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist for Christ the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the world.

You can doubt a lot of things about Christianity, but you really can’t argue with the historical impact of Paul. If you haven’t read his letters, they are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. He said in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” His testimony still counts as an eyewitness because he was transformed after an encounter with the risen Lord; he went from being an enemy of those who followed Jesus to a follower himself. When he encountered Jesus, he began to connect the dots, and the rest is history.

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. I hope they do for you!

Saul abhorred the gospel, and he hated those who knew it;
If there was any way that he could stop them, he would do it.
He encountered Jesus as he traveled to Damascus;
Witnesses said, “Yes it really happened there. Just ask us!”
That was not the only testimony to that day;
Saul was transformed into Paul, and then had this to say:
“I am not ashamed at all! The Gospel gives me power,
And I am going to preach it every minute, every hour.
I will go in grace to those who used to fear and hate me,
And preach God’s endless love, from which no power can separate me!
I’ll gladly preach of healing where I used to cause such pain,
For me, for Paul to live is Christ! For me to die is gain.

 

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
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Greater Works than These Will You Do: Jesus Said What?!

Jesus makes an astounding assertion in John. He says that those who follow him will do greater works than he did:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12, NKJV) This is a pretty astounding claim. John had previously said that Jesus did “whatever the Father does” (John 5:19) and Mark 7:37 says that he did “all things well”; yet here Jesus promises that whoever believes in him will do even greater works.

Say WHAT? What did Jesus mean when he said that? Does Jesus mean that all believers will go around healing the sick and raising the dead? Are we supposed to perform miracles and feed 5,000 with a few fish and some loaves? If we try to apply those standards to our Christian life, we could end up feeling inadequate and defeated. I’m not going to rule out the possibility of miracles, because I do believe God can do whatever He wills—and He can do it through whosoever He chooses.

Go read some more in the Book of Acts. Remember Acts 4:13, where the Pharisees were astounded at ignorant, unlearned men like Peter and John? In verse 16 they said, “What are we going to do with these men? Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it.” The word sign means “miracle”, and I would submit that they are still happening today.

Every heart changed by faith is a miracle. Every life devoted to love is a miracle. We are still in the age of miracles, and while God is still greater than time and space, I also believe He works in small, personal miracles as well. Human nature tends to focus on the “great things” as determined by our culture and our values. Jesus taught that most of those values have no real relevance in the Kingdom of Heaven. So just how are we going to do greater works than Jesus did? I did want to take a stab at what these “greater works” could possibly be, because Jesus said that if you believe in him, you have amazing potential. He says that the Holy Spirit will empower us to do things that he himself did not do.

greater work

There are opportunities we have as followers in which Jesus did not (or did not choose to) participate. Consider: When you present the gospel to a non-believer, it is a Greater work. When that person decides to follow Christ—it is a Greater work. When you join in harmony with fellow believers as the Church—it is a Greater work. When you raise a child in a Christian home—it is a Greater work. When you help the least of these in His name, then, yep you have done it again. Perhaps the smallest and least recognized act of service you do on earth will plant seeds that lead to fields of fruitful grain in the Kingdom… Open your heart to the Spirit. Believe. Be humbler. Be greater.

Jesus said, "I do the things My Father asks me to;
But if you follow me, then there are greater things you'll do.
Your actions, whether large and small, are miracles all the same--
The things you do in love, or  do because you bear my name--
Random acts of service, and the things which no one sees
Are greater works in heaven. When you serve the least of these,
You are doing greater works; and you are serving me.

 

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
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Greatest Doesn’t Necessarily Mean What You Think It Means

Sports fans like to argue about who the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) is, regardless of the sport. Is it Michael or LeBron? Nicklaus or Tiger? Ali or Tyson? Who is the Greatest Of All Time? In sports, it’s kinda fun to argue about who the Greatest is… But consider this, when is comes to true greatness: Our society has many standards, and most of them are wrong.
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19-20, NIV)

It had to be a weird conversation for the disciples, hearing Christ talk about his body and his blood over dinner as they reclined at table. They were still somewhat giddy over the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Hosannas were still ringing in their ears, and yet Jesus was now telling them that one of them would betray him. He went on to say he was going to die, and that God was going to make a new covenant with Israel. This was an amazing statement, and yet it only registered on them for about a minute. The disciples first speculated about which of them would betray their master, and then Luke 22:24-26 says, “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them… But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like… the one who serves.”

greatest

Centuries later, it’s easy to think that the disciples must have been incredibly dense not to get it, but like all of us they were focused on “what’s in it for me?”, and “what happens next?” (Before you judge them too harshly, have you ever missed a couple of points in a sermon because you were thinking about lunch after church, or going to the lake?)
There are a couple of things that jump out of this passage: One, when it comes to your relationship with God what are you focused on? Are you thinking about what He can do for you, or do you ever simply focus on Him? The disciples had Jesus RIGHT THERE, in the flesh, but they weren’t thinking about him. Instead, they were wondering about which of them was the greatest, and what positions they would hold when they overthrew the Romans. Is your prayer life directed more at “do”, or “be”? (Yeah, I know, there’s a bad Sinatra joke in there somewhere…) Appreciate God in the moment instead of just asking Him for stuff.
Second, how many leaders do you know who actually serve to lead? Our society places value on being rich and important. In our culture, being the greatest usually means that you are the one who gets served… But, seriously, how many Dads, bosses, husbands, or politicians are servant leaders? How about you? What type of attributes characterize YOUR leadership? Jesus said it this way: if you are not serving, then you are not leading. If you are not the least, you are not the greatest. The next time you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, remember what he said. Remember what he did. If you are looking for greatness, that’s where you’ll find it.

Hollywood has parties that are only for the "A List";
Culture celebrates the best, the richest, or the latest.
Jesus showed humility in something of a plot twist,
While the disciples sat and argued who would be the greatest.
Jesus gathered up his robe, and took the lowest seat
To give the men an object lesson as he washed their feet.
"Among the Gentiles, leaders strut and rule for all to see;
They act like sovereign lords as if they have the right to be.
If you want to be the greatest, this is how you start:
Begin by serving others with a humble servant's heart."
Their argument hung in empty air as each one realized
That leadership was at their feet, and looked into their eyes...

 

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
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Eternal Things: The Bible Says There Are Two of Them. Know What They Are?

Let’s talk about the Only Two eternal Things on Earth, as we work our way through the four Gospels: Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:33, KJV). Over the last month and a half (in case you haven’t noticed), my FB posts worked their way through every book in the Old Testament.

A little before Easter we looked at Malachi, the last OT book; then we discussed a couple of things “between the testaments”; then we discussed Passion Week, and went through the events leading to the resurrection. Much of that material came out of the Gospels, obviously, and we are picking back up from those narratives to resume our journey through the Bible. Yesterday’s post came out of Mark.

So if you’re keeping up, and you’ve been reading for a while, you have now read through the entire Old Testament. (Along with some bonus material thrown in for Passion Week!) Congratulations! If you want to go back and catch anything you missed, you can always check in to www.bojackson54.com!

So why should you spend time reading the Bible? There are only two eternal things we encounter in this world; one of them is the people we meet (the souls of men), and the other is the Word of God. We should treasure the people we meet, and we can have hope because of the Word of God! I hope you are impressed with yourself for having read in every OT book! You will carry those words into eternity.

Now we’ll continue to go right on through the entire Bible, covering the rest of the New Testament… In the Ten Days of Passion Week we certainly covered some ground in the Four Gospels, and since those books focus on the story and teachings of Jesus, I thought it might be interesting to ask a couple of questions.

First, why trust the Gospels anyway? And second, aren’t they just like any other hero stories from the First Century? Is their content eternal? This little chart offers some detail about the audiences and themes of the Gospels. They have much in common, but tell the story of Jesus to four different groups and in four different ways.

eternal things

 

Timing of authorship would place them as early as 37 AD, beginning with Mark. It is commonly held that perhaps he used a source material as background, and that Matthew used either Mark’s Gospel or the same source. They were all certainly written within a decade or so of the crucifixion. So how do we know they are reliable, except for the fact that a bunch of religious fanatics think they are true?

Here are a couple of quick logical reasons, courtesy of Dr. Jim Wicker of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: First, no Jewish writer would have written about the story of Jesus without utter conviction that it was true. The Messianic titles of Jesus contained in the Gospels were problematic for monotheistic Judaism. If untrue, they would have been considered heresy punishable by death. So, it is way more likely they are true than that some first-century Jewish Christians made them up. They were committing blasphemy to consider them, and the social consequences were severe; yet these Jewish authors used them anyway.

Second, there were a number of intrinsic historical quality controls that existed in days of early church [when the gospels were written]. For instance, eyewitnesses to Jesus were still alive, who could attest to the truthfulness of the Gospels [or expose their lack of truthfulness]. If it was a hoax or a lie, people would have called them out about it.
Also, the fact that embarrassing and even problematic material is included in the Gospels (such as the denseness of the Disciples) helps prove the Gospels are truth rather than fiction. (You’re an author, writing about Jesus; surely you can make him look good without having to put stuff in there that makes you and your friends seem dumb!) Using such an approach runs contrary to the common literary technique of all other previous hero stories or legends. Why show the disciples as dim-witted or slow to grasp who Jesus was if they are the very witnesses you are depending on to carry his message?

The Gospels are really unlike any other literature ever written up to that point in terms of content, approach, and technique. They are incredibly short portraits of Jesus, and yet they provide a richness of detail and contain the passionate ring of truth. That may be why they are still best-sellers today, and why we are still reading Jesus’ eternal words today. Maybe when he said, “My words will never pass away”, he knew what he was talking about… Quick: how many OTHER Middle Eastern rabbis from over 2,000 years ago are you familiar with? Amazing? Yes. Eternal? Yes. Coincidence? No.

The Gospels are Love, and about life and death,
They’re about every heartbeat, and every last breath!
The gospels are power and passion combined,
Eternal combustion and love intertwined—
Take a look at the Gospels anew, redefined,
And let them explode in your heart and your mind:
They are news just for YOU, of the very best kind!

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
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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

Roman Road: Follow It and See Where it Takes You. I Promise You’ll Be Glad You Did

The Roman Road system was an amazing accomplishment in the ancient world, and it allowed people to travel all over Europe. The Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, was traveling on such a road from Jerusalem to Damascus when he had a life-changing experience. In the Book of Acts, Luke describes it like this: “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.” The road to Damascus took Paul on a life-changing journey; the “Roman Road” he described in the book of Romans can do the same for you

Roman road.

One of ancient Rome’s contributions to civilization was a system of public roads that was unrivalled in the ancient world. Their handiwork is still evident today, and in fact our tour group rode bicycles down the Appian Way, a road said to have been traversed by the Apostle Paul (among many others) back in the day… In terms of its impact on life and culture, the Roman roads were sort of the equivalent of light speed in Star Wars, or a Star Trek transporter. Wikipedia says, “At the peak of Rome’s development, no fewer than 29 great military highways radiated from the capital, and the late Empire’s 113 provinces were interconnected by 372 great roads.“ It was the best means of getting to the desired destination in the entire world, and stretched from Rome all the way to Gaul and Great Britain.

Roman road

Robert Frost wrote about taking “The Road Less Traveled”, and the difference it made in his life. He pointed out that our choices can take us down roads whose destination is uncertain or unscripted. In “The Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy met the Scarecrow at an intersection when she wasn’t sure where to go. We encounter many such crossroads in life’s journey, and some of our choices cause us to fall in with dubious companions or go down the wrong path.

In Scriptures, there is another “road” that provides the best means of getting to your desired destination. Do you want to go to heaven? Would you like assurance that your journey is leading to God’s Kingdom? The “Roman Road” is a series of verses in Romans that outlines man’s position relative to being judged by a Holy, righteous God, and outlines God’s provision for man’s salvation. If you’ve never travelled the Roman Road, I highly recommend that you follow its course.

Read through these verses from Romans and see where it leads you:

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (3:20)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (3:23).

“For the wages of sin is death…” (6:23a).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:8)

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23b).

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (10:9, 13).

It’s why Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (1:16). Take a walk down the Roman Road. And while you’re at it, take somebody else with you.

Roman soldiers built their roads to carry armies, men and loads
So Roman soldiers could be hurled to any target in the world.
Roads were built for one and all–Roads in Europe! Roads to Gaul!
Starting here and going there, your feet could take you anywhere.
Paul described a journey, too–a roadway built for me and you,
To transport us from earthly states up all the way to Heaven’s Gates.
Just read Romans, you will see the path laid out for you and me:
Walk that path around the bend. Who knows indeed where it will end?
Read in Romans, then take heed; who knows indeed where it will lead?
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
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When Jesus Said, “Peace, Be Still”, Perhaps He was Talking to Us

When it comes to having peace in this world, it’s still a Matter of Faith… Like many of us the disciples faced a storm in their lives; and like many of us, they were stressed and fearful.
“He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:38-40, NIV) Jesus and his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee when a sudden storm blew up. Apparently exhausted, Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat. He had been surrounded by needy crowds all day and had entered the boat to get away. But Mark says “a furious squall came up.”

be still

Even though several of them were seasoned fishermen, they were so concerned for their safety that they woke Jesus up in alarm. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He calmed the sea and the wind, and asked them a couple of questions of his own: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Perhaps it surprises us that the disciples, who had a relationship with Jesus, did not feel secure in Him. They still didn’t have a clear understanding of who He was. It surprises us that the disciples, who had seen Jesus perform miracles, were still afraid. Let’s try to make a couple of observations about this passage.
1) It’s easier to have faith when there is no need for it. When we have plenty of evidence, lots of assurance, and a measure of comfort and ease, then everybody has faith. But what about when the storms of life break upon us, and the dangers of this world surround us? What about when our eyes are blinded by the driving rain, and our hearts quake with uncertain fear? That’s when faith takes center stage and becomes real to us. People said in World War II, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” I think most veterans of combat would agree. Faith matters most amidst uncertainty.
2) Like the disciples, all of us will encounter situations where the demands of life are greater than our resources or experience. There are moments when our faith wavers, and we panic and lose heart. Faith matters then, too. (Maybe Peter was thinking of this moment when he wrote 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your cares upon Him, because he cares for you.”
3) The disciples did not find assurance in psychology, technology, or theology. They found comfort in the presence of Jesus. They took heart in his words, and their faith was recalibrated as a result. If you have a relationship with Jesus, take back your faith, and find comfort in his presence. Take heart in his words. Perhaps when Jesus said, “Peace, be still”, he was talking to more than just the wind and the waves.

The night was stormy, dark and cold;
And we were fishermen, tough and bold,
But we grew discouraged & hopes were dimmed
By towering waves and threatening wind.
So all of my mates all began to quake
From the boisterous wind on the stormy lake.
But Jesus slept in the back of the boat,
So tossed by the waves it could hardly float,
And some of the guys woke him up in alarm,
Concerned that we would all come to harm…
Jesus said, “Why are you so afraid?
Where is your faith? Believe!” He said,
And he looked at the waves and said, “Peace, be still”.
It gave our fearful hearts a thrill
When the waves grew calm, and the wind lost its chill:
It amazed me then; it amazes me still.
I guess you had to have been there, then,
But try to picture it if you can:
A bunch of tough old fishermen
Now asking ourselves, “Who IS this man?”
But here’s the question I had that night,
When Jesus spoke and made things right,
(Said, “Peace, be still”, and we all could see,
That the waves grew as calm as they could be):
Was he talking to THEM, or was he talking to ME?

 

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

Astonishing People, Astonishing Men! You Might Just Be One of Them

What makes something astonishing? Have you been astonished lately? Or have you been astonishing? The Gospels contain some astonishing stories, like these from Matthew:
“Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:22-23, NIV)

“When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.” (Matthew 22:33, NIV)

Jesus did some things that were astonishing to everyone around him. Crowds gathered around him and followed after him to see what he would do. Before there were paparazzi, there were people from all walks of life around Jesus, waiting to see what would happen. There were miracles everyone wanted to see and sermons everyone wanted to hear.

I think of the four guys who carried their friend on a pallet and then broke through the roof to get him close to Jesus. They were hoping he would do something astonishing!

I think of blind Bartimaeus standing at the edge of the crowd shouting out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He paid no attention to those trying to shush him. He wanted Jesus to do something astonishing.

These events highlight the fact that Jesus was different. After all, Jesus was the Son of God, and it was natural that he do amazing things. He had power and connection to his Father that gave him access to miraculous possibilities. That makes sense, but how do you explain this verse? “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13, NIV)

astonishing men

I love to point out (along with Dr. Luke) that Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary men, and yet they astonished those around them. Now, what on earth made them able to do that? The Bible doesn’t say that the people around them were astonished and took note that they had been to seminary. Observers didn’t note that they were busy at church, held official religious positions, or were even vocational pastors. What people noticed about unschooled and ordinary fishermen James and John was one thing: “they had been with Jesus.”

Hmmm, does that mean anything to you? You too have opportunity to be with Jesus every day. You can read his words, speak privately with him, and walk with him everywhere. Take note: go be with Jesus. Then go be astonishing!

If only I’d been with Jesus, maybe seen him in the flesh,
My walk would be dynamic! And my writing would be ‘fresh’!
If only I had heard him talk, or ever seen him heal,
My faith would be amazing, and I’d walk with him for REAL.
If I had only seen him laugh, or watched him preach the word,
Then I would recollect for sure the wisdom I had heard…
Well if you want to walk with Jesus, there is still a way
To see his life and hear him preach a sermon every day.
Just take your Bible, open it to Matthew–take a look–
The things that Jesus said and did are written in that Book!
You may think that only the Apostles had the power,
But when’s the last time you just sat with Jesus for an hour?
Please don’t be offended, understand I’m not admonishing–
But just go be with Jesus. Then, just go and be astonishing.

 

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

Prayed For in the Garden: Who Did Jesus Pray For, and Why?

Just before he was betrayed and arrested, Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. Since he knew what was coming, I would imagine that he prayed for what was absolutely most important to him, wouldn’t you? So here’s what he said: “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:13-17, NIV) I think it’s significant that Jesus prayed for those who would follow him; and when Jesus prayed for his followers, what he said is revealing.

In verse 20 he made it clear that he prayed not only for the disciples who were with him in the garden, but for you as well. He said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”

These few verses of Jesus’ prayer echo down the corridors of history to reveal His position, His purpose, His prediction of persecution, His protection, and His process. “I come to you”: Jesus is petitioning the Father, and places himself under the Father’s authority. Jesus prayed often (Mark and Luke both remark upon this habit), and he prayed for all of us who would someday believe in Him.

He is on God’s mission, and he makes it clear that God is in control, acknowledging the Father’s ability to take his disciples out of the world or to protect them in it. “I speak these things in the world that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Wow! Jesus came to provide JOY!? How many joyful people do you know? His stated purpose was to share his own joy and have it fulfilled in his followers.

In John 15:11 he said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” If you are one of his followers, that applies to you. Are you joyful? Is joy being fulfilled in you and because of you? Isn’t it cool that He prays for our joy? Of all of the characteristics of eternal life, this is my favorite. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit; it is a characteristic of the Kingdom of Heaven; it’s the natural result of the resurrection! It’s essentially why Jesus came, and it is essentially why we are here on earth.

Stop for a moment and just choose to feel joyful no matter what your circumstances. It may seem almost impossible, but it is a choice available to us regardless of what is going on around us. The joy Jesus refers to is not dependent upon comfort or affluence, or having perfect circumstances. Perhaps that is why He also prayed over believers who will experience persecution both from the world and from the evil one. “The world has hated them because they are not of the world” is both an acknowledgement of what his disciples experienced and a prophecy about what is happening today.

If you experience opposition as a Christian, take heart! It means you are not of the world, and that Jesus held you in his heart that stressful night in Gethsemane. Jesus prayed protection over you, and asked his Father to protect all of His children from the evil one. No matter how dark our circumstances, Jesus’ prayer seems to indicate that there is hope beyond the difficulty. Has life got you down? Ever feel discouraged or alone? Jesus has been there, and he knows not only how you feel, but what you need.

prayed for

Jesus asked the Father to reserve us to himself, and told us how that happens. “Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth.” Sanctified means “set apart”. Are you? Is your life entwined with things of the Spirit or things of the world? Do you read social media or watch TV more than you read God’s word? Connect the dots here. Jesus says he spoke these things “that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. But I have given them Your word…” The process for sanctification comes from the Word of God, and so does Joy! Has life got you down? The more time you spend with God’s Word, the greater both your sanctification and your joy will be. Dive into the deep waters of Jesus’ prayer for you and you will find them both.

 

Agonizing in the Garden, facing his greatest trial,
Jesus knelt there in the night and prayed a little while.
Knowing what he had to face and what he had to do,
Jesus took some time to intercede for me and YOU.
He prayed for our protection from what Satan might employ;
He asked the Lord to sanctify us, and to give us joy.
He prayed for us as he prepared for Calvary's rugged slope,
Knowing that his work would bring us joy and give us hope!
If life has brought you trials, and your heart has been dismayed,
Embrace the joy that Jesus promised to us when he prayed.

 

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

Incarnation: What Does It Mean? My Money is On “Like Father, Like Son!”

The whole notion of incarnation is somewhat mysterious and unfathomable. You take an infinite, all-powerful god and place him into a frail human body; he accepts limitations of time and space; and he walks upon the very earth he created! It sounds kinda like something out of Greek mythology, where the gods often came back and forth to earth. Those fanciful accounts are obvious fabrications, so why would Christians say that Jesus was God in human form? What evidence is there to suggest that the whole Jesus story is not just some first-century fabrication? Well, take a closer look at the incarnation and you’ll see it: Like Father, Like Son…

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation… And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15, 18-20 NIV)

Christ’s resurrection (which we just celebrated on Easter) was important for so many reasons. 1) It AUTHENTICATED the incarnation, or who Jesus was: he was not just an itinerant rabbi, he was the incarnation of the invisible God. An image can ONLY reflect the original, and do exactly what the original does. Stand in front of a mirror and try it! Your image will do what you do. There are different concepts out there about incarnation, but none as simple and profound as Jesus. Several mystic and mythological religions utilize the concept of a god becoming man, but they are only cheap imitations of the REAL thing.

incarnation

If you want to determine whether or not physical representations of the Almighty are actually God, then investigate what they did and what they taught. Jesus of Nazareth was unique in his time, in his culture, in his approach, and in his impact. As “God with skin on”, Jesus showed us what the Father looks like. The incarnation means that Jesus is the visible image of a spiritual God, and you know what? We can be, too.

2) It CONFIRMED the possibility of eternal life. As the firstborn from the dead, Christ opened the very gates of hell and demonstrated a new possibility of triumph over death. If the resurrection didn’t happen, then Christians are the greatest fools in history; there is no evidence of eternal life; and we should be, as Paul says, “of all men most miserable.”

3) The resurrection VALIDATED Christ’s position as the incarnation: he is the head of the church, the pure expression of the Father’s fullness in human form… God’s fullness burst forth in new life not only for Him but for us. He has supremacy in everything. He earned his position not by conquest, not by coercion, but by humility and sacrifice; and He represented the pure incarnation of the Father in human form.

4) Finally, it proved that he RECONCILED us to God: the wages of sin are death, and every human after Adam was held to account for their trespasses. The only hope seemed to be in keeping the law (at which all men failed) or having faith in an unlikely promise of redemption. Christ’s position enabled him to keep that promise (since his voluntary death paid our accounts in full). His incarnation demonstrated the result of being reconciled: LIFE! If Christ is in you, then the reconciled, eternal life you have can now reflect the very image of God.

Here’s an illustration about how that works: I may not be a great tennis player, but what if the spirit and presence of Roger Federer could unzip my skin and step into me and guide my body with his will and understanding of the game? I would think differently, and I would certainly play tennis differently. Yeah there would be some limitations (because after all he’d have to play with MY body), but if Roger put my skin on, I’d be able to play tennis at a much higher level.

God calls us to be yielded to His authority, and to be inhabited by His Spirit. He wants to express His love and character through us just as He did with Jesus; in fact, history is FULL of examples of people who committed acts of courage, or selfless love because they were touched by the incarnation of God, and allowed His Spirit to literally guide them into new behaviors and new actions. Doesn’t that just fill your day with new possibilities? Raise your game. Smile at someone today as if God was smiling through you to them. Then do everything else as if He was, too. You know what? He is.

God resides in grandeur on a universal scale;
His majesty is cosmic in its space:
God created galaxies beyond the crystal veil,
And used His power to put each one in place.
Some say God Almighty then became the Incarnation
To execute a grand redemptive plan;
Others say that such a tale is only fabrication,
And there’s no way that God became a man…
And yet there’s Jesus: humbly serving, healing, loving, warm–
Showing us that there’s another way:
Is it somehow possible that God in human form
Was born in Bethlehem on Christmas day?

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

Resurrection: If you Claim Jesus is Risen, At Least Use Credible Witnesses

(The resurrection on Easter Sunday, the last of the Ten days of Passion Week)  All over the world, people today are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. It’s an interesting phenomenon because most rational people know that it is impossible to raise anyone from the dead, and yet believers everywhere accept by faith that the resurrection occurred. Why?

How can anyone accept the resurrection as fact when it HAS to be false? Why celebrate Easter at all if it the resurrection couldn’t have happened? It’s a legitimate question that any skeptic would ask, and I’d offer a couple of things in response.  I don’t believe faith has to be blind, or that as Christians we have to discard reasonable logic because we have faith. First of all, there is EVIDENCE of the resurrection. There were lives indisputably changed ONLY AS IF Jesus had been raised from the dead. The disciples were somehow transformed from a group of hidden cowards and traitors to bold witnesses who proclaimed the resurrection in the face of persecution and opposition. Hundreds of other eyewitnesses shared the good news with thousands of believers who stubbornly maintained the truth of the resurrection even when threatened with arrest and violent death. Why? Why should anyone die for a hoax or a lie when there was no compelling reason for them to maintain a spiritual charade?

There were written accounts of it that were widely circulated as affidavits to the truth. Eyewitnesses accounts testified about seeing Jesus in a risen state well after his crucifixion and death. To me, all of those things speak to a central fact: something happened. Something happened that transformed cowardly disciples into powerful witnesses. Something caused ordinary people to become extraordinary believers; and something created a movement that shifted human history and eventually toppled the mighty Roman Empire. But those things are not the evidence that impress me most about the truth of the resurrection; what gets my attention is the way the Gospel writers told the story, because they did it all wrong.

“But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:5-7, NKJV). This is Matthew’s account of the Gospel testimony to the resurrection of Jesus? Do you see what is really out-of-place here? There is something drastically wrong with Matthew’s story. You see, he and the other Gospel writers recorded that women were the first witnesses at the empty tomb.

resurrection witnesses

In Jewish law, women’s testimony was not admissible, so why would Hebrew authors include this unless it were TRUE? (In fact, Luke says that the disciples thought the women’s story was “idle tales”. Mark says when mourners heard this news, “they did not believe”.) But instead of reworking the story to make it more credible (which would have been the obvious play if they were perpetuating a hoax), the Gospel writers reported that the women were first on the scene, even though such an “un-doctored” version might hurt their credibility with Jewish readers. If the Gospel writers had wanted to convince everyone that the resurrection was true, they would have written a more believable story.

Mary Magdalene encountered Jesus in his resurrected body, and did not recognize him until he called her by name—so I think we can assume that our resurrected bodies will be different than our current ones. (Something else to look forward to for some of us!) And so in Easter we have fulfilled prophecy, conquered death, eternal hope, transformation, substitution, revolution, and affirmation… It’s hard to even describe just how important the resurrection is, so from this point I think it’s best to just let Scripture speak for itself:

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, KJV).

“For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” (I Corinthians 15:16-19).

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25)

“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection…” (Romans 6:5)

And finally: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (I Peter 1:3).

The resurrection is not a fantasy or an early Christian conspiracy. Chuck Colson made the observation that if twelve of the most powerful men in America could not keep Watergate secret, it is HIGHLY unlikely that twelve fishermen and disciples could have maintained a secret conspiracy to invent the resurrection while being tortured and killed over it. The reality of the resurrection toppled an Empire who tried to suppress it, and dozens of eyewitnesses died attesting to it as fact. That factual occurrence changed the world 2,100 years ago, and has been changing the world ever since. It still has the power to change yours today. He is risen! HE IS RISEN INDEED!

 

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