Evil Days Demand Wiser Ways. Be Careful out There.

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV) Stop for a moment and think about the world around you. Is the world getting better and better? Is mankind evolving upward towards better values? Is our culture more wholesome and encouraging than it was ten years ago?

I used to hear older people talking sadly about how there seemed to be more evil in the world now than there used to be, and they would reminisce about the “good old days”, when neighbors were more neighborly, it was safe for kids to play “down the street”, and you never heard a cuss word or saw nudity on your TV. And that was over 40 years ago! Now I AM one of the older people, and I feel the same way, but even more so.

Look around. Standards have changed. A Jack in the Box commercial on TV just last night was selling their new bowls by using phrases generally applied to male anatomy, making a poor play on words at best, and a comparison that doesn’t make me want to rush out and buy a pair, SMH… (That’s “Shaking My Head” if you’re not up on internet acronyms.) The “poop” emoji is now on billboards as if it has marketing value.

Not only has decency begun to disappear, but so has truth. Journalists and politicians lie so subtly (and so constantly) that you don’t know what to believe anymore. Half-truths and accusations are disseminated so frequently as facts that they are often accepted as true. Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels said that if you tell a big enough lie, and tell it often enough, it would become accepted as fact. His words could be applied to the bipolar partisan atmosphere in America today, where people will gladly ignore integrity and truth to get their own point of view across.

evil days

Today’s values and standards are definitely different than they were “back in the day.” Commercials on TV reach out to consumers by saying “Break the rules!” Abortion is considered just another birth control option. High school kids go to movies that promote sex and violence, even as youth groups take a stand against human sex trafficking. Our culture is extending legalization of marijuana, so that better living through chemistry can become even more common. Gambling is available to anyone who wants it.

Our children (and our neighbors) have internet access to virtually anything, and are bombarded with everything from non-stop materialism to hard-core pornography.
Music (which weaves its way into our brains forever—quick! How many songs do you remember from when you were a teenager?) is full of stories about breakups, drugs, sex, and casual relationships. Hip hop and heavy metal are full of anger, abuse and violence. Interpersonal relationships are changing rapidly, falling away from the personal touch of conversation and affection to on-screen interaction, where it is easier to lie, misrepresent, and misunderstand…There were evil days in 60 AD (when Paul wrote this), and they are evil still…

How do we respond wisely to them? James 1:5 says if you want to be wise, go to the source: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” If you would truly like to make the most of every opportunity in this life, then ask the Lord for wisdom. Apply it to your decisions about what you watch, who you listen to, and what you believe.

“Be very careful, then, about how you live.” Put another way, Paul is encouraging you to be full of care, to care deeply about how to live. Avoid evil and choose good wisely. Ask the very source of Wisdom to give you some, and study it in His Book. When calamity strikes or when opportunity knocks, you’ll be ready. Evil days surround you. don’t be unwise.

Be careful how you live, because we live in evil days,
And evil tries to infiltrate our lives in many ways.
There’s no regard for gender, creed, infirmity, or youth;
It challenges our decency, integrity and truth.
Stop and look around your world, and don’t believe the lies.
Be careful how you live, and make an effort to be wise.
Do you want to find some wisdom? Here is where to look:
You’ll find it when you talk to God, and study in His Book.
Allow your heart and mind to join with His in Holy unity;
Be careful, then and make the most of every opportunity.

 

 

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

To Misquote Garth Brooks, Maybe You Have Low Friends in High Places

In the ancient Middle East, there were worship centers called “high places”, where all kinds of pagan ritualistic mischief took place. The key word here is “pagan”, and it’s safe to say that it is probably hard for the average person reading this blog to imagine what went on there. (Think: really bad.) Since they revolved around polytheism, sex, and drug use, the one true God of Israel naturally condemned both them and anyone who used them.

“In the seventh year of Jehu, Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba. Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.” (2 Kings 12:1-3, NIV).

Read through 2 Kings sometime. It describes a society full of treachery and deceit, with murder and betrayal on almost every page. The Kings of Israel and Judah were a dangerous bunch, and the good ones were few and far between. Joash became King over Judah at age seven, and actually had godly counsel around him. He did right in the sight of the Lord during all of his 40 year reign, but did not, however, remove the high places.

“High Places” is a somewhat euphemistic title given to the pagan worship centers out in the mountains and countryside in Israel. Idolatry, pagan rituals, illicit sacrifices, prostitution, and all kinds of carnal activity took place there in the name of “worship”. The high places were sort of secret men’s clubs, somewhat hidden and off the beaten paths–but every man in Israel knew what went on there. Pagan rituals encouraged men to substitute a spiritual walk with sexual ecstasy as they worshipped the goddess of fertility (known variously as Ashtoreth, Ishtar, Astarte, or Asherah).

high places

The High Places were holdovers from the nations and cultures Israel defeated to take the Promise Land, and the reason they weren’t torn down is because guys liked to go and sin there. Funny how so little really changes with men over all these years… Men don’t necessarily call it worship, but they still go to particular places where the allure of feminine sexuality is powerful and seductive. Even church-going men will check their Bibles at the door to enjoy the atmosphere, just like the pagans did at the high places.

Funny thing, when you take away men’s pet sins they will insult you, call you names, and even resort to violence to keep being able to do them. When Gideon tore down his father’s Asherah pole, the Bible says “The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son [Gideon]. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” (Judges 6:30)

Hebrew men were so involved with pagan worship that they were willing to kill to preserve it. They loved doing low things in high places… In later times, a couple of the good Kings brought reform to Israel and helped turn people back to God; but that was the exception rather than the rule; all too often the high places remained. They were a secret, “pet” sin that men kept in reserve, so they could go there to “worship”.

At first glance it may seem hard to believe that any form of spiritual revival could take place when such sinful sanctuaries remained. How could Israel outwardly worship the Lord but then keep on sneaking around to wallow in such dirty sins? How could they love God but hold on to some carnal pleasure in reserve? Can you imagine? Acting religious but harboring evil desires?

Upon reflection, it’s pretty easy to see, isn’t it? It’s not just them, but it is US. We love God outwardly but secretly worship other, carnal, false gods. (And before you women feel too smug about men’s obvious weaknesses, remember that lusting for material things, status, or control are just as much of a carnal sin as sitting in the men’s club…) We may sometimes feel moved to have revival, but then we fail to remove some of our “high places”. (And apparently the Lord would have us choose between those and HIM.)

What are your pet sins, your secret sanctuaries? Do you ever live outwardly as a Christian even while you are at the same time judgmental, greedy, lustful, selfish, hateful, critical, anxious, bitter, covetous or proud? The concern that crosses our minds over Israel’s idolatry is the same concern we should have about ourselves. Do you have any high places? Take an inventory of the secret sanctuaries you harbor, and consider tearing. Them. Down.

High upon the mountain, or way back among the hills
There were pagan temples where a man could get some thrills.
Temple priestesses would stimulate the men’s virility
Calling them to worship with the goddess of fertility.
Participants who worshipped there were very normal men
Who visited high places and then just went home again.
Improbable, you say? These hypocrites could not be saved,
When claiming to love God while they are secretly depraved!
And yet that is my story. I love God, and want to win,
But there are idols in my life. I harbor secret sin.
Lord, when there are idols in my heart that make you frown,
Help me feel your love, and Jesus, help me Tear. Them. Down.

 

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

God’s Will. Want to Discover What It Is? Then Here’s What You Should Do:

Do you usually spend your prayer asking God to help with someone else’s health issues or perhaps current events? Interesting, then, that when Jesus taught about prayer he began by talking more about God’s authority and God’s will. Maybe that’s a good place for us to start as well… “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10, NIV)

In the Lord’s Prayer (or the “Our Father” prayer), Jesus encouraged us to ask for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven”. What would that look like? How would your daily life be different if God’s will were fully accomplished here on earth? What is God’s will for YOUR life, and how do you know what it is? Here are a couple of references that provide some insight: “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17, NIV)

John says that God’s will is different than what the world desires. How do material things stack up against abundant, eternal life? I think it’s safe to say that anyone who equates God’s will with wealth, comfort, fame, or material things is trying to compare apples with oranges. Where God’s will is done, John says, there is eternal life.

God's will

Praying in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39, NIV). Doing God’s will does not guarantee comfort or safety. It does involve achieving what God wants and receiving what He promised.

“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36, NIV). The reason for pursuing and doing God’s will is not to find some magic formula for successful living, but to put yourself in right relationship to your Father.

“For whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35, NKJV) It is really stressful chasing around after God’s will. We should not become enamored with the idea of finding “God’s Will”, we should simply FALL IN LOVE with God.

Sometimes when you think you have God’s will figured out, you get all wrapped around the thing you think He is doing, or where you think He might be taking you. Instead, just focus on HIM–walking with Him, enjoying His presence, and immersing yourself in his love. I think the rest will sort itself out. God sees all ends and has your best interests at heart, and will ultimately bring all things into alignment with the good pleasure of His will.

Paul says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11) What if we prayed every day, “Your will be done today, Father. Not as I will, but as YOU will”? I bet we would “receive what He has promised.”

Trade the thrills and pocket-fills, and cease the petty game of wills.
Embrace the Father like the Son. Pray: “Not my will, but Thine be done.”
Don’t just pray for your requests; the kind of prayer that works the best
Is asking God to do His will. He did it then. He does it still.

 

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

 

Four Dimensions of God’s Love: Amazing Height, Width, Depth, Length

In yesterday’s post I challenged you to look in John 3:16 and see the four dimensions of God’s love that Paul mentioned in Ephesians 3:17; Take a moment now and read John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”)

four dimensions of love

Now ask yourself, How high is God’s love? How wide? How deep? How long? After you have paused to reflect on that, make a list of the four dimensions–height, width, depth, and length–and jot down how John 3:16 applies to each one. Then compare your thoughts to my observations below:

How high is it? It is infinitely high, defined by the character of the one who extended it: GOD. It comes from above us in every way. It is purer than what we call love, more committed, more personal, more selfless, more complete and more complex than our earthly perception allows. Isaiah 55:9 says: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Think higher than Everest, higher than the heavens, and beyond the vast reaches of infinite space…

You can speak with men and angels, you can search the heights above; Beloved, if you count the ways, the greatest of these is love…

How wide is it? It is so wide that it includes EVERYONE. Every color, creed, culture and character is under the span of God’s amazing love. “God so loved the WORLD (Yes, Grace is available to everyone) so that WHOEVER believes is saved…” Romans 10:13 says “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

2 Peter 3:9 says, “Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but EVERYONE to come to repentance.” God’s love is as wide as every person who ever had a choice.

No need to hide from love that cannot be denied, It changes who you are inside, And ultimately you become His bride– And not just you but everyone who believes, receives, Yes every. One. So if you wondered: that’s how wide…

How deep is it? It is so deep that God spared no expense and paid the ultimate price to extend it. He gave his ONLY begotten son. Salvation is free but it’s not cheap. It cost God his Son; it cost his Son his life. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

God is not an automaton without feelings or emotions, and yet the loving, jealous, passionate God allowed His Son to experience the cross in MY place. Read that sentence again. Seamlessly together for eternity past, they separated. The only perfect and unified force in the universe tore itself apart for us. Without any guarantee apart from His own character that everything would go as planned, God sacrificed his Son and Christ died. That, my friends, is DEEP.

How LONG is it? The verse concludes with, “So that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have EVERLASTING life!” How long is THAT? There was a song from 1957 by Johnny Mathis where he said he would love his girlfriend “until the Twelfth of Never. And that’s a long, long time.” EVERLASTING is longer than that.

A thousand, ten thousand years from now, we will all be somewhere, perhaps remembering when we first opened our hearts to the four dimensions of God’s love. I hope that you and I will be still be experiencing those four dimensions, and we will just be getting started.

There they are: John 3:16, the four dimensions of God’s amazing love. You are welcome.

You can speak with men and angels, you can search the heights above;  
Beloved, if you count the ways, the greatest of these is love…
That love is in God's Character, reflecting who He is;
So if you wonder just how high it is, remember this:
The love extends beyond the sky, as lofty as the world is wide--
Don't hide from love that cannot be denied!
It changes who you are inside, and ultimately you become His bride-- 
And not just you but everyone who believes, receives: Yes every. One.
It's as wide, you see, as Calvary, and that's how it was done.
God made the ultimate payment at a cost that was infinitely steep;
Salvation may be free, my friends, but it was never cheap:
God sacrificed His only Son for us. His love is deep.
That love will live beyond this world, forever and a day:
(The love that's higher, wider, deeper than these words can say!)
The love of God will far outlast the words within this rhyme:
Beyond the twelfth of never, friends! (And that's a long, long time!)

 

 

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

Four Dimensions, Deeper Love: How God Loves You Back

In Ephesians, Paul mentions the four dimensions of God’s love as if everyone knew about them; so tell me, have YOU ever thought about the four dimensions of Christ’s love? In his book of superlatives, Paul talks about where God’s love is planted, and what it looks like; his description is a revelation!

four dimensions

In this eloquent prayer for his friends in Ephesus, Paul expresses the fervent hope “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:17-18 NIV).

In this passage from Ephesians Paul calls out the four dimensions of God’s love. Have you ever thought about the dimensions of God’s love? Have you ever truly grasped the width and length and height and depth of the love of God? In this world, our perception of God is limited. We look at Him through a finite lens, and even when we think we see Him as majestic and incomparable, perhaps we are leaving something on the table…First Corinthians 13:12 confirms: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Paul claims that there is more to love than we see, and that it has dimensions that go beyond our perception.

Paul’s definition of love is steeped in the Hebrew Shema, which reminded believers to love God with every means at our disposal: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Jesus quoted that passage in Matthew 22:37 when challenged to give the greatest commandment.). So do you love God with all your heart and soul and mind? Have you grasped the four dimensions of God’s love?

In this life we dabble about with romantic love, we cherish motherly love, we love our friends, and of course we love animals and food and possessions and things. And we talk about God’s love… But Paul’s picture of love suggests that God’s love is infinite and powerful and amazing: perhaps we can broaden our perception.

First, he says that we need to be ROOTED and ESTABLISHED in love. This suggests going deeper, taking nourishment, and transforming like a seed does when it gives life to a new plant. Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

Paul says that when we connect with love’s transforming power, we will see the dimensions of God’s love. Read a verse you’re familiar with, John 3:16, and think about the four dimensions of God’s love: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The verse that everybody knows contains the truth and power about God’s love that everybody should grasp. Look in John 3:16 and ask yourself, How high is God’s love? How wide? How deep? How long? They’re in there. Go deeper.

Paul tells folks in Ephesus (and also tells the rest of us)
That perfect, Godly love will start with Jesus dwelling in my heart.
The love of Christ Paul mentions, he defines with four dimensions,
So awesome they can make you weep: it’s wide, and high, and long and deep!
Investigate what that must mean. Read John, the verse is 3:16,
And make a list right there beside: how long, how high, how deep, how wide?
It’s there, if you go deep enough: the four dimensions of God’s love…

 

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

The Little Dash In the Incomplete Prayer: What Does It Mean, and Why Is It There?

“The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin— (why is this dash here?) but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:30-32, NIV). There is something important in this verse that’s easy to overlook. It’s the dash.

dash

The summer of 1972 I had the privilege of working as a counselor at the Navigators’ Eagle Lake Boy’s Camp near Colorado Springs. It was a rustic, beautiful camp high in the mountains where boys would come from all over the nation to experience hiking, rappelling, pioneering and living in a teepee for a week (made all the more authentic by the fact that our “facilities” were outhouses). The camp staff was an awesome group of guys, and the experiences were second to none. We rappelled, built stuff with logs and twine, and had mountaintop experiences every day.

What has stayed with me longest from that summer are the lessons learned from several of the Navigator leaders like Lorne Sanny and Leroy Eims who came out from Glen Eyrie and taught us from time to time. Their insights into Scripture and the practical way they applied it are still foundational for me 43 years later.

Leroy Eims taught us this particular passage, and pointed out the almost humorous exchange between God and Moses in Verses 7 and 10. “And the Lord said to Moses, “Go, get down! For YOUR people whom YOU brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves.” Moses’ answer was classic, almost like two parents whose child has done something wrong, so that neither parent wants to claim responsibility. “Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: “Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against YOUR people whom YOU have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” The way Moses interacted with God is marvelous, and certainly provides us some solid principles about how to pray: be candid; be fully expressed; be persistent.

Even more than these verses, though, is the principle revealed by the dash. Mr. Eims pointed out that in verse 32, there was this odd grammatical anomaly: “But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” He read that verse, and then he asked us, “What’s the dash for?”(Of course, none of us had ever really noticed the dash or given it any thought.)

He told us, “The dash represents a pause by the speaker, but it doesn’t really explain why. It’s there, but it doesn’t tell us WHY it’s there. I believe that as Moses was praying for his people, as he contemplated the consequences of what they had done, he was overcome with emotion and broke down, unable to continue. He was so overcome with grief and empathy that he couldn’t even complete his sentence. When he regained his composure, he finished by putting his own eternal security on the line for his people.”

Leroy Eims told us about the secret of the dash. It represented powerful emotions! It showed how much Moses cared about the children of Israel! When was the last time you broke down in tears and were unable to complete a sentence because you were praying so passionately? And who do you care about SO much that you can’t lift them up to the Lord without getting teary-eyed? Who is in your dash? Yes, Moses prayed with honesty and persistence. So should we. But he also prayed with passion and emotion. So should we.

The people of Israel made them a calf
So Moses prayed on their behalf
And asked the Lord His judgment to withhold
Because they had worshipped a idol calf of gold.
While he was praying and asking for grace,
Tears were streaming from Moses’ face
As he considered his nation’s fate
Which was just too awful to contemplate.
And in his prayer there was a pause;
Maybe it’s in there just because,
But really it’s kind of a mystery
That’s written in Scripture for all to see.
That little dash in the incomplete prayer:
What does it mean, and why is it there?
It’s there because Moses couldn’t take
The way they would pay for their mistake;
While praying, his shoulders began to shake:
How could Israel be so dumb?
As Moses prayed he was overcome,
And couldn’t continue because of his tears,
His love for them, and his greatest fears,
And he asked for his own life to be traded
In hopes that judgment could be abated.
That little dash in the incomplete prayer:
The emotional power residing there
Is more than words could ever show.
Why is the dash there? We don’t know,
But someday I will ask Moses why,
And if he broke down and began to cry…
Help me, Lord , have some prayers with a dash in;
Help me to pray with emotion and passion.

 

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

Trading Places: Who Would You Trade Your Own Eternal Life to Save?

In the 1983 comedy Trading Places, a street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine trades places with the blue-blooded Louis Winthorpe III in a somewhat misguided social experiment. It’s a humorous ( and sometimes inappropriate) look at class and Darwinism, and what might happen if people from different walks of life had to survive in new surroundings after trading places. The Bible also takes a look at trading places, with a slightly different take:

trading places

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:7-8, NIV)

Consider Moses. While Moses was up on the mountain receiving the law, the children of Israel were down in the valley making a golden calf and celebrating in wildly inappropriate ways. In the middle of this fascinating account of Israel’s pagan idolatry and the Lord’s angry response, God offers Moses a deal: “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Verse 10).

This creates a fascinating bit of tension and opportunity in the life of Moses. Suddenly he was clear and free of the obstinate, rebellious people who complained and rejected his leadership. Suddenly his future and that of his descendants was secure; all he had to do was to accept God’s offer and idolatrous Israel would become the un-chosen people. If he was open to trading a little bit with the Lord, he could leave Israel to judgment and go on his merry way

Yet what did Moses do? “The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:30-32, NIV).

Moses basically said, “Please forgive these knuckleheads, Lord. But if you can’t, “then blot me out of the book you have written.” Let that one sink in for a minute. Who at this time knew more about God’s glory than Moses? Who on earth was most familiar with what heaven was going to be like? Who could anticipate eternity’s rich rewards better than Moses? (NO ONE) And yet Moses offers to trade in his own eternal life on Israel’s behalf, and asks the Lord to include him in the consequences if judgment is to fall.
QUESTION: Who do you love so much that you would trade your eternal life for theirs?

Now consider Paul. In Romans 9:2-3, he says “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Think about Paul for a minute: Who had been confronted on the road to Damascus and called to a personal interaction with Jesus? Who had been caught up into the third heaven to see glories and visions of the heavenly kingdom? Who said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?

And yet Paul offered to trade his place in heaven for his people. He was willing to be cursed from Christ if only his fellow Israelites could be saved. Let THAT sink in for a minute. Moses offered to trade his eternal life for his people; Paul offered to be cursed from Christ for his people. Do you sense a trend here?

Finally, consider Jesus. In Luke 19:41-42, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he WEPT over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes…” Jesus got emotional about Jerusalem, and of course we all know that he made the ultimate trade on their behalf… It seems that the closer someone gets to the Lord, the more his or her heart becomes filled with greater empathy and a greater desire to see others enter the Kingdom. The closer we get to the Lord, the more our heart will beat like His.

How is your heart? Who do YOU weep for? And who comes to mind when you consider giving away your own eternal life if only they could be saved? Hmm… You might not think of yourself as a minister, but that might just be your call to ministry, right THERE.

The Worst Trade and the Best Trade EVER

Israel sinned before the Lord, with judgment sure to fall;
Moses offered up his life if it could save them all.
It’s there in Exodus 32 and you can take a look:
“Please save them Lord; if not, then you can blot me from your book.”
Paul once said, ‘For me to live is Christ, to die is gain”
But then he also said these words, that almost sound insane:
He loved his kinsmen so, he said he would be cursed from Christ
If they could find God’s grace by means of what he sacrificed!
Think of everyone you know, and picture all their faces;
For which of them would you consider trading eternal places?
We might think of one we love, and trade our life for theirs,
But what about a jerk? A thief? A crook who never cares?
Consider Christ, and think about the sacrifice he made:
He saw my face, unworthy; and he made the ultimate trade.

 

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

Why Do People Smile So Much at Weddings? Well, Think About YOURS

A wedding is something that makes people smile! (Yes, some people cry, but they are tears of joy, not sorrow…) And whether or not you are married, this wedding verse has something to do with you: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10, NKJV)

Isaiah makes a bold statement: he claims that when we have a relationship with the Lord it should be as obvious as wearing a Wedding dress, something that everyone around us should perceive. He says that God literally “clothes us with the garments of salvation, and covers us with the robe of righteousness.” Even though a spiritual relationship with the Living God is an intimate internal affair, Isaiah says that following God should result in obvious external changes. When we follow God, he says, we should look and act differently…

Why do you think he used the analogy a bridegroom and a bride? First, it is because at a wedding, the Bridegroom and bride are the most identifiable participants.

wedding smiles

Their clothes are distinctive; their ornaments and jewelry identify them as people involved in a new relationship. That makes sense, since a wedding in those days involved the whole village and proclaimed to everyone present that the happy couple was now reserved for each other. Unlike all of the other guests, these two wedding participants were entering into a binding legal agreement that was spiritually sanctified and publicly proclaimed; like theirs, our union with God is a covenant relationship. It makes good theological sense that Isaiah would compare our relationship with God to the social, legal, and spiritual underpinnings of marriage.

There was also a tremendous sense of anticipation, certainly for the bride and groom on their wedding night, but for everyone involved. A new family was being created, and a new household was being established. But that’s not why he used the analogy. Read the first part of the verse again.

Isaiah compares our walk with God to a wedding because of JOY. He says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord. My soul shall be joyful in my God”! Joy is the defining characteristic of a wedding: there is the power of positive goodwill, the allure of romance, the promise of unlimited potential, and the beginning of something new. I can’t recall attending a wedding that did not have a sense of joy, can you?

Setting up a new home, private moments of intimacy, first baby steps, family meals, setting and achieving goals, and so many other actions and events are all tied up in getting to that place in a wedding where the bride and groom say “I do.” Without THAT moment, none of these other moments happen. Potential remains unfulfilled and two hearts remain independent until that moment occurs.

Have you said “Yes” to God? Are you walking with Him? Then don’t forget: His purpose is not to obligate you to the law, not to burden you with mission, but to create with you a new family bond that brings you joy. Jesus said, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24) John said, “And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (1 John 1:4)

As you consider where God is in your life, don’t forget that He has adorned you in the garments of salvation, and covered you with the robe of righteousness. He has brought you into His family, and there are many, many moments of love, joy, and intimacy with Him waiting to be claimed. Sit and ponder that for a moment. Now go smile at everyone you see today for no earthly reason; after all, it’s YOUR wedding!

The blushing bride is gorgeous, walking slowly down the aisle;
The groom and everybody else await her with a smile!
Every eye is fixed upon her presence in the room
As she proceeds to take her place beside her anxious groom.
This day was planned with all the art and skill they could employ
To bring this love together, and to bring these lovers joy!
Isaiah says this wedding vow will be one that endures,
And that you are the bride, because this wedding day is YOURS.
Rejoice! Be glad! Embrace this day, and all that it will bring:
You’ve been adorned and chosen. You are marrying the King.

 

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

Remember the Thrill of Your First Love? Maybe you Should

In John’s Book of Revelation he describes one of the greatest dangers to today’s church: losing your first love… “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write…you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” (Revelation 2:1; 3-4, NKJV)

When John wrote to the seven Churches in Asia Minor, he wrote to literal church locations. His book about the Apocalypse was carried by messenger and read aloud to each congregation, and his message was cosmic and stunning to say the least. I’m sure that the reading of John’s letters in the late first century drew crowds and created quite a buzz in the local churches!

To each congregation he gave a compliment, a criticism, and a command that probably addressed actual contemporary events or persons in that particular church, so I’m sure that listeners had many questions about who was to blame, how things got to be that way, and what to do about it. Many theologians also believe that the letters to the seven churches also have a historical application and that each church can be compared to an era in history that corresponds with John’s message. (For instance, the church at Ephesus symbolizes the cooling off of the Church’s first love, and the end of the Apostolic age; Smyrna represents the era of church oppression and martyrdom, Pergamos the church becoming connected to the world, and so on. It’s a stimulating study if you are interested.)

But the application that intrigues me most is the PERSONAL ONE. When you read the messages to the seven churches, what jumps out at YOU? Are there compliments you identify with? Are there criticisms that make you uncomfortable?

As you read John’s words to Ephesus, for instance, does anything resonate in your heart of hearts? “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” Our Sunday school class yesterday described the characteristics of new or first love from a romantic point of view, and here is a partial list: “You want to spend time together.” “You think about each other all the time.” “You love talking together. You love being together.” Ever feel that way? Have you ever been caught up in the new stages of a romance that are so powerful that it commands your thoughts, your time, and your desires? Romance writers talk about it, and surely you can remember it from that time you first “fell in love”!

first love

Now think about the things you felt when you first encountered God’s love, when you learned about Grace it became real to you… what happened on the day you realized that God loved you, that Christ died for you, and you decided to grab ahold of it and love Him back? Do you remember the joy? Do you recall the comfort, relief, happiness and gratitude you felt? For me, it was like seeing the world through new eyes, and about finding a confidence that wasn’t held down by my own inadequacy or insecurity.

If you ever appropriated God’s love by faith, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a feeling of life-changing love and assurance so complete that it is both infinite and intimate. It’s a doorway to new possibilities that include spiritual awakening and eternal life! As I recall, it came with a bunch of new discoveries about life and the way the world works.

So here’s the question: do you still feel that way today? Are you walking around feeling loved, touched by grace, grateful that you can spend time with the Father? Have you left your first love? If you have, remember. Remember the early feelings you experienced when you stepped away from the deadly selfishness of the world to the selfless love of Jesus. If you have wandered away from those emotions, reclaim them. Allow yourself to be courted by the Creator. Read some Psalms or the book of John. Go on a honeymoon with God. Serve someone else in His name, and see how you feel. It’s ok to feel romantic or smitten with God. He feels that way about you, and His first love is also His eternal one.

A Love Sonnet

Oh Lord, when there are times I, failing, doubt,
And do not seek to know Thy love and grace;
When I, in haste and worry, rush about,
And turn all inward seeking from Thy face;
When I forget that you were my first love,
And take for granted how I have been blessed;
When I, with thoughts below and not above
Am tempted, and I fail to pass the test –
When I am sore beset by worldly grief,
For having failed to put my trust in Thee,
While knowing that this trust would bring relief,
And that Thy face would never turn from me;
Oh Lord, when your sweet fellowship I spurn,
Please call me back, and help me to return.

 

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

Gloriosity: The More Time You Spend With God, the More People Will See Yours

Gloriosity is not yet an official word, but this passage suggests that it should be. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV) Paul says that we all (you and I) are being transformed into God’s glorious image.

From what I can tell this doesn’t happen instantly. So far, I’d have to say that I haven’t quite been transformed into the Lord’s image even though I have attempted to follow Jesus for almost 50 years. I’ve made huge mistakes and I’ve sometimes wandered very far away from God. Being a follower of Jesus does not necessarily relate to being perfect, mature, or well-behaved…

Apparently there are a lot of stops and starts in the transformation process, not to mention some pretty big backward steps along the way. From what I’ve observed, that is true for all of us. Perhaps this verse not only suggests what is possible but also offers some clues about how it happens.

First, we are able to contemplate the Lord’s glory (I like to call it His gloriosity) with unveiled faces. This reference hearkens back to Moses, who asked the Lord for the assurance of His presence as he tried to lead the children of Israel (who certainly had their share of stops and starts!). He asked, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:16-17)

gloriosity

The Lord told Moses that no one could see His face and live, but that he would allow Moses a glimpse of His back after He had passed by. Afterwards Moses’ face was shining so brightly that he had to wear a veil! The good news was, he was completely transformed by being close to God. The bad news was, he was intimidating and a little creepy looking, so he used the veil to cover up. In his case the veil hid his gloriosity, which is kinda what veils were for in the Bible: to hide things. Veils were used for modesty or subterfuge, and there was even a huge veil within the temple that acted to set the Holy of Holies apart and make it sacrosanct. But when Christ died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn, indicating that all believers now had access to God’s Holy place.

A couple of things here: Transformation into the Lord’s image doesn’t just magically happen. It’s transactional. The closer you get to Him, the more like him you’ll become.

Second, we have access to God’s glory with unveiled faces. His holiness is no longer contained in an inner chamber, but it’s available to all of us through His word, prayer, worship, proximity…

What if we went to Ft. Knox, and I told you that the vault doors would be opened so that you could transform yourself into someone fabulously rich, just by going in whenever you wanted to fill your pockets with cash? Would you go?

treasure of gloriosity

Well, that’s the torn veil: God’s glory and Holiness became accessible to us all the time, and we can go to Him anytime to be filled. Yet we keep our distance, worshipping the Lord tentatively or indirectly, living in the everyday world even though we are residents of the eternal one. This verse made me think, because I sure don’t feel my gloriousity most of the time… I just feel like a regular person.

But it made me realize that I am a regular person who is sealed with God’s Spirit and who has access to God’s word, so hopefully my lack of current gloriosity (yes I made that up and yes it is now a word) will not keep me from being transformed with ever-increasing glory into HIS image. That’s God’s plan for us: Be intimate with Him. Contemplate Him. Be transformed. If you spend more time honestly before the Father, I think you’ll be surprised by how much gloriosity you can be given through His Spirit.

Moses had to veil himself because he saw God’s glory.
Paul says in Corinthians there’s much more to this story:
Even though we fall and fail, and even though we’re spiritually pale,
He says God’s glory can prevail and that we can remove the veil,
Beholding God so we can be just like His gloriosity!
But don’t accept these humble words of mine:
Behold Him for yourself. And then go SHINE!

 

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