What Gifts are the Very Best Kind of Gifts to Open?

We all like opening gifts, and Jesus pointed out that we also enjoy giving good gifts to someone we love: “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11, NIV)

gifts stone

Right after he instructed his followers to ASK (“Ask, Seek, and Knock), Jesus spoke confidently of the fact that the Father gives good things to those who ask Him. I don’t know about you, but I personally have asked God for a lot of things that I didn’t get. (Ok, so maybe they were utterly selfish things, or maybe I was trying to make a deal with God to avoid consequences, but I asked and did not receive. So does that mean Jesus was lying, or that he just didn’t know what he was talking about? Or did it perhaps mean that I had absolutely the wrong perspective on gifts, and on how God gives?) I know the Bible teaches that God loves to bless His children with gifts, but is that really true? I do know the Bible uses the word “give” 1433 times, and that’s a LOT. But how many of them have to do with God’s gifts to us?

Read the creation account. God GAVE creation to man. In Genesis 9:3 God said, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.” The Lord told Abram, “Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” (Genesis 13:17) Read all the “gives” in the Bible, and I think you will find that God has been pretty consistent about giving.

Paul echoes this teaching about God’s generosity, and He extends it beyond creation or even a promised land into another realm: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12, NIV) Paul says that God has given us his Spirit so that we can recognize the things he has given to us. Put on your spiritual glasses for a minute. Make a list of the things God has given you.

We almost always start with material things—and I’m not saying that they are not indicators of God’s generosity—but I’m also not sure that material comforts and money are that important to Him either. (For some reason that makes me think of Tevya singing “If I Were a Rich man” in “Fiddler on the Roof”. He talks to God about material blessing and says, “I realize that it’s no sin to be poor; but it’s no great honor, either.” Tevya thought that perhaps God’s plan would not be disturbed by making him a rich man, but still discovered God’s presence in his own humble circumstances…)

So try to set material gifts aside for a moment and reflect on just the Spiritual blessings that God has given us for free: His Son. His Spirit. Access to the throne of Grace. His Presence. Prayer. Fellowship. The New Covenant. Perspective. Love. Wisdom. The Word. Adoption into His family. Resurrection. The hope of Glory. I could go on, but hey, it’s YOUR list. What has God given you? How generous has He been? Perhaps the true depth of His generosity can be measured by the costliest gift. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, NIV) Ask. Seek. Knock. Receive.

Which of you would give your child a snake and not a fish?
And who would give a rock when it is bread for which they wish?
If you, being evil, give good gifts to those you love,
Then how much will your Father give you more from heaven above?
It is not just material things, or opening some presents,
But basking in your Father’s love and being in His presence.
If He could give His son for us, it’s very clear to see
That we cannot out-give the Father’s generosity.

 

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

Good Fruit Only Comes From Good Soil; What Kind of Soil are YOU?

“And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the soil on the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded fruit a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:4-6, 8 NKJV)

People had started paying attention to Jesus, partly because of his teaching, and partly because of the miracles he did. His fame had spread, and Luke says people “had come to him from every city”. Perhaps because he had attracted such a wide audience, Jesus cast a wider net as he taught. He described a sower putting seed on various kinds of soil.

Have you ever planted something to watch it grow? Planted the seeds of a fruit and watched it produce MORE fruit? Ever gotten excited about seeing something sprout, pushing its way through the topsoil and becoming a plant? I remember planting a bean in a jar in elementary school and being fascinated with watching it change and grow, seeing how the bean was transformed from something dry and seemingly dead into a green new plant. The roots went down, obtaining nutrients from the soil, and the leaves went up, seeking the light!

soil bean

In an agrarian society, this image would have resonated with almost everyone. Even people who weren’t farmers kept gardens and grew fruit trees, herbs or vegetables. Everybody had experience with the varying results that came from sowing seeds, so his listeners were absolutely connected to his premise, and could relate to planting and growing stuff. I would imagine that some people connected the dots, but since there were deeper meanings in this analogy his disciples had to ask, “What does this parable mean?”

soil barren

Jesus told them that this is more than just a story about a guy planting seeds. It is a Parable about the word of God, which falls onto all kinds of soil, where it will either take root and grow or remain fruitless because the soil will not accept it or support it. He says that WE (the listeners) are the soil, either rejecting or nurturing the word. Reading the parable, a couple of observations come to mind:

1) The transforming power of the word of God can bring new life out of something seemingly dead. But it doesn’t happen from a surface interaction, it requires putting down some roots and reaching up to the light.

2) Even though the Word has transforming power, it only flourishes in the right kind of soil. Jesus said that when cast on the wayside, where traffic and distractions would push it aside, it would be trampled down by the crowd, or eaten up by passing flights of fancy; when cast on rocks, or a hard surface where no roots could develop, it would wither away.

I’m often amazed at how summarily people reject the Word of God based on assumptions or mere casual surface interaction. They take a small sampling and then say, “The Bible is a myth”, or “It’s a book with some incredible old stories and wise sayings, but it’s out of touch with the modern world”. But they haven’t ever read it, and they have never applied it to their lives. There are indeed people for whom the Word of God has no transforming power, because they do not accept it or support it. They give it a hard surface glance and move on, so that it never takes root and provides miraculous, life-changing growth.

On the other hand I know people who seek its wisdom and accept its teachings. They are the type of soil that has been broken, and are prepared to accept new life. They will put down roots and reach up to the light. There’s an old saying, “Show me a person whose Bible is falling apart, and I’ll show you a person whose life usually isn’t.” Such people discover that the Bible is connected to History, current events, and even to the future. They find that the Bible is relevant and profitable, full of insight into human nature as well as sage advice about how to live.

It’s interesting that the same book (the same seed) can have such different outcomes, but as Jesus said, it’s really about the type of soil upon which it falls. The seed offers the same potential for growth wherever it is sown, but Jesus points out that there are very different outcomes from a busy wayside, barren rocks, or freshly broken soil that is prepared to accept and support the Word of God.
So…easy question: What kind of soil are you?

The Sower and the Seed

The sower went to sow some seed on various kinds of ground,
And some fell on the wayside as he scattered it around.
It never flourished or took root, was stepped upon by shoe and boot,
and perished there where it was put, merely trampled underfoot…
Some seeds fell on rocky soil that wasn’t very deep,
And they could not find places that their roots could hold and keep;
Although they sprang right up with pride,
they had no moisture there inside,
And even though they really tried,
they withered on the vine, and died…
But some seeds fell on ground prepared to offer them some growth;
They needed depth and nurture, and this soil provided both.
They weathered storms and heat and cold,
they grew up green and strong and bold,
And they provided fruit like gold, and multiplied a hundredfold.
So when the Sower sows His seed, and offers you his toil,
Make sure you yield a hundredfold because you’re fruitful soil.

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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Pontius Pilate: Maybe the Most Uneasy Retirement Ever…

“When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” (Matthew 27:24-26, NIV)

Pontius Pilate

I have always wondered about Pontius Pilate. He was a Roman governor in a hostile land, thrust into a situation that had no reasonable outcome. Matthew says that he marveled at Jesus’ lack of response, and that his wife had been greatly troubled about Jesus in a dream. Pilate was the ultimate man stuck between a rock and a hard place, a military man forced to make political decisions for unreasonable and hostile constituents.

He offered to release Jesus, said he found no fault in him, and ultimately washed his hands publicly of the whole messy affair. Pilate and his wife were both uneasy about this Galilean King of the Jews, and both of them expressed a desire to be rid of this call for judgment; yet even so, Pilate handed this innocent man over to be crucified, pacifying the zealots who were calling for his death.

Do you think that in later years, once they moved back to Rome, they talked about Jesus, and wondered about who he was? Did they live long enough to keep up with events back in Jerusalem, to sense the magnitude of what they had seen and done? Surely the “King of the Jews” came up in their dinner time conversation, and perhaps Mrs. Pilate was able to say “I told you so!” every once in a while…

According to Josephus, Pilate was ordered back to Rome after viciously suppressing a Samaritan uprising about AD 36. Maybe he was just doing his job as governor, or perhaps he harbored some bitterness towards the Jews for the role they had forced him to play in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus; in any case, he dealt harshly with the Samaritans and was sent home, either as a reward or a punishment. But it was clear that he needed a break from Judean politics.

There are a lot of characters in the Bible, and Pontius Pilate seems to be one of the most realistically portrayed. Too bad Matthew or Luke was not able to chronicle his later life after he returned to Rome. I have always wondered what he felt and thought about Jesus, what he ultimately knew and didn’t know…

And I have wondered if, during their troubled retirement years, Pilate and his wife ever found answers to the questions they must have had about Jesus, the Christ, the man whose kingdom was not of this world. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth” I wonder if he ever found the answer to that question, the question all of us must ask as we behold the man.

Pontius Pilate

In an assignment far from home, caught between the Jews and Rome,
As politics and eternity swirled in events that surely changed his world,
Pontius Pilate tried to choose, when any way he went, he’d lose…
Out in this remote command, a case he couldn’t understand,
Pilate tried to wash his hands of this Jewish King, this innocent man…
Events began he couldn’t halt—and so he said, “I find no fault!”
And when the Sanhedrin wouldn’t budge, Herod was called to be the judge;
But Herod only sent him back. So Pilate tried a different tack:
“Be careful here!” his wife had urged, so Pilate had the prisoner scourged,
And asked the crowd to give relief, but instead of the King, they chose a thief…
Perplexed and trying to find a plan, he brought Christ forth: “Behold the man!”
Hoping that he could try to buy some sympathy now; But “Crucify!”
Yes, “Crucify him!” reached his ears, a cry that he would hear for years,
And think about with angry tears as the mark of the darkest of careers…
See, Pilate didn’t know from old of the things the ancients had foretold,
of another man who said, “Behold!” as political strife around him swirled:
“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes the sins of all the world!”

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

Dirty feet means Big Debt. How Dirty Are YOUR Feet?

Jesus had been invited to a dinner party at the house of Simon the Pharisee. A woman (some say Mary Magdalene) came in and began anointing Jesus’ feet with oil. As the aroma of the oil filled the house, he posed this scenario to Simon and asked him a question. “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarius, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”

Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” (Luke 7:41-47 NKJV)

As I mentioned, Jesus told this story to Simon, a Pharisee who had invited him to dinner. Luke tells us that it was “a sinful woman” who brought expensive perfume and used it to anoint Jesus’ feet during the meal, weeping as she applied it with her own hair. Such behavior was scandalous in a wealthy Hebrew household. (Not the foot washing itself—what was inappropriate was 1] having a sinful woman the house and 2] touching a man’s feet and 3] using her hair to do it!)

In Middle Eastern culture, the head was considered honorable and the feet were dishonorable, so for her to touch Jesus’ feet with her hair was an act that technically made her unclean, and caused her most honorable feature to be abased. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:15, “if a woman has long hair, it is her glory”, and in this case she was willing to use her glory like a dirty rag in order to honor Jesus.

Apparently Simon did not extend even the common courtesy of foot washing to Jesus even though he had him over to dinner. The New Testament mentions foot washing as a form of expected hospitality several times, and it was customary for wealthy homeowners to have a servant who washed feet. In poorer homes, there was a bowl of water placed outside to rinse feet on the way in.

Of course you’ll recall that foot-washing took place at another dinner party, at the Last Supper in the upper room. Jesus himself washed the disciples’ feet, humbling himself as a servant and giving them clean feet. “What a quaint custom!“, you say. “But why all the fuss about feet?” Think about it. These folks wore sandals, walked on dirty roads, and stepped through the village or town to get to someone’s house. There were animals like goats, horses, and cows who also used these same walkways, and this was also before the days of indoor plumbing. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture what people may have stepped in as they walked across town. I was in a couple of refugee villages in Africa, and trust me, when there is no indoor plumbing, you need to be careful where you step.

dirty feet

The washing of feet was not just a quaint custom, it was a housekeeping necessity. It was certainly nice for weary guests, but it made a lot of sense from a sanitary point of view. It also explains how significant it was for anyone to wash someone else’s feet. It was a true act of humility and love.

In this case, Jesus pointed out that the woman, a sinner who had been forgiven much, could not refrain from honoring him, while Simon, a man who assumed his own righteousness, failed to do so. Have you ever stopped to think about how much sinful debt you accumulated over a lifetime? If every sin cost just a little, have you ever reckoned the size of your debt? Think about that, and celebrate how much you’ve been forgiven today. Trust me, it’s way more than five hundred denarius’ worth.

The custom in the Bible was to wash your visitors’ feet;
You never knew what kind of grime they’d pick up in the street!
But it meant more than simply keeping entries clean and neat,
It had to do with honoring the people that you’d meet.

Simon was a Pharisee who asked the Lord to dinner;
A woman anointed Jesus’ feet: this woman was a sinner!
No one would have honored her, or even would have been her;
But Jesus told a story where this sinner was a winner.

He saw how Simon judged her! Jesus knew he was upset;
He told him that the Lord’s great love forgave the greatest debt;
The greatest debtors claimed greatest Grace that they could get:
Jesus loved them dearly then; I know he loves them yet.

Sometime, in the kingdom after many, many years,
We’ll meet the woman who anointed Jesus with her tears–
Who took her proudest feature and abased it with her touch;
And she will say, “My sins and my eternal debts were such
That I required forgiveness. I have been forgiven much.”

We will smile a bit about the etiquette disaster
She caused by bringing oil and tears to serve her Lord and master;
Jesus said our sin was great, but that his Grace was greater:
My friend, if you believe He’s right, then I will see you later!

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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So Many Trees, But Only ONE Job: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

You Only Had ONE Job… and we all know how THAT usually goes. Is the same thing true about trees? You only had ONE tree…

“Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17 NKJV)

When you first read the account of the fall, it’s easy to miss the significance of the trees. It’s easy to gloss over the ground rules, thinking yeah there was a test, and man failed. There were good trees and bad trees, and man ate from the bad one. But read the verses again. God told Adam, “You can eat of EVERY tree of the garden.” How many trees do you suppose that covered? How many good trees could there be? I can picture an apple tree (it never says the forbidden fruit was an apple, by the way), pear trees, macadamia trees, peach trees, banana trees, plum trees, and chestnut trees… and oh yeah, there would be fig, grapefruit, mango, cashew, orange, date, olive, cherry, lemon, lime, pecan, avocado, coconut, almond, etc., etc.

And if the trees weren’t sufficient, God also gave man “every herb bearing seed”, so you’d have melons, berries, wheat, sugar cane, corn, you name it. If you allow for milk and eggs (which might be stretching things a bit) you could have peach cobbler with ice cream, pecan pie with whipped cream, chocolate cake with milk, and all kinds of culinary delights. Sure, there would have had to have been some trial and error (since recipes, ovens and refrigerators weren’t created yet) but the list of appetizing sustenance available to Adam and Eve was almost limitless in possibility.

trees to choose

On the other hand, how many trees did God make off-limits? Just the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Do you see the disparity? God permitted far more than He denied. Human nature always wants to build a case based on the one restrictive thing rather than being grateful for the many permissible things in life. Man could freely eat of many good things, but was forbidden only the… one… tree… If God were just a legalist, there would have been many rules to follow and many bad things with consequences. We see that kind of structure later as man struggled in a fallen world, but in the Garden there were LOTS of good choices, and only one illegal choice.

What outcome for man was the Lord trying to suggest? Did he want you and me to live in harmony with him, walking eternally through His creation, or did He want us to die? God stacked the deck. He weighted the scales of justice in man’s favor. If the Garden of Eden tells us anything about God’s character, it is that He loves to bless His children, He provides abundantly, and He prefers grace and security over disobedience and death. All of that is still true.

Unfortunately, what we learn about man’s character is also still true. We are easily bored, prone to dissatisfaction, willful, subject to temptation, and usually disobedient. Like Adam and Eve, we are drawn to eat forbidden fruit while surrounded by a feast, tempted to partake of temporary tidbits while sitting at a table with eternal bread.

Interesting that temporary and tempt both start with the same 4 letters—the tidbits of temptation are always temporary—and trust me, the tidbits always leave a bitter taste. If you want to live a fruitful life, then focus today on all of the many good things God has provided, and walk with Him. There could be some peach cobbler and ice cream ahead.

Is religion more than just a bunch of do’s and don’ts?
Is God only satisfied with way more wills than won’ts?
Are we just a bunch of fools for following a bunch of rules,
And is religion any more than God in heaven, keeping score?
Consider this: in Eden, for as far as he could see
Adam had the right to eat from every single tree.
There was no fruit or bounty God restricted or kept hidden;
One tree alone from hundreds had the fruit that was forbidden.
And so it is with God, who never wanted to distress us:
He offers countless choices for the ways He wants to bless us!
We can live apart from God, and chase our every whim;
Or we can do the simplest, smartest thing by choosing Him.

 

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

Walk the Walk: You Are a Leader Whether You Like it or Not

“Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” (Philippians 3:17 NKJV)

My freshman year at Southwest Texas State University in 1972 I was on a Navigator team of five guys who were committed to making disciples. The Navigators are an international ministry founded by Dawson Trotman back in 1933. The book “Daws: A Man Who Trusted God” (by Betty Skinner) tells the story of how Dawson recognized a need to go deeper than “hit and run” evangelism to build disciple-making relationships. The Navigators have been accused of being too radical, and have even been called a cult, but I found them to be a group of sincere, authentic guys who helped teach me how to live out my faith. They spoke often about “walking the walk” rather than just “talking the talk.”

walk the walk

Our group worked together daily on being not just believers but disciples. Part of our commitment was that we wouldn’t date if we were on the team because we were going to be investing our time in making disciples, not spending it on dating. It was a big challenge for all of us on a campus where there were 4 girls in the student population for every guy, and I still think SWT had the prettiest girls in the whole state.

When the guys on the team would talk about “heart problems”—spiritual challenges that got in and messed with your head—avoiding temptation from female companionship always made the top of the list. The girls at the BSU (Baptist Student Union) teased us by calling us the “Never daters”, and for most of my freshman year, we didn’t. (That Spring I was released from my “no dating” pledge because the team was in transition, and I got involved with Campus Crusade, where, of course, there were girls…)

But for most of my freshman year, David Sneller, Bill Henry, Randy Dietz, and Tommy Ledbetter spent time showing me how to do evangelism in the dorms, conduct Bible Studies, and memorize Scripture. We did service projects (we helped my parents move one weekend, painted someone’s house another, and did various acts of service as a team…) We played intramural football together, went canoeing down the Guadalupe, and hung out. What I discovered, and what I could SEE was that these guys didn’t just TALK about the Bible; they really tried to apply it in their lives every day.

I’m not gonna lie, the no-dating thing was hard for all of us, but in many ways life was simpler. We were on a mission. (Ha, as I write this, I still can’t believe we really did that. So if you are skeptical I understand, but it made sense at the time and it was really a very rewarding year!). Here in Philippians, Paul was so secure in his walk that he offered himself as a pattern to follow.

I’m thinking there are very few folks whose actions allow them to do that… but the guys on our Navigator team at SWTSU in 1972 were guys like that. They were authentic, transparent men who walked the walk. Dave Sneller told me my first week on campus, “If you really want to live a Christian life this year, spend the first few days wearing a big sign that says, If you want to see what a Christian really looks like, watch me”. We never did that, but imagine the help you’d get, and the accountability you would create by saying, I am the pattern—watch me.

walk sign

Gives a whole new meaning to “Here’s your sign”, doesn’t it? Christian, where’s YOUR sign? Is anyone watching you? Have you offered yourself as a pattern to anyone? I learned a lot about following Jesus from those guys, and I have been incredibly blessed with authentic people throughout my life who have helped me understand about walking with God—from my parents, to teachers and friends I had in high school, to the Nav team in 1972 to guys in Young Life like Mark Krimm and Christian Hemberger, and certainly to my lovely wife, who has shown me more about Jesus than anyone else I’ve ever known. If Paul’s message means anything to us, then he is saying: be a pattern. I would enlarge upon that by saying, No, wait: you already ARE a pattern. Be a good one

Paul told the Philippians that his life was a sample
Of how to walk with God, and they should follow his example.
“Talk is cheap” the Proverb says, and when you get right to it,
There are lots of folks who talk, but never really do it.
So here’s another Proverb for the ones who talk the talk:
If you are going to say it, then you better walk the walk.

 

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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Forever is a Long, Long Time… What Are You Going to DO With It?

Are things going to last forever? It can be a fearful thing to think about how everything will end someday… “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look on the earth beneath. For the heavens will vanish away like smoke, the earth will grow old like a garment, and those who dwell in it will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not be abolished.” (Isaiah 51:6, NKJV)

There are a couple of ways to view this verse. It certainly refers to the brevity of life, and reminds us that this current version of earth (and the temporal lifespan of all who live upon it) will not last very long in the infinitely grand scheme of things. As James 4:14 says, “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.”

When you compare our time on earth to eternity, there’s no real comparison—the time we will have with our Father will far out-distance our time here. So instead of focusing on how short our finite lives are, it makes more sense to realize how long our infinite lives are. People have tried to acknowledge the pure scale of infinity, but I’m pretty sure we usually fall short of comprehending how long forever is, no matter how expressive we are.

forever

There’s a song Johnny Mathis recorded in 1957 called “The Twelfth of Never” that says, “I’ll love you ’til the poets run out of rhyme…Until the Twelfth of Never—and that’s a long, long time.” Wikipedia says, “The song’s title comes from the popular expression “the 12th of Never”, which is used as the date of a future occurrence that will never come to pass. In the case of the song, “the 12th of Never” is given as the date on which the singer will stop loving his beloved, thus indicating that he will always love her.”

Never certainly is a long, long time. Michael Herr’s prize winning book about Viet Nam, “Dispatches”, uses it another way to describe how a combat veteran might respond to a new officer on the line… Lieutenant: “Sergeant, run over and check out that bunker.” Sergeant, evaluating the order and giving the Lieutenant the thousand-yard stare: “Never happen, Lieutenant.” In that case, never MEANS never…

And I guess if “never” is a final and irrevocable outcome, then that also gives us some scale about how “forever means forever.” God says that’s how long His salvation will last. In a world full of temporary satisfaction and fleeting moments, the eternal surety of God’s unfailing love is an amazing prospect.

Spend a few moments reflecting on how long eternity will be, and what it will be like. I’m sure it will outlast our earthly version of those majestic mountains and out-distance the endlessness of deep space…

Being in God’s presence will be awesome, exceeding what it’s like seeing the mountains for the first time or hearing an incredible virtuoso perform brilliantly—except that it will be better than that, and it will go on and on without ever being boring or repetitive. We won’t be sitting on clouds playing harps, we will be intimately engaged with the Most High God, unfettered by the earthly limitations that hold us back.

The Bible offers hope that it will continue to be a time of growth, interaction, relationships, and love. Take the best feelings you’ve ever had about being loved, wrap yourself up in them, multiply them by about a billion, and extend that out forever. You’ve taken perhaps your first baby step into heaven.

Michael Martin Murphey’s hit song “What’s Forever For?” has the right idea: “And if love never lasts forever, tell me, what’s forever for?” Isaiah says the earthly heavens will vanish away like smoke, but that the Lord’s salvation is the answer to Michael Martin Murphey’s question: It’s what forever’s for…

Somewhere, out past the deepest space,
The beginning of the deepest grace
Will cleanse our hearts and dry our tears
With the merest start of a million years.

Sometime, deep in eternity
We will stand in awe as we get to see
The Glory of the Risen Lord:
And we won’t get tired, and we won’t be bored!

There will be more than streets of gold,
With an endless love that will not grow cold,
And infinite learning that inspires
The choruses of the heavenly choirs…

Heaven will offer us endless days
To walk with God, to learn His ways,
To find a surprise behind every door,
Always growing, learning more
Of what Our Father has in store:
I think that’s what forever’s for!

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

Jesus Once Ate With Tax Collectors and Sinners. Guess What? He Still Does.

There was a TV show years ago named “To Tell the Truth” where contestants would try to fool a panel of judges who could ask them questions about who they were. They could have been Jokers, Sinners, Lovers, or Winners, and they were usually not someone that everyone in the audience or game show panel would know at a glance… The catch: there were two phony contestants answering as well, usually presenting themselves pretty well as the “true” contestant.

sinners truth

At the end, the host would say, “Will the REAL _____ please stand up”, and the audience would gasp because they had bet on one of the phony ones based on what they could tell from surface appearances (and the lies with which they presented themselves).

The same thing happened in the New Testament: the people who presented themselves as righteous were often sinners. And real sinners were engaged by God Himself. “And when Jesus heard it, he said unto them, “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 ASV) When Jesus called Levi (Matthew) from his tax collecting job, Matthew threw a big party for Jesus and invited all of his tax collector-type friends. The Pharisees were scandalized because religious men like them did not associate with such low-class people, and they questioned Jesus about why on earth he would associate with “tax collectors and sinners”. He seemed to attend and enjoy parties with less than respectable participants.

When you read through the gospels, this was not an isolated complaint about Jesus and his companions. Matthew and Mark certainly mention it, and John pointed out that the first miracle Jesus did was to turn water into wine at a wedding party. Luke’s Gospel refers to the way the Pharisees criticized Jesus several times: Luke 5:30-32 says, “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” In Luke 7:33-34 [Jesus said] “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

And also, in Luke 15:1-2 it says “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees were presenting themselves as righteous, but they were sinners. Jesus was hanging out with sinners, but he was righteous. Will the REAL sinners PLEASE STAND UP? This issue comes up over and over. One of the amazing hallmarks of Jesus’ earthly ministry was who he found acceptable, and who he hung out with. Clearly he was quite comfortable with sinners, and apparently they in return were comfortable with him.

There are two different aspects of his approach that make me stop and think. First of all, I wonder sometimes if we the church are really emulating Jesus by hanging out primarily with “we, the church”. I have a feeling that our mission calls us far outside the walls of the institutional church and into authentic relationships with people who wouldn’t darken the doors of a church. This is such a challenge because we all tend to gravitate into safer, insulated positions with folks who make us feel comfortable. It’s funny—the Pharisees talk about sinners like they are another group of which they are not a part. You know, “there’s sinners, but then there’s us.” Sometimes we, the church, give that impression as well. One certain application of these verses is to pray that God would introduce you to someone who is an outsider so that you can love them into the family, and never forget that everyone in the family started out as, and STILL REMAINS a sinner.

That brings me to the second application, which is more personal, and more direct. Jesus said he came “not to call the righteous, but sinners.” We aren’t acceptable to God because we are perfect, He doesn’t call us or use us because we are better than others, and He doesn’t love us only if we perform according to His specifications. He loves us as the rotten selfish disobedient sinners we are, and he calls us in the midst of our sin to become heirs to his glorious kingdom.

If you have ever sinned, if you struggle with sin, and if you think that you are somehow unworthy of God’s love or that you are not good enough to go to church, just remember what Romans 5:8 says: “But God commends His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Italics mine) If you, like me, happen to STILL be a sinner, this is some seriously good news. All of us sinners, whether in the church or outside of it, have a lot in common. We’ve all been invited to a wedding party. We all need to bring along as many other sinners as we can. Who you gonna invite?

In Bible-quoting contests, all the Pharisees were the winners,
And they looked down on Jesus just because he ate with sinners.
Their grand self-righteousness was earned,
Because of all the church they learned,
And lowly folks (like me) were spurned.
But Jesus talked to sinners, and he didn’t ostracize them,
Or worry when the Pharisees would scorn and criticize him:
He merely said, when “righteous” folk would sneer and ask him why,
“It is the sick for whom I came, and sinners for whom I die.”

 

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

Legalism is the Basis for Most Religions. Too Bad the First Part of Self-Righteousness is Still Self

For many people, religion is mainly a form of legalism that embraces holiness and self-righteousness. Rather than spiritual transformation, many religions are reduced to a bunch of do’s and don’ts, the kind of oversight that kills rather than quickens the spirit.

The Apostle Paul understood all about that when he said “…[I am] found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; ” (Philippians 3:9 NKJV)

As someone who was raised in the strict tenets of Jewish orthodoxy, Paul knew all about legalism. He had kept the law from his youth. He was educated in the Scriptures, and he had spent his life pursuing righteousness. At any party or social gathering, he was probably always the most righteous person in the room. He summarized his qualifications to be self-righteous in the verses just preceding this one: “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (verses 4-6).

Saul of Tarsus was so zealous in his legalism that he persecuted and killed those who opposed what he believed. (Funny how legalistic people do that in the name of religion, whether Jewish or Christian or Muslim…It’s given us the taking of the Holy Land, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and now Isis, all done in the name of following God…)

legalism kills

In terms of being pure, he had dotted all the “i’s” and crossed all the t’s… People who create their own righteousness will always have a subtle (or obvious) superiority complex, because they have “earned” the right to be better than everyone else. They are the speck-plank people Jesus spoke about in Luke 6:41: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” There are lots of folks can pontificate about the sins that others have while harboring their own. A self-made man often becomes his own self-made god.

One of the deeply ingrained facets of human nature is the desire to be acceptable. Not so bad in itself, but when it is extended out to its logical conclusion, it becomes a dangerous and deadly vice that moves from a natural desire to be loved and accepted to a selfish desire to attain that favor by being better than others. How many times have you seen people try to elevate themselves by stepping on the backs of others? It’s where bullying, bigotry, and racism come from. We all experienced that in middle school, but even when we’re adults it never goes away, does it? Arrogant jerks try to lift themselves up by putting someone else down; insecure people deflect from their own personal flaws by pointing out the flaws that others have.

Let me be clear: NO FOLLOWER OF JESUS DOES THOSE THINGS! Paul was a great example of that: as a young man, Paul had not only felt superior, he felt he had the right to persecute and kill Christians. Now, however, writing this letter, the former zealous Pharisee wept as he prayed for the Philippians, the very kind of people he once persecuted. What changed for Paul? He traded his legalism for love, his egotistical feelings of superiority for humility. He found a gift of righteousness he could not earn, and he says he found himself “in Christ”.

What did he mean by that? He meant that he quit being a Pharisee in order to follow Jesus—he lost his material things to become rich, stopped following the law in order to live by faith, and found himself out of control and in love. The false security of legalism paled in comparison to the fellowship he found in the sufferings and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Once Paul found Christ, he traded haughtiness for humility, cruelty for compassion, and legalism for love. He exchanged the smug superiority of the bigot for the heartfelt compassion of the converted. The self-righteous will never know the humility of the cross; those who earn their own small version of righteousness will miss the magnitude of Grace. The next time you are mad about someone else’s sin, stop for a moment to be grateful for the Grace that covered yours.

If you are trying to be righteous, don’t achieve it: Accept it. The path to righteousness is not in religion but in a relationship with God based on GRACE. It’s not what you earn but what you learn; it’s not what you achieve but what you receive; and it’s not rising above, but falling in love. Be found in Him.

The truest hope for the human race
Is not in righteousness, but grace.
Legalism just imparts self-righteousness to human hearts.
Instead of judging sins all day,
Embrace the grace that came your way!
If you follow Jesus, know that I can’t be much clearer:
The only time to judge someone is looking in the mirror.

 

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

Nick at Night: Maybe the Most Important Conversation in History

“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2, NIV)

It has often been speculated that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night because of the risks involved. If the ruling council saw his actions as supporting or endorsing Jesus, it could have had serious consequences for him. Nicodemus could have been thrown off the council, or at the very least endured criticism and persecution.

On the other hand, perhaps he went at the council’s request, and was there as an intermediary to try to get a fix on Jesus and report back. But the fact that he went at night suggests that he was avoiding public scrutiny, and was not there on behalf of the council. If that was the case, then he was risking ostracism, persecution, and the loss of his social (and vocational) position in Jerusalem. Since he took such a huge chance, perhaps he was just an honest man seeking the truth about Jesus.

Nicodemus at night

Whatever his motives, this became arguably the most quoted and pivotal conversation in all of human history. It certainly contains perhaps the best-known and most quoted Bible verse. From this brief encounter we get “born again” (v 3); “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (v 6); and the fact that the Son of Man must be lifted up (v 15). And from this brief conversation, we get this:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (v 16).

If you’ve never read that verse before, read again and think about what it means. It’s the verse everyone knows, and the most quoted verse in the Bible. It rocked Nicodemus’ world, and it changed his life. From the snapshots we get of Nicodemus later in John’s Gospel, a story of transformation emerges. In John 7 he subtly advocated on Jesus’ behalf in the Sanhedrin. He was still on the council, but flies in the face of the overriding hatred of Jesus.

And then this: We see Nicodemus again in the terrible aftermath of the cross, helping to take down Jesus’ body to prepare it for burial (John 20:39). He has stepped out of the shadows of night to identify with him even when it no longer seems to matter. By performing this service, Nicodemus indeed places himself in the crosshairs of the Sanhedrin as a dangerous nonconformist. He risks his life and his reputation to identify with Jesus the crucified “criminal”.

This conversation from John Chapter three obviously meant something to him. The real question is, however: what does it mean to YOU?

Nicodemus

Late at night, he smelled the alleyways;
Secretly, he stalked the truth in silence.
Darkness fouled his progress with its murky haze;
The echoes whispered softly, and with violence…
The Inner Council would not see his coming here
As anything but blatant heresy;
His heart beat faster as he walked along in fear,
A lonely and conflicted Pharisee…
He paused before the doorway, now unsure,
Should this conversation even start?
He wavered now, so righteous, so impure,
Listening to the beating of his heart…
The quiet night created space for him to doubt;
What would happen to him if they knew?
What penalty awaited him if they found out?
Should he be here? Or run? What should he do?
He froze in fear of who he’d meet behind that door;
Confused anxiety almost made him run,
But Nicodemus knocked because he wanted more,
And Jesus smiled and said, “Come in, my son”.

 

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