An Ode to Debt: To the One Who Paid the Debt We Owed

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 12:8-10, NIV)

First Corinthians 13 is certainly a wonderful description of love, but Paul wrote another love chapter in Romans 12 that actually extends about halfway into Romans 13. It is chock full of practical applications about love. The first seven verses exhort Christians to respect authority and to obey those in authority over them, because love is not rebellious or selfish. He encourages us to “give everyone what you owe them”, whether it be financial, social, or spiritual. (Taxes, revenue, respect, honor…)

Who do you owe something to? Paul says we are to live as if we have a “continuing debt of love to one another.” Think for a moment about the people in your life; who are you indebted to? Is there anyone to whom you owe a heart-felt ‘thank you’, an apology, or a kind word? Is there anyone to whom you should express respect or honor? What is keeping you from completing that transaction? Paul then draws his logical progression of thought to a close with an important conclusion about love: it is debt-free.

The law is based upon debt. When you break the law, you owe a penalty for what you did. It is only by paying the penalty that you can atone for your transgression and obtain pardon. The fundamental problem with sin and selfishness on a cosmic scale is that we accumulate more debt than we can repay, and God’s righteousness requires payment for justice to be served.

debt paid

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Love paid the debt, and Paul says the only way to keep from incurring further debt is to live in love. Once again he echoes the teachings of Jesus (how did he know so much about what Jesus taught without a printing press or even the internet?), who said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Love fulfills the law in several ways. It offers payment for the penalty of the law; it offers freedom in the presence of the law; and it prevents our falling further under the power of the law. It’s not money or stuff that enables you to live debt-free, it’s only love. Go do something loving today. Send a word of encouragement. Mend an old fence. Say that ‘thank you’ to someone you once carelessly forgot to thank. Give a hug. Or just get down on your knees and remember who you were most indebted to, and who paid the debt.

Heaven: everyone wants in,
But everyone is touched by sin;
Remember as you draw each breath,
The wages for your sin is death.
You owe a debt you cannot pay
No matter what you do or say.
In spite of all the plans you’ve made,
You have a debt that must be paid.
But God reached out to you, and me,
And Jesus paid our penalty.
He superseded time and space,
And offered us amazing grace:
He paid our debt. He took our place.

 

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

Knowing God’s Testimony Is a Great Place to Start Your OWN

It used to be that when people gave testimony, they would swear on the Bible because it was a symbol of truth. It seems like more and more people doubt the Bible these days, but what if– I mean, really, what if it IS true? What if it contains God’s testimony, “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”? Would you read it? This Psalmist did: “I am Your servant; Give me understanding, That I may know Your testimonies.” (Psalms 119:125 NKJV) The testimony of God had a profound influence on David. Let’s make three quick observations about this verse:

1. “I am your servant.” The psalmist puts himself in the proper place and God in His proper place. It is very important to understand who God is, and who you are—but it is actually surprisingly hard to do. Have you noticed how many people have a problem with authority?

It’s funny, but I have noticed that a LOT of advertising today tries to appeal to rule breakers… “Color outside the lines”. “No rules, just right.” So many people today reject authority that focus groups suggest it as a way to motivate someone subliminally to buy a car, or eat steak! Our culture celebrates money, youth, and ego; it doesn’t celebrate being a servant. Humility before God is a great place to start any spiritual quest.

We reject authority because people with power abuse it, or may not have our best interests at heart. We are actually afraid to be humble because we don’t trust the authority over us. But what if the one in charge had ONLY your best interests in mind, had nothing but love for you, and was dedicated to making you the best version of yourself that you could be? We serve coaches in order to have a better athletic performance and a better team. It may just be that serving God also brings rewards.

Many people pray to God as if to a spiritual genie, asking Him to do what they want. David understood that God doesn’t serve us– We serve God, and in serving Him we become the best versions of ourselves.

2. “Give me understanding…” While there is a level of knowledge that is attainable by human effort, true wisdom is a gift, shared by the spirit of God. It comes from knowing God’s testimony about the world and accepting His understanding. Knowledge is useful; understanding is demonstrated when knowledge is applied. We should devote part of every day to gathering understanding about God’s ways and character, and then we should look for opportunities to use it. Do you pursue? Do you apply?

testimony

3. “That I may know your testimonies.” There are really two ways to look at this phrase. One is merely the application rote memorization. Know God’s testimony by heart. Do you know what it says? Can you repeat the stories about what God has done? Most of the stories about God are connected to the people of God. And get this: THEY WERE JUST PEOPLE. God is still working today, and He is still doing things with and for His children, people like you and me.

Which brings us to the second way to know God’s testimonies, which is to know them experientially. Have you experienced a relationship with God? Do you have a testimony of your own? Can you look back through your life and see God’s hand at work to broaden your understanding through His word, or circumstances, or relationships? Knowing His testimonies gives you a practical knowledge of what God has done and hope for how He will act in the future. If you lived each day with understanding about what God has done outside of you, then you can take confidence in what He will do INSIDE of you. Think of God’s testimonies today, and you may just find that He is creating some through you for tomorrow.

It’s a church word, it’s a legal word, it’s a word you’ve heard
From the days of your youth about the truth;
It can be a report that you hear in court,
Or someone’s claim in God’s Holy name!
It’s got to be true, it can’t be phony,
I’m talking about that testimony!
God’s word will help you every day
With inspiring thoughts, and the words to say;
To everyone who is gathered there,
Put your hand on the Bible, and stand and swear:
God’s truth means so much more TO you
When it is happening THROUGH you!

 

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

Law Versus Grace: and The Reluctant Apologist Accepted

An apologist is “one who defends or supports something, such as a religion.” Saul of Tarsus zealously pursued righteousness through keeping the law until he discovered God’s reason for law and purpose for grace… “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21, NKJV)

Saul, a Pharisee from Tarsus, was a man striving to do the right thing. He obeyed the statutes to the letter, and he prosecuted blasphemers to its fullest extent. He was a brilliant, passionate man who feared God and wanted to do what pleased Him. He was confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), and had perhaps one of the most significant conversions to Christianity in history.

law conversion

His sight was taken from him for three days, and I am sure he came to grips with his own spiritual blindness as he waited for God to tell him what to do next. As a powerful Pharisee, he originally saw the law as a means to earn God’s favor. As a sightless pilgrim, he grasped the concept of grace, and he came to understand that the law’s purpose was not to save, but only to condemn.

law condemns

In Romans 3:20 he said “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” In Romans 4:15 he said “the law brings wrath.” Religion that is built upon law will always fail for two reasons:

1) The law exists only to demonstrate that men will fall short of its standards and face the wrath of a righteous God; and

2) all men will fall short of its standards.

The Apostle Paul (as Saul is known to us) knew that the law hates sinners, and he called himself the “chief of sinners”. Paul and all of us sinners were doomed under the law’s rigid standards. When Saul encountered Jesus, he stood before Christ not as a righteous Pharisee or even as a good man, but as a sinner. So it is with all of us. Often one of the biggest obstacles we have in discovering God is our own sense of righteousness.

Don’t ever let doing good take the place of discovering Grace. Paul says that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. If, like me, you are a sinner who has done wicked and dishonest things, who has failed the legal requirements in so many respects, that is amazingly good news! Whatever your sins, whatever you have done to break the law, Grace is greater.

Saul of Tarsus, on that night,
When you were blinded by the light,
What did you see? What did you find
That changed your heart and changed your mind?
What caused your ruthless heart to thaw,
To see the hopelessness of law?
Was it the look on Jesus’ face
That turned you towards amazing grace?
Was it in blindness that you found
That Grace could more than sin abound?
Where legalism failed to heal,
Your righteousness from Grace was real!
When you were blinded, you could see
God’s love in perfect clarity,
And wrote so that the mystery
Of Grace–that fell on you—could fall on me.

 

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

Redemption: How Much Does It Cost? And Are You Worth the Price?

The definition of redemption is “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” If you traded your wedding ring or smart phone to a pawn shop in exchange for a loan, then you can’t have it or use it anymore until you REDEEM it by paying back the loan. The Bible puts it like this:

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:7-10, NIV)

If you read these verses, this is a pretty good list. Paul says not only are we redeemed and forgiven, but that God has lavished grace upon us and revealed to us the mystery of his will. Those are all amazing things to think about, and all of them are connected to Christ’s sacrifice for us. Paul maintains that it is through the death of Jesus that we are forgiven, given grace, and brought into God’s family under Christ’s leadership. Stop and think for a minute about the first thing on the list, redemption. As Christians, we have been redeemed, and I bet we haven’t spent five minutes thinking about how important that is.

There are two things about redemption that stand out to me. The definition of redemption is “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” If you traded your wedding ring or smart phone to a pawn shop in exchange for a loan, then you can’t have it or use it anymore until you REDEEM it by paying back the loan. In ancient times, prisoners taken in war would be held captive until someone paid a price for them and bought them back from slavery. They had to be REDEEMED by someone who loved them enough to buy them back. The whole process is linked to something (or someone) being held as collateral for a price. In your case, YOU were taken hostage by Death, and only God cared enough to redeem you from Death’s captivity by paying its price. Sin and the Fall forced everyone in this world into captivity to Death; only by being redeemed can we escape Death’s penalty and experience a different quantity and quality of life. Being released from Death is awesome, but there is a second and more subtle result of redemption.

redemption

16 Aug 1957 — 8/16/1957-Levittown, Long Island, NY- Loaded down with premiums, a happy mother and daughter leave the King Korn Redemption Center (at 2841, Hempstead Turnpike) in Levittown, Long Island, NY, after exchanging their trading stamps for a variety of goods. Stamp savers can walk out of these stores with anything from baseballs to electric broilers. The firm has found that the average family fills one stamps-saver book of 1500 stamps a month. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

When I was little, my mom would get S & H Green stamps at the grocery store and paste them in a book. When she had enough books, we’d go to the redemption center, which was like a store full of things that you could buy with your stamps. There were things like toasters, lamps, and hair-dryers you could get for a few books of stamps; and there were washing machines, refrigerators and furniture for LOTS of books. But the merchandise would sit there, unclaimed and unused until someone wanted it and redeemed it.

Those toasters never toasted, the washers never washed, and the merchandise never fulfilled its purpose as long as it remained unredeemed. It sat there in the store just waiting for someone to claim it, take it home and use it. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? WE were like that. We had been put on the shelf by death, set aside as unwanted and unclaimed. But God loved us enough to pay the price for us! He redeemed us! So here’s the question: now that you’ve been redeemed, have you been put to use? Are you glad that someone paid for you?

redemption Private Ryan

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan” a platoon is sent across war-torn France to find the last survivor from among the four Ryan brothers who were killed serving in World War II. The War Department had a policy that was designed to keep a family from losing its last surviving son, so men were dispatched to located him and extract him from the field of battle. Ultimately he is found and rescued, but there is a great cost.

Later on, long after the war he visits the Normandy grave of the team leader who helped to save his own life, and reflects on D-Day and the horrible things men experienced in combat (things he himself went through). Team Leader John H. Miller was played by Tom Hanks, and most of his team was killed finding and saving Private John Francis Ryan. There is a pivotal moment near the end of the film between Miller and Ryan. As he lay wounded amidst the ruins of battle, Miller wearily looks around at the sacrifices made on Ryan’s behalf, looks him in the eye and exhorts him to “Earn this!”, and then dies.

The movie begins and ends at a cemetery in Normandy, where the older James Francis Ryan visits Miller’s grave as Ryan’s wife, children and grandchildren look on. In a very touching scene, while his family waits in the background, Ryan speaks to the grave, and affirms that he has tried to live up to Miller’s exhortation. In tears, he asks his somewhat confused wife, who has come up beside him, “Have I lived a good life? Have I been a good man?” He seeks affirmation that he was worthy of the sacrifice made for him.

Perhaps that is something all of us should do as we pray from time to time. Since Christ redeemed us, we don’t have to EARN it: “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) But perhaps, in thinking of our redemption, we should remember the price, and strive to be WORTHY of it.

Redemption

Back when I was little, and my mom would save some stamps,
She’d take them down to S & H for toasters, or for lamps.
We’d go to the Redemption Store, where there was lots of stuff,
And you could buy a couch with stamps if you had saved enough!
Saving Private Ryan tells about the brutal cost
That’s paid to find John Francis Ryan, whose brothers had been lost;
The team who finds him has to fight their way through hell on earth,
And they exhort him to remember what his life is worth,
Reminding him of efforts made for him–that lives were lost–
Exhorting him to live his life remembering the cost…
If you’ve ever been redeemed, whatever you may do,
Do you ever count the cost of what God did for you?
If you ever think of Christ, it might just make you weep
To know redemption might be free, but it was never cheap…

 

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

In A World Full Of Radical Hate, Maybe It’s Time For Some Radical Love

Jesus made this radical statement: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34, NRSV) I’ve always thought this was a statement that gets somewhat overlooked by today’s Christians. It sounds like Jesus is saying we are soldiers entering a battle. I mean, we are supposed to get along with everyone, right? Doesn’t Paul say something in Romans 12 about living peacefully with all men? Wasn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace? What does he mean when he says that?

Jesus explains in verses 35-39 that even family members will become opposed to each other because of him, and he says, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” What a radical thing to say about following him! I think we sometimes forget that Jesus did not call us to merely know what he said, or to listen to sermons and nod in agreement. He challenges us to love him so fiercely that all other relationships pale by comparison. He says that our commitment to Him should actually force us to make choices about what we do, even if it causes division.

radical love

I’m pretty sure that he’s not talking about the kind of division that happens when Christians disagree about the style of music, or about the building fund—those are petty disagreements that happen in Church because people are immature and selfish—but Jesus is saying that following him will force us to make choices about how important he is in our lives. In some cases, those choices will prompt us to move away from both comfortable and toxic relationships.

It’s not about division, judgment, or hate– it’s about commitment, unity, and radical love. Christians belong on the front lines of social injustice, embracing decency and dignity. Christians belong in a relentless army of good will that spreads the Gospel of love and forgiveness as counterpoint to constant headlines that focus on division and hate. Today’s battle over culture and values should challenge us to do more than sit in our comfortable church and nod at what the preacher says. In his book Radical (page 20), David Platt says this: “The gospel does not prompt you to mere reflection; the gospel requires a response. In the process of hearing Jesus, you are compelled to take an honest look at your life, your family, and your church, and not just ask, “What is he saying?” but also ask, “What shall I do?”

So here’s the deal: what have you heard Jesus say? And if you take an honest look at your life, your family, and your church, do you feel pretty good about whether you are following Jesus or not? If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Peter Lord said, “What you really believe shows in your life every day; all the rest is just Christian talk.”

Your relationship with Christ is not what you THINK about what you believe, or even what you SAY about what you believe—it’s what you DO because you believe. Are you loving anyone enough to confront them with the Gospel? Are you loving your enemies so much that it makes them uncomfortable? Whether you know it or not, you are already in a battle. So gird your loins! Quit you like men! Be strong and courageous. Follow Jesus like you really mean it.

People call me the Prince of Peace, and gentle Jesus, meek and mild–
But what if I am a force unleashed, a raging river, strong and wild?
What occurs if you follow me, and allow my Spirit to reside?
Submit to my authority, with no place left to run or hide…
Love each other like a brother, follow me with one accord,
And know that I did not bring merely peace: I also brought a sword.
Be militant, therefore, in love: relentless for the world to see
That nothing in this life can stand between you and your love for me.

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

If Walking in the Light Is Best, Why Do So Many Folks Choose to Sneak Around in Darkness?

Walking in the dark is dangerous. That’s why the Psalmist said he’d rather have a spiritual flashlight: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalms 119:105 KJV) You’ve heard this verse before, and I’m sure you thought, “Yes, God’s word provides insights that enlighten and give direction.”

But have you stopped and thought about what it really says? Have you ever hiked at night over rocky ground? Imagine doing that for a minute. Walking in the dark is no picnic. It’s spooky out there, what with the animal noises and nocturnal predators. People get lost more easily in the dark, in more ways than one. Have you ever been out walking in a big city after midnight? Ever thought about how much crime takes place between 11:00 pm and 4:00 am? Or just how dangerous it can be, walking around in the “dead of night”?

walking in darkness

Even after your eyes adjust to the darkness, you have to be careful about where you step and where you are headed. Sure, there may be a path, but there might be sticks, bushes, uneven terrain, or rocks at your feet that can trip you or make you fall. You might even wander off the path and get lost. Darkness is dangerous. In Psalm 23, David wasn’t concerned about walking in the valley of the bright lights of death, he wanted God’s presence in the valley of the SHADOW of death.

Darkness obscures your path and makes it harder for you to know where to go. It also allows cover for bad things. John 3:19 reminds us that “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil…” When do you think the most crimes are committed? (When it’s DARK.) Is there anything you prefer to do under cover of darkness? Anything you do that you don’t want people to see? (Then of course, as your Mom said, you probably shouldn’t DO it.)

The relationship of darkness to our spiritual journey is fairly clear. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2, NKJV) Satan loves darkness and death, and God by His very nature provides light and life. Jesus compared God’s people to the lights of a city on the hill, shining in the darkness.

But think about this as well: when you are walking in darkness over uncertain terrain, a light shone at your feet gives you just enough illumination to take the next few steps safely, even though it does not enable you to see a great distance down the path. So it is with a spiritual walk: you are given sufficient illumination for today, so that you are not distracted by worries or curiosity about the future. I never thought of this verse as meaning “be in the moment”, but that’s kinda what it says… Use God’s word to be “in the moment” with Him today, and you’ll stay connected to God’s light, God’s people, and to Him. As 1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Statistics say the dead of night will hide the darkest deeds,
Since darkness gives the criminal the cover that he needs;
Lurking in the shadows there, the evil one is stalking,
So exercise some care at night, and watch where you are walking!
Wandering in darkness, there’s no telling who you’ll meet:
So let God’s word become a spiritual lamp unto your feet.
A lack of guiding light can also make us go astray,
And wander into danger in the dark along the way.
Statistics tell the story; I don’t have to do the math,
So use God’s word and let it be the light upon your path!

 

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

When God Sends You a Message, Don’t Be an Ass About It

The story of Balaam and how he received a message from God is unusual, and it’s certainly worth a look. Check this out: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, NIV)

In one of the more unusual stories in the Bible, a prophet named Balaam is sent to Balak, the king over the Moabites. Balak was concerned about the way the Israelites were conquering his neighbors, and sent messengers to Balaam to ask for some relief from God. The Lord gave Balaam a message and told him he could go to Moab, but only to deliver His message word for word. In Numbers twenty-two Balaam was riding his donkey to Moab, but apparently was not fully committed to carrying out the Lord’s mission.

message

God sent an angel to block the road, which apparently the donkey could see but Balaam could not. He struck the stubborn donkey several times, until the animal went all “Mr. Ed” on him and spoke, asking him why he was being hit. (For those of you too young to remember, Mr. Ed was a sitcom about a talking horse named Ed who had a dumb owner named Wilbur). At that point Balaam saw the angel of the Lord and listened with greater focus to his instructions. The angel told him: “The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.” (Numbers 22:33)

One lesson we can learn from this passage is, “Don’t be so consumed with your own agenda that you don’t even see or hear God’s message to you.” Balaam was so wrapped up in politics or personal concerns that he almost rode to his own death. It may seem strange, but sin works that way. You can even think you are doing God’s work (like being a prophet) when you actually motivated by your own pride or fear. I am not exactly sure what Balaam’s problem was, but God went to unusual lengths to get his attention. Don’t be that guy.

Finally, though, in the midst of his prophecy to Moab, Balaam gave them strong assurance about the Lord: God is not a mere man. His word is true, and when He has made a promise, He will bring it to pass. Think about the promises God has made to you, there are lots to choose from: hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11); unending love (Romans 8:38); peace (John 14:27, Philippians 4:7); and according to Peter, many other great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). Open your eyes to God’s word. Listen to His promises and claim them. It might just keep you from riding to your own death.

Balaam had a mission, but an angel blocked his way,
And made him pay attention to what his donkey had to say:
God gave him a message, but he really hadn’t heard
That he should take that message and deliver it word for word.
If you ride a Donkey who turns into Mr. Ed,
I’d pay attention to what he says, or you could wind up dead!
If God sends you a message, listen. Do not be an ass;
Remember: whatever the Lord has promised, He will bring to pass.

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 Ransom for Sin: It’s A Matter of Life and Death

In the Old Testament times, the Israelites were required to pay something like a ransom for sins, in the form of an offering. “And he brought the bull for the sin offering. Then Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull for the sin offering, and Moses killed it. Then he took the blood, and put some on the horns of the altar all around with his finger, and purified the altar. And he poured the blood at the base of the altar, and consecrated it, to make atonement for it.” (Leviticus 8:14-15, NIV)

ransom sacrifice

I have wondered about sacrifices. It was a messy, bloody business, certainly an uncivilized way to do church. And yet the Hebrew priests and people participated in all manner of animal sacrifices to atone for sin. Why? Because the justice system of the universe treated sin like a deadly disease.

Very early on, in Genesis 2:17, God warned Adam about the forbidden tree: “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Guess what? Adam and Eve didn’t die that day, but they both experienced the certainty of sin’s penalty thereafter. So have all of their descendants. In essence, mankind was kidnapped by sin in the garden, and Satan demanded the appropriate ransom.

ransom for sin
In Romans 6:23, Paul reminds us that sin has a result: “for the wages of sin is death”. Leviticus 17:11 points out that Life of the flesh is in the blood. Sin is a life and death matter, and sacrifices provided a graphic reminder of sin’s penalty. Every time the Israelites killed an animal they were reminded that only death could satisfy the legal requirements for being disobedient. The ransom had to be paid.

There is no other way to deal with sin, and no way to get around it. Only by being sinless could someone avoid sin’s ultimate penalty, but no one could accomplish that, so God provided a temporary means for men to illustrate how that penalty would be paid until the permanent solution could occur. These temporary animal sacrifices helped prepare the way for the permanent necessary sacrifice that was to come. Sin required death for its participants, and the penalty was acknowledged through the sacrifices that were made.

But sin required a more permanent solution, one on the cosmic scale that death required. It was only by the willing substitution of the perfect man that sin’s debt for mankind could be paid. It’s important to remember that Jesus was a volunteer, not a victim. As he said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

To bring that statement home, you should take it personally: Sin and death kidnapped you, with the worst of intentions, and demanded that you pay the full price for all that you have done. You and I were held for ransom by death and needed full payment in order to be free from its clutches. But there is some AMAZING news! If you have been captured or held hostage by sin, the ransom’s been paid!

Think, today, as you draw each breath,
the wages for all your sin is death!
Whatever you think, and whatever you’ve planned
Is hostage, held by death’s demand.
You pled your case to the Righteous Judge,
But He said the Law just couldn’t budge,
So Jesus took your ransom cost
And satisfied it on His cross:
In spite of every mistake you’ve made,
When the Reaper swings his deadly blade,
In spite of the way you’ve disobeyed,
Great news! Your ransom has been paid!

 

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

Testimonies Matter: the Whole Truth and Nothing But

Whether you know it or not, you are surrounded by testimonies. As you browse various forms of media, you are bombarded with half-truths, outright lies, opinions, and various points of view (kinda like this one, I guess). Be careful which ones you believe. “With my lips I have declared All the judgments of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. (Psalms 119:13-14 NKJV)

This Psalm calls for a few quick observations. First, how often do you declare God’s thoughts and judgments as opposed to your own? David doesn’t say, “I have declared all the judgments of MY mouth”, because he did not want to misuse the Word of God. (It’s certainly been done. Satan quoted Scripture in the temptation of Christ; Mohammed wove scripture into his dictation of the Koran; Joseph Smith created his own book; preachers justified slavery from the Bible; and Hitler quoted the Bible in his speeches.) God’s words have been altered and misquoted throughout history.

In a subtler way, we should all evaluate our own biases and suppositions and compare them to what God has said. With all of the falsehood surrounding us today, it’s really a little bit scary. Like David, I certainly want to proclaim God’s unvarnished truth and not just my opinions. I double-dog swear on the Bible that is true… David’s desire was to know and proclaim what God said—“the judgments, [Lord], of YOUR mouth”; “…YOUR testimonies”. And testimonies are supposed to be the TRUTH.

testimonies

He wanted to stick to the Word of God, because he knew that scripture is quoted for all kinds of purposes, and it is often dispensed with interpretations or subtle changes that alter its meaning and twist its purpose. Why does that matter? If you start with parallel train tracks, and vary the angle of one of the rails just .05%, and build those tracks on towards the horizon, eventually the rails will split far enough apart to cause a train wreck. A small “adjustment” becomes a deadly variation.

Isn’t that what Satan did in the garden? He used God’s words, but then he subtly added to them. We should be extra careful when we put words into God’s mouth. Second, do you find that God’s testimonies motivate and inspire you? David got fired up hearing stories about God. He rejoiced in God’s testimonies. Have you heard any good testimonies lately? Any that made you rejoice?

Well here’s one: learning about God’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ absolutely changed my life, and has provided me a remarkable journey with God and His Word for almost 50  years. As I grew up, my mom married several times. I lived in pretty much a different family unit almost every year between the ages of 3 and 10. As a child of divorce, I lived with my mom and sister;  then my mom, sister and a half-brother; my sister and half-brother and two step-sisters; just my sister with my mom and then just my sister with my grandparents; then with my dad and step-mom, sister, and a different half-brother. Somehow in the midst of all that change, I found truth that God loves me in–of all places– the Bible. Wow! What a book! Wow! What a life!! I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

God took an insecure boy who had problems at school, addictive behavior, lack of focus, and problems at home and gifted me with the truth. In NO WAY did I become perfect, and in fact I often remind people that I’ve made my BIGGEST mistakes not as a pagan reprobate, but as a struggling believer. But God’s truth consistently reminded me that I AM LOVED, and I HAVE WORTH. So do YOU.

When you read the Bible, does it put you to sleep? When you go to church, are you bored or do you rejoice? Perhaps we need to get more excited when God has a message for us! David went away from worship declaring what God had said and rejoicing in God’s testimonies. We should participate in worship with the same enthusiasm.

And finally, this: be honest; when was the last time you truly valued God’s words more than money? If you compared your thirst for accumulating wealth to your hunger for memorizing God’s word, which one would be stronger? If we were given a choice between attending a good Bible Study and getting $100, I bet most of us would take the cash. And I bet you have more dollars than Bible verses in your pocket. Just sayin’…

I’m not one to judge, so YOU can be the one to call it:
What means more: what God has said, or what is in your wallet?
You’re in a world of gray where there are many kinds of lies;
In politics and media there are lies of every size!
David didn’t listen to the lies that others voiced,
But when he heard God’s testimonies spoken, he rejoiced!
Don’t be fooled by liars, Congressmen or other phonies:
Depend upon God’s word, and listen to His testimonies.

 

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

Creator: Stop and Think About Who God Is, and Who We Are

Do you ever use the owner’s manual in your car? Doesn’t it make sense to get information from the designer and creator of your car when you have a question? David says that God created us: “Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.” (Psalms 119:73 NKJV)

David seemed pretty obsessed with God’s commandments in Psalm 119.He rejoiced in them as in great riches (v 14), he meditated on them (v 15), and he took delight in them (v 16). In verse 27-28 he said, “Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, so that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” David found understanding and strength in the Scriptures. Why do you think David was so taken with God’s word? What was it about God’s precepts that made David almost giddy with excitement?

You can certainly reflect on David’s reasons, but here are a couple to consider: 1) He had lived by them and knew they made a difference. David’s life had not always been easy or soft, but it always included meditation and reflection on what God revealed to him. His confidence in God’s commandments came from actual experience, from applying them in the crucible of his life and finding them to be reliable, helpful and sustaining. It made sense for David to recommend them to us because he knew the Creator’s love firsthand.

2) David understood who he was, and he understood who God was. As strong and successful as David became, he never forgot why it made sense to respect God’s authority. David said, “Your hands have made me”. David accepted God’s place in the universe, much like Paul in Romans 9:20: “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Isaiah echoed the same sentiment in Isaiah 64:8: “We are the clay. You are the Potter. We are all the work of your hands.”

creator

Gary Larsen’s humorous view of the Creator doesn’t begin to reflect the complexity of God’s work in and around us. The reason the Bible provides a sound platform for living is because it comes from our Creator. Does anyone know more about how we operate than the one who conceived and formed our DNA? If we are made in His image after all, perhaps His words can give us guidance.

When we have a problem with our car, we look in the owner’s manual for help. It provides insight because it is provided by the one who made the car. When we have problems in life, we can also look into the owner’s manual, provided by the one who made us. And doesn’t it make sense that we should pay attention to our Maker? Is there a better place to look than into His book to find insight? Our Creator should have reliable advice for us that actually works in the crucible of events when life happens. If God is NOT our creator, then follow whomever; but if He is, then there’s no one better to pay attention to.

God conceived and his words gave birth,
Creating the cosmos, Heavens and earth!
He reigns over all, and His presence commands
The stars in the sky and the works of His hands;
He’s the creator of every day,
So we should consider that when we pray:
“Lord, You are the Potter, I am the clay;
Help me see the world that way.
In all I think, and say, and do:
Remind me, Lord, to follow YOU.
Whatever may come, or the day may bring,
I am your subject, and you are my 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