Hope for the Best, Even When Things Are at Their Worst

“Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live; And do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” (Psalms 119:116 NKJV) David had a unique perspective about God’s word. He saw it as more than something to read in church, and more than a book of wisdom that helped him understand how to live. We sometimes just hit the high spots in David’s biography, but when you really look at the circumstances and events in his life, you realize that there were plenty of times that were discouraging and difficult. In spite of that he consistently found hope in what God said.

hope

As a shepherd, David sang about God’s word and meditated upon it under the stars; as a fugitive hiding in caves from Saul’s dangerous mood swings, he drew strength from it; and as a sinner he depended upon it for comfort and forgiveness. He found in the Scriptures a connection to God that upheld him and gave him strength; he was motivated by it and hopeful because of it. What gives you hope?

Having hope is a good thing. Being unashamed of it means two things: 1) you tell everybody you know about your hope—why you look forward and what you are hoping for—without hesitation or reservation. David publicly demonstrated his hope because he was confident in what the Lord had promised.

Being unashamed could also mean: 2) you will not need to be ashamed of your hope because it WILL BE fulfilled. Your confidence in your hope is justified. David exemplified both of these points of view. Perhaps that’s why he pursued God’s commandments so strenuously. “I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments. Look upon me and be merciful to me, as Your custom is toward those who love Your name.” (Psalm 119:131-132 NKJV)

The second King of Israel’s story had many chapters, and he longed for God’s word whether he was an unknown shepherd, a fugitive, a king, or a sinner. The hope he gained from his relationship with God sustained him and kept him coming back for more. David said he hungered for God’s commandments so much that he literally opened his mouth and panted.

Do you ever jump up in the morning thinking, “Wow! I can’t do anything else today until I read God’s word and get connected with him!” Or “Wow! I need God’s mercy today! Gonna dig into that Bible and let it wash over me!” Something in God’s commandments made David hunger for them… How does your appetite compare to that?

David suffered hardships and failure, yet he believed absolutely that God is merciful and reliable. His life had plenty of discouragement, but he had hope in God. Have you found anything in God’s commandments that makes you as confident as David was? He knew that God’s custom is to be merciful to those who love Him, and he took hope from that. He got up early to bask in God’s love, and he meditated upon it in the night watches.

cycle of hope

Like David, Paul also knew that hard times produce a hope in which we cannot be ashamed: “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Have you found God’s mercy? When the world lets you down, it will hold you up.

David had to flee and hide:
He ran to caves and hid inside,
And lived in dusty, thirsty fear
That murderous Saul was drawing near.
Before bipolar was a thing, the melancholy, jealous king
Whose heart and mood would darkly swing
Was soothed when he heard David sing…
Yet even though he was David’s fan,
King Saul was still a dangerous man
Who tried to kill him. So David ran.
And somewhere in a cave at night,
Unsettled by his hopeless plight,
Young David found a way to cope
And sought God’s Word, which gave him hope.
Strengthened thus, he then proclaimed
That he would never be ashamed
Of hope in what the Lord can do.
So here it is: don’t misconstrue,
But when you’re hopeless–this is dope:
The God of grace will give you hope.

 

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

Disaster or Delight, Grace or Grief: the Choice is Actually Yours

Micah presented us with warnings of disaster and the possibility of delight: “Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19 NASB)

This verse from Micah was actually quite surprising. Micah was written to prophesy against Judah, warning them about impending disaster at the hands of Sennacherib’s Assyrian invasion in 701 B.C. His sermons were powerful and disturbing. He said that Lord would come from his dwelling to judge Samaria and Israel so fiercely that “the mountains melt beneath him and the valleys split apart” (1:7). I don’t imagine that many folks enjoyed or believed Micah’s prophecy when he proclaimed it.

He used a poetic format to predict disaster and woe against the towns of Judah, playing upon their Hebrew names with a like form of judgment. English translations don’t do every name justice, but each city’s name is used to relate to some aspect of the danger that is coming. For example, the inhabitants of Beth-le-aphrah (“house of dust”) are told to “roll yourselves in the dust.” (1:10) Because Israel’s people were so committed to sin, God told them “I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves.” (2:3)

I’m sure Micah’s predictions were greeted with a mixed response at best. Some people thought he was crazy, some weren’t concerned about their sin, and some were probably convicted that they should take inventory of their idols and do a little repentance. Some were probably like the underperforming basketball player in the story Abe Lemon often told: He tried to challenge the young man to change by asking, “What is it with you, son, ignorance or apathy?” The indolent player replied, “Coach, I don’t know and I don’t care!”

If you heard Micah preach this sermon in America today, which category would you fall into? Would you deny it and speak out against it? Would you acknowledge that God would allow something as drastic as disaster to get man’s attention? Apparently God hates sin so much that he takes it seriously. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with us. When we stand in God’s holy court, we will have to give account of ourselves before Him as a righteous judge; will we feel the same way about sin in that moment as we do today?

disaster

In a book filled with some pretty harsh prophesy, Micah throws this wonderful little passage in 7:18-19, which contrasts greatly with the rest of his message… Remember, prophecy is a warning of judgment that HASN’T happened yet. The whole purpose of judgment is to call sinners to grace.

Righteousness and judgment are pretty much expected from an Almighty, all-powerful God who hates sin; and we are all sinners. We may think Micah’s prophecy sounds bad, but IF sin is so destructive, and IF a righteous God can’t stand it, and IF He has warned us to turn to him or face judgment, then technically He is absolutely right to use extreme measures to turn us away from sin.

God has the right to allow sin’s penalty to be enforced. It’s when he throws us this kind of curveball that we scratch our heads and say, “Really? Could this be true?” God pardons iniquity? He passes over rebellious acts? God delights in unchanging love? He has compassion? Yes, He does. Will our “honest” mistakes, our secret selfishness, our willful rebellions, and our repeated iniquities all be tread under God’s feet and thrown into the deepest sea? Yes, they will.

The same Judge who pronounces impending doom from the bench has also stepped down to plead our case. 1 John 2:1 says, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” If I were you, I’d sign him up as my defense attorney today. There’s a day of judgment coming, and we want to have good representation, don’t we?

Disaster or Delight?

You are standing before two doors:
Open one up, the choice is yours.
Think about the choices you make,
And think about the path you take.
You get to choose which one is right:
One holds disaster and one holds delight.
The very same Judge who holds the key
To where we spend eternity
Is the one who came to Calvary
And threw our sins in the deepest sea
Because He paid our penalty.
Choose wisely, friend, and you will see…

 

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

Being Thankful can Run Full Circle: Be Thanks Full as well!

There’s a difference between “Thankful” and “Thank-full-ness”… Today is a great day to reflect on what you are thankful for, but it is even more than that.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1 NIV) You’ll notice that this verse from the Psalms is exactly like the verse from Chronicles in yesterday’s devotion. Being thankful for God’s goodness was a regular part of worshipping Him.

thankful

The Bible is full of reasons to be thankful, and David King of Israel expressed it simply but eloquently in his songs of praise to God.  2 Chronicles 5:13 says, “The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.” David used this verse over and over in the Psalms when singing praises, when he was leading worship, and to commemorate important events. (It also appears in Psalm 106, 107, 118, and 136.) Being thankful for God’s goodness and love was a major part of his life, and a major theme in his praises. He probably hummed this song while shaving or when he was walking to work in the morning.

During the Thanksgiving holiday week, we’ve probably taken a break to give thanks, and now our lives will get back to normal. There is shopping to do and there are Christmas decorations to put out. As we enjoy leftovers, and as homes quiet down from the joy and busy-ness of family gatherings, remember this: EVERY day is Thanksgiving Day. Even though no one will probably ask you for another year, “What are you thankful for?” it’s still a good question to ask. (Much better than “what’s in your wallet?”—don’t you think?).

Be a little bit thankful every day. God gives us much to be thankful for because it emanates from His character. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father! He actually delights in giving to His children more than we do! Jesus said in Matthew 7:11 “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Perhaps as you read that, you are thinking about all the gifts you have been given, and you are indeed grateful for all of your blessings.

thankful

If that’s so, then here’s a little twist to think about as you reflect on what you are thankful for: What are other people thankful for about YOU? Are they thankful for your generosity, your patience, or your joy? Have you given someone ELSE a reason to give thanks this week? Be not only thankful; be thanked-full as well. Happy thankfulness-giving, everybody!

Thankfulness is Not Just Something You Have

One special day each year we pause and offer up our thanks
For all the blessings that we have, both in and out of banks.
We’re thankful for the blessings and the love that we’ve received,
And grateful for the grace bestowed on all who have believed.
And while your saying ‘thank you’ is the proper thing to do,
I wonder, is there someone saying, “Thank You, God!” for 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

You are Loved Forever. Believe That, and be Thankful. Embrace that, and Have Peace

In Hebrew worship services around and before the time of Christ, there was a common refrain to verses of some hymns: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” Who do you think this verse is talking about? And who is it talking to? Generally, it would be sung by someone in worship, someone who wanted to feel the love of God. Someone like YOU. It offered contentment, hope and perspective about life, love, and our place in the world: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (1 Chronicles 16:34 NIV)

In the New Testament, there is an extension of this thought in Paul’s love letter to Philippi: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

These verses connect the dots from being loved to thanksgiving to peace, and they inspire some observations. I’m sure you will find your own, but here are three things that jumped out to me:

1) Our love, and our ability to be loving can ebb and flow with the hustle and bustle of holidays and family gatherings, God’s love endures. In a world full of temporary items and elements, it is good to know that some things last forever. God’s love is one of them, and the Bible tells us it is good. When or if patience gets thin over the holidays, use His to help you show yours. Since you are loved, remind someone else that they are loved, too. Remember, when the casserole isn’t perfect, or you realize again why you only see those relatives once a year, or patience is thin: YOU ARE LOVED. Share that feeling with everyone else!

Second (2), being thankful comes from recognizing who God is and what He’s done. Take a moment to reflect on the blessings in your life, and wrap thanksgiving around yourself like a comforting blanket.

loved

Remember to give thanks, not for material things but for the things that actually matter. Take a moment each day to reflect on being loved, and on what that means in your life, even if the turkey turns out like the Griswold’s or gets eaten by Bumpus’s dogs. And don’t forget that the family Holiday banquets we have here will pale in comparison to the Wedding Feast we will experience there.

Third, I’d never realized that peace not only depended on my prayer and supplication, but my THANKFUL prayer and supplication. If I lack peace, perhaps I forgot to be grateful as I made my supplication. Hmmm… It might just be that if I prayed with thanksgiving for EVERY thing first, I’d end up with a different set of requests. And a different level of peace. Happy Peace Giving, everyone! You are loved.

An attitude of gratitude can calibrate your altitude,
and help improve your aptitude when someone else is crude or rude.
People can be selfish, mean or hateful,
But you can rise above it if you’re grateful!
Praising God whenever as we worship Him together
Will remind us of His Goodness; and His love endures forever.
Held in His heart, with love that does not cease,
We offer Him our Thanks. He gives us Peace.
Will the Lord stop loving us? No, never!
His steadfast love for us endures forever.

 

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

Worldly Wisdom Will Only Yield Worldly Results. Which Wisdom Works Best?

Most people might aspire to being “worldly-wise”, a term I heard my grandmother use about someone who was well-traveled or cosmopolitan. The dictionary echoes that by saying that worldly means “experienced and sophisticated.” Paul saw it a different way: “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, NIV)

These verses remind us of a couple of important things. First, Paul makes a distinction between being spiritual and being worldly. You see this often in the New Testament, because “the world” is selfish, sinful and proud, whereas God’s Spirit is loving, giving, and kind. In 1 John 2:15, John reminded us that “if any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

worldly

Stop and think for a moment: what is celebrated by the world. A short list includes wealth, athleticism. achievement, power, beauty, notoriety, and intelligence; I’m sure you could add a couple more. These things in themselves are certainly not bad, so why does Paul teach that being worldly is not good?

Jesus taught that there was a difference between the things of God and the things of the world. He said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” (John 15:19) What things in your life are worldly? What percentage of your life is attached to the carnal or the temporary as opposed to the spiritual and eternal? That’s a hard inventory to take, isn’t it? When you consider that 1 John 2:15 says, “Love not the world, or the things of the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Strong words about what we humans can get pretty wrapped up in…

The first place we go is probably to all of our material stuff, but Paul characterizes worldliness here as more of an internal condition or an attitude. He says that people who live by the Spirit don’t have jealousy or become contentious with one another—both of which are driven by selfishness. What are you selfish about? What makes you feel “righteous” indignation? Those are both worldly reactions, and they happen with us all the time. When they bubble to the surface we should ask ourselves, “am I being led by the Spirit or by my own emotions and desires?”

Second, Paul reminds us here that living in the Spirit is a journey. Becoming spiritually mature doesn’t happen instantly. He compares spiritual growth to that of an infant, saying that he gave the Corinthians milk because they were not ready for solid food. What about you? How grown up are you spiritually? Are you still drinking milk and being spoon-fed, or are you ready for heartier fare? What intellectual food are you eating?

There’s a lot of junk food out there that won’t contribute to our growth. If we start as infants, then it’s important for us to mature spiritually, “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ!” (Ephesians 4:14-15). Eat wisely, not worldly. Grow well.

The world is full of traits and values that are celebrated;
To worldly folks, the spiritual life is somewhat over-rated.
A worldly man is known for being quite sophisticated
With appetites for carnal things that never quite get sated…
Paul told us that worldly folks still have a ways to go,
Advising that we should drink spiritual milk to help us grow;
That we henceforth be not children tossed by doctrine to and fro,
But grow up in the spiritual truth the Lord wants us to know.
Be aware of worldly things, and do not be deceived;
But grow in faith and love, and in the Spirit you received.

 

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

A Claim so Astounding That it’s Worth Investigating

Tucked within the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well, Jesus makes an astounding claim. “The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (John 4:25-26 NASB)

While there are 7 great “I am” statements that Jesus makes in the book of John, this is not generally considered to be one of them…The “I am” statements are some of the strongest public claims Jesus made about his identity, but they are often symbolic or ambiguous, and stop short of making a literal claim to be the Messiah. Here, even though this statement is not one of the traditionally listed seven, Jesus removes the ambiguity.

woman claim

In this conversation with the woman at the well in Samaria, Jesus makes perhaps the most direct claim recorded about who he is and why he came. Given the social climate of that day, it is interesting that he chose to reveal this claim to her. She was a despised Samaritan, a mere woman without status or importance. She was immoral by the standards of her day, probably on the fringes of polite society. A lot of us feel too unworthy to approach God, or too far away from him to ever go back; the woman at the well proves that this is never true. Just like her, we can draw near to Jesus without recrimination or condemnation. If anyone approaches him with an open heart, Jesus never limits someone by what they know or where they’ve been.

The woman has religious knowledge, but some of what she knows is colored by Samaritan heresy (obvious, since she tries to draw Jesus into a discussion about whether Jews will worship in Jerusalem or on Mt Gerizim). But she does know something noteworthy; she mentions the coming one, who will answer all questions and settle all disputes.

Jesus’ reply is unequivocal: I am the Messiah. (He didn’t take two thumbs and point back to himself and say “Who has two thumbs and is the Messiah? This guy!”–but he could have.) He doesn’t use imagery like “I am the bread of life” or word pictures like “I am the door”, he just makes a simple, direct statement which is an astounding claim. “I who speak to you am He.” Jesus replies to her statement by saying, “I am the Messiah, I am the Christ.”

Is there prophecy about a savior? I am he. Are people looking for a coming king? It’s me. Is there one sent from God to answer all questions and settle all issues? You’re talking to him. Jesus says in effect, if you’re wondering who is providing wisdom, leadership, and salvation: I am. So what does this claim have to do with you? If you have never investigated who Jesus said he was, and who he ACTUALLY was, you owe it to yourself to find out.

Maybe you’ve never thought about it, men have even fought about it,
Whether a Messiah came to earth on God’s behalf.
Some folks try to underscore it, skeptics pretty much ignore it:
Some folks take it seriously while others only laugh.
Don’t Messiah’s all make claims? Really, aren’t they all the same?
You don’t have to listen to Messiah’s, just because…
But if you’d investigate, you’d find one you could validate:
What if Jesus was exactly who he said he was?
That’s a question for the ages. Read about him. Turn the pages,
Think about the things he taught, and whether they are true;
Most agree they’re pretty good. Think about them. If you could,
Just ask yourself: What does this Jesus have to do with 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

Everything You Ever Did: Have You Ever Really Thought About That?


It’s an intimidating thing, thinking about “Everything You Ever Did”. I mean, stop and think about how you’d feel if someone knew everything you’ve ever done– not just the good sweet things and the highs and lows, but every single lie, every bit of secret pride, all your bad choices, the times you cheated or gossiped, or the hateful thoughts… John tells us about a woman who was told “everything I ever did”, and yet still saw it as a positive experience. When she spoke to Jesus and he candidly acknowledged the mistakes she’d made and her sinful lifestyle, you’d think she might be offended, and accuse him of being insensitive; but instead, this is what she did:

“The woman then left her water pot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me everything that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:28-29 KJV)

everything she did

Hmm, what if someone knew everything YOU have ever done? Are there things you regret? Things that no one else knows about? For me, I have often thought that if people knew the real, evil me, they would not, could not look at me the same way. (Would you see him in that light? Would you, could you? If you might—surely you would get a fright! You would say, “That’ boy’s not right!”) But, really, if anyone was aware of “everything I ever did”, they would certainly reject me. And I would be terrified that they were going to turn around then and tell EVERYONE ELSE all of the bad stuff I’d ever done.

I feel sure if you knew EVERYTHING I’d ever done, you wouldn’t be reading this and you wouldn’t like me. (Ha, but it’s funny in a way–I know you’re thinking, “So what has he done that he is so ashamed about?”, but at the same time if you stop and really apply the inverse of that to yourself I bet you’d feel the same way, and I bet if all of us knew, nobody would like YOU, either…)

Jesus, who had never met this person or been to this place before, told the Samaritan woman accurate details about the sin in her personal life. But the way he did it was very matter-of-fact, not condescending or rude. The woman responded fearlessly to what Jesus knew, and when she went back to the village she described Jesus in a unique way: “come see a man who told me everything I ever did.”

She had been in several failed marriages and was “living in sin” with a guy, which are just the obvious things Jesus told her about. I’m sure there were lots more seedy details. Here’s my point: if Jesus knew some of the bad things, it stands to reason he knew ALL of them. Yet, he never chastised her, never condemned her… He engaged her, intrigued her, and elevated her.

Her life, and that of her entire village, was changed by an encounter with Jesus. That’s great, you say, but what does this have to do with me? Well… Jesus knows all the things YOU ever did. Not just the big stuff, but all of the seedy details. He does not chastise or condemn, but looks at you with a mixture of both love and disappointment, forgiveness and grace. As he offers himself, are you engaged and intrigued? The Samaritan woman found forgiveness, acceptance, and something worth telling her whole world about! What about you?

The Scarlet woman snuck out to the well,
Because the other women put her down;
They’d all decided she was going to hell,
And no one even wanted her around.
She’d slept around with men, she lived in sin,
And the village women wouldn’t let her in…
One day a man discussed her wayward life,
And she could only look at him and nod…
As she saw the love in Jesus’ eyes,
He introduced her to the Living God.
What if everything you ever did
Was talked about, and none of it was hid?
What if God just opened up the lid?
Jesus would look directly in your face,
And say: “Don’t feel alone or out-of-place;
Rejoice, my child, in God’s Amazing Grace!”

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 Shocking Conversation that was Just Full of Surprises

The disciples thought they knew Jesus pretty well, but they sure didn’t see this conversation coming…

[Jesus said] “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24 KJV)

In this chapter (a great one to read, BTW) John records one of the most fascinating conversations in history. According to all religious and social standards of the day, it never should have happened. On the way from Judea back to Galilee, John says that Jesus went through Samaria. It looks like the logical path on a map, since Samaria lies right between Jerusalem and Galilee, and it may have been that Jesus was in a hurry and just took the most direct route. But most religious Jews would travel far out of their way before going through Samaria.

Rather than walking straight north, good Jews would go east through Jericho, then over across the Jordan River, north around Samaria, then back over to Galilee–a route that added hours of walking to their journey. They avoided Samaria altogether since it was considered to be a hotbed of heresy, and the Samaritans were considered to be beneath them culturally, socially and spiritually.

When the rulers and upper class Israelites were taken captive by the Assyrians in 721 BC, those Jews who were left behind a) were left from the tribes who revolted and pulled away from Judah; and b) intermarried with locals, participating in pagan worship and setting up their own temple on Mt Gerizim. Orthodox Hebrews knew that the ONLY place to worship was Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, and they despised the Samaritans as half-breeds and idolaters. An upright Hebrew would normally shun a Samaritan; he certainly wouldn’t have a conversation with one. So while it seems like an everyday occurrence, Jesus taking his disciples through Samaria was a big deal. He was going into territory no righteous rabbi would have traversed.

conversation

Then, while his disciples go to find food, Jesus shatters social and religious convention by talking to 1) a woman (talking to a strange woman was against all existing culture and convention for a Rabbi) who

2) is a lowly Samaritan (considered unclean and impure by pious Jews), and who also happens to be considered

3) immoral and socially outcast (She came to the well at midday, rather than in the morning with all the other women; she probably did this because, as a fallen woman, even the OTHER Samaritan women looked down on her).

Any one of these considerations would have made this conversation socially unacceptable or scandalous, and it explains why John said in verse 9 that “the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” and why the disciples “were surprised to find him talking with a woman” in verse 27 when they returned. When you consider all these factors, it’s clear that Christ’s participation in this conversation broke all kinds of social and religious barriers.

The conversation itself is also ground-breaking. He pulls no punches about her life and issues, and yet she never seems to feel judged or abused… And then he tells her that we should worship God in Spirit and in truth. She tries to stir up the argument about where to worship, but Jesus points out that the Father (much like the prodigal’s father, who saw him coming home from a long way off), is SEEKING us to worship him!

How do you think she felt about that? How do YOU feel about it? Do you think the Father would appreciate your worship? Do you worship with your spirit? Enthusiastically, whole-heartedly, deeply? And is there any deception influencing you that could cloud the truth? Any prejudice or assumption or half-truth that keeps you from yielding to the Father? Have your own conversation with Jesus. Maybe it’s time to break whatever conventions are keeping you from being honest with him. Your spirit will be glad you did!

The disciples never saw it coming. Jesus talked to a scarlet woman
Who happened to be a Samaritan, alone there at the well.
Although she wasn’t Abraham’s daughter,
He boldly asked her for some water! The disciples thought
He shouldn’t ought to talk to her a spell…
But Jesus knew the how’s and why’s, he didn’t believe society’s lies,
And Jesus didn’t marginalize the woman, just because…
He knew about her wasted youth; He sat with her and spoke the truth
But never once was he uncouth as they spoke about who she was.
She heard the things He had to say about his being the only way,
and the woman left redeemed that day! Her neighbors started to buzz!
And you and I are at that well:
we’ve done more things than we like to tell
(We might be headed straight to hell!)
But when we look at Jesus: we see a friend who doesn’t judge,
but sees through all our sin and sludge,
And he gives our hearts a gentle nudge
Towards the faith in Him that frees us.
If you’ll just talk to Jesus, you might find
That He can change your heart, and change your mind…

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

Condemnation: Who is Going to Judge the Judges?

“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:17 KJV) Institutionalized Christianity has a long history of condemnation, from the Crusades to the Inquisition, and from the Church Lady to Westboro Baptist.

When unchurched people are asked why they don’t go to church the #1 answer is “I feel judged when I go there.” In the name of Jesus, folks who call themselves Christians have condemned Muslims and Mormons, Denominations and Democrats, homosexuals and heretics. Now, I’m not saying those folks are all immune to judgment by a righteous God, because ALL OF US are going to give account before Him. So none of us is immune to condemnation. We’re just not supposed to heap it on each other. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

condemnation

The only sin you should ever get concerned about is your OWN. If you are sitting there reading this thinking, “Yeah, but, what about that group?” or, “What about those other guys?”, then you have the wrong perspective about sin.

The Bible teaches clearly that a Holy God cannot/will not tolerate sin, and that sin will be judged. Since sin and death cannot abide in the presence of the Living God, unresolved sin will be left to its own devices. In essence, it will judge itself. Those who reject God’s provision for payment will bring death and separation from God upon themselves.

Sin by its very nature requires condemnation because it brings death.
As Paul says in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” I definitely believe that the Bible teaches about sin’s penalty and the righteous judgment of a Holy God. But in John 3, when Jesus told Nicodemus why he came into the world, he ruled condemnation out of his mission statement. (And yes, I know he condemned the hateful self-righteousness of the Pharisees, but whenever sinners were brought before him, he offered grace. You can look it up!)

Apparently Christ does not condemn, he only saves. Repeat that. Remember that. In a world full of blame, finger-pointing, criticism, and condemnation, Christ does not condemn. I bet most of us still focus on the theology of right and wrong, and we focus on God as the Righteous judge. Curious, then, that His only son didn’t come as a judge but as a Savior.

Read John 8 sometime. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of being a demon possessed Samaritan (racial slur) he said, “I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (John 8:50-51) God didn’t send his Son to condemn, but to give life.

As John said, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” If you were ever a sinner, if you have ever wronged someone else, or if you have ever been less than godly: remember that, and be grateful; remember that, and be gracious.

In a world of polar hate, where almost no one budges,
Who is going to heal the scars, and who will judge the judges?
You can look at other folks and judge them for their sin,
But in the end, your condemnation will not help you win.
Point out someone else’s sins, but know that when you do,
Three fingers there upon your hand are pointed back at you!
Christ told Nicodemus, though the world might be depraved
He came, not to condemn the world, but that it might be saved.
Take a hint from Jesus when the shallow world condemns,
And offer love instead, because you know love always wins.

 

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 Mighty Works that Don’t Work; the Foolishness that Does

Would you consider yourself a righteous person? I think most of us would like to think we are pretty good (as opposed to being cruel or “bad”), but do we really strive to be righteous? That idea in itself conjures up some questions: how would one go about achieving such a thing? Do you attain righteousness by what you do? Is a person justified by what they do or by how well they live? The Bible says this: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.” (Romans 1:17, NIV)

One of the biggest conundrums about being a Christian is the idea of justification by faith. It seems counter-intuitive to most that salvation is gifted by faith, and cannot be gained by doing good works. For legalistic and self-righteous man it is an astounding thing, one of the hardest concepts to grasp, and one of the most difficult things to accept. We just can’t believe that righteousness can be given apart from the good works we do.

The major religions of the world are based upon effort and reward. “IF I’m good enough, God will accept me.” Religion depends upon people earning their way into God’s favor, (or perhaps achieving enlightenment), but those things are not consistent with the Biblical view of God. The Bible teaches that God requires righteousness (since He can’t abide sin), and since man is unable to earn it with works, God gives it to man for free. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” The people who work for God’s favor will always resent those who accept it as a gift. Religion based on works instead of grace becomes a full-time job…

works

That’s why the Pharisees could not see who Jesus was (they didn’t believe in Him). It’s why Satan fell (He had faith in himself rather than God). It’s why the Roman Catholic Church condemned Martin Luther to death for nailing this statement to the door as one of his 95 Theses in Wittenberg. They couldn’t imagine that sin’s penalty had been paid apart from their system of penances and indulgences. Self-centered man cannot accept the fact that God would give him that which costs everything for nothing. It defies human logic.

That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the Gospel is not works, or righteousness out of duty or even obligation; it is not about striving or attaining perfection. It is about God giving the perfect gift to us imperfect men; and it is about our pursuing righteousness out of gratitude rather than obligation.

Faith begets righteousness, not the other way around. You can’t work your way to grace, but grace can lead you to do good works. Accept God’s free gift. Be astounded by the overflowing measure of grace. Think about the cost of it all, and shed a grateful tear. Then remember the foolishness of it all, and smile. Embrace the foolish power of God…

The Righteous Lord cannot abide our fallen, sinful state;
Our works don’t make us righteous, even if we’re good, or great!
Because we want to work our way to holiness–or near it–
The message of the cross is foolishness to most who hear it;
It proclaims that works don’t work, no matter how hard we chase:
The just shall live by faith, and sinners must be saved by grace.
Stop hoping, then, in mere good works to give your soul a lift,
And open the Father’s foolish, graceful, unbelievable gift.

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