Cornelius Proved That There is Something You can do that an Angel Can’t. So Do. Your. Job.

There is an interesting story in Acts that indirectly describes what an Angel Can’t Do, And the funny thing is that it has something to do with YOU.

“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?”

Cornelius

So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter. 6 He is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. He will tell you what you must do.” (Acts 10:1-6, NKJV)

Cornelius did as he was told and sent for Simon Peter, who came to his house and shared the Gospel. Cornelius and his entire household responded to Peter’s message and became believers. But here’s a very interesting Question: why didn’t the angel of God just tell Cornelius what to do?

Angels are powerful, impressive, truthful messengers from God. An angel was sent to Mary and to Joseph to brief each of them on the coming birth of their son. Throughout history, Angels have delivered all kinds of important news from God… They are striking and unusual, and they command attention and respect. Why didn’t the angel just go ahead and share the Gospel with Cornelius? Surely he would have responded! Surely the average person, upon receiving such a message from an angel, would accept it and believe!

So why didn’t the angel just say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved”? Have you ever asked that question? Well, here’s the Answer: because angels CAN’T share the gospel. There is only one set of messengers empowered to share the gospel on earth, and it is US. You and me. If the good news goes anywhere, it will not be because celestial beings appear to tell it. It depends on people like you and me. Which leads to this: if God sent an angel to someone seeking the truth, would that angel tell them to send for you? And if they sent for you, would you go? What would you tell them?
Something to think about; something to DO something about…

Your Mission, Should You Decide to Accept It…

Down in Caesarea one day
An angel came to Cornelius to say,
“Cornelius, we know you are seeking the Way!
So go find Peter at Simon’s place,
And he will talk to you face to face.”
Cornelius went, and he heard about Grace,
And believed everything that Peter said.
But tell me, this question is in my head,
Why didn’t the angel just tell him instead?
Why didn’t the angel just share the good news?
It’s something he knew that Cornelius could use!
If an Angel shared Jesus, why, who could refuse?
The reason he didn’t was not that he wouldn’t;
He reason he never shared was that he COULDN’T.
That mission is something that he couldn’t do:
The Gospel comes only through me, and through YOU.
So tell me, my friend, are you ready today,
If a curious seeker of truth comes your way,
Just what would you tell them? And what would you say?
If a guy comes along with a faith that’s unsteady,
Could you share the Gospel with him? Are you ready?
Angels have powers, but this is still true:
The Gospel comes only through me, and through YOU.
So, get ready to share. It’s a job you can do!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Thirsty for a Nice Cold Beer? Then This Post is for YOU

Ever get REALLY thirsty? Been working in the yard when it’s 90+ degrees, sweat keeps getting into your eyes, and you just gotta have something cool and refreshing? David talked about that, but he gave it a twist and applied it to something more than physical thirst, which brings up a question: What Are You Thirsty For?

Thirst affects us physically in many ways; it causes disorientation, hallucinations, and it can even cause our vital organs to shut down. We get parched and it’s hard to keep moving. We can be stranded in the desert, lips cracked, skin dry and desperate for water. David knew that feeling. He had been a fugitive hiding in the desert and had probably been stranded in the arid landscape of southern Judea more than once. Yet even as daunting as that circumstance could be, he realized that water wasn’t the only thing he could be thirsty for…

“O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your loving kindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.” (Psalm 63:1-4, NKJV)

thirsty

Read through David’s prayer again, and consider the way he describes how he feels about the Lord… “You are my God! My soul thirsts for you! My flesh longs for you! Your loving kindness is better than life. My lips shall praise you. I will bless you!” When was the last time your everyday prayer was close to this? Yes, I know my Creator is awesome, but when I compare my hurried “bless this day” prayers to David’s love songs, perhaps I have fallen just a bit short in my estimation of who God is, and how amazingly blessed I am. Perhaps the omniscient Lord of the Universe is waiting for me to fall in love with Him, and would love to hear me tell Him just how much he means to me…

If you pause for just a moment and think about all the blessings in your life, even amidst the irritations, the inconveniences, the troubles, and the sorrows, consider this: God is just as open to this kind of relationship with YOU as He was with David. He is thirsty for you. The Almighty God of the universe longs to be intimate with you. David spoke to Him like a lover, with passion and affection and possession. But He isn’t just David’s God; he is MY God. He is YOUR God. Do you thirst for Him? Do you long for Him?

When was the last time you poured your heart out affectionately to the Father and told Him that you loved him dearly, that you longed for Him, and that couldn’t bear to live without Him? When is the last time you crawled up in His figurative lap and huddled close to Him, overwhelmed with love and joy? I thought so. Stop and tell Him. Use David’s prayer as a template if you need to, but I bet He’d love hearing it in your own words.

Thirsty?

Father, when I pray to you from dry and thirsty lands,
I never shout my joy to you; I never lift my hands!
I ask you for all sorts of things, but never sing you songs,
And rarely say that You’re the one for whom my spirit longs…
I pray for people who are sick, and ask you, Lord, to heal them;
But I don’t see your glories, Lord: I ask you to reveal them!
Bless me Father, as I pray, give me a holy thirst
To know your heart as David did, and help me put you first.
Help me look into your sanctuary; help me see
That I am yours, and that your sanctuary, Lord, is me.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Casting Lots May Not Be Enough: Things to consider next Time you have to choose an Apostle

Need to choose a Thirteenth Apostle? You can’t just go to Central Casting and ask for one. There is a lot to consider..

After Judas committed suicide, it was deemed necessary to replace him. The disciples followed a time-honored method, selecting likely candidates and casting lots. (Traditional Jewish wisdom held that God would reveal his will via this method, even if it seems cultural, or even a bit like flipping a coin…Even though decision makers would pray and seek God’s will, they still tended to rely upon a process that much of their society also used—kinda like modern search committees…)

“So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”

casting

Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:23-26, NIV).

Churches everywhere follow a pretty secular template to selecting people to be on staff. They review resumes, conduct interviews, and they select the candidate who seems most worthy based on the process. They differ from mere business interviews because they pray over their selection, and they certainly ask the Lord to provide them with the one whom He has called. The current model that churches follow today is actually still very similar to the one used by the Apostles. (With the exception of casting lots, which was actually considered a good indicator of God’s will in first century Jewish circles.) I have no doubt Matthias was a godly man and a worthy choice to replace Judas.

I have no doubt that the disciples had good intentions and followed the best process they knew… but here’s the thing: This is the LAST time Matthias is mentioned in the New Testament. I am sure he was an honorable man who had a meaningful ministry, but his name never comes up again in the records of the growth and development of the early church. Meanwhile, through another process, God acted to provide his own replacement for Judas—a guy named Saul of Tarsus, whose name was changed to Paul. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

We often turn to our own ingenuity and wisdom to try to carry out God’s mission, forgetting that the one irreplaceable factor is the power of His Spirit working within us. Let’s not forget that all the processes in the world can’t hold a candle to being selected, motivated and empowered by the Living God!

Casting Call

Disciples did the interview, and got the candidates down to two,
Proceeded in they way they knew by casting lots from which they drew.
Matthias’ name became selected, so he was the one elected.
Though he was named Apostle then, we never heard from him again!
Meanwhile, God sent out a call to a Pharisee whose name was Saul:
A persecutor full of hate, a most unlikely candidate,
Who had to have a brand new start–
God changed Saul’s name, and changed his heart.
Just remember, understand that processes designed by man
Are doing things as best they can but they cannot replace God’s plan.
If you question this at all, just think of the Apostle Paul,
On whom God’s grace was once bestowed
right there on the Damascus road!
God’s choice in this was simply plain;
Instead of trying to explain,
Just read what Paul once wrote again:
“To live is Christ, to die is gain!”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Jealous FOR Someone is Much Different than Jealous OF Someone

Have you ever stopped to consider that the Lord proclaims Himself to be jealous? What do you think He means by that?

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6, NIV)

God’s first instruction to Israel was to worship Him alone. That certainly makes theological sense, because given that He is GOD, He is Supreme and above all human frailty, and worthy of our singular worship. He goes on to say that He is a jealous God. Wait, say what?! We normally see jealousy as a sin, akin to envy and driven by insecurity. Being jealous OF someone has overtones of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and often displays a resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage. It is possessive, demanding, and overbearing.

But God is not speaking here of being jealous OF someone. He is talking about being jealous FOR someone. He is passionate that no harm come to those whom He loves. He has a righteous zeal and anger against anything that can cause pain or death for His children. The Old Testament word for jealousy literally comes from someone getting red in the face, and it has to do with a zealous emotional response. A selfish, insecure person is never justified in being jealous of and resenting someone else; but a husband can be passionate about his wife’s affection; a mother can be jealous FOR her children’s safety. The entire Bible is centered on God’s jealousy for us and His concern that we would allow anything else to come between ourselves and Him. I think that you could take every sin there is and relate it directly to idolatry. We may not bow down to little carved statues, but we all dabble in idolatry from time to time…

jealous

All selfish sin, whether it is generated by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life (1 John 2:16) comes from putting your own desires before God’s, so it is essentially worshiping yourself instead of your creator. Therefore, when we follow our own carnal desires, we are actually placing them ahead of our feelings about God. Why do you think He hates that? Is it because He is selfish and wants all the attention, or because He knows that the wages of sin is death, and that we can only find life in Him?Tell me, what things do you worship instead of God? What selfishness do you justify, and what subtle desires do you rationalize as “OK”? It can be easy to leave God out of the picture when there are hundreds of idols to choose from. Here’s a suggestion:  Don’t. Bow. Down.

 

The Jealous Suitor

"I am a jealous God", said He, "And I'm calling you to worship Me,
Instead of statues carved of stone, or images made of wood or bone...
For worshiping such idle things will end in death and all it brings,
So this commandment I will give: Worship Me, and you will live.
Listen, please, and don't ignore; a thousand generations more
Will feel the love I have because it's you that I am jealous FOR.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Fearless Love Enables You to Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

Would it be good for you to be fearless? The Apostle John thought so, and I know he went through a number of dangerous situations. All of us probably have moments when we’d love to be fearless (such as when you ask someone to be your Valentine!), although there are certainly times when it might not be such a good idea…

fearless

John said this: “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.…” (1 John 4:17-19, NIV)

On this day we tend to think a lot about love. There are a lot of notions about love, aren’t there? There is love of things (I love my car/house/video game), love of appetite (I love chocolate/beer/steak), love of animals, love of others (friends/family), romantic love, selfless love, summer love, endless love. Songs reflect that diversity with titles like “Love hurts”, “Love is a Battlefield”, “Love is a Wonderful Thing”, “Bleeding Love”, and “Love is All you Need”.

Love gets intertwined with all kinds of things in media and culture, so we allow it to have many definitions, most of which are not love at all. Sometime we can clarify what something means by stating its opposite, and most would probably say that the opposite of love is hate. But here in these verses, John infers that the opposite of love is not hate but FEAR. I don’t know that I ever think of it as the opposite of fear.

What does John mean by that? Perhaps that, unlike the transient, earthly love we so often experience, true love is dependable. True love gives absolute confidence. Why would John have juxtaposed love with fear? For one thing, he watched Jesus up close for several years, and if you think of it, none of the Gospels ever says, “Jesus was afraid”. John noted Jesus’ courage and understood its source.

In John 13:1 one he makes the observation that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them unto the END.” To quote a praise song, John observed first hand that “your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me”. He says that love casts out fear, and the one who fears is not perfected (matured) in love. We can test that in a way by saying it in reverse: fear casts out love; but those who embrace love are fearless.

fearless dance

Tell, me, are you fearless? What are you most afraid of? Being hurt or rejected? Being marginalized? John says God’s love won’t do that. He reminds us that there is an intimacy with Christ that we carry through this world, that we are somehow united with him as we live our lives… I kinda think John’s point is that since God’s love protects us in something as big as the Day of Judgment, all the rest of our concerns are really nothing to be afraid of by comparison. You don’t need to control things to be secure; you just need to realize what love means in your life. Look up and be glad about how much God loves you today. Then, take a deep breath, ignore those little insecurities, and be “dance like nobody’s watching” fearless!

Opposites Attack

Love for some is just a sport, perhaps a game of chance;
Love can be chemistry that sparks a new romance,
With someone that you like a lot, the spark is real, the kiss is hot,
You both decide to take a shot and vow to give it all you’ve got!
But even love with such high hopes can end with a broken heart,
With bitterness that lovers feel when they are split apart.
If we describe the kind of love that goes out on a date,
Most of us would say the opposite of love is hate.
But I had never thought of love the way it’s written here:
John says that the polar opposite of love is FEAR.
Our earthly love can turn to hate, reflecting its impurity;
He says God’s love is something we can all embrace with surety,
The Father’s perfect love can give us freedom and security.
If you embrace the fearless love that God has given you,
How would your life be different then? And what would you go do?
Consider that. Consider that His love will cast out fear,
And you can dance like no one’s watching. Yep, you read it here.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

The Equation that Changes Everything in the World

As we get close to Valentine’s Day, there is an equation about love that John uses to describe the nature of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. It is simple but surprising. The equation is this:

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (I John 4:16, NIV) John claims that God is love. This makes sense from a Biblical view, and it aligns with what Jesus taught—that love is a distinctive which identifies those who follow God. You know how an equation works, right? X = Y means that everything on one side of the equation equals the other side EXACTLY. They are interchangeable because they are equal.

equation

And “God is Love” is not the only equation in the New Testament. Consider this: we are designed to be complete only in relationships, and relationships are only complete when they run on love. The equation is, two people become one flesh. Husband equals wife. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one”. The equation is, Jesus equals the Father.

When John says, “God is love”, he is saying that love is God’s makeup—it is the essence of His personality, his character, and his being. If you think about it, we know about and acknowledge several things about God’s character. He is holy. He is a Righteous Judge. He is the source of all forgiveness and grace. But John’s equation sets the baseline for who God is. What He does is motivated by love and is an expression of love. God cannot commit a purely selfish act.

When you flip that statement around (which you can always do when you juxtapose two equal objects with a verb of being, and it will still be true), it says, “Love is God.” John is saying that not only is God characterized by love, but that EVERYTHING loving is from God. Whatever love you encounter in this world comes from God—there is nothing loving apart from him or without him. We experience love in many forms, and probably every one of those forms is valid, as is anything that we perceive as love.

We experience a mother’s love, there is love in friendships, and there is the love we have for puppies and little children. There is deep, abiding love, romantic, mushy love, and there is even sexual love between a husband and wife (yes, God created sex, and in way more than fifty shades!). There are all manner of other kinds of love we feel or encounter or touch in this life.

But here’s the deal: None of them would exist without God. Some of them may seem to us to be disconnected from God, but if you look closely I think you’ll start to see in them a glimmer of God’s presence, or a fleeting glimpse of his character. And the more you look, the more you’ll see that they couldn’t exist without Him, that there is no real love apart from God, because God is love, and love is God. Good thing to think about during the month that contains Valentine’s Day.

A Different Equation: One Plus One Equals One

To my lovely wife: you’re the love of my life!
To my family and friends, may our love never end!
It is more than a fad or a transient trend.
Just remember this stuff, when the going gets tough:
Love is God; God is love, it all comes from above;
It’s the nature of God, and when push comes to shove,
It is God’s DNA, and it’s what He’s made of!
So, everything loving you happen to see’s
A reminder that God lives in you and in me:
Love’s what He gives us, and calls us to be…
Just in case I haven’t said it enough,
What you say: Love is God. What it means: God is love.

Go love somebody, and go feel loved today. In other words, be godly. Then thank God that you just saw Him where you weren’t looking before!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Sow Seed Any Old Way You Want: But if you Sow wisely, You will Reap Well…

Have you ever sown seeds and watched them grow? I remember the bean we put into a jar in kindergarten. It was so cool to sow it properly and watch it come to life!! Well, think about what it means to Sow and Reap: Consider both the process and the outcome.

sow

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12, NKJV) What a full verse this is! The Bible often uses farming terms, which makes a lot of sense since it was written in agrarian societies and it speaks so often about growth. Hosea preached using this farming analogy, which says a great deal in a short verse. First, he says that we should “sow for ourselves righteousness”. Think about what it means to sow seeds. You have to begin with the end in mind. You need to have the right seeds and you also need the right environment, with appropriate conditions and surroundings. Good fruit won’t come from just any kind of dirt, you need to prepare the soil.

sow seeds

Hosea says that you must break up the fallow ground. You can’t just toss seeds out on hard, packed earth and expect results. You must break through the dry crust and till the soil to expose the richer dirt beneath.

Our spiritual growth is a lot like that. You can’t grow healthy crops without disrupting the status quo and breaking through the crust of our assumptions. Sometimes we grow a crust of sin, hardening our hearts against God’s character or standards; and sometimes we put on the stifling armor of self-righteousness, smugly judging others while hunkered down in our bunker of holiness…

Hosea is talking here about God’s righteousness, and he says that if we sow in righteousness, we will reap in mercy. I think this applies in two ways. If we find righteousness through repentance and faith in Christ, we will receive mercy. God always responds to repentance with mercy. Always. When is the last time you turned a repentant heart to the Lord? If it’s been awhile since you have humbled yourself before God, what is there that keeps you from being broken before him today?

Second, those who have found such righteousness will themselves be merciful. I think we often grasp salvation as something wonderful God has done for US, and that is certainly true; but I think the more important thing is that salvation is something God does THROUGH us. “Sow in righteousness, reap in MERCY”. We are given God’s righteousness not for our OWN benefit, but in order to extend mercy. As the recipients of mercy, we should be merciful. Have you been forgiven? Forgive.

Sow Well and Reap Well

Think of how this world would be if there were no forgiving:
Life without forgiveness almost wouldn’t be worth living.
God’s amazing mercy makes us whole, when given TO us;
And His forgiveness, sown in righteousness, will then renew us;
But then His mercy, as intended, is extended THROUGH us.
Sow in righteousness, but here’s a scripture you can keep:
Mercy is the only crop that righteousness should reap.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Witnesses who Matter: If You are in the Latest Group of Witnesses, What’s YOUR Story?

You see it in movies and on TV, the nervous person in the witness-box, swearing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They are usually just people who happened to see or experience something pertaining to a trial in a court of law, and they are called upon to testify before a judge, perhaps a jury, and the plaintiffs or defendants. Witnesses tell the truth as it happened to them, and every witness has a story.

witnesses

Nike had a pretty effective ad campaign for LeBron, saying that we are all witnesses of his exploits. LeBron James does indeed have an impressive basketball resume, but here’s a more important consideration: When it comes to life, what’s YOUR Story? People in Jerusalem were challenged to be witnesses about what they ACTUALLY saw.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV)

When talking about the various witnesses to who Jesus was, it’s important not to forget one last group. He commissioned everyone who would encounter him, eyewitness or not, to be witnesses on his behalf.

witnesses testimonies
It’s not surprising that Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses. After all, they were looking at him, and eyewitness testimony is a powerful thing. It is used in courtrooms and product testimonials. Even Nike and its ubiquitous swoosh appropriated the idea and challenged people to be witnesses. I like LeBron, but I’d have to say that life is not worth much if we are only witnesses to basketball…

This verse is often used to illustrate strategy, and it certainly makes sense to “bloom where you are planted”, and then to extend your outreach to successive concentric circles, beginning with your city and extending to your region and your state. It’s a strategy that worked amazingly well in a time before there were marketing experts and demographic studies and focus groups.

To me, one of the great proofs of Christianity is that so many first century believers were changed so radically by the good news. Everyday people were touched by the message and teachings of Jesus Christ, and lived differently as a result. When they were challenged by opposition, they could have recanted or back down to protect themselves, but they didn’t. Many of them died defending their beliefs, and it is truly astounding to think about the world-changing power that was unleashed through those first century witnesses who confirmed what they had seen and heard.

That chain of confirmation includes everyone who heard the good news and found it worthy of a response, from those ordinary citizens in Jerusalem who heard Peter or Stephen preach, to Lydia the seller of purple, to Cornelius the centurion, to philosophers on Mars Hill, and to martyrs who chose public and painful deaths rather than renouncing their testimonies…

The world’s transformation went on and extended to the next generation of witnesses, to Catholic priests, to Reformers, to Lutherans and Methodists and Moravians, and through successive generations of believers who continued to be witnesses one after another, taking the Gospel out to foreign cultures and to other lands, spread out across history against all odds, the word of mouth that reached all shores like ripples in a pond.. And it has come down to here: to you and me. We are all among the secondary generation witnesses, who are now empowered to testify about our experience in our OWN neighborhoods and hometowns, across social and cultural barriers, and everywhere we go.

I was a fourteen year old who felt like love was not very dependable. I encountered the life, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus in a way that enabled me to feel loved, to love God, and to love others. I wasn’t totally sure it was true, but something made me believe that Jesus mattered, and that he mattered to me. Since then, I have seen God heal; I have seen Him change lives; I have been a witness to His deliverance of a small party of refugees from a war zone; and I have experienced His boundless love and forgiveness in ways that have in return enabled me to love and to forgive. My life is a testament, not to my good nature and sunny disposition, but to God’s love. We are not only witnesses of it but participants in it! What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Post it here in a few sentences, go:
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
(Or post a comment, and PLEASE put your story here!!)

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Eunuch who Encountered the most amazing Rabbi in History

After the crucifixion and resurrection, there was strong persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and followers of The Way were scattered out into Judea. For both the Romans and the Pharisees, the unintended consequence was that believers began sharing the good news wherever they were. In one such instance, Philip encountered a eunuch from Ethiopia who was reading from the OT Scriptures. “The Eunuch was reading this passage (Isaiah 53:7) of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth… The Eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:32-35, NIV)

eunuch

At one time it was pretty common for kings’ courts to have a resident eunuch or two. They were men who looked after the royal harem, and they were emasculated so they could look after the king’s harem without being tempted to make advances to them. In many ways a eunuch probably had a pretty good life (got to live in the palace, eat well, hang out with pretty women all day…) but they paid a high price to be the harem’s bodyguard. I would think most eunuchs would have to be somewhat philosophical, because they experienced something terrible for a man, but then had to consider that, well, life is still not so bad after all…

This Ethiopian eunuch was riding along in his chariot, reading the Scriptures, and asked Philip to explain Isaiah’s metaphor about a lamb being led to slaughter. This conversation is really key in understanding something very important about Jesus. If you just take Jesus at face value, and consider only his teachings, he is at the very least an amazingly gifted Rabbi who taught revolutionary things about interpersonal relationships, the Kingdom of heaven, the law, forgiveness, priorities…

The truth of his teaching resonates not only for first century Judea, but also down the corridors of history and into today, and stands brilliantly at odds with all of the “me-first” humans in a selfish world. But consider this: when you look at the Hebrew Scriptures (OT), they provide a lens through which Jesus of Nazareth must be viewed. Peter quoted them in his first sermon; Stephen was stoned to death while expounding upon them; Philip used them to tell the eunuch the good news; Paul logically connected Christ’s work to the Hebrew Scriptures.

In every case these Scriptures create a context that makes it impossible to dismiss Jesus as a mere brilliant Rabbi. He is the one who the Old Testament foretold with detail and accuracy. He was the one about whom Isaiah was speaking, as well as Moses and Micah, and David, and Daniel. You can rightly be impressed with Jesus if you just read some of his teachings; but you’d be rightly amazed if you study even a few of the ways his life and mission were accurately predicted by men who lived hundreds of years before. If you think Jesus was only a good Rabbi who taught good things, think again: The Scriptures said he was coming, and that he would be our Savior. To paraphrase Philip, that’s pretty good news indeed!

The Eunuch in the chariot was reading from Isaiah;
(His life had been adjusted so he couldn’t be a playa),
But when he had an inquiry about Isaiah’s lamb
Philip helped him see that Jesus was the great “I am.”
Jesus was a Rabbi, yes, whose teaching was so bold,
But more than that, he was the one Isaiah had foretold,
And who the Scripture said would come way back in days of old.
Ask the questions. Search the Scripture, and I bet you’ll see
That Jesus was the man the Scriptures and he claimed to be!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

The Brothers Who Didn’t Believe

As we’ve been talking about eyewitnesses around the life of Jesus, there is certainly a small group that bears consideration: his own brothers. They saw him every day growing up, and the few glimpses we get of them suggest that they had concerns about their eldest brother. Mark 3:21 says that as Jesus’ ministry began to draw crowds, “[his family] went to take charge of him, for they said, he is out of his mind.” We know that the Pharisees expressed this opinion later on, since John in 10:20 they say “he is demon possessed and raving mad”, but it might seem surprising that his own brothers raised concerns about Jesus’ mental stability.

Since our knowledge about Jesus’ childhood is limited to a couple of short glimpses, I would offer a couple of opinions about why his brothers might have felt that way. First, we know from Luke’s gospel that when twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind in the Temple and interacted with the teachers, his exasperated parents were “astonished” at his display of wisdom (2:48), and “did not understand” that he had to be in his father’s house ( verse 50). This suggests that Jesus did not fully display his spiritual and intellectual gifts at home as a child, and lived as a fairly normal boy in a normal family.

There has been some degree of ecclesiastical debate about Jesus’ family, since the Roman Catholic church believes that Mary remained a virgin for life. Mark 6:3 specifically mentions his brothers “James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon”, as well as his sisters. Some believe that these were perhaps older children Joseph had from a previous marriage, or cousins of Jesus that Mary was raising. While these positions allow for Mary to remain a virgin, nowhere in Scripture does it proclaim Mary to be such, and in fact Matthew 1:28 suggests otherwise, saying that Joseph “had no union with her until she gave birth” to Jesus. I’d also point out that Gospel writers had several Aramaic words for brother they could have used, but several times use adelphos, which refers to a brother out of the same womb (or born to the same parents). I mean no disrespect to Mary’s reputation, but it seems clear that Mary and Joseph had other children, and that Jesus grew up in a good-sized family.

In any case, Jesus certainly displayed patience as he prepared for his mission (note his several references to “my hour is not yet come”) and it is very likely that even his brothers were therefore somewhat surprised by his sudden (awesome) display of wisdom and spiritual gifts when he began his ministry. That’s probably why John 7 records this : “Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”

Early in his ministry, it seems pretty clear that Jesus’ family struggled with what to think about his preaching and his display of miraculous power, although as John pointed out, Mary had great confidence in her son’s ability to do something amazing at the wedding in Cana of Galilee… But Jesus’ brothers, who tried both to take him home from the gathering crowds, and also pushed him to go to the feast of Tabernacles, were still unsure about what to think about him. Matthew 13:57 quotes Jesus as saying that a prophet is “without honor in his own house.” Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt, but it’s also quite probable that, having seen Jesus every day living a somewhat normal life, his brothers had established a baseline opinion about him that was just hard for them to expand.

So, why do I mention his unbelieving brothers, and what do they have to do with what you might think about Jesus? It’s because they didn’t stay unbelieving. Acts 1:14 says that after the crucifixion, the disciples waited in the upper room along with “Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” We know that his oldest brother James went on to be a respected leader in the Jerusalem church and wrote the epistle bearing his name. In Jude’s letter (written by the younger brother of Jesus), Jude identifies himself not as an apostle, but as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude v 1).

 jesus' brothers did not believe

Even though they struggled at first with their eldest brother’s identity, at least two of Jesus’ brothers became strong believers as well as leaders in the early church. After the resurrection, they joined the growing throng of people who verified that Jesus was who he said he was. Jude said, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life.” (verse 21) James characterized himself as a “believer in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1) If you’ve ever been skeptical about Jesus, consider the reaction of those who witnessed him in person, including his own brothers. Hear their testimony before you decide. James 5:9 says, “the judge is standing at the door.” Don’t reach a verdict before you have listened to all of the evidence.

 

The Brothers

They say familiarity can cloud a person’s view,
Obscuring what they see because of what they thought they knew.
Jesus’ brothers had concerns that he was going crazy,
Because they were so close to him, it made their vision hazy.
I’m sure they were concerned about the family’s reputation
When crowds began to follow him, and caused so much sensation!
But after their initial doubt had caused them such concern,
Apparently they realized how much they had to learn;
Both wound up following Jesus as they worked with one accord,
And served the early church with zeal. They even called him ‘Lord’!
If you still doubt who Jesus is, then read their words, and get this:
You wouldn’t judge a trial without assessing every witness.
His brothers may have started out as doubters who were rude,
But what they had to say about him can’t be misconstrued:
The letters offer testimony made by James, and Jude.
They both saw what they saw, and then they wrote it down because
They both believed that Jesus Christ was who he said he was.

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