A Little Yeast Leavens the Whole Loaf. What the Heck Does that Mean?

Should we be keeping the law to avoid Guilt? Aren’t we supposed to be righteous? Shouldn’t Christians be better than other folks? When Paul speaks about circumcision he is referring to keeping the law, which he says has no real value under grace. To those who feel some sort of satisfaction in keeping rules, he reminds us that a little yeast leavens the whole loaf. I used to think he meant that a little sin contaminated the whole body, but I think if you look closer that he means something else. Something that righteous folks need to keep in mind…

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast [leavens] works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:6-9 NIV)

yeast

In the early church, many of the recently converted Hebrew Christians felt like Gentile believers from outside the Jewish faith should have to follow the law (like circumcision). In the Jewish system, following the law was so ingrained into their lifestyle that it became pervasive. Folks like the Pharisees had already replaced God’s love with the law, and when they became Christians they felt like everyone else should, too.
Cultures who worship following the rules in order to gain salvation elevate punishment over compassion, and legalism over love. In Romans 4:13, Paul reminded them, “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” Paul did not nullify the law, but said in Romans 6:1 that right living should be a result of salvation, not the author of it. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!”

Paul warned the Galatians against replacing grace with deadly, soul-killing legalism. Keeping the law is not the end game, even though most religion is focused on that. Tell me, if YOU were the devil, wouldn’t you rather have everyone equating God to keeping rules rather than loving each other? Wouldn’t you rather involve people in self-righteousness and recrimination rather than Grace?

Paul says that keeping the law is NOT beneficial for salvation. It’s a result of being saved. Here in Galatians he unpacks the notion that Christ died so that we can express faith in love, not so we can get caught in the chains of legalism and pompous self-righteousness. It is so easy to lose sight of that. We get caught up in how right we are, or who we are better than, and we get swollen with the pride of self-sufficiency. Paul points out that (KJV) “a little leaven leavens the whole loaf.” Even a little bit of yeast can influence a whole batch of dough, making it an entirely different type of bread. In the Jewish world, where unleavened bread was the staple, a little yeast ruined the whole batch, making it puffed-up and unsuitable. Conclusion? Eat the bread of life. Don’t be self-rising flour.

Paul reminded legalists who keep the rules the most
That leavened bread resulted in a different kind of toast.
He said that yeast would permeate the dough with all its power,
And puffed-up bread resulted from contaminated flour.
Run the race with love, and don’t let legalism in–
Claiming to be righteous is another kind of sin!
Just obey the truth, and keep the law within its place:
The path to righteousness is found not in the law, but 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
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

Armor is Needed In Order to Go Into Battle, Right?

As long as there has been conflict, men have sought ways to protect themselves. Roman soldiers carried shields; samurai wore protective body panels; and armor has been employed by everyone from medieval knights to battleships. Gladiators wore pieces of body armor in the arena, and NFL football players wear pads and helmets today. In the Bible, Paul describes a different kind of armor for a different kind of conflict.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:10-13 NIV)

armor football

Can you imagine an NFL football player taking the field with just their shorts, a t-shirt, and their cleats to protect them? Or wearing their shoulder pads but no other protective gear? Or even just their helmet? No way. These guys compete on a field with strong, fast athletes who are trying to knock them into the middle of next week! If they weren’t wearing the proper equipment, they couldn’t perform the same way the other guys could. They would be tentative, limited, and vulnerable. Football players wear all of the protective gear they can in order to keep from being hurt or knocked out of the game. Makes sense, right?

How about the body armor worn by troops and SWAT team members? Ask the policeman whose vest just stopped a bullet if he thinks it’s a good idea to wear armor…

So, why do you go into daily spiritual battle against far more malicious foes wearing less than the full armor of God? There are spiritual forces at work in this world that want to bring you down, to limit you and make you vulnerable. You may not think about it much, but you are in a spiritual war every day, and there really are forces at work trying to change the values in our world and in our culture. If you are uncertain about that, read the news once in a while…

While Paul doesn’t tell Christians to go around knocking people down, he does tell us to stand our ground. So stand firm. Protect yourself. Avail yourself of all of the equipment God offers. If you are walking around wearing only gospel shoes, you are pretty vulnerable. Read the rest of the list, which includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shield of faith (verses 14-17). Don’t go into battle un-equipped. Make sure you are completely dressed.

When you take the battlefield, conditions can be hard;
Make sure you protect yourself, and maximize your guard.
God has armor He designed to guard His troops before, behind,
To keep his soldiers all aligned in all conditions they may find.
The armor of God has been designed and put together, all combined
To guard your heart and mind when Satan tries to put you in a bind.
In the battle always keep your weapon close at hand;
When evil comes, you’ll be equipped to rise! And fight! And stand.

 

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

Stuck in a Negative Cycle? Try Getting On New One

Life hits us sometimes with a cycle of suffering. Something goes wrong, or little things pile up, and circumstances seem to come at us in waves. The road gets rocky and it’s all we can do to just hang in there. In Romans, Paul says that God offers another cycle we can ride:

cycle stone

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because 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 5:1-5, NIV)

Often when bad things happen, there is a cycle that goes like this: First, question WHY has this happened? WHY ME? Then DOUBT that God has your best interests at heart. Shake your fist at God, and conclude He’s not interested. Then decide that this faith stuff is useless. Move on in bitter cynicism… it’s a cycle of pessimistic pain, isn’t it? When we respond to tragedy from an earthly point of view, it’s understandable that people end up bitter or even hopeless with nothing to live for.

cycle

There are many things that enter our lives and create scars, leaving regret or anger behind. Paul says that hoping in God’s glory is not one of them. Think about it: would it ever be a bad thing for us to reflect on the glory of God and how it relates to us?  In fact, Paul asserts that our lives have been affected by glory in every sense–past present, and future. We have been justified through our past adherence to faith, so that we NOW have peace with God and access into His grace. His grace seasons our everyday life with spiritual insights, forgiveness, and love. And because of this radical new relationship with God, we can stand confidently in hope that He will take care of the future. It turns difficult circumstances into a choice: either THEY shape our perspective, or GOD does. Participating in God’s glory offers us the opportunity to exchange hardship for hope, and to live with a different view of a cycle of pain…

Our suffering in this present world, when appropriated by faith, bears fruit that remains, and Paul (certainly no stranger to suffering) offers a broader view. IF we can hope in the glory of God, then adverse circumstances produce perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character begets hope. God validates that hope with love, a cycle of productive pain that allows for character building instead of cynicism. It’s a much better cycle than the other one, don’t you think?

Sometimes life will knock you down. You’ll find yourself retreating,
As things come in relentless waves, just beating, beating, beating…
Paul declared that suffering provides a chance to boast,
And when we’re at our least sufficient, God is at His most.
Lifting up our hearts to God can really change our story,
And we can find His peace, and apprehend the hope of glory.
When things occur that outstrip our ability to cope,
Persevere and pray, and call upon the God of Hope.
Circumstance and sin can’t win as long as you allow Him in,
And He will change the hard refrain of pain into your gain.
If you’re hopeless, take a step to God in faith, because
Events can never shape your outlook any more than God does.

 

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

Training Happens Every Spring. So Shouldn’t You Start Training?

Pro baseball players begin their year by going to Spring Training. (And in the summer, Pro football players attend training camp.) Coaches and trainers are engaged, and every resource is provided to help maximize a team’s potential. Athletes use all kinds of training regimens to get into shape and be prepared for the challenges they face. Interestingly enough, Paul encouraged Timothy to do the same thing.

“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come… Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, 11-12)

Paul was advising Timothy about how to be an effective pastor, but his counsel carries a few good words of advice for all of us no matter what our vocation. 1) Don’t be distracted by what you hear in the media, social or otherwise. There’s a lot a misinformation floating around out there, so concentrate on the good stuff.

2) Train yourself to be godly. Godliness apparently doesn’t just happen magically, and Paul says that you can pursue it like an athlete pursues fitness.

training

Would you say that you are in training to be godly? What is your daily regimen? What are your goals? How hard do you work? Training doesn’t just happen; it requires thought and effort. Paul points out that physical fitness has value, but that spiritual fitness is something you will carry not only through this life but the life to come.

I get mail from my gym on a regular basis encouraging me to engage the services of a personal fitness trainer. Many people think nothing of spending money to help achieve their physical fitness goals, but does anyone ever think of spending time and money to achieve SPIRITUAL fitness goals? Have you ever thought of doing that?

3) “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young”. Paul wanted to encourage Timothy as a young pastor, but I see this as a fill-in-the-blank verse. There are always naysayers and obstacles to overcome in this life, and Paul is saying that they pale in comparison to the high calling of God.
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are __________.” Fill in the blank: Not trained. Too old. Inexperienced. Damaged goods. Too ordinary. Too Out of the ordinary. You fill it in. There’s a saying that God doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called.

4) “Be an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” I think that list covers just about everything. Training to be godly has results. If you’d like to reflect these actions and values, work on it. Keep training!

Paul tells Timothy that athletes work hard on their fitness,
And challenges him to work out just as hard to be a witness.
Physical training has some value, but spiritual training brings
A godliness, the growth of which brings value to ALL things.
Equip yourself with habits. Every day you can begin
By having time alone with God, to build you from within.
So train your spiritual self, work out! And build your spiritual pecs
Since godliness has value, both in this world and the next!

 

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

Dishonor: What Does It Mean? (Hint: It’s the Opposite of Honor)

Jesus was debating with the Pharisees when they decided to throw out the demon-possessed dishonor card. As often happens, the side with the weakest points resorted to insults rather than intelligence.

“The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 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.” At this they exclaimed, “Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (John 8:48-52, NIV)

dishonor

Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees took place in the open courtyard of the temple, surrounded by observers and passers-by. Jesus’ opponents had already called him an illegitimate child in verse 41, so it is no longer a theological discussion or discourse. (Hmm, still happens in “debates” today, doesn’t it?) Since they could not overpower his claims or his civility, they made it personal and attempted to dishonor him. It probably doesn’t translate to us as well as it should have, but by calling him a Samaritan, they were throwing out something more inflammatory than the N word at a civil rights demonstration. Then they piled on with demon possession. Suffice it to say that they insulted his family, his momma, his legitimacy, his teaching credentials, and his mental health right there in public, in front of God and everybody.

Jesus kept as cool as ice in a Yeti, and reminded them that:

1) He honored God with his words and behavior, even while they dishonored him;

2) His Father would ultimately judge their actions and their words (as He will for all of us); and

3) whoever obeyed his word would never see death.

I wonder, do we ever dishonor Jesus with our words or actions? Are there times when our language or attitude disregards him, and is more like the Pharisees’ than the Father’s?

The apoplectic scribes and lawyers, having unloaded all of their insulting vitriol against him, finished with a question, “Who do you think you are?” Given their frustration and their inability to debate, diminish or dismiss Jesus, it probably seemed like a logical question, the capstone on their attempt to dishonor him. Instead, it became a question for the ages: Who was Jesus claiming to be? Why did he make such incredible claims? What proof did he offer, and could he really grant eternal life to those who would follow him?

I’m sure that they felt smug and self-assured by asking that question, assuming he was wrong… And that question is still being asked today by those who would seek to diminish his claims or deny his place in history. But what if Jesus was right, and his statements about himself were true? The dialog then forced the scribes and lawyers to consider whether their question had relevance or not.

While you consider their question, here’s a better one: “Who do YOU think he is?”

The Pharisees believed that as a group they were the best,
And said that Jesus was impure, and probably possessed.
They threw dishonor at his mom, and called him a Samaritan,
But Jesus didn’t bat an eye. I don’t think he was scared of them.
They asked, “Who do you think you are?” although they made it plain
To anyone who listened that they thought he was insane.
After two millennia, that question still remains,
And I think it is worth consideration, just because:
Who did Jesus think he is, and who do you think 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
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

Temptation Offers Its Fruit in Many Forms. Beware!

Temptation comes in many forms, but nowhere has it been depicted any more accurately than in this Genesis account. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

temptation Eve

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:1-6, NIV)

The account of man’s temptation and fall in the garden packs an incredible amount of truth into a very few words. Here are a few quick observations:

1) “Did God really say?” Twisting the truth is a sure path to ruin. It almost always opens the door to doubt, rationalization, and denial.

2) God gave man hundreds of fruits to say “yes” to and only ONE “no.” Man still chose the one wrong thing. We still do that today, don’t we? In the face of any number of blessings, we will choose selfishness and rebellion over love and obedience.

3) The story doesn’t tell us WHO added “and you must not touch it”. Eve could have been repeating what Adam told her. Men have always added their own burdens and interpretations to God’s command, starting with the first one. But perhaps adding more restriction to God’s statement made it easier to rationalize and therefore easier to break.

4) Adam was apparently off working or playing golf long enough for Eve to have a lengthy conversation with the serpent. The crafty serpent may have been hanging around for a while, biding his time. We often flirt with temptation a bit before accepting its invitation to dance. People rarely fall headlong into grievous sin; they sneak into it one step at a time, and everyone else is surprised when the marriage suddenly breaks up or the bigger theft occurs. Usually the temptation and response to it have been quietly growing over time…and so has the magnitude of sin.

5) The serpent was smart, and he went after both Eve and Adam very strategically. He tempted Eve by questioning the truth; he also offered her something tasty and “pleasing to the eye”. He attracted Eve with a desirable THING. Kinda like shopping. Or Pinterest. Women rise up in arms if anyone suggests that shopping is a sin, trust me on that one. But it relates to covetousness, and desiring things. That’s what drew Eve into sin.

6) He not only offered her a pretty, tasty snack, he offered her the opportunity to supplant the authority in her life, promising “you will be like God.” No longer would she chafe under Adam’s (or even God’s) control, she could take this shortcut to moral independence. What a temptation! What woman could resist that? I’m sure her new knowledge and worldliness was appealing to Adam as well, since it offered him also the chance to “be like god”. This has been tempting to all men under anyone else’s control ever since.

7) Adam was tempted not by a thing, but by a now-knowledgeable, naked Eve who was now able to dangle her fruit in front of him in ways he’d never thought of… what man could resist that? (The biggest selling Sports Illustrated edition every year has nothing to do with sports. Just sayin’.).

The writer of Genesis created a depiction of temptation and sin that has endured not just for centuries, but for millennia! Not only is the Genesis story mythological and archetypical, it is also still applicable. We still get messages that encourage our independence and selfishness more than ever. The next time the crafty old serpent tempts you to question what God has said, be reminded of John 8:32: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

Somewhere in the Garden, Eve was left alone to hear
The devious, crafty Serpent as he whispered in her ear:
“Has God been over-bearing? Has He said you must not eat
Of the Tree of Good and Evil? I have heard its fruit is sweet!”
Then Eve embraced temptation, and a tiny bite was taken;
Her heart and eyes were opened, but eternity was shaken.
The Garden trembled that the Word of God had been forsaken…
Then Eve combined the fruit with all the new things that she knew,
And Adam fell under her spell, and soon was eating, too!
They suddenly knew many things, and suddenly felt shame;
And after that, the world they knew would never be the same.
Temptation still appears today, and offers us its fruit–
That thing on Pinterest that we want, or a beautiful birthday suit–
So if temptation comes your way, and craftily deceives,
Hold fast to things that Jesus taught, and be one who believes.
Sin can change your world just like with Adam’s. And with Eve’s.

 

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

Habakkuk Tells us to Rejoice When Things Fall Apart. Really?

Habakkuk seemed to have it backwards. He tells us to rejoice in failure. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV) There are times when everything seems to fall apart. It can be a major calamity or it can even be an accumulation of small things, but sometimes it seems like life is just not fair.

Habakkuk knew

There is a reason people say, “It never rains, but it pours”, because calamities and irritations seem to travel in a pack. Failure happens. Something mechanical breaks down. A relationship gets strained. A bill comes due, and there is no money in the account to pay it. Cable goes out just before the big game… And sometimes, it all seems to happen at once.

Habakkuk says that even in the midst of breakdowns and unfortunate circumstances, “Yet I will rejoice in The Lord, I will be joyful in God my savior”. God does not afflict us, He offers us salvation. He uses even bad circumstances for good–to build patience, to draw us closer to Him, or to make us more like His son. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

So when you encounter failure, the crops fail, and the fridge is empty, don’t give up! If you are experiencing something difficult, don’t despair. Winston Churchill said, during England’s dark days under Nazi attack: “When you are going through hell, keep going.” Habakkuk takes that challenge even further. He says we should flip the tables on it and rejoice! Joy is a choice we can make, and the Lord promises that He will work within even your worst circumstances for your good, and to give you reasons to rejoice. When the worst happens, we may not gain triumph over circumstances from an earthly perspective, but we can gain intimacy with God, and He can use circumstances to improve us. Habakkuk also says that we can rejoice no matter what, so take heart: choose joy.

 
Habakkuk says, when times are hard, that he will still rejoice:
Could it be, like trusting God, that joy can be a choice?
Though circumstances flail you, don't allow them to derail you,
So whatever that entails and whatsoever may assail you,
Place hope and trust in God, and know that He will never fail 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
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

Leadership Upside-Down: The Man Who Led the Wrong Way

There are lots of different definitions of leadership, and many different ways to lead. Wikipedia says, “Controversial viewpoints are present in the literature, among Eastern and Western approaches to leadership, and also within the West, on US vs. European approaches.” I’m sure these approaches have their strong and weak points, but there’s a rarely used one in the Bible that’s worth considering. It’s also one that’s worth following.

leadership

“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45, NIV)

James and John had approached Jesus and asked to sit next to him when he came into glory. This caused some friction among the other disciples, who resented the idea and wanted to establish their own place in the pecking order. Jesus starts by reminding them how the Gentile leaders operated, and told them to turn that model upside down. This paradigm for leadership was not just something Jesus talked about, it was something he lived and demonstrated.

When some of John’s disciples asked him what he was about, his answer was “Come, and you will see.” (John 1:30) His direct, accessible leadership style was founded upon exemplary humility and service. Instead of lording over them, the Lord of Lords humbled himself and served them in the most menial act of service their society had to offer…

Quick, now: make a list of all the leaders you have ever known who operated the same way. I bet it’s a short list. Our cultural definition of leadership requires authority, giftedness, the ability to motivate people, strength, and ego. In today’s political world it also takes a large amount of money. Jesus says that instead of lording it over others, the leader should be a servant and a slave to all. So stop and recalibrate your definition of leadership. Think of ways you can serve others. Then get out there and lead!

Politicians interest me. It seems that no one dares
To ask why all those Congressmen end up as millionaires…
Aren’t they public servants? That’s a term that I’ve heard used,
But more and more it seems like public trust has been abused.
Leaders strut and posture, and they’ll offer up a speech,
But more and more it seems that they are rich and out of reach.
Jesus told his followers, “Don’t do what rulers do:
They exercise authority and lord it over you.
Instead, if you desire to lead, and want to be the best,
Don’t emulate those leaders who are just like all the rest,
But here’s a thought on leadership that you should contemplate:
Go serve, and be a slave to all. Then you’ll be truly great.”
The disciples looked around the room; they knew it must be true.
For after all, it’s what they’d always seen the Master 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

“Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness” Isn’t In the Bible. But Wait! Maybe It Is, After All!

The Phrase “Cleanliness is Next to Godliness” isn’t in the Bible. I know this would disappoint any number of Grandmas who have used it to exhort unwilling 10-year-old boys to practice cleanliness in a stronger way, but it’s just not there… But if you dig a little deeper, you might find something about cleanliness and Godliness that could apply to ALL of us.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV). From a theological standpoint, our sin was settled once and for all at the cross, and we have been granted righteousness in cosmic court on Judgment Day. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This means that from a statutory perspective, the penalty of our sin has been paid.

But from a practical standpoint, we still struggle with our cleanliness and we have to deal with the presence of sin. We still live in a fallen world, and possess a carnal nature that is contrary to things of the Spirit. Sometimes we still make choices that make us feel like godliness is far away… 1 John 1:9 is a well-known verse which confirms that sin doesn’t just magically go away, and is something we need to contend with. I’ve heard it called “the Christian bar of soap” because it presents the practical means for us to practice spiritual cleanliness in a dirty world.

cleanliness

John points out in verses 8 and 10 that all of us will struggle with temptation and sin, and there will be times when we make selfish choices or do something stupid or think something hateful. Even though we are free from the penalty of sin, until we go to glory we will still deal with the presence of sin. We get dirty. When that happens, John says we should confess. This confession is not mere assertion, or rote recounting of sin, but part of a heartfelt desire to turn away from sin and to embrace the teachings of Jesus. If confession ever becomes “going through the motions”, then watch out because it may become something less than true confession. But when we truly confess “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We can be cleansed in a dirty world. We can be cleansed from dirty thoughts and dirty choices. Confess. Cleanse. Repeat. Maybe godliness isn’t as far away as you think.

Jesus died for sinners, and he paid the penalty
So we could stand before the Father, clean as we could be.
When we stand before the throne and Jesus claims us for his own,
We won’t stand there all alone, and sin and death will both be gone!
But here on earth, we struggle with the presence of our sin,
And sometimes wonder how we made the mess that we are in.
When that occurs, the Father says, we have the solid hope
Of cleansing if we just apply the “Christian bar of soap”:
Confess your sins, and mean it. Do it every day you live,
And God is faithful, promising to cleanse us and forgive.
Since we wrestle with our sin, it’s really pretty neat
To know God says it’s simple. Just Confess. Be cleansed. Repeat.

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

Success Guaranteed in a Book: The Secret Every Leader Should Know

The Israelites had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, and stood poised on the outskirts of the Promised Land. The most dynamic leader any of them had ever known was gone. People wondered if their chance for success had gone with him. At this critical moment Joshua son of Nun stood before them and gave them this exhortation:

“Only be strong and very courageous,that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:7-8, NKJV)

success

Moses, the greatest leader in Israel’s history (and arguably one of the greatest leaders in all of history) was gone, and Joshua was given the task of leading the stubborn and unpredictable Hebrew people into the Promised Land. Success would not come easily, but Joshua had already proven his mettle back in the wilderness of Paran, where he and Caleb brought back a good report from Canaan and advised Moses to go take the land even against great odds.

Now the children of Israel were poised to end their wanderings and complete their quest. There would be danger and difficulty. People would need to be motivated and shepherded into a hostile environment. The Lord told Joshua to look two places for help. First, he told him to look within himself, to “be strong and very courageous.” The Lord knew that there were untapped reserves within Joshua that even Joshua wasn’t aware of. Not only did this apply to Joshua, but it is undoubtedly true for all of us; it’s true for me, and it’s true for you.

I think it’s important to note that even in a life of faith, where God wants us to depend on Him, He still tells us to dig a little deeper in order to achieve success. So the next time you are frazzled, the next time you doubt, the next time you feel unsure about expressing your faith, “be strong and courageous.” God’s Spirit is given to us to offer us sufficiency and encouragement. Claim His power in prayer. Dig deeper.

The second place God told Joshua to look was in the new secret weapon He had given Moses. The Lord promised Joshua that if he spent time in the Book of the Law, if he meditated upon God’s wisdom “day and night”, and if he followed it rigorously, he would be prosperous and have good success. The secrets to happiness and success are in God’s word. Dig deeper.

Moses was gone. Israel waited. So Joshua, son of Nun
Stood up before the people and exhorted everyone:
“Be strong and be courageous! Trust the Lord, and do things right;
Meditate in the holy Book of the Law both day and night.
Keep it in your heart and follow everything it says,
And God will give you wisdom, and His guidance all your days.
Observe the law; receive the blessing, do not ask for less,
And then your way will be prosperous, and you will have success.”

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