Courage: Something You Can Have. Something You Can Take

“Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD.” (Psalms 31:24 NASB) Courage is an interesting thing, and people try to define it in different ways. Most of us probably first thought about courage when we saw The Wizard of Oz, and listened to the Cowardly Lion wish that he had some. It is not merely about being fearless or foolish, but it is a level of poise or resolve that some people have when things get tough, and in some measure it helps all of us to make our way in the world. Aristotle said, “You will never do anything in this world without courage.” Maya Angelou says, “Without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.”

Dictionary.com defines it as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.” What is it in your life that requires courage? It may not always involve grand adventures or epic struggles but courage is something all of us need from time to time…

You’d think people in the Bible didn’t need it so much because they had, well, GOD. Yet there is enough uncertainty where the spiritual intersects our temporal, everyday world that 1) we still need faith; and 2) we still need courage. There’s that interesting story about Peter getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus out on the water. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (John 14:29-30) Even with Jesus right there, and doing something no other man had ever done, Peter got distracted and got scared. He needed courage.

The Bible often uses the term as a means of encouragement before undertaking a daunting task. Moses exhorted Joshua and the children of Israel to “be strong and courageous” in Deuteronomy 31:6-7; David found “the courage to pray this prayer” and ask God about building the temple in 2 Samuel 7:27; and Hezekiah exhorted his leaders to “be strong and courageous” in the face of an Assyrian invasion in 2 Chronicles 32:7. The Spirit of the Lord encouraged Paul to “Take courage!” in Acts 23:11 before he was called to testify in Rome. In each case, people had a right to be afraid—they were faced with uncertainty, danger, or impossible odds.

Ambrose Redmoon (a beatnik and flower child back in the 60’s) said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” There are things in your life that you fear; what is more important to you than fear? I suppose that if I lived a life of true faith, and if I had real confidence in God, I would never be afraid. I’d be like Daniel in the lion’s den, or Shadrach in the fiery furnace, or Paul about to face shipwreck on a stormy sea. But like everybody, I am often distracted by the cares of the day, or the uncertainty of the future. Is it wrong to be fearful?

Consider this: when I allow fear or worry to dominate my thoughts, I am actually practicing a little form of idolatry, because I am allowing something in my heart and mind to be bigger than God. I may not intend to, but the reality is I am inadvertently replacing God with my own concerns. What can I do about that?

In Psalm 31, David said we should take courage. It’s interesting to note that in this Psalm, David talked about traps, affliction, deceit, troubles, sorrow, grief, and tribulation… He had firsthand knowledge of being besieged by circumstances and abandoned by friends. He speaks of lying enemies, conspiring schemers, and describes himself as a broken vessel. Because of all he had experienced, his closing statement about taking courage is not rose-colored optimism, it is a hard-fought insight about how faith in God can instill hope and confidence into believers even when many things turn against us. Blessing and hope are not found in the absence of trouble, but in their midst. Be strong today, and let your heart take courage!

Life is full of moments that can lead you to uncertainty,
And there are times you have to deal with worry and adversity.
Living as a fugitive, King David was no stranger
To enemies, affliction, sorrow, grief, and outright danger.
Life will bring you sorrow. It will take your heart and break it;
David offers this encouraging word for us to make it:
Hope is ever in the Lord, and you don't have to fake it;
His courage is available to us. Look up, and take it.

 

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
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The Idolatry You Should Forsake: Worship Like You Mean It

Most of us would scoff at the idea that we would practice idolatry. And yet most of us engage in it. “Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly. “ (Ezra 10:1, NIV)

After returning to Israel from exile in Persia to rebuild the temple, Ezra learned that the people who had remained in Israel had taken up with local women and local gods. They were bowing down to little idols and figurines in supplication and praise. He became utterly convicted because Israel was practicing idolatry and worshipping lesser deities instead of God. In the Jordan River valley, people worshipped the sun as well as local gods who were thought to govern fertility or rain. Pagan worship practices included repetitious music designed to help achieve a catatonic state of ecstasy; there were also stimulants and temple prostitutes to add to the local worship experience.

In our modern world, we may feel a little smug because we don’t bow down to little statues, but trust me—we practice idolatry pretty much every day when we put any other thing or desire in front of our love for God. Be honest now, does anything ever get between you and God? Ever have ANY desires that you want more than Him? Any things you want to do more than you want to worship God? Yep, those things aren’t little statues, but they ARE idols. So, take a little inventory. What do you worship?

Ezra was so stricken with grief over the danger of sin that he confessed and wept openly before the whole assembly. There are a lot of verses from the Bible that we use to express optimism and joy. We rejoice in our salvation. We know that Jesus came that our joy might be full. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. But when is the last time that you went to church and had a good cry, and wept openly in front of God and everybody?

Now, I know we feel that we can cry out to God when misfortune strikes, when life seems unfair, or when we are hurting over something that has happened to us or someone we love…That is an appropriate time to cry, but that is not the kind of crying Ezra is talking about here: When was the last time you wept in a worship service because of something YOU have done (or haven’t done) before God? When were you inconsolable in worship, not because of some bad circumstance, but because you realized the magnitude of both YOUR offense to God and the price He paid for your redemption?

I think our worship today often falls short of what it could be in terms of being transparent and repentant before the Lord, particularly in churches where expression is frowned upon, and God’s Spirit is limited to what time the local NFL game starts. Perhaps that’s because many of us are only partly committed to worship, and EACH OF US falls short of being truly repentant and vulnerable when we go to church. Could it be that we worship our own sense of decorum more than we worship the Lord? Do we worship appearances more than transformation? James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

Ezra led the people of Israel by confessing and weeping, and bowing down before everyone in the house of God. The large assembly that gathered around him expressed their fellowship by weeping bitterly alongside him, by sharing his conviction over how he had fallen short of true commitment to the Lord, and being repentant over his sin. When is the last time you wept bitterly over your sin? When was the last time the whole church bowed before God in genuine emotion to confess and express true repentance?

Here’s the problem: I’m pretty sure that I’m not ready to go blurt out my sins in front of everyone at church, and I’m pretty sure most of them aren’t ready to hear me do that, either; but perhaps I can take some steps in that direction by being more honest in my confession before God, and a little more distraught about the idolatry in my life. I bet if enough of us did that BEFORE church, we’d have a different experience when we got there.

Ezra bowed, and prayed and cried with love that couldn’t be denied–
No pretense here, no foolish pride, just honesty from deep inside.
And all the people wept and prayed, forsook the idols they had made,
Left the coolness they displayed, and bowed in grief and awe, afraid.
Israel joined–no one declined–to leave their idols far behind.
What about YOUR secret mind? If you looked closely, could you find
Some altars of idolatry that none suspect, and none can see?
Confess and weep. Repent and see that if you pray transparently,
Your worship wouldn’t be so lame, your church would never be the same
And You won’t check the time in worship, waiting for the Cowboys game…

 

To buy my latest book, 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
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Real Leaders Have to Be Willing to Let Leaders Lead

The Bible contains some pretty good advice for leaders. “Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” (Exodus 18:17-22 NASB)

Moses’ father-in-law is introduced in Exodus 2:18 as Reuel, which means “friend of God”. He was a Midianite priest who was also called Jethro, which was probably a title of respect, meaning “excellency.” He was a devout man who celebrated Moses’ return from Egypt with burnt offerings, and said in Exodus 18:11, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” It must have been a bit of a surprise to him that Moses left as one of his shepherds and came back as the ruler of thousands and thousands of Israelites, but as he observed his son-in-law try to manage things, Jethro could see that Moses needed some help. He greeted Moses with enthusiasm and then offered him this wise counsel in verses 17-22.

The Bible is full of good, practical advice about leadership, and it offers many examples of good management technique. In this case, Moses was doing what many bosses assume: “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”. As a result, Moses was wearing himself out as the sole judge and arbiter for all of the Israelites, conducting daily hearings to help settle disputes among all of the people.

Jethro, his father-in-law, counseled him to 1) educate the people about God’s statutes and laws; 2) select godly leaders who loved the truth, and 3) lighten his workload by sharing the burden of leadership. If you have a leadership position, if God has given you a task, then think like Jethro and act like Moses. Surround yourself with honest, godly people who will exercise their own gifts and abilities to share the burden and lighten the load. Just make sure you look for the right qualifications. Jethro

said, “…select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain.” That’s actually a pretty strong list, and if you applied those qualifications to a business, or a church, or to, say, Congress, how many leaders would ACTUALLY be left to lead? I think Moses’ problem today would be in finding enough able men who fear God, love truth, and hate dishonest gain. But asking if others have those qualifications as leaders is really the SECOND question. The first question is, would YOU qualify? If you lead anyone, anywhere—if you are a mom, a dad, a boss, a teacher, a friend, whatever—those are the qualities you should pray for, and hope you see not just in others but also when you look in the mirror.

Jethro watched the way that Moses managed
And felt that he was somewhat disadvantaged.
He said, My son, Don’t try to do it all,
You’ll soon discover you will hit the wall,
And jeopardize your mission and your health:
Instead of doing all the work yourself,
Select some honest, godly men to lead
And it will give you all the help you need.”
Moses followed Jethro’s plan to lead,
And found a better platform to succeed.
If working hard’s not getting us what we need,
Perhaps that’s something all of us should heed.
Choose on godliness, if you can see it;
And best, for godly leadership, just be it.

To buy my latest book, 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
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The Bonfire of Vanity: Advice From the Wisest Man Who Ever Lived

Tom Wolfe understood all about vanity; so too, apparently, did an older and somewhat jaded King Solomon: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NIV)

The book of Ecclesiastes is the most pessimistic book in the Bible. It was written by King Solomon, who had seen it all and done it all.  He experienced all that life had to offer and had grown jaded and a bit cynical. In chapter one he began with “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (verse two) He says “all things are wearisome” in verse eight, “there is nothing new under the sun” in verse nine, and draws this conclusion in verse fourteen: “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”

Solomon reached these conclusions at the end of a long life full of wealth and achievement. When he was a young man about to assume the throne of Israel, 2 Chronicles 1:7 says that “God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon asked God not for wealth or power, but for wisdom; pleased with his choice, God gave him wisdom and all of those other things as well. (Kind of a preview of Matthew 6:33 in real life.) As a result, Solomon lived a long life populated with fame and fortune.

“King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:23-24) The visiting Queen of Sheba told him, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.” (1 Kings 10:6-8)

People magazine or TMZ would have covered the goings-on in Solomon’s court, and I imagine there was no vanity he didn’t have the opportunity to see or do. He built the biggest temple, lived in the most opulent palace, and married the hottest women on the planet. So why is all that important, and what does it have to do with us? I would think that the observations of one of the wisest and most experienced men in all of history would be worth consideration.

After everything he had seen and done, Solomon arrived at the conclusions he listed in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, which essentially tells us two important things: 1) Fear and obey God. Solomon tells us that having a healthy respect for your Creator makes sense, no matter how rich and famous you are. He also gives a shout out to obedience, which is always the natural result of respect. It’s not difficult to submit to the authority of someone worthy of respect. Solomon, a wise man, believed it made sense to obey God, which leads to his second point:

2) Remember who you are accountable to. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” It’s not about your reputation or your public persona or the few good deeds you’ve done. We are accountable to God for every deed, every thought, and every hidden thing. One of the wisest and richest kings in history concluded that God’s judgment matters. Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment.” (Matthew 12:36). Paul (Romans 14:12) said that “each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” If Solomon, Jesus and Paul think we should get ready for judgment before God, perhaps it would be a wise thing to do. Are you ready?

The wisest and the richest king, who had the best of everything--
The purest gold, the finest wines--a thousand wives and concubines!
He wisely judged the rights and wrongs! 
He frolicked in the Song of Songs!
There was no truth he could not teach, 
Nor pleasure that he could not reach...
The Queen of Sheba sang his praise, 
And stayed with him for many days,
Impressed with Solomon and his ways...
Of all men on the planet he, with all his hospitality
Was foremost of humanity, but out of all he got to see,
The cynical reality was this: that all was vanity.
The king then gave this reprimand:
"Fear God, and keep the Lord's command,
Since He alone will be the One
To judge the secret things you've done!
It's nothing but insanity 
To chase the worldly vanity.
Beware the world's ingredients;
Fear God, and be obedient.

 

To buy my latest book, 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
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Fresh Wind and Full Sail is the Antidote to Getting Stale

Jesus was talking to his disciples about the wind, using it to describe the mystery of the spiritual life: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NASB)

So, what exactly does Jesus mean by this? The wind is an intriguing analogy for one of the most difficult aspects of inner life. How do we know about the Spirit of God? Is He real to us, and as much a part of our perception of God as the other two members of the Trinity? Is a spiritual life some vague, random occurrence? Is Jesus emphasizing what we don’t know and can’t see? Is he saying, like Mohammed Ali, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; you can’t hit what you can’t see!” Or something else? Here are a few observations related to wind:

1) A spiritual life does have a source beyond us, something that is not necessarily evident. We don’t have the resources on our own to produce it.

2) There is an element of mystery to it; since it is not something we produce and control, we don’t know for sure where it will take us. We took a balloon ride over Napa Valley, and I was surprised that the balloon pilot had so little control over direction. He could go up and down, but he had to navigate according to what the wind dictated. In terms of our spiritual wind, it has a definite direction, but we don’t always know what that is, and it doesn’t necessarily serve human logic.

3) We notice it by its absence. Ever wished for a breeze, when it was still and miserable? Have you ever been spiritually becalmed? Dead in the water? If you are lacking that spiritual push, maybe you long for a little fresh air.

4) The wind, while we can’t see it, provides empirical evidence of its existence—we hear it and feel it. We know it from its effect, much like we know the Spirit from its fruit.

5) The wind is unimaginably powerful (think: tornado, hurricane). Yet we usually feel it blowing gently, or see it filling the sails of a graceful vessel, providing energy and speed. The Spirit is the same: while It is overwhelmingly powerful, He can also move gently through our inner life, providing a source of power and direction. Do you feel a freshening breeze? Better put up some sails, and make sure we are properly rigged; we’re about to set sail for adventure!

The wind expands the billowing sail,
Pushing a mighty ship with ease;
A wind can displace all that’s stale,
And cool your porch with a freshening breeze…
The wind is powerful, wild and free:
You sense the wind and you feel it blow,
Although it’s something you can’t see!
It goes wherever it wants to go…
The breeze can blow the goldenrod,
Invisible whether it’s light or dark;
And so it is with the Spirit of God,
Who is not seen, but leaves His mark.
For when you let the Spirit take command,
He’ll guide you with His gracious, unseen hand.

 

To buy my latest book, 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
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Treasure is Not What You Can Measure, But it is the Heart of the Matter

What do you treasure? And how do you keep it safe? “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, like a high wall in his own imagination.” (Proverbs 18:10-11 NASB) As humans, we rely upon physical things to provide us pleasure or protection. We often take comfort or seek solace in material things, and imagine ourselves to be secure in our own devices. If you think about it, what is your strong tower? What gives you security? Wealth, especially, is considered the answer to all ills in our society. If only I was rich, everything would be great… Then my life would be awesome.

Perhaps because he was familiar with the fact that many rich people still have emotional or moral issues, or maybe because he knew what has real value in life, Jesus did not place much stock in material things. He never owned a home. He never negotiated a contract. After he began his public ministry, he never held a job or opened a savings account. Of himself he said in Luke 9:58, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

We, on the other hand, are often more like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof”, who fantasized about what life would be like if only he were rich (“Lord who made the lion and the lamb; you decreed I should be as I am. Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?”). A rich man may feel secure because of his wealth, but Proverbs says that kind of security really only exists in his imagination. As Robert Frost said (in “Provide, Provide”), “No memory of having starred atones for later disregard, or keeps the end from being hard…” Everyone will face the end, and no one will get any help from their stuff. When we stand before God, all of the money in the world will not justify us or redeem us. The story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:22-23 illustrated the vast difference between trusting God and depending on wealth. Jesus challenged him to come be a disciple, but he had other priorities. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” He often contrasted God’s kingdom versus man’s, and when he spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, he said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34) Not many will sell everything we have and give it away; but we can all ask about ourselves, Will your purse wear out? What do I value the most? Be careful where you store your treasure. Be careful where you seek refuge.

Life for most means keeping score,
Depending on what you value more–
A bank account, the cash you’ve made,
Or heavenly gain that will not fade.
It all depends on how you measure
What you think is really treasure.
If your pockets are full, but your heart is not,
Then take a minute and have this thought:
Security and wealth reside, not in your stuff–but deep inside,
Where your hopes and dreams and thoughts abide…
When you stand before God, will you have your stuff?
Refining fire will burn away the fluff:
Just pray that what you have will be enough.

To buy my latest book, 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

 

Fruit is the External, Visible Result of an Internal, Unseeable Process

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-25 NASB) What do you know about fruit? The Bible has used it in connection with our spiritual journey since the Garden of Eden.

Eve was drawn to it in Genesis 3:6: “the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye…” She could have eaten ANY fruit but was more tempted by the forbidden fruit. (Does that still happen today?)

Fruit is colorful, refreshing, juicy, and tasty. It is the external result of an internal process. The plant or tree takes in light and nourishment, and produces the appropriate resulting fruit. From a biological standpoint, a piece of fruit is actually like a lifeboat for seeds. It harbors seeds surrounded by sustenance, so that when it falls to the ground, the seeds have a better chance to grow and flourish. The flesh of the fruit will die to support the new life that can come from the seeds.

Paul says in Galatians that the spiritual life is also characterized by its fruit. There is an external result of an internal process. A person’s fruit is evident in his actions and attitudes. If I’m yielded to God’s Spirit then I should be loving, joyous, at peace, patient, kind, good, faithful—exhibiting all of the attributes of the Spirit. But perhaps the easiest litmus test is the inverse of that: if I am selfish, anxious, impatient, rude, harsh, judgmental, then I can be sure I am walking in my own way, ordering my own steps.

I have always thought that we were given God’s Spirit as Christians somewhat magically to help us live a sanctified life, and I’ve wondered why God didn’t just take over and magically change my behavior to all those really neat spiritual qualities. I’m often the same carnal guy I would be anyway. How come we as Christians do not exhibit the fruits of the Spirit all the time? Here are a couple of thoughts.

Fruit is still an external result of an internal process. Are you getting enough light and nourishment? Have you consciously crucified your fleshly nature today? Our Imposter wants to improve our flesh, have it do some good deeds, and present it as morally sufficient to the world. The Spirit, who wants to replace the flesh, requires the same process as biological fruit. The flesh must die to produce new growth, which is something Jesus spoke about in John 12:24: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Jesus says that the fruit from wheat is not merely to be food, but that its seed is produced for a larger purpose. We often think of the fruit of the Spirit as things that make US better, or help OUR behavior. But think about it. Everything on that list is something designed to help SOMEONE ELSE. A person who walks by the Spirit will be a blessing to everyone around them. Christians are not given love, joy, peace and patience as a badge of honor for good behavior but as bandage of hope for whoever needs blessing. Nail your selfish flesh to the cross today and be fruitful. Paul says there’s no law against that.

The Fruit of the Spirit is from above,
With joy and peace, and patient love.
It’s being good, and controlling your mind,
Staying faithful, and being kind.
The fruits of the Spirit are like precious jewels,
Which, Paul affirms, don’t break any rules.
So walk in the Spirit each step of the way,
Yielding yourself to Him, come what may,
And receive this fruit each and every day:
But it’s only yours to be given away.

To buy my latest book, 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

 

Esther Had An Impossible Choice: Sometimes You Have to be Willing to Risk it All

The Book of Esther would make a great Disney movie. It has a beautiful woman, a treacherous villain, a kindly uncle, and a happy ending. The story of Esther is an amazing study in courage in the face of deception, treachery, and the twists and turns of political intrigue in a pagan royal court. Esther was placed on the horns of a dilemma, and the fate of every one of her people depended on what she decided to risk.

[Mordecai said:] “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NKJV)

In the Persian City of Susa, in the court of King Xerxes, a bitter and corrupt man named Haman concocted a plot to destroy the Jewish people. Haman had been promoted in Xerxes’ court and was a very important man. He became murderously angry at Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) because Mordecai would not bow to him in the street, and proclaimed that he would bow to none but YHWH.

So Haman decided to get revenge not just on Mordecai but on all of his relatives, and basically duped the King into signing a death warrant for all of the Jews in Persia. (Have you ever wondered WHY it is the Jews who are so often targeted with genocide throughout history? Could it be the result of spiritual conflict between God’s people and the malevolent power of this world who would seek to destroy them? Just some food for thought…)

Xerxes signed Haman’s petition under false pretenses and without much thought, not realizing it applied to his newest wife, Esther. Because of her great beauty, she had been chosen out of all the women in the kingdom to be queen of Persia. It was quite a process. After she was chosen in the nation-wide beauty pageant, she was prepared with oils and beauty treatments for TWELVE MONTHS.  No one had asked about her religion or family background, and no one in the court knew that she herself was Jewish. Her Uncle Mordecai had advised her not to disclose this information, and so no one in the Royal court realized Haman’s evil plan applied to the beautiful new queen.

Esther could have stayed incognito and hoped that she would be safe; but she also was in a unique position to help. As a result of these events, a life-changing choice lay before Esther. She could go before the King and expose the plot, but there was a catch: in his court, King Xerxes (like most despotic monarchs) had the right to kill anyone in the court who approached him uninvited. I’m sure that helped him stay on schedule, but it presented a real problem to Esther. Even further, by going forward and identifying with the Jews, she was placing herself voluntarily under Haman’s nefarious edict. Either way, she literally had to risk her own life in order to try to save her people.

I’m sure she was tempted to stay silent and hope for the best (something all of us do from time to time). After all, she had some security as a royal wife, and no one really knew that she was a Jew. In Esther 4:14 her uncle Mordecai encouraged her to approach the king. His counsel was that if she stayed silent, God’s deliverance for his people would still occur; but that perhaps she had been put in a unique position with a singular opportunity to act.

Esther is a great story, and her decision created an amazingly dramatic moment. But stop for a moment and think about that story in terms of your own life. Have you been brought to wherever you are for a purpose? Is there something you can do that no one else can do? Haven’t all of us been brought to moments large and small, with opportunities to risk our own comfort or our pride in return for greater gains? Aren’t all of us asked to die to self so that God’s greater good is realized? There’s a moment of choice in front of you, maybe today… you can choose to remain silent and hope for the best, or proclaim your loyalty and allegiance to God. Who knows–perhaps it is YOU who have come to the kingdom for such a time as this!

Esther’s Courage

Xerxes ruled with random lust; his court approached with fear.
His whimsy might be cruel or just, and Haman held his ear.
Haman’s hateful, murderous heart was filled with selfish pride,
Which turned against the man who worshipped Yahweh: Mordecai.
Haman lied to Xerxes, and his twisted, evil ruse
Convinced the King to grant the execution of the Jews.
Mordecai told Esther, then, of Haman’s vile plan,
Since her position in the court might thwart this evil man.
But if she came to the Royal court from the harem, where they kept her,
He might decline to see her with a gesture of his scepter,
And this declining gesture would mean death for good Queen Esther!
How could they escape this bind? How to change the Monarch’s mind?
Approaching him, she just might find that her request would be
declined…
Uncertain now, she wavered as she tried to count the cost.
Mordecai said, “Esther, if you don’t go, you’ll be lost–
God will save us either way, despite the turns and twists:
Who knows if you were put where you are for such a time as this?”
So Esther left the Harem and approached the Royal Hall,
Willing to save her people by being willing to risk it all.

 

To buy my latest book, 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

 

Good Decisions Come From Experience. Experience Comes from Making Bad Decisions.

King Saul of Ancient Israel made decisions very differently than David. They also had very different outcomes. Saul sometimes used consultants when making decisions.

“Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.” (1 Chronicles 10:13-14, NIV)
When David had decisions to make, he used a different method: “So David inquired of God: “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?” The Lord answered him, “Go, I will deliver them into your hands.” (1 Chronicles 14:10, NIV) Saul was Israel’s first king. When he died, David succeeded him on the throne. Saul was moody and erratic, and often allowed his impatience and insecurity to lead him into making bad choices and bad decisions.

Before you judge him too harshly, does YOUR impatience ever prompt you to make a poor decision? Do you ever get tired of waiting for God to do something and then take matters into your own hands? The Bible points out that this is a fairly common human trait. It’s essentially what Adam and Eve did in the garden. It’s what Abram and Sarah did when he slept with Hagar. It’s what Saul did when he consulted the witch of Endor. Saul’s kingdom ended in defeat and disgrace, while David’s was passed on to Solomon. Saul was alienated from God, but David received the promise of an eternal covenant.

When you think about it, David and Saul were both sinners. Both kings committed egregious sins against the Lord, but their lives had very different outcomes. While these two kings shared the ability to commit big mistakes, there were significant differences in the way they made decisions, and in the way they did business with God. The writer of Chronicles said Saul “did not inquire of the Lord”. David did. This one thing changed the way their kingdoms played out, and arguably changed the course of history. This may seem like a small thing, but the whole process of making inquiry is more involved than it seems at first glance. Take a closer look.

First of all, in ancient Israel there was sometimes a ceremonial process attached to inquiring. This would mean that it involved your intimate leaders and associates. They would know you held it important to ask God about strategy. That infers that your leaders would be like-minded men who also trusted God enough to go along with what might seem illogical to most warriors. The fact that you would ask God for permission meant that your leadership team would look and act differently than most of your competition. It would also be a somewhat public process, so that people would know you were asking God what to do. That suggests transparent, humble leadership before the people. How much credit can you take if the Lord is the one who determines the outcome? It also speaks to God’s sovereignty, since the king would be humbling himself before God and doing what God tells him to do. You would be most likely to inquire of the Lord if you knew him, trusted his judgment, and were walking with him regularly. So…

When YOU have a decision to make, How often do YOU inquire before the Lord? How often do you ask Him for strategy, consult with him about budget, or ask for permission to make the next move? How often do you inquire of the Lord before disciplining your children, planning that vacation, or deciding whether to take a place of service in church? If your answer is “not too often”, then remember these two kings, and remember to inquire. It might just change the course of history. (It has before!)

There are so many things in life that each of us must choose,
And there are many processes that anyone can use
In making good decisions. Some rely on common sense,
And some will weigh the outcome and expected consequence.
You can weigh the pros and cons, or ask folks for advice;
Some folks call on random chance, and then just roll the dice.
You might use a legal pad with columns, yes and no,
And then compare the columns to determine how to go.
Some decision-makers fear they will not get it right,
And worry so about it that it keeps them up at night!
Some are self-sufficient, and take pride in their decisions,
But still it’s hard to guarantee an outcome with precision.
King Saul was so worried that he found a witch, and asked her,
But his decision-making only led him to disaster.
David faced decisions in a different kind of way:
He inquired before the Lord, to see what He would say.
When you face decisions, here’s a method tried and true:
Go ask the Lord. And Listen. He will tell you what to do.

 

To buy my latest book, 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

 

Romantic love: Wow! Why do we Love It? Who is it Meant For?

Solomon, the King with many wives, apparently knew something about being romantic: “All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him. I will get up now and go about the city, through its streets and squares; I will search for the one my heart loves.” (Song of Solomon 3:1-2, NIV)

The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is a beautiful picture of romantic love. It weaves a rich tapestry of infatuation and desire, accented with bold allusions to physical delights as the lovers imagine themselves swept away on flights of fantasy together. “Your love is more delightful than wine…Take me away with you, let us hurry!” (Verses 1:2, 4) “Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love. (2:4)” The lovers are smitten with one another, and address each other with compliments and longing. They cannot bear to be apart!

Perhaps you have experienced a romance like that, where you were so hungry for contact with your lover that you would say with Juliet, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”, and even after a date where you spent hours with your boo, there would still be late night phone conversations or texts into the wee hours.

Romantic love is a powerful thing, an emotion that longs for connection and completion. So tell me, when was the last time you felt that way about God? When did you long for Him “all night long”? When did you consider Him first and foremost as “the one my heart loves”? I believe that the Song of Solomon is a picture of how God wants men and women to love each other, yes, but it is also deeper than that. It’s an expression of how we are to love HIM. Our longing for intimacy and connection is a reflection of God’s image and character, and it is why we were made.

Do you love God? Do you feel romantic about Him? I know you love Him rationally, and feel committed, and read his word, but do you love Him emotionally and passionately? Do you long for Him, search for Him, miss Him when you’re not together, and do you imagine you going with Him to the banquet hall, to His chambers, or frolicking boldly with Him in public? Do you compliment God the way you would compliment a lover? The next time you read the Song of Solomon, imagine that it is speaking not about Solomon and his lover, but about you and God. Insert the two of you into the hunger, the infatuation, and the desire…

Imagine being together with Him, connected and complete, confident that you are beautiful in His eyes. Feel His adoration and delight surrounding you, and give yours unreservedly back to Him. The next time you think “I love God”, take that thought to its romantic and intimate limits. Jars of Clay’s “Love Song for a Savior” says, “He’s more than the laughter, or the stars in the heavens; As close as a heartbeat, or a song on your lips. Someday we’ll trust Him, and learn how to see Him; Someday He’ll call us and we will come running, we’ll fall in His arms, and the tears will fall down and we’ll say, “I want to fall in love with you, I want to fall in love with you.” May you remember being in love with God the very first time; may you fall in love with Him all over again today. And tomorrow.

A Romantic Prayer

Sometimes, even words upon this page
May be unwrought, and dissipate with age,
As Time undoes their meaning and their passion,
Consigning them to but a passing fashion…

Sometimes, love expressed begins to fade
in Time’s inexorable, crushing promenade
As Best Intentions, stride, and walk away,
Stealing what those words once had to say.

Sometimes, even though they’re really pure,
The words can lose their zest as they mature,
Or other things move in, crowd out, replace
the passion with the normal, commonplace…

Once I fell in love with you, my Lord;
I thrilled to walk with you and read Your Word!
Help me, Father, never to be jaded,
Adoring You with love that’s never faded.

So if my words seem old to You, and tired,
Help me remember how I was inspired,
Pursued and wooed by You; and how desired!
Remind me how my love for you was fired,
And lives within me, burning, unretired…

 

To buy my latest book, 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