Respect: I Guess Aretha Franklin Was Right, After All

Aretha sang about Respect, (R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me!) and it was something all of us can relate to.

respect

Everybody wants to be treated fairly. Paul talked about it, too:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:1-7, NIV)

This is a pretty controversial passage, isn’t it? Paul’s words would not be very popular today, I’m afraid. On one hand, some would say that THEIR president didn’t get elected, so they don’t have to respect the current officeholder. They might even use their freedom of speech to express negativity in personal attacks and mean-spirited rants. People hated on Barack Obama when he was President. Even Christian threw stones while the world watched to see how well we love our enemies. Today, the celebrities whose party lost the election are belligerent and profane, filled with righteous indignation; but they’re not alone: the party that won is not any better. Haters gonna hate, and nobody gives anybody respect.

On the other hand, there are people who fight representatives of law enforcement at every step, who refuse to offer them cooperation or respect. They lie to them, resist them, make it incredibly difficult to do their job, hurl obscenities at them, and in extreme cases, target them for violence. And then they wonder why those representatives lose their composure or overreact. At the same time, some folks in law enforcement abuse their power or use it unfairly. Nobody gives anybody respect no matter which side they are on…

Paul’s counsel is pretty simple: Offer Respect. Treat governing authorities as if God elected them. Don’t rebel against them. All of Paul’s advice goes against our grain; we are indignant at such antiquated advice. It raises hard questions. Should we follow along like sheep even when governing authorities are evil? What if a law enforcement official steps over the line? Can’t we fight back? Politically, do we not have the right to protest, to express our opposition to incumbents? I don’t think that Paul is telling us we have no political rights, no freedoms, or that followers of Christ can’t express themselves. But he does say a couple of important things:

One, Obey the law and respect authorities as you would respect the Lord. I see a huge lack of respect in our society, and it seems like it’s getting worse every day. Respecting and honoring our fellow citizens might change our dialog and our opportunities to find solutions. Disagree but don’t be disagreeable. Treat others the way you would wish to be treated.

Two, Paul says that if you don’t break the law, you have nothing to fear. “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.” This doesn’t account for every single situation, and statistically we know that you are FAR more likely to be wrongfully detained or questioned in America if you are a young male with darker skin. But Paul’s advice to EVERY young man, regardless of color, is simple: Do what is right. Wouldn’t life be simpler if you never gave anyone a reason to detain or arrest you? And to leaders, he would say: God has put you where you are. Act like it.

Three, follow Aretha’s advice and give each other (whether government officials or not) honor and respect. If all human transactions in our country were conducted with honor and respect, what would change? Would checking out at the store be different? How about driving? What would change on social media? On your newsfeed? In our politics? Today’s verse probably has something for everyone, regardless of race, color, creed, or political party: if you are being selfish, mean-spirited, a perpetual victim, a self-righteous judge, or a disrespectful thug, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. Start doing it right. Yeah, you. Listen to the Bible. And to Aretha.

RESPECT (written by Otis Redding, sung by Aretha Franklin)

What you want (oo) Baby, I got it
What you need (oo) Do you know I got it
All I’m askin’ for is a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)
Hey baby (just a little bit) when you get home
(just a little bit) mister (just a little bit)
I ain’t gonna do you wrong while you’re gone
Ain’t gonna do you wrong (oo) ’cause I don’t wanna (oo)
All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)

 

Hey, America, yeah we've got some liberties to protect,
And each of us stands on our rights the way you would expect;
But hatred only leads to hate (at least the last time I checked),
So maybe we should offer one another more RESPECT.
Take what Aretha sang, and what Paul wrote, and be direct:
All I'm askin' for, America is a little more respect!

 

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
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Independence Day: Remember What Your Freedom REALLY Cost

We value freedom in America, and we exercise it, too. On July 4 we celebrate the freedom that we gained by becoming independent, but there’s far more to that than meets the eye. It is in the personal stories behind the American Revolution that we can, I think, truly come to appreciate what the word Independence means. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not merely making a political statement; they were risking their lives….

independence day

Stephen Hopkins from Rhode Island, aged 70, said as he signed, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.” Benjamin Franklin uttered the famous words, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”

The wealthy John Hancock was already a wanted man, and the British were offering a 500-pound reward for him. He said he signed in enormous letters so that “John Bull can read my name without spectacles and may now double his reward.”

Benjamin Harrison, a large man, jested with one of his smaller colleagues that he would hang more quickly because of his large girth, while the smaller man would hang much less efficiently…

Each of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence became a wanted man; and each, knowing full well what the cost might be, put his signature beneath this statement:
“For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Of the 56 signers, five were captured by the British, and were tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked or burned. Two lost sons in the Revolutionary army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.

Francis Lewis of New York saw his home plundered and destroyed by British soldiers. His wife was captured and treated with brutality, and though she was finally exchanged for two British prisoners through the efforts of Congress, she died a few months later.
John Hart of Hopewell, New Jersey risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. After her death, the British hounded Hart, who was forced to live in forests and caves for over a year. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste. When the British were driven from the area and he was able to return home, his wife was dead, his children gone, and his home destroyed. He died a few weeks later, in 1779, of an illness; some say of a broken heart.

Governor Thomas Nelson, Jr., of Virginia, became aware of the fact that the British General Cornwallis had made his headquarters in Nelson’s beautiful home. When the Marquis de Lafayette invited Nelson to direct the artillery fire, he instructed the troops to fire upon his own home, destroying it. Nelson went bankrupt and died 7 years later at the age of 50.

Carter Braxton of Virginia was a wealthy planter and trader. The British navy sank his ships, and he was forced to sell his properties to cover his debts. He died in rags.
Thomas Lynch, Jr., of South Carolina, suffered broken health from deprivation and exposure he endured as a company commander in the military. His doctors ordered him to seek a cure in Europe, and on the voyage there he and a young bride were drowned at sea.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence paid a terrible price so that you and I might have freedom; most of them died without ever knowing if their desperate gamble would pay off.

John Adams, in a letter to his wife, called out to those of us who would come after him:
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent it in heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”

On July 4 we have Parades, fireworks, shows and games to celebrate our Independence Day, and most of us enjoy the day without even being aware of the individual sacrifices that took place to make it happen…
We value independence in America. We celebrate it. It is part of the fabric of our lives. If you look up the word independence in Webster’s, it says: “free from the authority, control, or influence of others”. As Americans, we treasure this aspect of our political life, we are accustomed to it, we even take it for granted! Most of us will agree that Independence is a good thing.

I’ve got some bad news. In a spiritual sense, independence is a terrible thing. As glorious as our Freedom is, and as much as I gained researching the stories of the sacrifices and noble actions of the Patriots who risked everything for Independence, I realized that there is a different perspective on independence, a Christian perspective. The first letter of Independence is “I”.

Think about it for a minute…Christianity is full of paradoxes, which stand conventional thinking on its ear: you have to acknowledge your sin to be made righteous; to be nothing in order to become something; to die to yourself to live for Christ; act as a servant to be the leader; be last to be first; give to get; lose your life to keep it; and be glorified only through humility.

The Biblical perspective on Independence is clear: it gets us into trouble.
Satan was independent (“I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…”) He fell from God’s glory into a world of dark shadows, disaster, selfishness, and pain.

Eve was independent. (“I know Adam told me God said I shouldn’t eat this fruit, but why shouldn’t I be able to do what I want?) She ate the fruit God said not to eat, and exercised her will over God’s instructions.

Adam was independent. (Why shouldn’t I have the right to know good and evil?) He ate the fruit and introduced death and shame into the world, bringing destruction to all mankind.

Cain was independent. (Why should I have to sacrifice the way God says? I’ll do things my way) He was so consumed by pride and self-will he murdered his brother…

The Israelites gained Independence. They threw a wild party, worshipped a golden calf, and had to wander 40 years in the wilderness so that a whole generation could die before going on to the promised land… Later, in Judges 21:25 it says, “And every man did that which was right in his own eyes… [The story of the nation of Israel gets repetitive: they do what they want, they pay a fearsome price for it, they are humbled by circumstances, they cry out to God for help, and he delivers them from their oppression. Once they are delivered, they get comfortable, and they start doing whatever they want again.] It may be the story of Israel, but it is the story of us all.

I have been independent. And I guarantee you that every big mistake I’ve ever made has been because I decided to do what I wanted to do, regardless of the consequences. I have acted, to recall Webster’s definition, “free from authority or control”…

What about you? The downside of Independence and the freedom it brings is that it also allows selfishness, and the ability to act however we want. So as you celebrate today, remember: Freedom isn’t free. And freedom doesn’t come from doing whatever you want; it comes from doing what is right. In John 8:32 Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” In verse 36 he said, “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” As you celebrate independence today, be free. Be free indeed.

Because it’s free, American life and citizenship are sought;
So when you think of freedom, and the good things it has brought,
Remember: freedom isn’t free, for it is dearly bought.
America, don’t do what you want, but please do what you OUGHT.

 

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
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Revenge (According to Paul) is a Dish That is Best Served… How?

We live in a culture that says it is ok to take revenge on those who wrong us. We have rap stars who get into spats, a President who tweets, and attacks on social media against virtually any point of view. However, the Bible’s advice about revenge is absolutely counterintuitive:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NIV)

revenge

As Paul illustrates what love looks like, he paints on the canvas of human relationships, and he advises believers to be abnormal. Conventional wisdom might say that our self-worth enables us to move beyond revenge, but Paul suggests there is more to it than that. There are a few subtle points in this passage that are important.

A loving person, Paul says, does not exact revenge or repay evil for evil. As he encourages us all to live at peace with those around us, he agrees with what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? ” (Matthew 5:44, 46 NIV).

We are not to seek vengeance when we are wronged, and we can achieve justice by leaving things in God’s hands. Peace is impossible where people seek vengeance. Gandhi reiterated this when he said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Paul encourages us to “leave room for God’s wrath”. This is a striking statement in the middle of a chapter about love, and one of the subtle points that are important in this passage. God’s wrath is a fierce and righteous thing. It is never capricious or frivolous, but always just and appropriate. We can depend on it. It addresses wrongs and ultimately (rightly) punishes those who harden their hearts.

In C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the great lion is portrayed as loving and kind. But the characters who know him are filled with respect, and even somewhat afraid of him. He is civil and majestic, but fearsome and dangerous. When they describe him they always say, “Oh he’s not a TAME lion”. God’s wrath is something pure, far above our petty motives and selfish ways. Romans 12 says we should allow HIM to administer perfect justice instead of attempting to straighten things out ourselves. SO what does that look like for you?

The temptation to take revenge comes in many situations. I drive a LOT in traffic (in my job, on vacation, traveling, whatever) and I am a fairly assertive driver on a road filled with timid, distracted, or just plain selfish people. Of course I myself am a GOOD driver. As a result I tend to be critical of other drivers, and even offer commentary on their lack of skill, concentration, and judgment. My entire family has noticed this through the years, and it is an area of my Christian walk where I have often been less than loving.

As I have gotten older, I’ve made some progress with my attitude behind the wheel, and have at least become a bit less outwardly demonstrative toward the (bad) distracted drivers around me (which means: I don’t purposely cut them off, make unnecessary hand signals, or give them dirty looks) but I haven’t really lived in peace while driving. Based on Paul’s advice, I am trying to apply Romans 12 to my driving, so I can exemplify a different attitude in the car. (Some days good, some days still not so good…)

I’m not sure that letting someone merge when it’s not their turn will “heap burning coals” upon them, but I could at least offer good in response to evil and trust God to provide justice. Driving is really just a small part of our lives, and there are many ways we could leave justice in God’s hands and allow HIM to take care of revenge: leaving that catty response unsaid, or NOT talking about someone behind their back, or showing grace on social media when someone is so obviously wrong…

But I’m sure you can think of your OWN application of Romans 12. What keeps you from living at peace with others? What frustrates you about your enemies? Next time you bump into one of those things, show some love instead of frustration. Get out there and overcome evil with good. God says He will take care of the rest.

When someone’s actions hurt your feelings,
Insult you and send you reeling,
Listen to Paul’s astute advice:
Don’t take vengeance, just be nice!
You don’t have to pull your sword;
Give your anger to the Lord,
And try to find a better way.
Remember He had this to say:
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay”.

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
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What Are You Doing Here on Earth, For Heaven’s Sake?

What are you doing? I mean yes, in the grand scheme of things, what are you doing here on earth? Life is not about feeling, it is about DOING.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12: 12-16, NIV)

Paul started this “love chapter” by exhorting us to be living sacrifices, and to follow Christ’s selfless example. In verses 9-11 he talks about the need for sincere love. Here in verses 12-16 he says that DOING love is more important than FEELING love…

He acknowledges that love is a great motivator, and I bet your own personal experience would bear that out. (Think about some of the things you have done because of love—whether foolish things to pursue romantic love, or acts of service inspired by unselfish love… We have all found ourselves doing something differently at some point because of love’s motivational pull.)

Here are two very different examples: The summer I was 15, I was on the aquatics staff at YMCA Camp Flaming Arrow in Kerrville, Texas. Hoping to meet girls, I put “HI THERE” with adhesive tape on my chest for about a week. When I removed the tape, my tan lines said HI THERE all by themselves for at least a couple of weeks. (True story. Yeah it’s a dumb thing, but I was 15 and it did actually help break the ice with local girls a couple of times. It was, however, a little embarrassing on Parents’ Day at the end of the session, since I was on the aquatics staff and was in the pool working with kids with a chest that said, “HI THERE”…)

doing  (NOT an actual photo)

A few years later, I was on staff at the Navigators’ Eagle Lake Boys’ Camp in Colorado Springs. At the end of the summer, I donated a big portion of my salary to the camp (which, my Dad pointed out, was supposed to be my spending money at college that fall; when he had to replace it, it actually meant that HE had given the money to Eagle Lake. Sorry, Daddy. My heart may have been in the right place, but the net result of my decision fell on you…)

Both of those actions were motivated by love in one form or another—one foolish, and one sublime—but both were done in hopes of having a different outcome than would have been achieved by standing pat. The point is, what are you doing differently today because of love? What outcome are you hoping for?

Paul says here that love will help us overcome adverse circumstances. It enables us to view the world differently: to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. I have to say I am ashamed at how often I am NOT patient in affliction or faithful in prayer. How about you?

Love inspires generosity towards others, and it even helps us act differently towards those with whom we disagree. Do you bless those who persecute you, or do you curse them? If we are living sacrifices, Paul says, we will be empathetic and live in harmony with others. Burt Bacharach’s1965 pop song said, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love”… The Beatles said, “Love is all you need.” How true.

There is too much division in our world and in our culture, and not enough blessing. Paul said a living sacrifice is not stuck up or conceited, but spends time doing loving things, which creates a means for God’s love to reside on earth through us, to us. Be loving today. Make the same decision tomorrow.

Love is not emotion or the giddy way you feel;
Love is more than feelings, (although feelings may be real);
Love is more than romance, or the love songs used for wooing:
Love is found in how you do the things that you are doing.
Do them well, and serve as if you worked for God above,
And fill your life with godliness by doing things with love.

 

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

Here Are Two Words You Don’t Use Every Day: Passionate Fervor

In Romans 12 (the “other” love chapter) Paul describes love’s many facets, and he uses familiar words like sincerity, devotion, and honor. He also uses uncommon terms, like fervor, which is not a word that’s much in vogue today… (The dictionary says it means having passion, or intense heat.) When was the last time you talked about having FERVOR? It happens at sporting events, maybe, or rock concerts, but there aren’t many cultural equivalents I can think of. I’ve heard about a religious fervor where people get whipped up into a frenzy, but I’m pretty sure Paul is not talking about that here. When you look at the passage, he describes it as something else:

fervor

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:9-11 NIV) I’ve mentioned that in Romans 12, Paul has been painting a picture of love. It’s slightly different from his eloquent words in 1 Corinthians 13, and it expands and explores the boundaries of our definition.

He started by exhorting us to follow Christ’s example of sacrificial love, and continued by encouraging us to build each other up with whatever tools God has given us. Now he gets specific about love and starts to break it down for us with some detail. Be authentic (as Robin Williams’ Genie told Aladdin, “Beeee yourself!”).

Hate what is evil. Do you? I hate some of the big ugly evils, but I’m still pretty comfortable with some of my “little” secret evils… How about you? Any secret evils you need to hate?

Treat each other with respect and honor. Have you noticed any lack of respect and honor in our society today? When it comes to respect, do you extend it to others, or just expect it for yourself?

And then my favorite, “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor”! Do you have fervor? Are you passionate for Jesus? I know people worry about being pushy or overwhelming, but I don’t think that’s the kind of zeal Paul is talking about. This is the kind that seasons our thoughts and conversations, and encourages us to dream godly things.

What dreams do you have? Are your spiritual fires burning? Are you falling in love with God a little more each day? The natural result of emotional love is passion. So is the spiritual one. “Fervor” means “intense and passionate feeling”. Have some fervor about God. Be ferverous. (No that’s not a word, but I wanted you to think about it all day, ha!) Paul says that the natural result of spiritual fervor is service; as we grow more passionate about the Lord, we’ll be more inclined to serve him. I guess you could say that fervor makes you a server!

So what should we do with Romans 12? Get out there and serve! Be ferverous in your serverous.

 

Paul takes some time to delve deep into love in Romans twelve:
Honor one another. Hate evil, but love your brother.
In all your dealings, make it clear that purest love is quite sincere.
If you live the way you should, you will cling to what is good,
And devoted love will guide you as it stokes the fire inside you.
It seems if you have fervor, you will love to be a server,
And devotion to the Lord will help us act with one accord.
If the gospel makes good sense, let your fervor be intense;
Let the way you truly feel invoke a passion that is real,
And let no others steal your joy or criticize your zeal.
Be passionately ferverous in your walk and in your serverous!

 

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

When You are Given Gifts: Receive them. Open Them. Give them Away.

When you are given gifts, you usually get excited about opening them. You probably don’t think of giving them away. Paul, however, says that’s exactly what you should do:
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8, NIV)

given gifts

Gifts, says Paul, are given to each of us according to grace. Not the “tear open the wrapping paper” kind of gifts, and not necessarily the “this is your gift, for only you to enjoy” kind of gifts, but the “I am giving this to you so that you can give it to others” kind of gift. Our flesh loves to celebrate giftedness itself, and we make much of talented musicians and athletes; Grace loves to make gifts useful by humbling them in service to others.

Right after Paul says that we are all part of the body of Christ, and we all belong to each other, he exhorts us to utilize what we have been given on behalf of others.
He presents this as an “if-then” kind of process, which really has two steps. First, determine what your gift is. Paul declares that we all have different gifts, given to us spiritually “according to the grace given to each of us.”

There are gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4, and they are all focused on “others”, not on “Me”. In context, he is saying that these gifts are bestowed on each believer as part of the body of Christ in order to serve the other members of the body. And here in Romans Paul basically says, “If you have been given a gift, then use it.”

So ask yourself the question: what have I been gifted with? A spiritual gift is not necessarily a talent (although it could be related), and not necessarily something you are accomplished at; it is really more a quality that other believers see in you even when you don’t always see it in yourself. If you aren’t sure, pray about it, and then ask some fellow believers close to you what they feel your gift(s) might be. You might be surprised by the answers you get.

Secondly, whatever gift you have been given, USE IT. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.“ Being motivated by grace puts a whole different spin on receiving a gift: Open it. Use it. Give it away.

God’s given something to everyone
To enrich our lives, to create some fun.
These gifts aren’t meant to be just enjoyed,
But are given to us to be re-employed!
When you can do something and others it lifts,
You’ve probably discovered your spiritual gifts.
As we open them up we should give them to others,
To build and encourage our sisters and brothers.
If Paul was still preaching among us, today,
He’d look at our gifts and here’s what he’d say:
Your gifts are not gifts ’til they’re given away!

 

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

A Good Body May Involve More than How You Look on the Beach

While you’re getting ready for the beach, think about ANOTHER kind of body: ”For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:3-5, NIV)

body of Christ

There is a lot to consider in this passage in Romans. It refers to a sacrifice that stays alive, and a body that is more than a body…And it tells us not to think too highly of ourselves. Do you know anybody who thinks more highly of themselves than they ought to? Are they fun to be around? When someone is self-absorbed, that’s really the opposite of love, isn’t it?

Here in the (other) love chapter, Paul declares that the result of love is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but it is a life seasoned with humility and honest reflection. A life of faith does not abandon rational self-evaluation. On the contrary, it encourages us to look at ourselves honestly, and to see ourselves the way God sees us.

On one hand, that’s a bit intimidating. God sees my inward failings, my secret sins, my selfishness, and my insecurity. If I think of myself the way God does, then I should probably be frustrated over my limitations and sad about all my failures, right? Wrong!
Because if I truly look at myself through the lens of Grace, then I can see my redeemed self the way God sees me, unblemished and full of potential, ready to be made into who He created me to be!

I have been given a place in the family, and a role as part of the body of Christ. No one is born in a vacuum; every one of us is designed for relationship, to be part of a bigger team. If I am willing to take MY story and subjugate it to HIS story, then I will find meaning and fulfillment in my role. Further, Paul says that in the body of Christ we ALL have different roles, and that “each member belongs to all the others.”

Anyone who has ever participated in a team activity knows how this works: you make the extra pass, take on extra duty to support a teammate, lay down the sacrifice bunt, take a meal over during stressful times, watch the kids, make the key block, contribute your creativity to someone else’s presentation…

There’s an old saying that it’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit. I’ve been privileged to be on that kind of team several times in my life, and it is absolutely true. If you are not seeing the results in your life that you’d like to see, ask yourself two questions: What team(s) are you on? And, Who do you belong to? Maybe it’s time to work on a DIFFERENT kind of body…

People work out every day to maximize their looks,
Striving to achieve a nice physique that really cooks.
While you flex or stop to see the beach’s latest hottie,
Don’t forget you also have another kind of body.
If you find your role with other people who believe,
And no one’s concerned with any credit that’s received,
You’ll be amazed at how it works, and what you can achieve!
You’ll do almost anything with this body, if you let it.
You’re part of the body of Christ, so do not let yourself forget it.
God will bless if no one cares about who gets the credit!

 

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

Sacrifice: The Mystery That Turns Murderers Into Missionaries

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

While it may be that 1 Corinthians 13 is the most-quoted chapter about love, Romans 12 deserves far more attention for being a pretty good “love chapter” on its own. The last few verses offer some explicit applications about what love in action looks like, but the whole chapter is really a pretty good working definition of love. It is a love based on sacrifice rather than superiority.

sacrifice transforms
In John 15:13, Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Go back to all the things that were said and written about love before Jesus, and you will find a number of different words for love, many descriptions and definitions, and certainly lots ways it was expressed. But amazingly, Jesus Christ redefined love and set its standard in a very singular way that has stood above all others for over 2,000 years. Who WAS that guy? Where did He come from? Why haven’t there been other teachers the caliber of Jesus of Nazareth? You have to admit, he was different.

In Romans 12, Paul begins with Christ’s definition. (And does anybody besides me ever wonder where Saul, a persecutor of the believers in the fledgling church, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees”, achieved such harmony with and knowledge of the teachings of Christ, when he didn’t encounter Jesus at all until well after the resurrection and ascension? If you read his work closely, it reflects the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus incredibly well, even though the gospels were probably only just starting to be in circulation when Paul wrote. His conversion and subsequent education about Jesus have to be one of the amazing biographical stories of all time!) He wrote about love and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in ways that reflected the Jesus we see in the Gospels, even he had never followed the Messiah during his lifetime… Think about that!

And so here Paul begins Romans 12 with an earnest plea for us to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice, repeating the action of the one who gave us that definition and set that standard. Since Jesus did that literally for us, Paul maintains that it is only reasonable for us to give ourselves back to him.

Love responds to love, and love begets more love. As a result, Paul says, we will be different than the world, transformed and renewed, and will walk around as living proof of God’s will… The J. B. Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within”. It infers that we are all being molded, one way or another. We can conform to the world, or we can conform to God.

The world says, “Whatever you do is really ok; what’s right for me may not be right for you; get what you can; if you don’t like it, change it, hey, life is short…”
God says, “Love. Be redeemed by love, present yourselves back to me in love, be transformed by love, and remember that it’s not so much about your will as it is about MINE. If you trust me, you will discover that I have your best interests at heart, and I will perfect you in ways you never imagined. Others will look at you and say, ‘that must be kinda what God looks like’.” Have you offered God your life lately? Ever wonder what He could do with it if you really gave it to Him?

This passage does much more than teaches; Romans twelve says Paul beseeches:
Sacrifice yourself and live; give everything you have to give,
And Paul says you will surely find a brand new heart and transformed mind.
Don’t follow the world. Don’t be that dude. Allow your mind to be renewed,
And you will live a life that proves that God transforms. And loves. And moves.

 

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

 

Persistence Pays Off: the Widow Who Wouldn’t Stop Praying

Jesus told a somewhat surprising parable about persistence. Read it and see if you agree:

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5, NIV)

persistence

Luke shares a significantly under-utilized parable about persistence in prayer. Do your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling sometimes? Are you ever doubtful that God answers prayer? The judge in this parable is an independent arbiter of justice who doesn’t fear God or regard men’s opinions. In other words, he rules without prejudice, and he is not swayed by religion, politics, or human influence. And yet there is a widow who has brought a case before him persistently, continually reminding the judge that she is expecting an answer. Calvin Coolidge said, ““Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”. This may have been “Silent Cal’s” most eloquent statement.

In this case, the widow’s persistence won the day because she never gave up. She received justice against her adversary because the judge grew tired of being pestered. And Jesus spoke this parable to illustrate “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart”. Say, when was the last time you petitioned God so relentlessly that He granted your request? When did you pray against all hope, begging God each morning, noon, and night? And how often do you persevere in prayer with all your heart? I know–me neither.

James (the Lord’s brother) used Elijah as an example and said, “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man makes a huge difference.” Perhaps he knew about Elijah; perhaps he had watched his older brother get up “a great while before day” to pray, or he watched him “continue all night in prayer”. The Apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” It seems that both the Lord and those close to him were advocates of continuous, persistent prayer…

Is Jesus really saying here that we have the ability to wear God down, and to inflict our will upon Him? Not likely. So why does he tell this parable? Perhaps the widow’s persistence is simply an indicator of faith, and is an outward show of her continuous inner belief. To tie it more explicitly to Jesus’ other teachings, perhaps it shows that she has the faith of a mustard seed, and is about to move the mountain. Jesus says we should wear God out by coming before him continually. I know I don’t do that very often. I bet you don’t either. Don’t lose heart. Pray. Pray with persistence.

If you want to move that mountain, here is the place to start:
Persevere in prayer, and go to God with all your heart.
The widow showed persistence, pleading every single day;
The haughty judge relented just to make her go away.
Have the faith to be persistent, begging to be blessed:
Bring your case before the Lord, and He will do the rest.

 

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

Will the REAL Prodigal Please Stand Up? (Hint: It’s NOT the Son)

The story of the Prodigal son is fascinating for many reasons. It resonates with many of us in the way it describes the impatience and impetuousness of youth. Young adults still grow restless or rebellious and leave home. People with money still acquire shallow friends who leave them when the money runs out. A fool and his money are still soon parted. Parents still have to deal with disrespect and sibling rivalry. When you fail on your own and hit rock bottom, you still think about going home.

prodigal

The Prodigal Son 1888 John Macallan Swan 1847-1910 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01569

There are universal themes in this parable that are still alive and fresh. We find it easy to identify with these themes, but like Jesus’ audience, we are surprised by the Father’s reactions: “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:23-24, NIV)

Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” does an amazing job bringing this parable home to each of us. By definition a prodigal is someone who “spends money or resources freely and recklessly”; or is “wastefully extravagant”. The younger son has always been known to us as “the prodigal son” because he wasted his money on extravagant living, but the real story Jesus told was about two sons, one who was lost and then found, and one who did his duty but secretly resented it. Both sons were disrespectful and rebellious to their Father. Both sons were dysfunctional about family, wrapped up way more in the reality of me rather than the possibility of us. Is your family ever that way? Have YOU ever been that way?

As the story ends, only the younger brother found restoration, while the older brother is left waiting stubbornly in the courtyard, refusing to go in to the party. What happened next? Did the older brother ever escape self-righteousness to find love and peace? There are unanswered questions, and to me the most interesting one is, “Who is really the prodigal in this parable?” The one who shows true extravagance and lavish spending in this story is the FATHER. He spends his resources on both sons, willing to part with his entire estate to sustain one and to reclaim the other.

As he educates us about who the Father really is, Jesus teaches that 1) God is always scanning the horizon, looking for his lost children to come home; 2) the Father wants to restore his rebellious children to the family; 3) When someone has hit rock bottom, but repents and turns upward to God, He greets them not in judgment but in compassion with a hug and a kiss; 4) The Father goes all prodigal on the celebration: He brings out the best robe, his family ring, new sandals, and kills the fatted calf. He not only throws a lavish party for us but he also dresses us up with His finest stuff so that we won’t feel out of place. He clothes us in HIS righteousness and adopts us into HIS family! 5) His home is a place of joy, where it is ok to make merry and celebrate. (And it’s ok to invite other sinners to the party!)

The Prodigal Father is the God who rejoices in finding what is lost, restoring what was broken, and being extravagant with his children. If you’ve been hanging out somewhere else, it really is ok to go home. Repent. Today. Your Father is waiting for you.

A prodigal is extravagant, someone who likes to live
By spending without limit, giving all they have to give!
There was the prodigal son, who went and squandered all he had;
He spent the precious money he’d been given by his dad.
The prodigal father held a party, killed the fatted calf:
“My son is home!” The servants saw him run, and heard him laugh!
The son came home alone and spent, his walk slowed to a plod,
Humbled by his failures, beaten by the miles he’d trod;
His father’s celebration may have seemed a little odd,
But he had learned of grace by worshipping the Prodigal God.

 

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