Love the Father, Not the World. What Does That Mean, Exactly?

In his first letter, John talks about where we live, and where God lives. In it, he offers us a juxtaposition of the Father versus the world, and describes two kingdoms with radically different agendas. Have you ever stopped to think about what John really means? If there is a heavenly father, how is he different from the world? Are His values different from the world’s values? And what exactly does “the world” refer to? (As you answer these questions, take a moment to congratulate yourself for reaching Day 70 of Reading through the Bible; just a few books to go and you will have read passages from Genesis to Revelation!)

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16, NIV) The conflict between what the world has to offer against God’s promises has been going on since Esau traded his birthright for a pot of stew. (Well, actually you could go back to the Garden of Eden, when Eve traded being God’s subject for independence. She wanted to experience the world in the worst way, and she succeeded!) John sees a dramatic contrast between the Father and the world: they have different values, priorities, and characteristics.

father love

The world, in John’s eyes, was made up of carnal appetites, earthly ambitions, and temporal values. It is a place where human nature pursues its lusts, and where men vie for wealth and power. The world is, candidly, a place where humans are concerned primarily with self-fulfillment.

Contrasting Domains

On the other hand , John contrasts the world and its agenda with the Father. What are the Father’s characteristics? In his Gospel and in his letters, John spells them out. God is love. He is truth. He is goodness. He is life. The Father’s domain includes faith and redemption, hope and transformation…It is about servant leadership and new birth.
The world, on the other hand, is characterized by self: it includes all greedy desires, lust, appetite, pride, and self-sufficiency. It is about building yourself up, and salving your insecurities with temporary fixes; it is about grasping, power-hungry leaders; it is about death.

John warns us not to love the world, but we do anyway: we abandon grace for gratification and accept lust in place of love. Have you ever stopped to realize that the world mimics the Father? For every good thing the Father offers, the world offers a counterfeit replacement that is either a watered-down version of the real thing or the opposite of it. The Father offers humility; the world offers pride. The Father offers peace; the world offers thrills; the Father offers Truth. The world gives us relativism with its spin, half-truths, and outright lies…with the Father, it’s all about HIM; in the world, it’s all about ME. God’s kingdom is based on unusual logic, where you have to accept another’s will to be free, give to gain, die to live, and serve to lead.

The world is based on selfish logic, where freedom means doing whatever you want, people worship shallow possessions or money (it’s all about the Benjamins in the Lifestyles of the rich and famous), they look out for number One (“nice guys finish last”), and leaders covet and capture power using sophisticated deceit. It was John who informed us that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Now he’s telling us there is a simple choice to make: love the Word, or love the World. John says you can’t love both. Tell me, what choice have you made? Look at your priorities, your time, your inner thoughts, your desires… what do you love? John says, “the world passes away, and the lust of it: but he that does the will of God abides forever.”

Love, Instead

The world is full of fun and flesh, and thrills that are forever fresh:
The biggest house, the latest styles, the nicest car, the biggest smiles…
The orbit of the world, you see, revolves around the planet “Me”–
Where consequence brings no regret, and I should take what I can get!
Eat and drink today! Get High! Because tomorrow we may die!
The Father says, “Love me instead.” Don’t give the world your heart or head;
Love me, my child; remember this: the world is never all there is.

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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Choose to Read This: The Long and the Short of Eternity is: Everybody Gets to Choose!

In the grand scheme of things, what happens to us? Do we get to choose our fate, or not? Is where we spend eternity something that just happens to us, or something we actually have a choice about? Peter says this:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9, NIV)

choose wisely

Put Things in Perspective

Peter quotes Psalm 90:4 here to remind us that a day with the Lord is like a thousand years… (So if you’ve heard that phrase and wondered where it came from, there you go!) The perspective of a thousand-year day reminds me of the man who learned that a million dollars was but a penny to God, and a thousand years was but a day. He asked the Lord, “Father, will you give me a penny?” The Lord said yes. Overjoyed, the man asked, “Father, when can I have it?” The Lord said, “Just wait a day.”

Peter contrasts God’s eternal nature with our finite one. It’s hard to wrap our brains around the difference because we are so used to endings. This short passage highlights two important things: God’s timing is by definition different from our timing, and God’s agenda may be different than we assume.

Why Would God Allow Us to Choose?

As an eternal God, His desire is truly for all men to live with Him for all eternity. This might explain why the day of the Lord (which Peter felt could happen at any time) is still yet to come. God is patient, and every passing year allows a new set of people with birthdays to come to Him in repentance. I understand people objecting to that notion, feeling that a loving God would surely choose all men to be saved all the time. He could indeed do that, but He’d have to take away our choice. If He gave us no choice, we wouldn’t have freedom, and He wouldn’t be loving.

Second, Peter says God tarries in executing judgment because His desire is that all men would have an opportunity to choose grace. I don’t think this verse means that all men will be ultimately saved (universalism); but it DOES mean that Christ died for all men, and all have the opportunity to repent. It’s hard to believe, but not everybody chooses repentance, and not everybody wants God. C S Lewis says, of the person who declines to choose God: “He has his wish—to live wholly in the self and to make the best of what he finds there. And what he finds there is hell.” Many people follow their own will, or depend on a finite perspective to accept or reject God when God’s will for us is infinitely better than our own… Man’s will often chooses temporary gratification over long-term benefits. God’s will always sees the bigger picture and provides the opportunity for the greatest benefit. “Instead he is patient, not wanting anyone to perish…” In the grand scheme of things, when it comes to eternity, you really DO have a choice. Perhaps you should consider your options carefully.

Your Choice

Peter says that God desires all folks to find repentance;
He wants all men to choose His love, and not sin’s deadly sentence.
When you think of eternity and all there is to lose,
Make sure you think of what God says right here before you choose.
Peter offers sage advice; in fact, he says it nicely:
God’s steadfast, loving patience offers you a choice. Choose wisely.

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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If the End of the World IS Near, Shouldn’t We Take it Seriously?

Over the past few weeks I have heard more conversation about the end of the world than I had probably heard in the last several years. I guess when a global pandemic is part of your daily news, you think about things like that. The Apostle Peter had also lived through some dramatic current events, and he felt strongly that the end was near back in 60 AD or so.

His epistle gave some advice that made good sense for someone who heard the Olivet Discourse firsthand. He said that we should take life a little more seriously if the end is at hand. When you think of it, his advice still makes good sense two thousand years later. If the end IS near, then shouldn’t it affect what we do today? Or is it just something to make light of?

end near

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins… Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7-8, 10-11 NIV).

Was he Wrong or Right?

Since we’re still here, we could criticize Peter for being a little premature in his prediction about when the end of the world would occur. (Although from a personal standpoint, his words ACTUALLY DO apply to everyone, since every day the end of this world is nearer for each of us than we think, even if we live to a ripe old age…)

But Peter’s advice make good sense. He encourages all of us to live differently because time is short. His true focus is not WHEN it would happen, but HOW its eminent possibility should make us act. Tell me, do you act any differently at all because the end of the world could happen at any time? No? Well, let’s ask that question another way: If you knew today was your last day, would it change the way you look at it? Would it change the way you live it?

Peter says that because the end of all things is near, it should give us a different sense of urgency and a different way of thinking and acting: We should PRAY, intentionally and intelligently. We should LOVE each other deeply because (wow, how true is this?) love covers a multitude of sins. What else does that? Can you think of any of your sins that have been covered? What does that mean? Our sins, which carried the death penalty, have been “removed as far as the east is from the west”; though scarlet, they have been made white as snow; they “are remembered no more…”

So, What’s the End Game?

How then should we live? Peter says that we should be faithful stewards of grace, serving others and spreading the love. Are you covered? Are you serving? Since there may not be much time left, make sure you spend it wisely. Basically Peter says, “Make sure you live, serve, and love as if God himself were doing it through you.” Because who knows? Perhaps He is…

The End Game

Peter made it very clear: He said the end of the world was near,
And we should live in such a way that if our world would end today
We wouldn’t have some lame excuse for gifts neglected or misused.
Peter said that we should pray, and act with faithfulness today,
Without regret or doubt or shame, if our tomorrow never came.
If you have a gift, then give it! Take your life: rejoice, and live it!
Take the things you say and do as if God did those things through you.
Live as if the end is near. Do it now. And do it here.

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

You may remember a poem by Carl Sandburg in which he said your tongue can get you into trouble. Well, actually he once wrote:  “Look out how you use proud words. When you let proud words go it is not easy to call them back. They wear long boots, hard boots; they walk off proud; they can’t hear you calling — Look out how you use proud words.” Good advice from an American poet, largely unheeded by folks in American life today. In the Bible, the Book of James also says you should watch your tongue because it is such volatile and powerful force in our lives. When you think about how much impact words can have, that’s certainly true. But is it our tongue that’s at fault, or something else?

tongue

Small Object, Big Results

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:3-6, NIV)

Apparently swearing or using profane language was pretty common in New Testament times, and there were liars and charlatans who used language to fool people or to mislead them. Funny, but not much has changed since. People still operate that way today. The means of corrupt communication has been multiplied a hundred fold, but lies and language are still the gateway to evil.

Inside Out

Every day you hear half-truths, advertising promises, spin, and outright lies, and your mind is continually bombarded with corrupt communication. And yet Jesus said that it’s not the stuff we hear that really gets to us: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

One of the things that makes language so significant is that it is a reflection of our hearts. If curse words or vulgarity roll easily off a man’s tongue, what does that say about his heart? If a man can use God’s name as an expletive, what does it say he feels about God?

I think James is basically telling us two things: 1) be careful what you listen to. If communication is corrupt, then it can only add the wrong kind of abundance to your heart. And 2) be careful what you say. Words take on a life of their own, and I have learned several times the hard way that the impact can be far greater than the intent. How we say something is also almost as important as WHAT we say.

The Tongue Wags Both Ways

Proverbs 25:11 says “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” It would seem that we have the ability to confer wealth through mere words, and to offer incorruptible beauty to someone by saying something to edify them. Consider therefore, carefully the things you have to say, and offer some free jewelry to the people you meet today. Carl Sandburg’s advice was good about what NOT to say; the Bible has great advice about what we OUGHT to say instead. Just sayin’…

tongue kindness

Mind Your Tongue

What we say can lift, or play, or even make somebody’s day,
But it can also spread some dirt, or criticize, or wound and hurt.
James says tongues can be a flame that burn with anger, pride or shame,
And cause disruption, pain and grief instead of loving, sweet relief.
Consider what you say to folks–the kind of words, the kind of jokes–
Don’t pile your words on what is broken; offer good words, fitly spoken.
The Bible says that you can start by putting treasure in your heart,
So Spread some joy with words today. That’s really all I have to say.

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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Provoke Somebody Every Day, But at Least Do it the Right Way!

When we say, “Don’t provoke me”, it is usually another way of saying, “Don’t make me mad!” The dictionary says provoke means “stimulate or give rise to (a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one) in someone.” In this verse from Hebrews, the author offers us a different take on how to provoke one another. Instead of the word meaning antagonizing or harassing someone, he says we should think about this:

“And let us consider one another to provoke [each other] unto love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.“ (Hebrews 10:24-25, NKJV)

provoke for good

Why don’t we break this verse down and see if it provokes a reaction: “Let US consider one another…” The Christian walk is not supposed to be done in a vacuum. Almost everything about following Christ is designed to happen in community: when we start following Jesus we become children of God with new brothers and sisters; we are part of God’s family, and are the Body of Christ.

When Jesus described us as the light of the world, he didn’t say we are a candle set upon the hill; he said we are a CITY (a group of lights) set upon the hill—and he said we were set there for a purpose. “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your GOOD WORKS, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Are we Christians known as a group for doing good works? Or for other, lesser things? What good are YOU doing out there in the world? Paul’s letters resound with the significance of being prepared for “every good work”. He mentions it at least 10 times, and sees it as the natural result of praying, of fellowship, and of being in the Word. And here the writer of Hebrews says that believers are supposed to provoke one another to love and to good works. (He evidently uses “provoke” in a different way than it has been applied in many of our churches, unfortunately…)

So it probably means that we should ask ourselves two questions: 1) Who in my life motivates me to do good works? Do my friends and associates inspire me to do good? Are you surrounded with people who encourage you to be intentional about demonstrating the love of God?

And 2) Who am I provoking to do good works? Are you encouraging and exhorting your friends and family to do good? If you’re not, then the writer of Hebrews says that you are missing out. I exhort you, therefore, brothers and sisters, to go out there and do good today! You really have no excuse and you ought to sit down and think of something good you can go do. There! Consider yourself provoked.

Inverse Provocation

People can provoke you by the things they do and say;
In fact I bet someone provokes you every single day!
Well, here’s a thing you never thought for provocation:
It’s also very useful to provoke our inspiration!
Do some good; encourage others to do some good as well,
And if we do, good works will spread. How far? Why, who can tell?
So, go and push someone: If we provoke them like we should,
Instead of spreading evil, we may end up spreading good.

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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Philemon Had a Problem Which All of Us Share, and an Opportunity All of Us Have

As we make our way through the last of Paul’s epistles, we encounter the curious case of Paul’s letter on behalf of Onesimus, a slave who ran away from his master, Philemon. Now, Philemon could have sat in judgment over Onesimus. The law and society was on his side. He had the right to be offended, and to extract the ultimate penalty. Instead, Paul encouraged him not to.

“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow-man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (Philemon, Verses 8-17, NIV)

This interesting and touching story reminds us that Paul lived in the real world. Apparently while he was in Rome, he encountered a runaway slave from Colossae named Onesimus (whose name translates as “profitable” or “helpful”) and led him to belief in Christ. After his conversion, Onesimus realized he was wrong for deserting and was willing to return to Colossae to go back to his master, Philemon. Apparently Paul counseled him to do so even though Philemon could demand judgment–possibly even capital punishment–for his runaway slave. (Paul was asking Onesimus to take a risk but he probably encouraged Onesimus to return because he had become a changed man in Christ, and because Paul knew Philemon as a fellow believer.)

Even though he could face the death penalty for running away when he carried Paul’s letter back to Colossae, Onesimus was willing to risk Philemon’s wrath because Paul interceded for him. Martin Luther believed that this letter mirrored the one Christ wrote to the Father on OUR behalf: that we were all slaves facing the death penalty, and if we stood before our Master without any help, we would face his wrath.

Philemon

However, Christ made us sons and adopted us into the Father’s family, so we could have the boldness to throw ourselves on his mercy and serve him again.
Ok, so this is more than a story. This is your life. What have you been enslaved to? How far away have you run? Are you willing to allow yourself to be adopted into the family? As an adopted family member, do you sometimes sit in judgment over those who are outside? And more than that, as an adopted child, does your gratitude for His mercy make you willing to serve the Father freely, not out of obligation but out of love?

 
Philemon's Choice

Every one of us had run away 
And faced the ultimate penalty, all alone;
The Judge had raised his gavel as if to say
"This trial is over, and the judgment's done."

But Jesus said that he would vouch for me, 
And stepped into the dock, and took my place:
The law required I pay my penalty;
But Jesus paid my price. And offered grace.

No matter where you've been, or why you've run,
Your pardon has been given from above!
The Master now accepts you as a son:
Come home to Him in gratitude and 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
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Dive into the Raging River of Grace, and Start Swimming!

The dictionary says grace is “simple elegance or refinement of movement: She moved through the water with grace.” But I think there’s more to it. We all know that grace is unmerited favor, a free gift extended out of generosity. Perhaps that creates a sense of elegance and well-being… But Paul says something very surprising about grace in the Book of Titus. If you think Grace is a passive state of peaceful tranquility, think again! Just read this, recalibrate, and dive into the raging river of Grace.

A Different Defnition

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people who are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

Grace offers salvation to all people, and Paul says that a person touched by grace should live a different kind of life. He says that graces “teaches” us to live a godly life. The Greek word he uses for “teach” here is stronger than the usual academic term. It (paideuo) is usually used to describe training a child, which indicates a long-term daily commitment to teaching, to admonishment, and to chastisement when necessary. Here’s where it gets interesting: that form of grace is also used sometimes to describe the punishment of criminals. (It was the word Pilate used in Luke 23:16, recommending that Jesus be scourged).

The Whip of Grace?

What?! Grace as a beating? I never think of Grace that way! Grace is a gift! It’s free! However, try to see Paul’s thinking here. The grace of God is more than an easy free gift we get to open: it is a motivator, a life-changing agent that influences our passions, our behavior, and everything in our daily lives. We don’t dip into the pool of grace and then lounge by the side, getting a tan; we dive into the river of Grace and are swept along, always moving forward, learning to swim, navigating difficult currents, and calling others to dive in with us.

river swim

We are cleansed from wickedness and immersed in gratitude. We are not saved to bask in our own self-righteousness, but to live a life fully amazed and motivated by God’s gift. Grace teaches us rejoice in thanksgiving and become “eager to do good.” The current in the river of grace sweeps us into new territory and helps us experience new life! It may not always be comfortable, but it might be exhilarating! It might chastise us; it might change us; and it just might challenge us.

I would bet that if all Christians accepted not only the gift of grace, but also the chastisement of grace, there would be more good being done in this world. And we’d have more swimmers.

The River of Grace

Sin is known to all of us, and pays its deadly wages;
The Bible speaks of saving grace for us within its pages…
But here’s a thought that’s not been offered often through the ages:
Grace is not a gift, but it’s a river as it rages!
Grace can cut through hearts of stone,
It changes lives with grace alone–
Its power through the years has shown
It redirects and teaches every pilgrim that it reaches,
And it carries us through rapids to the sandy, peaceful beaches.
Grace provides a current of chastisement to direct us;
It can offer discipline to teach us and protect us.
If you doubt eternal life, and where you want to go,
The depths of grace provide a landing-place that you should know:
Dive in to the raging river of grace, and let His mercy flow!

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

Reproduction: There May be More to It Than We Learned in Biology Class

Biological reproduction has to do with the propagation of the species, among other things. You remember cellular reproduction, and then of course there is all that stuff about “the birds and the bees”… But there may be more to it than they taught us in Biology Class; in his second letter to Timothy, Paul talks to Timothy about spiritual reproduction, which is a whole ‘nother thing…

reproduction

A Different Kind of Multiplication

“Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me in among many witnesses, the same thou commit to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:1-2, KJV)

This verse is well-known for being the template for spiritual reproduction. One believer teaches another who teaches another, and so on. It is Paul’s one sentence plan for reaching the whole world with the message of Jesus Christ. Quick, how many generations of disciples are connected to your reading of these verses?

The classic answer is four generations: Paul, who teaches Timothy (in the presence of other witnesses), who is told to teach faithful men, who will teach others also. That’s how spiritual reproduction works, one generation passing the gospel down to the next.

So, What is Paul Saying?

1) Paul calls Timothy his son. These men had a close bond, forged from a friendship that transcended tribulations and generations. Passing the torch of discipleship is no casual relationship. It is one of commitment and expectation.

2) Committing something to faithful men is different from “let’s all go to church once a week and maybe that’ll get it done spiritually”. It uses the word “commit”, so maybe that’s self evident. It involves training, consistency, discipline, and daily devotion. How fair would it be to men sent into battle after training them an hour or two a week for a few months? (Think spiritual Marines. And yet most of us are FAR from being the equivalent of spiritual Marines!) We approach the very real spiritual warfare in which we are engaged with a very cavalier attitude…Perhaps that’s why churches are waning all around us, and perhaps that is why the enemy seems to be taking ground from us every day in our generation.

3) Every generation has the opportunity to be the final (last) Christian generation. While I know that God has other plans, if we all quit teaching others, and all stopped committing it to faithful believers, the Christian movement would simply die from neglect. Are you ending or extending the marvelous story of Grace?

4) Count the generations again. I think there are actually SIX generations represented. The first unspoken one is the one who taught Paul. Since he spent time in the desert being taught by Christ, it’s logical to say that Jesus was the first generation (and come to think of it, that is logical not only for Paul but for all of us!).

The sixth generation, as you read this verse, is YOU. You are the one who was ultimately reached by “others also”. You are the next one up, the generation upon whom future generations depend. Who are you reaching? Who are your “faithful men”? Not all of us are gifted as prophets or evangelists or preachers. But all of us are gifted with relationships, and each of us has the opportunity to pass the torch. It is up to us to extend not just the gospel but a culture of discipleship to those coming after us. Don’t break the chain.

The Next Generation

Paul explained to Timothy, “What you have seen and heard from me
Review and study well, and then commit those things to faithful men
Who, when they listen well and learn, will carry on and take their turn
To pass the torch as Christ directs from this generation to the next.
Make sure your generation’s torch is passed.
The seeds are sown, the die is cast:
If you are not the next one, then you may just be the last…

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

The Worst Sinners Often Make the Best Kind of Repenters

Here’s a question: Who is the worst sinner you can think of throughout history? Or who is just the worst sinner you know? Think a little bit before you answer this one…

Who is the Worst?

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV)

We all think of the Apostle Paul as a holy man. He was a zealous convert to Christianity, a dedicated missionary, and an amazing theologian. But that’s not how Paul thought of himself. Based on what he wrote, I’m pretty sure Paul believed himself to be the worst of all sinners. And since he had been not only a self-righteous “Pharisee of the Pharisees”, but also a persecutor of the early church, I’m sure he had a lot to answer for. I’m sure he was aware of the Biblical prediction that every man was appointed to die, and after that, to face judgement. (Hebrews 9:27)

I guess I could be relieved that Paul was the worst sinner, and I could perhaps even feel a little smug looking around at lots of people who are pretty sinful. But what I have been learning over the last few years is that every one of us has a lot to answer for—and that what YOU have to answer for should matter to YOU, and what I have to answer for should matter to ME. I’m not sure the Holy Spirit ever convicts us about OTHER peoples’ sins, and I have observed that often the people who think they are close to God are righteous and indignant over the wrong person’s sin.

worst sinner

Finger-pointing May not be Good For You

You may think you have been relatively good, but the more I read Scripture, the more concerned I am about all the things I have done. I’m concerned even more about all the things I haven’t done. I see things in Scripture that hold me accountable not just for what I have done, but for what I have thought. (And I hate to admit this, but I have committed far more despicable sins in my mind than I have even had time to commit physically. Perhaps you are different, and never sin mentally or dabble with mental selfishness or depravity…) Based on my rough assessment of my own personal inventory of sin, I’d have to say that Paul might need to move over and accept his place as the SECOND worst of sinners; he may have over-staked his claim to being worst.

In the real world, my ACTUAL sinfulness has cost me opportunities and relationships, and it has caused immeasurable harm to any number of people, including those I love the most. It has also diminished my own usefulness: how much time have I wasted on sin that could have been spent serving others or spending more time with my Father? How do I account for that? Paul says that it took the “immense patience” of Jesus Christ. His brutal, painful death paid the penalty for sin, and made it possible for a Righteous Judge to offer mercy to all sinners.

So here’s the thing: even if I were the ONLY sinner to ever live, Jesus would still have had to go to the cross for my redemption. It’s nice that Jesus died for the sins of the world, but the main thing to me is that he had to die because of ME. MY sin was incredibly costly. Salvation is free but it’s not cheap: It cost God his Son. It cost his Son his life.

It has become clearer to me that the closer we get to God, the more our own sins matter, and the more convicted we become—and not in a morbid, negative way (oh I feel so guilty! Whatever am I to do?), but more in an ‘awareness of the majesty and mystery of Grace’ way (oh I feel so grateful! What, Lord, should I do?). I hope you are aware enough of what Christ did to be grateful. I hope that we sinners can be aware enough to be deeply convicted as well… If you feel like you’ve been pretty good overall, and you are not somehow devastated by the price that has to be paid for your sins, then you probably ought to do a quick position check. You may not be as close to God as you think.

Who Owns the Title?

Of all the righteous Pharisees, Paul said he was the first;
But out of all the sinners, he proclaimed himself the worst!
Now, Paul preached Christ in every town and prison he was in,
But he still felt inadequate because of all his sin.
We all judge sin from time to time–it’s what we see in others;
We even notice faults among our Christian friends and brothers.
Surely Paul’s assessment of his sins was overrated,
And when He called himself the worst, perhaps he over-stated…
Perhaps we’d see Paul differently and understand him clearer
If we felt worst about the sin reflected in our mirror.

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

Encouragement is What You Should Choose When You Are Tempted by Dis

You know about people who gripe, right? They always complain because they are disgusted or disappointed with something. Social Media is full of them, unhappy people who aren’t really happy unless they are making someone else unhappy! They discuss negative things or offer disparaging comments. They diss things. They like to dispute more than they like to contribute. There’s a BIG Difference between “en” and “dis”, when it comes to courage. Think about the difference between “Encouragement” and “Discouragement”…

(And by the way, if you are following along, it’s Day 60 of our Reading through the Bible, bringing us to Second Thessalonians…)

A Good Word

“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17, NIV)

Some days it’s just good to hear encouragement. So many things happen in life that wear us down or cause distress that we might just need an encouraging word… Some of those things are merely mechanical. Perhaps you’ve had one of those weeks where your car breaks down, your refrigerator goes out, your flight gets cancelled, or your phone breaks. Days like that are irritating and annoying. And it’s not just these “little” things that tear us down, but on top of that we are beset with bad news, health issues, loneliness, and emotional distress. Life has so many ways to discourage us…

The Difference Between “Dis” and “En”

It was true in the first century and it is true now. If we focus on the negative, we can get caught up in discouragement. But don’t do “dis”: Do “en”. Think about the difference those prefixes can make. “Dis” can turn enchantment into Disenchantment. Courage can be made into Discouragement or it can become Encouragement! In the days of the great sailing ships, mariners would often tattoo words of encouragement onto their knuckles to remind them of what to do.

encouragement

Chuck Swindoll encourages us to encourage someone else! (He said, “When we encourage others we spur them on, we stimulate and affirm them.” He also said, “Appreciate what someone does, but also affirm who he is. Affirmation goes deeper.”) Along those same lines, the Apostle Paul says, “Stand firm” and “hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you“.

Do you know teachings that build you up and give you hope? (I know where you can find some!) He promises that God (who “loved us by his grace” and gave us “eternal encouragement and good hope”) will Himself encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good word and deed. Have you ever felt strengthened by God? Have you ever felt encouraged by his presence? God’s encouragement is no small thing. It’s eternal, which always trumps temporary, and you don’t have to earn it because it is freely given to us. What’s more, when we embrace it, it will show up in our actions and our words. So wherever you are, be ENCOURAGED today. Act ENCOURAGING. Speak an ENCOURAGING word. I think you’ll find those are all related.

Take A Little Encouragement

Here's a word that I hope will last:
Be strong! Stand firm! Hold on; hold fast!
Be encouraged today if things go wrong,
Find hope in God! Rise up! Be strong!
When life is hard and goes amiss,
And the world for 'couragement' offers "dis",
Remember the man who set his face
To go to the cross to take our place
And pay the price for amazing grace!
He took my place, where I might have been,
So I've said it before, and I'll say it again:
Because of his courage, I'm all "en"!

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