You, My Friend Are Holy. And Being Holy Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means.

Who Among You is Holy?

We are all pretty acquainted with the idea of being holy. We have all characterized some do-gooder as “holier than thou”, or a “holy roller”; and who among you has NOT said, “holy cow!” or “holy Toledo!”? But the Bible says that being holy may not be what you think it is. Consider this: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” (Colossians 3:12-13, NIV)

This is one of those verses that you can breeze by, thinking, “Yeah, I get that, be like Jesus,” without really capturing all of the impact it should have. Break it down a little and let it sink in. First of all, do you feel holy? I’d have to say that most of the time I don’t feel holy. Maybe I do every now and then, but usually I am just living my life, wrapped up in daily stuff, surrounded by culture and work and media and people and getting stuff done. I’m a pretty ordinary guy, living a pretty ordinary life. And yet Paul says that I am HOLY.

holy living

So, What’s the Definition?

He uses the Greek word “hagios”, which means “set apart”. We often equate holiness with perfection, or perhaps reverence and devotion, but the Greek word comes from a root that simply means “different”. A temple was considered a holy place because it was different than all the other buildings, set apart for specific use. As God’s children, we are holy. We are set apart for His use. Yes we may be reverent some times, or we may be at work and just doing daily stuff, but in either case we are set apart, with an opportunity to live an inner life that is different than it ever could have been before.

Second, we are beloved. Do you ever stop and think about how loved you are? Paul uses the word agapao, the Greek word for godly, selfless love, the kind of love that he describes in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s also the word Jesus used in John 13. This is that unconditional kind of love, the kind of love that is committed, permanent and consistent. We have all experienced (and given) the incomplete human version of love, but here Paul is reminding us that not only are we given consecration, not only are we set apart, but we are loved without selfish motivation, without exasperation, without reservation, without limitation, and without expiration…You are precious to God. You are dearly loved.

The REAL Tipping Point

Paul says that we don’t have be motivated by God’s legalism or God’s judgment, but that we can be different because we are LOVED. God loves you intimately, completely, romantically, sacrificially, eternally. As a result, he says, we can put on a whole new outfit, clothing ourselves in tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Spend a little time today feeling holy, and then take a few minutes to allow yourself to feel absolutely loved. Put on your new clothes. I think you’ll find that your outfit also includes a new set of glasses that will help you see yourself—and everything else—in a brand new way.

You Are Holy

If you don’t live in utter consecration,
And find yourself feeling some exasperation,
Or have inclination to feel some frustration,
Remember the Father has set you apart,
To start being holy, from deep in your heart.
Not “holier-than-thou” like some people can be,
But reflecting the love that He gave you and me:
Tender mercies and kindness, humility, meekness–
The Spirit supporting our hearts and our weakness–
Long-suffering, acting in love towards each other,
With patience, be willing to forgive a brother
Like Christ forgave us: we should love one another!
Your righteous indignation only gives limitation;
Love without reservation could change our whole nation!
God loves you earnestly, passionately, intimately,
Completely, romantically, and sacrificially,
Fervently loving us throughout eternity,
Keeping us sheltered from Satan’s abuse,
But setting His children apart for his use:
Be holy, redeemed for a life that reflects
All the Grace and the love that your Father expects.

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

In A World Full Of Radical Hate, Maybe It’s Time For Some Radical Love

Do Opposites Attract? Usually They Fight

We live in a world full of radical opposition. There are polar opposites almost everywhere you turn. It’s not just about conservatives and liberals, there are anarchists, white supremacists, ANTIFA, radical Muslims and other domestic and international groups who advance radical agendas. But the idea of being revolutionary is certainly nothing new. In fact, here’s a quote from someone you may not always think of as revolutionary.

Jesus made this radical statement: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34, NRSV) I’ve always thought this was a statement that gets somewhat overlooked by today’s Christians. It sounds like Jesus is saying we are soldiers entering a battle. I mean, we are supposed to get along with everyone, right? Doesn’t Paul say something in Romans 12 about living peacefully with all men? Wasn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace? What does he mean when he says that?

A Radical Choice

Jesus explains in verses 35-39 that even family members will become opposed to each other because of him, and he says, “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” What a radical thing to say about following him! I think we sometimes forget that Jesus did not call us to merely know what he said, or to listen to sermons and nod in agreement. He challenges us to love him so fiercely that all other relationships pale by comparison. He says that our commitment to Him should actually force us to make choices about what we do, even if it causes division.

radical love

I’m pretty sure that he’s not talking about the kind of division that happens when Christians disagree about the style of music, or about the building fund—those are petty disagreements that happen in Church because people are immature and selfish—but Jesus is saying that following him will force us to make choices about how important he is in our lives. In some cases, those choices will prompt us to move away from both comfortable and toxic relationships.

Just Ask Yourself…

It’s not about division, judgment, or hate– it’s about commitment, unity, and radical love. Christians belong on the front lines of social injustice, embracing decency and dignity. Christians belong in a relentless army of good will that spreads the Gospel of love and forgiveness as counterpoint to constant headlines that focus on division and hate. Today’s battle over culture and values should challenge us to do more than sit in our comfortable church and nod at what the preacher says. In his book Radical (page 20), David Platt says this: “The gospel does not prompt you to mere reflection; the gospel requires a response. In the process of hearing Jesus, you are compelled to take an honest look at your life, your family, and your church, and not just ask, “What is he saying?” but also ask, “What shall I do?”

So here’s the deal: what have you heard Jesus say? And if you take an honest look at your life, your family, and your church, do you feel pretty good about whether you are following Jesus or not? If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Peter Lord said, “What you really believe shows in your life every day; all the rest is just Christian talk.”

Your relationship with Christ is not what you THINK about what you believe, or even what you SAY about what you believe—it’s what you DO because you believe. Are you loving anyone enough to confront them with the Gospel? Are you loving your enemies so much that it makes them uncomfortable? Whether you know it or not, you are already in a battle. So gird your loins! Quit you like men! Be strong and courageous. Follow Jesus like you really mean it.

Carry the Sword

People call me the Prince of Peace, and gentle Jesus, meek and mild–
But what if I am a force unleashed, a raging river, strong and wild?
What occurs if you follow me, and allow my Spirit to reside?
Submit to my authority, with no place left to run or hide…
Love each other like a brother, follow me with one accord,
And know that I did not bring merely peace: I also brought a sword.
Be militant, therefore, in love: relentless for the world to see
That nothing in this life can stand between you and your love for me.

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

Dirty feet means Big Debt. How Dirty Are YOUR Feet?

A Story About Debt

Jesus had been invited to a dinner party at the house of Simon the Pharisee. A woman (some say Mary Magdalene) came in and began anointing Jesus’ feet with oil. As the aroma of the oil filled the house, he posed this scenario to Simon and asked him a question. “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarius, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.”

Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” (Luke 7:41-47 NKJV)

That Uncomfortable Moment at Dinner

As I mentioned, Jesus told this story to Simon, a Pharisee who had invited him to dinner. Luke tells us that it was “a sinful woman” who brought expensive perfume and used it to anoint Jesus’ feet during the meal, weeping as she applied it with her own hair. Such behavior was scandalous in a wealthy Hebrew household. (Not the foot washing itself—what was inappropriate was 1] having a sinful woman in the house and 2] touching a man’s feet and 3] using her hair to do it!)

In Middle Eastern culture, the head was considered honorable and the feet were dishonorable, so for her to touch Jesus’ feet with her hair was an act that technically made her unclean, and caused her most honorable feature to be abased. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:15, “if a woman has long hair, it is her glory”, and in this case she was willing to use her glory like a dirty rag in order to honor Jesus.

Apparently Simon did not extend even the common courtesy of foot washing to Jesus even though he had him over to dinner. The New Testament mentions foot washing as a form of expected hospitality several times, and it was customary for wealthy homeowners to have a servant who washed feet. In poorer homes, there was a bowl of water placed outside to rinse feet on the way in.

Why Foot Washing?

Of course you’ll recall that foot-washing took place at another dinner party, at the Last Supper in the upper room. Jesus himself washed the disciples’ feet, humbling himself as a servant and giving them clean feet. “What a quaint custom!“, you say. “But why all the fuss about feet?” Think about it. These folks wore sandals, walked on dirty roads, and stepped through the village or town to get to someone’s house. There were animals like goats, horses, and cows who also used these same walkways, and this was also before the days of indoor plumbing. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture what people may have stepped in as they walked across town. I was in a couple of refugee villages in Africa, and trust me, when there is no indoor plumbing, you need to be careful where you step.

dirty feet

The washing of feet was not just a quaint custom, it was a housekeeping necessity. It was certainly nice for weary guests, but it made a lot of sense from a sanitary point of view. It also explains how significant it was for anyone to wash someone else’s feet. It was a true act of humility and love.

So, Who’s the Debtor?

In this case, Jesus pointed out that the woman, a sinner who had been forgiven much, could not refrain from honoring him, while Simon, a man who assumed his own righteousness, failed to do so. Have you ever stopped to think about how much sinful debt you accumulated over a lifetime? If every sin cost just a little, have you ever reckoned the size of your debt? Think about that, and celebrate how much you’ve been forgiven today. Trust me, it’s way more than five hundred denarius’ worth.

Feet of Strength

The custom in the Bible was to wash your visitors’ feet;
You never knew what kind of grime they’d pick up in the street!
But it meant more than simply keeping entries clean and neat,
It had to do with honoring the people that you’d meet.

Simon was a Pharisee who asked the Lord to dinner;
A woman anointed Jesus’ feet: this woman was a sinner!
No one would have honored her, or even would have been her;
But Jesus told a story where this sinner was a winner.

He saw how Simon judged her! Jesus knew he was upset;
He told him that the Lord’s great love forgave the greatest debt;
The greatest debtors claimed greatest Grace that they could get:
Jesus loved them dearly then; I know he loves them yet.

Sometime, in the kingdom after many, many years,
We’ll meet the woman who anointed Jesus with her tears–
Who took her proudest feature and abased it with her touch;
And she will say, “My sins and my eternal debts were such
That I required forgiveness. I have been forgiven much.”

We will smile a bit about the etiquette disaster
She caused by bringing oil and tears to serve her Lord and master;
Jesus said our sin was great, but that his Grace was greater:
My friend, if you believe He’s right, then I will see you later!

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

Good Fruit Only Comes From Good Soil; What Kind of Soil are YOU?

A Parable About Growth

“And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the soil on the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded fruit a hundredfold.” (Luke 8:4-6, 8 NKJV)

People had started paying attention to Jesus, partly because of his teaching, and partly because of the miracles he did. His fame had spread, and Luke says people “had come to him from every city”. Perhaps because he had attracted such a wide audience, Jesus cast a wider net as he taught. He described a sower putting seed on various kinds of soil.

Kindergarten Beans

Have you ever planted something to watch it grow? Planted the seeds of a fruit and watched it produce MORE fruit? Ever gotten excited about seeing something sprout, pushing its way through the topsoil and becoming a plant? I remember planting a bean in a jar in elementary school and being fascinated with watching it change and grow, seeing how the bean was transformed from something dry and seemingly dead into a green new plant. The roots went down, obtaining nutrients from the soil, and the leaves went up, seeking the light!

soil bean

In an agrarian society, this image would have resonated with almost everyone. Even people who weren’t farmers kept gardens and grew fruit trees, herbs or vegetables. Everybody had experience with the varying results that came from sowing seeds, so his listeners were absolutely connected to his premise, and could relate to planting and growing stuff. I would imagine that some people connected the dots, but since there were deeper meanings in this analogy his disciples had to ask, “What does this parable mean?”

soil barren

More Than Just Seeds

Jesus told them that this is more than just a story about a guy planting seeds. It is a Parable about the word of God, which falls onto all kinds of soil, where it will either take root and grow or remain fruitless because the soil will not accept it or support it. He says that WE (the listeners) are the soil, either rejecting or nurturing the word. Reading the parable, a couple of observations come to mind:

1) The transforming power of the word of God can bring new life out of something seemingly dead. But it doesn’t happen from a surface interaction, it requires putting down some roots and reaching up to the light.

2) Even though the Word has transforming power, it only flourishes in the right kind of soil. Jesus said that when cast on the wayside, where traffic and distractions would push it aside, it would be trampled down by the crowd, or eaten up by passing flights of fancy; when cast on rocks, or a hard surface where no roots could develop, it would wither away.

No Depth = No Growth

I’m often amazed at how summarily people reject the Word of God based on assumptions or mere casual surface interaction. They take a small sampling and then say, “The Bible is a myth”, or “It’s a book with some incredible old stories and wise sayings, but it’s out of touch with the modern world”. But they haven’t ever read it, and they have never applied it to their lives. There are indeed people for whom the Word of God has no transforming power, because they do not accept it or support it. They give it a hard surface glance and move on, so that it never takes root and provides miraculous, life-changing growth.

Falling Seed Can Prevent Falling Apart

On the other hand I know people who seek its wisdom and accept its teachings. They are the type of soil that has been broken, and are prepared to accept new life. They will put down roots and reach up to the light. There’s an old saying, “Show me a person whose Bible is falling apart, and I’ll show you a person whose life usually isn’t.” Such people discover that the Bible is connected to History, psychology, current events, and even to the future. They find that the Bible is relevant and profitable, full of insight into human nature as well as sage advice about how to live.

It’s interesting that the same book (the same seed) can have such different outcomes, but as Jesus said, it’s really about the type of soil upon which it falls. The seed offers the same potential for growth wherever it is sown, but Jesus points out that there are very different outcomes from a busy wayside, barren rocks, or freshly broken soil that is prepared to accept and support the Word of God.
So…easy question: What kind of soil are you?

The Sower and the Seed

The sower went to sow some seed on various kinds of ground,
And some fell on the wayside as he scattered it around.
It never flourished or took root, was stepped upon by shoe and boot,
and perished there where it was put, merely trampled underfoot…
Some seeds fell on rocky soil that wasn’t very deep,
And they could not find places that their roots could hold and keep;
Although they sprang right up with pride,
they had no moisture there inside,
And even though they really tried,
they withered on the vine, and died…
But some seeds fell on ground prepared to offer them some growth;
They needed depth and nurture, and this soil provided both.
They weathered storms and heat and cold,
they grew up green and strong and bold,
And they provided fruit like gold, and multiplied a hundredfold.
So when the Sower sows His seed, and offers you his toil,
Make sure you yield a hundredfold because you’re fruitful soil.

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

Walk the Walk: You Are a Leader Whether You Like it or Not

Walk in the Right Pattern

“Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.” (Philippians 3:17 NKJV)

My freshman year at Southwest Texas State University in 1972 I was on a Navigator team of five guys who were committed to making disciples. The Navigators are an international ministry founded by Dawson Trotman back in 1933. The book “Daws: A Man Who Trusted God” (by Betty Skinner) tells the story of how Dawson recognized a need to go deeper than “hit and run” evangelism to build disciple-making relationships. The Navigators have been accused of being too radical, and have even been called a cult, but I found them to be a group of sincere, authentic guys who helped teach me how to live out my faith. They spoke often about “walking the walk” rather than just “talking the talk.”

walk the walk

Walking on Campus

Our group worked together daily on being not just believers but disciples. Part of our commitment was that we wouldn’t date if we were on the team because we were going to be investing our time in making disciples, not spending it on dating. It was a big challenge for all of us on a campus where there were 4 girls in the student population for every guy, and I still think SWT had the prettiest girls in the whole state.

When the guys on the team would talk about “heart problems”—spiritual challenges that got in and messed with your head—avoiding temptation from female companionship always made the top of the list. The girls at the BSU (Baptist Student Union) teased us by calling us the “Never daters”, and for most of my freshman year, we didn’t. (That Spring I was released from my “no dating” pledge because the team was in transition, and I got involved with Campus Crusade, where, of course, there were girls…)

Walking Wherever You Are

But for most of my freshman year, David Sneller, Bill Henry, Randy Dietz, and Tommy Ledbetter spent time showing me how to do evangelism in the dorms, conduct Bible Studies, and memorize Scripture. We did service projects (we helped my parents move one weekend, painted someone’s house another, and did various acts of service as a team…) We played intramural football together, went canoeing down the Guadalupe, and hung out. What I discovered, and what I could SEE was that these guys didn’t just TALK about the Bible; they really tried to apply it in their lives every day.

I’m not gonna lie, the no-dating thing was hard for all of us, but in many ways life was simpler. We were on a mission. (Ha, as I write this, I still can’t believe we really did that. So if you are skeptical I understand, but it made sense at the time and it was really a very rewarding year!). Here in Philippians, Paul was so secure in his walk that he offered himself as a pattern to follow.

I’m thinking there are very few folks whose actions allow them to do that… but the guys on our Navigator team at SWTSU in 1972 were guys like that. They were authentic, transparent men who walked the walk. Dave Sneller told me my first week on campus, “If you really want to live a Christian life this year, spend the first few days wearing a big sign that says, If you want to see what a Christian really looks like, watch me”. We never did that, but imagine the help you’d get, and the accountability you would create by saying, I am the pattern—watch me.

walk sign

Gives a whole new meaning to “Here’s your sign”, doesn’t it? Christian, where’s YOUR sign? Is anyone watching you? Have you offered yourself as a pattern to anyone? I learned a lot about following Jesus from those guys, and I have been incredibly blessed with authentic people throughout my life who have helped me understand about walking with God—from my parents, to teachers and friends I had in high school, to the Nav team in 1972 to guys in Young Life like Mark Krimm, Dave Martin, Joey Turner and Christian Hemberger, and certainly to my lovely wife, who has shown me more about Jesus than anyone else I’ve ever known. If Paul’s message means anything to us, then he is saying: be a pattern. I would enlarge upon that by saying, No, wait: you already ARE a pattern. Be a good one

Walk the Talk

Paul told the Philippians that his life was a sample
Of how to walk with God, and they should follow his example.
“Talk is cheap” the Proverb says, and when you get right to it,
There are lots of folks who talk, but never really do it.
So here’s another Proverb for the ones who talk the talk:
If you are going to say it, then you better walk the walk.

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

Perspective: What You can’t See is What you SHOULD See

The Long or the Short of It

We are concerned about many temporary outcomes in this world, and yet we are unconcerned about eternal ones. Perhaps we have the wrong perspective…

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:28-31, NIV)

perspective sparrow

A Different Look

Have you had a bad week? Are there times when you feel under the pile, alone and neglected, and you’re just not feeling it? There are two things that jump out of this passage, and both of them have to do with perspective. In order to consider that, I think you have to start by putting perspective itself into perspective.

A woman named Edith was at the deathbed of her longtime husband Ralph. He looked up at her and said, “Edith, I remember playing football in high school and breaking my leg. You rushed over from the cheerleading squad and you were right there with me. Then, later in college when I almost flunked out and quit, Edith, you were right there with me. And when we got married and started our own business, and it failed, you were right there with me. And now here I am in the hospital, with a bad heart, and Edith you are right here with me…” He paused, and his wife lovingly squeezed his hand. Then he finished. “Through all of these things, you have been with me every time. You know, Edith, I’m beginning to think you are BAD LUCK!”

Sometimes in life, how you look at things makes a very big difference in how you FEEL about things.

perspective

Inside, Outside

Jesus says that the way we look at things is wrong. First, he says, we are consumed with the temporary when we are participating in the eternal. Our perspective is wrong. Our spiritual life is far more important (and far longer) than our physical life, and yet where is our focus? Do you spend more time each day taking care of your physical body—cooking and eating, drinking, working out, bathing, deciding what to wear, doing nails, applying makeup, doing hair, shaving, etc.—than you spend on your spiritual self? Change your perspective. Don’t stress over temporary stuff while ignoring the eternal stuff. Then he reminds us that we need to shift our perspective on what has value.

It’s in the Little Things

Small things matter. Intimacy matters. Jesus says that “the very hairs on your head are all numbered”, and that God is aware of what is happening in your life down to the smallest details. If that’s true, then we can take heart knowing He cares about us so intimately. Seeing things as God sees them can help change our perspective.

In 1905, Civilla Martin and her husband were visiting a couple named Doolittle in Elmira, New York. These friends were quite cheerful in spite of several afflictions. She says: “One day while we were visiting with the Doolittle’s, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

In the hymn which Civilla Martin wrote that year it says, “I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” Jesus says that if God is aware of a tiny sparrow’s fall, then take heart: He values YOU, and He is aware of your afflictions as well.

Little Things

When it feels like life is hard no matter what you do,
It may not just be circumstance: it might depend on YOU.
The Lord sees great and mighty things, and I know this is true:
He counts the hairs upon your head. He sees the sparrow, too!
You might think God doesn't know just what you're going through,
So change your life by changing to a brand new point of view:
His eye is on the sparrow, and He watches over you.

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

Creator: Stop and Think About Who God Is, and Who We Are

Owner’s Manual

Do you ever use the owner’s manual in your car? It contains almost everything you need to know about your vehicle. Doesn’t it make sense to get information from the designer and creator of your car when you have a question? In the Bible, David says that makes good sense for us to get information from our creator as well: “Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.” (Psalms 119:73 NKJV)

David seemed pretty obsessed with God’s commandments in Psalm 119.He rejoiced in them as in great riches (v 14), he meditated on them (v 15), and he took delight in them (v 16). In verse 27-28 he said, “Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, so that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” David found understanding and strength in the Scriptures. Why do you think David was so taken with God’s word? What was it about God’s precepts that made David almost giddy with excitement?

Why the Excitement?

You can certainly reflect on David’s reasons, but here are a couple to consider: 1) He had lived by them and knew they made a difference. David’s life had not always been easy or soft, but it always included meditation and reflection on what God revealed to him. His confidence in God’s commandments came from actual experience, from applying them in the crucible of his life and finding them to be reliable, helpful and sustaining. It made sense for David to recommend them to us because he knew the Creator’s love firsthand.

2) David understood who he was, and he understood who God was. As strong and successful as David became, he never forgot why it made sense to respect God’s authority. David said, “Your hands have made me”. David accepted God’s place in the universe, much like Paul in Romans 9:20: “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Isaiah echoed the same sentiment in Isaiah 64:8: “We are the clay. You are the Potter. We are all the work of your hands.”

creator

More Profound than You Think

Gary Larsen’s humorous view of the Creator doesn’t begin to reflect the complexity of God’s work in and around us. The reason the Bible provides a sound platform for living is because it comes from our Creator. Does anyone know more about how we operate than the one who conceived and formed our DNA? If we are made in His image after all, perhaps His words can give us guidance.

When we have a problem with our car, we look in the owner’s manual for help. It provides insight because it is provided by the one who made the car. When we have problems in life, we can also look into the owner’s manual, provided by the one who made us. And doesn’t it make sense that we should pay attention to our Maker? Is there a better place to look than into His book to find insight? Our Creator should have reliable advice for us that actually works in the crucible of events when life happens. If God is NOT our creator, then follow whomever; but if He is, then there’s no one better to pay attention to.

The Creator’s Place

God conceived and his words gave birth,
Creating the cosmos, Heavens and earth!
He reigns over all, and His presence commands
The stars in the sky and the works of His hands;
He’s the creator of every day,
So we should consider that when we pray:
“Lord, You are the Potter, I am the clay;
Help me see the world that way.
In all I think, and say, and do:
Remind me, Lord, to follow YOU.
Whatever may come, or the day may bring,
I am your subject, and you are my King.”

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

Legalism is the Basis for Most Religions. Too Bad the First Part of Self-Righteousness is Still Self

What does Legalism Offer?

For many people, religion is mainly a form of legalism that embraces holiness and righteousness. Rather than spiritual transformation, many religions emphasize following a set of laws or rules to achieve perfection. Unfortunately, such religions are usually reduced to bunch of do’s and don’ts, the kind of oversight that kills rather than quickens the spirit. Religion based on self-righteousness can devolve into supercilious superiority and an endless spiral of comparison to others who are not as devout.

The Apostle Paul understood all about that when he said “…[I am] found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; ” (Philippians 3:9 NKJV)

A Hebrew of the Hebrews

As someone who was raised in the strict tenets of Jewish orthodoxy, Paul knew all about legalism. He had kept the law from his youth. He was educated in the Scriptures, and he had spent his life pursuing righteousness. At any party or social gathering, he was probably always the most righteous person in the room. He summarized his qualifications to be self-righteous in the verses just preceding this one. “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (verses 3:4-6).

The Perfect Example of Self-Righteousness

Saul of Tarsus was so zealous in his legalism that he persecuted and killed those who opposed what he believed. (Funny how legalistic people do that in the name of religion, whether Jewish or Christian or Muslim…It’s given us the taking of the Holy Land, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and now Isis, all done in the name of following God…)

legalism kills

In terms of being pure, Saul of Tarsus dotted all the “i’s” and crossed all the t’s… People who create their own righteousness will always have a subtle (or obvious) superiority complex, because they have “earned” the right to be better than everyone else. They are the speck-plank people Jesus spoke about in Luke 6:41: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” There are lots of folks can pontificate about the sins that others have while harboring their own. A self-made man often becomes his own self-made god.

One of the deeply ingrained facets of human nature is the desire to be acceptable. Not so bad in itself, but when it is extended out to its logical conclusion, it becomes a dangerous and deadly vice that moves from a natural desire to be loved and accepted to a selfish desire to attain that favor by being better than others. How many times have you seen people try to elevate themselves by stepping on the backs of others? It’s where bullying, bigotry, and racism come from. We all experienced that in middle school, but even when we’re adults it never goes away, does it? Arrogant jerks try to lift themselves up by putting someone else down; insecure people deflect from their own personal flaws by pointing out the flaws that others have.

An Amazing Change

Let me be clear: NO FOLLOWER OF JESUS DOES THOSE THINGS! Paul was a great example of that. As a young man, Saul had not only felt superior in terms of righteousness, he felt he had the right to persecute and kill Christians. Now, however, writing this letter, the former zealous Pharisee wept as he prayed for the Philippians, the very kind of people he once persecuted. What changed for Paul? He traded his legalism for love, his egotistical feelings of superiority for humility. He found a gift of righteousness he could not earn, and he says he found himself “in Christ”.

What did he mean by that? He meant that he quit being a Pharisee in order to follow Jesus. Paul lost his material things to become rich, stopped following the law in order to live by faith, and found himself out of control and in love. The false security of legalism paled in comparison to the fellowship he found in the sufferings and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Once Paul found Christ, he traded haughtiness for humility, cruelty for compassion, and legalism for love. He exchanged the smug superiority of the bigot for the heartfelt compassion of the converted. The self-righteous will never know the humility of the cross; those who earn their own small version of righteousness will miss the magnitude of Grace. The next time you are mad about someone else’s sin, stop for a moment to be grateful for the Grace that covered yours.

If you are trying to be righteous, don’t achieve it: Accept it. The path to righteousness is not in religion but in a relationship with God based on GRACE. It’s not what you earn but what you learn; it’s not what you achieve but what you receive; and it’s not rising above, but falling in love. Be found in Him.

A Time to Judge

The truest hope for the human race
Is not in righteousness, but grace.
Legalism just imparts self-righteousness to human hearts,
Where narcissistic judgment sits with bold self-righteous hypocrites!
Instead of judging sins all day,
Embrace the grace that came your way!
On that point Jesus never budged: 
Judge not, my friend, lest ye be judged.
So, if you follow Jesus, know that I can't be much clearer:
The only time to judge is when you're looking in the 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

Jesus Once Ate With Tax Collectors and Sinners. Guess What? He Still Does.

Will the REAL Contestant Please Stand Up?

There was a TV show years ago named “To Tell the Truth” where contestants would try to fool a panel of judges who could ask them questions about who they were. They could have been Jokers, Sinners, Lovers, or Winners, and they were usually not someone that everyone in the audience or game show panel would know at a glance… The catch: there were two phony contestants answering as well, usually presenting themselves pretty well as the “true” contestant.

sinners truth

At the end, the host would say, “Will the REAL _____ please stand up”, and the audience would gasp because they had bet on one of the phony ones based on what they could tell from surface appearances (and the lies with which they presented themselves).

Do Appearances Matter?

The same thing happened in the New Testament: the people who presented themselves as righteous were often sinners. And real sinners were engaged by God Himself. When Jesus called Levi (Matthew) from his tax collecting job, Matthew threw a big party for Jesus and invited all of his tax collector-type friends. The Pharisees were scandalized because religious men like them did not associate with such low-class people, and they questioned Jesus about why on earth he would associate with “tax collectors and sinners”. “And when Jesus heard it, he said unto them, “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17 ASV) Jesus did not hesitate to attend (and enjoy!) parties with less than respectable participants.

A Common Criticism

When you read through the gospels, this was not an isolated complaint about Jesus and his companions. Matthew and Mark certainly mention it, and John pointed out that the first miracle Jesus did was to turn water into wine at a wedding party. Luke’s Gospel refers to the way the Pharisees criticized Jesus several times: Luke 5:30-32 says, “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” In Luke 7:33-34 [Jesus said] “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

And also, in Luke 15:1-2 it says “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees were presenting themselves as righteous, but they were sinners. Jesus was hanging out with sinners, but he was righteous. Will the REAL sinners PLEASE STAND UP? This issue comes up over and over. One of the amazing hallmarks of Jesus’ earthly ministry was who he found acceptable, and who he hung out with. Clearly he was quite comfortable with sinners, and apparently they in return were comfortable with him.

Get Outside the Walls

There are two different aspects of his approach that make me stop and think. First of all, I wonder sometimes if we the church are really emulating Jesus by hanging out primarily with “we, the church”. I have a feeling that our mission calls us far outside the walls of the institutional church and into authentic relationships with people who wouldn’t darken the doors of a church. This is such a challenge because we all tend to gravitate into safer, insulated positions with folks who make us feel comfortable. It’s funny—the Pharisees talk about sinners like they are another group of which they are not a part. You know, “there’s sinners, but then there’s us.” Sometimes we, the church, give that impression as well. One certain application of these verses is to pray that God would introduce you to someone who is an outsider so that you can love them into the family, and never forget that everyone in the family started out as, and STILL REMAINS a sinner.

Only Sinners Need Apply

That brings me to the second application, which is more personal, and more direct. Jesus said he came “not to call the righteous, but sinners.” We aren’t acceptable to God because we are perfect, He doesn’t call us or use us because we are better than others, and He doesn’t love us only if we perform according to His specifications. He loves us as the rotten selfish disobedient sinners we are, and he calls us in the midst of our sin to become heirs to his glorious kingdom.

If you have ever sinned, if you struggle with sin, and if you think that you are somehow unworthy of God’s love or that you are not good enough to go to church, just remember what Romans 5:8 says: “But God commends His love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Italics mine) If you, like me, happen to STILL be a sinner, this is some seriously good news. All of us sinners, whether in the church or outside of it, have a lot in common. We’ve all been invited to a wedding party. We all need to bring along as many other sinners as we can. Who you gonna invite?

A Surprising Guest List

In Bible-quoting contests, all the Pharisees were the winners,
And they looked down on Jesus just because he ate with sinners.
Their grand self-righteousness was earned,
Because of all the church they learned,
And lowly folks (like me) were spurned.
But Jesus talked to sinners, and he didn’t ostracize them,
Or worry when the Pharisees would scorn and criticize him:
He merely said, when “righteous” folk would sneer and ask him why,
“It is the sick for whom I came, and sinners for whom I die.”

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

Do Sheep Really Need to Follow a Stupid Shepherd Around? Yes I’m Talking to YOU

Wandering Sheep

“All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6, NKJV) It is well-documented that sheep are not very intelligent animals. Sheep don’t strategize, they don‘t figure things out, and their general approach to life is that they wander around intent on finding things to appease their appetites. I’m sure Isaiah used this comparison because that sounds like a lot of people out there.

sheep follow

Shepherds were needed because sheep couldn’t figure things out for themselves. A shepherd could help them find watering holes and pastures with grass to eat as the seasons changed. Even when sheep have a shepherd who is looking out after their interests, protecting them from danger, leading them to food and water, and generally taking care of them, there are still sheepish tragedies. Sheep will wander off by themselves to suffer dehydration or starvation, or they will fall prey to predators who want to eat them for dinner.

Having a Guide Helps

Without a shepherd though, it gets worse. When sheep achieve freedom from their shepherd, they find themselves in a world full of possibilities. They might stumble into a rich pasture by a nice pond, or they could find themselves alone and friendless in a life and death situation. I wonder, as the sheep bleats plaintively in the desert, or when the lion is closing fast, does the sheep ever think, “Gee, I wish I had stayed with that shepherd. Maybe he knows something I don’t.” By then it is almost always too late.

When you think about it, we are a lot like sheep. We have a shepherd, but we mostly like to venture out on our own. We have a tendency to go astray. We have turned, every one to his own way, and traded the security of the shepherd’s control and limitations for the chance of freedom in a dangerous world. Our curiosity or our appetite will call us away from the shepherd’s advice and limitations to go out on our own.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Doing What You Want

The essence of sin is doing what you want, taking control, being selfish, and turning aside from your created purpose. That’s the also at the heart of Lucifer’s arrogant proclamation in Isaiah 14:12 and following: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’“

Notice how many times he says “I will”. It’s the same thing that all of us do. As the preacher says, “Whenever you sin, there’s always an “I” right in the middle of it. So how about you? Are you astray? Do you have a tendency to leave the Shepherd and go off on your own?

There’s another 14:12 in the Bible that says it this way. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” (Proverbs 14:12) Don’t trade the security of the Shepherd’s limitations for the freedom to wander about in a deadly world. 1 Peter 5:8 warns: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” When the lion finds you alone in the world, I guarantee you will end up feeling sheepish.

The Hungry Lion

Just like sheep, we go astray by turning off to our own way,
And make an independent choice unguided by the Shepherd’s voice.
We choose to go our own direction, wander off from his protection,
Hoping good will come to pass as we go off for greener grass…
But sadly, there’s an evil power who’s seeking those he may devour,
Stalking independent sheep who wander down the pathways steep.
Be vigilant, and be alert: the devil wants to cause you hurt,
To bring you down and bring you in to feel the ravages of sin!
Be watchful, careful, and be wary, lest this deadly adversary
Tempt you to a path that makes a detour into grave mistakes…
So listen to the shepherd’s call: he bore the iniquity of us all,
Extending love to great and small, redeeming sinners from the fall.

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

Forever is a Long, Long Time… What Are You Going to DO With It?

How Will It Happen?

Are things going to last forever? In a world full of nuclear warheads and a Covid pandemic, it can be a fearful thing to think about how everything will end someday… “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look on the earth beneath. For the heavens will vanish away like smoke, the earth will grow old like a garment, and those who dwell in it will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not be abolished.” (Isaiah 51:6, NKJV)

There are a couple of ways to view this verse. It certainly refers to the brevity of life, and reminds us that this current version of earth (and the temporal lifespan of all who live upon it) will not last very long in the infinitely grand scheme of things. As James 4:14 says, “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.”

How Long IS Eternity, Exactly?

When you compare our time on earth to eternity, there’s no real comparison—the time we will have with our Father will far out-distance our time here. So instead of focusing on how short our finite lives are, it makes more sense to realize how long our infinite lives are. People have tried to acknowledge the pure scale of infinity, but I’m pretty sure we usually fall short of comprehending how long forever is, no matter how expressive we are.

forever

There’s a song Johnny Mathis recorded in 1957 called “The Twelfth of Never” that says, “I’ll love you ’til the poets run out of rhyme…Until the Twelfth of Never—and that’s a long, long time.” Wikipedia says, “The song’s title comes from the popular expression “the 12th of Never”, which is used as the date of a future occurrence that will never come to pass. In the case of the song, “the 12th of Never” is given as the date on which the singer will stop loving his beloved, thus indicating that he will always love her.”

Never certainly is a long, long time. Michael Herr’s prize winning book about Viet Nam, “Dispatches”, uses it another way to describe how a combat veteran might respond to a new officer on the line… Lieutenant: “Sergeant, run over and check out that bunker.” Sergeant, evaluating the order and giving the Lieutenant the thousand-yard stare: “Never happen, Lieutenant.” In that case, never MEANS never…

There Are Two Sides to the Coin…

And I guess if “never” is a final and irrevocable outcome, then that also gives us some scale about how “forever means forever.” God says that’s how long His salvation will last. In a world full of temporary satisfaction and fleeting moments, the eternal surety of God’s unfailing love is an amazing prospect.

Spend a few moments reflecting on how long eternity will be, and what it will be like. I’m sure it will outlast our earthly version of those majestic mountains and out-distance the endlessness of deep space…

Think Longer About Longer

Being in God’s presence will be awesome, exceeding what it’s like seeing the mountains for the first time or hearing an incredible virtuoso perform brilliantly—except that it will be better than that, and it will go on and on without ever being boring or repetitive. We won’t be sitting on clouds playing harps, we will be intimately engaged with the Most High God, unfettered by the earthly limitations that hold us back.

The Bible offers hope that it will continue to be a time of growth, interaction, relationships, and love. Take the best feelings you’ve ever had about being loved, wrap yourself up in them, multiply them by about a billion, and extend that out forever. You’ve taken perhaps your first baby step into heaven.

Michael Martin Murphey’s hit song “What’s Forever For?” has the right idea: “And if love never lasts forever, tell me, what’s forever for?” Isaiah says the earthly heavens will vanish away like smoke, but that the Lord’s salvation is the answer to Michael Martin Murphey’s question: It’s what forever’s for…

Somewhere, out past the deepest space,
The beginning of the deepest grace
Will cleanse our hearts and dry our tears
With the merest start of a million years.

Sometime, deep in eternity
We will stand in awe as we get to see
The Glory of the Risen Lord:
And we won’t get tired, and we won’t be bored!

There will be more than streets of gold,
With an endless love that will not grow cold,
And infinite learning that inspires
The choruses of the heavenly choirs…

Heaven will offer us endless days
To walk with God, to learn His ways,
To find a surprise behind every door,
Always growing, learning more
Of what Our Father has in store:
I think that’s what forever’s for!

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

To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice; But Why is Obedience So Hard?

“If You Will” Is Part of the Covenant

“Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” (Exodus 19:3-6, NKJV)

When God called Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery, He gave them the evidence of mighty works that literally changed their world. He covered them with grace and offered them His Presence. He promised that they would be His own special treasure out of all the people on the earth. He delivered them from a lifetime of servitude to an ungodly master, and He formed a covenant with them that would last forever. Sound familiar? He did ask for something in return.

These verses contain an “if-then” clause, making the fulfilment of the promises somewhat conditional. God said, “If you will indeed OBEY My voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to me…” Apparently God really values obedience.

obey

Oops I Did it Again

I guess it makes sense that we should be obedient, but the Bible (not to mention all of our current headlines) is pretty much the story of how we have NOT obeyed Him, starting with Adam and Eve. Pharaoh had a pretty sweet deal, what with all the slaves to build stuff and serve him. Imagine if he had said, “I think I’ll obey this God of the Israelites. Maybe if I take good care of these chosen people and follow this God, I can get some of this blessing for me.” His deal could have gotten even sweeter. But “Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should OBEY him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)

He wasn’t willing to obey the Living God, and he came to an inglorious and ignominious end. (Yeah I know, how often do you get referred to by the word ‘ignominious’? But if you aren’t obedient, it could happen to you…)The practice of animal sacrifice was designed as a graphic reminder of sin’s penalty and it became a focal point for the Hebrew religion, and yet Samuel said, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To OBEY is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22)

I’m Sensing a Theme, Here

When rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall, the Levites under Nehemiah told all the people why they had come to such a desolate state. Their public ceremony praised God for his deliverance, and included this reminder: “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not OBEY your commands.” (Nehemiah 9:16) The whole Bible is full of examples of disobedience and consequences. “But wait”, you say. “Why are you talking so much about disobedience to me? I’m New Testament. I’m under Grace.”

Well, consider what Jesus said: “Anyone who loves me will OBEY my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23) Apparently faith always results in obedience. Do you believe in Jesus? Yes. Well, then, how’s that obedience thing going? Do you realize he even included obedience as an important part of the Great Commission? “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

I’m a little worried sometime that we have cheapened Grace by emphasizing how free it is, while failing to remember that our faith should naturally result in our obedience to God. Have you seen God do something in your life? Do you say you have a relationship with Him? Well, just ask yourself one question: Are you obeying God? As you take spiritual inventory every now and then, it’s a great question to ask.

Two Testaments, One Word

Here’s something no one likes to say,
Or much less, DO. And that’s OBEY.
It’s what God told the Israelites
Would please Him more than sacrifice;
It’s just how Pharaoh wouldn’t bend
That brought his ignominious end…
And here’s a different thought, my friend:
Although your Testament is the New,
It also still applies to YOU.
But you protest: “That’s out-of-place!
I’m free! I’m covered up by Grace!
I disobey God now and then,
But really, Jesus is my friend!”
Well here’s what Jesus has to say:
“To obey is love, and to love, obey.
There really is no other way.”
Obey. Today and every day.
Read your Bible. All I’m sayin’
Is just that Jesus wasn’t playin’.

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