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
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Watch What You Hear, and Think and See: Such Things Become Your Destiny

Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi was essentially a love letter to a group of dear friends. At the time he wrote it, he was in all likelihood under the watch of Roman guards during his house arrest in Rome, around AD 61. His letter was full of affection and Fatherly advice, seasoned with some encouraging exhortation. If you read the whole letter, it is easy to see that Paul wrote them based on the close personal relationships he had formed among them.

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A Better Kind of “Whatever”

As the epistle draws to a close, he offers them this exhortation: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 NIV).

Paul’s advice to the Philippians was given in a simpler time, when people had fewer options and more control over what they thought about. They could actually choose what to think about rather than having their thoughts (pick one) influenced, polluted, distracted, contaminated, invaded, diluted, or dulled by hundreds or perhaps thousands of daily media messages… (Sources say that they average American sees 3000-5000 commercial messages a DAY! Even if it is half that, think about the number of images and messages you encounter daily.)

Now ask yourself this: Of the media you hear or see every day (TV, movies, advertising, song lyrics, social media, Pinterest, Internet searches, etc.), how much of it is noble or pure? How much of it is excellent or praiseworthy? How many hours a day are you watching or listening to someone else? What music do you listen to? What does it really say? What song lyrics have you memorized over the years without even thinking about it? Paul says what we put into our minds is one of the keys to enjoying a peaceful heart!

Realizing What Becomes You

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “I am a part of all that I have met.” What has become part of YOU? Even some of the “harmless” media like Facebook or Pinterest can suck you in and hold you spellbound over things of this earth. You can waste a LOT of time dreaming of things and comparing, even perhaps coveting some of the things you see… And there are FAR more harmful things than Pinterest out there on the internet. So be careful what you think about. Don’t forget the acronym to WATCH your inner life: Watch your Words, for Words become Actions. Watch your Actions, for Actions become Thoughts; Watch your Thoughts, for Thoughts become Consistent; Consistent Actions become Habits. Watch your Habits, for they become your Destiny. I have modified that old statement in a way that seems more progressive to me: WATCH refers to What you see, your Attitudes, Time, Character, and Habits, and how that influences your Will, your Actions, your Treasure, your Companions, and How you Live:

WATCH

Watch WHAT YOU SEE, for when you close your eyes, you see it still:
It nibbles the foundation at the corners of your WILL.
Your Will affects your ATTITUDE and ACTIONS that you take;
They influence your TIME and the decisions that you make.
Your THOUGHTS become your CHARACTER, which governs what you do,
Or maybe the COMPANIONS you decide to take with you…
Will they create good HABITS in the end, or will you see
That what you’ve done in all these things affects your destiny?
Paul challenged folks in Philippi to think on what is pure,
To dwell on lovely, noble things of which they could be sure.
He challenged them to think on what is lovely, right and true:
If that advice was good for them, it’s good for me. And 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
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Saul the Persecutor Became Paul the Apostle. Why?

There was once a zealous man named Saul (from Tarsus) who hounded the young and growing Christian church at every turn. He persecuted and attacked the followers of the Way, and accused those who preached Jesus’ resurrection of blasphemy. His career as Pharisee was taking off because he was ruthless in his judgement and relentless in his pursuit. But somehow, something changed for Saul: this same man had an experience that transformed him and changed his life completely.

What Happened?

We know him now as the Apostle Paul, the same man who said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” How could a Pharisee of such unparalleled zeal make such a change? How could an enemy of the Church become one of its staunchest defenders? What changed him from Saul the persecutor into Paul, the Apostle? History tells us that something happened to change his life and change his name. Apparently the power lay in the Gospel, which Paul defined so well in his first letter to Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. The he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as to one abnormally born.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV)

Quite a Resume

Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew scholar, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous rabbi of that era. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (He referred to himself as formerly “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, but a short time after that encountered Jesus in a vision while traveling to Damascus. (By definition an Apostle had to have seen Jesus, and this was Paul’s encounter. It changed him forever.)

Saul apostle

He embraced the reality of the resurrection and began to follow Christ with the same zeal he had previously applied to persecuting the church. He spent three years in Arabia communing with and learning somehow from Christ himself, and then taught in Damascus, strengthening the church. The Apostle Paul became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist for Christ the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the world.

So Why Focus on a Pharisee Who Converted?

You can doubt a lot of things about Christianity, but you really can’t argue with the historical impact of Paul. If you haven’t read his letters, they are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. He said in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” His testimony still counts as an eyewitness because he was transformed after an encounter with the risen Lord; he went from being an enemy of those who followed Jesus to a follower himself. When he encountered Jesus, he began to connect the dots, and the rest is history.

It’s really the same for all of us—a lot of things aren’t clear until we encounter Jesus. But once we put him in the proper place, there are so many things that suddenly make sense. I hope they do for you!

Unashamed

Saul abhorred the gospel, and he hated those who knew it;
If there was any way that he could stop them, he would do it.
He encountered Jesus as he traveled to Damascus;
Witnesses said, “Yes it really happened there. Just ask us!”
That was not the only testimony to that day;
Saul was transformed into Paul, and then had this to say:
“I am not ashamed at all! The Gospel gives me power,
And I am going to preach it every minute, every hour.
I will go in grace to those who used to fear and hate me,
And preach God’s endless love, from which no power can separate me!
I’ll gladly preach of healing where I used to cause such pain,
For me, for Paul to live is Christ! For me to die is gain.

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

Certainty Seems to Be the Scientific High Ground, Until You Look a Little Deeper

Some types of Wisdom seem to provide certainty, but do they?
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”. (I Corinthians 3:18-19, NIV)

Paul is saying that having conventional wisdom may be an obstacle to having true wisdom. One of the great paradoxes of intellectual life is that Christianity can seem like intellectual suicide, accepting by faith things that fall outside of normal, observable criteria. But here are a couple of things for you to think about:

One, ALL intellectual positions about certain things require leaps of faith, whether scientific or faith-based. As soon as you move from certainty to assumption, you enter the realm of faith. It’s fascinating to me how many people seem willing to die on a scientific hill, when they have no more actual certainty of the wisdom of their position than I do of mine. Let me challenge you a bit and ask about the most obvious examples:

1. “Big Bang” proponents, can you give me any real proof about the way the universe originated, since you couldn’t observe or record it? Science has developed a set of assumptions to guide their thinking, but there’s no absolute proof of origin. Have you considered that your scientific position requires some major leaps of faith? Doesn’t “Big Bang” require every bit as much faith in the unknown that creation does?

2. I’m also interested in having folks who are sure about evolution give me proof without making any assumptions about their certainty that the current complexity of life developed from random events that all came together over millions of years, rather than from creation. The laws of probability suggest it would take more time than is possible, and yet many subscribe to it as if it were scientific fact.

And, 3: I would like to hear those who feel confident that abortion is merely a woman’s reproductive right, please explain how they “know” when the fetus becomes a life… I’m pro-choice but against ending a human life. However, I have yet to hear the definitive explanation from the Pro-Choice side about exactly when a fetus is a living soul. If it’s just part of a woman’s body, then it’s truly her right to get rid of it.

certainty

But if it’s a life, then ending it is morally wrong, and it’s only assumption–not science– that “justifies” the decision to terminate it. I believe that when a fetus becomes a living soul, then it is protected by moral law. “Pro-choice” proponents cannot empirically demonstrate exactly when that happens, so they act on assumption rather than certainty.

The law has in some cases arbitrarily assumed that a fetus is not considered viable until 20 weeks, but how do they know for sure? What if it becomes a soul at TEN weeks? At heartbeat? At conception? Who knows? Do you know? Are you sure? But any abortions after that point would be murder… I’m not saying I’m right–they’re wrong, but I am saying that, in the end, each of those people HAS to have as much faith about their position as I do about mine. The wisdom of the world is saying, “go ahead and terminate full-term babies”, which is the logical extension of their assumptions. But if that’s wrong, then terminating a fetus also becomes wrong at some point. The question is, when do we have certainty?

And according to this verse, holding fast to this world’s wisdom may keep someone from finding God’s… In Hebrews it says that it is impossible to please God without faith. In the biblical view of things, faith begets wisdom, not the other way around. God rewards those who come to Him in faith with true wisdom. Earthly wisdom is its own reward. Heavenly wisdom is directed towards, well, HEAVEN. Don’t deceive yourself: become foolish.

Foolish Faith?

Some of us demand to see the proof with our own eyes,
And point to scientific evidence to make us wise.
We use empirical proof to see some things that give us certainty,
And trust that we will grow to be superior intellectually…
God provides his wisdom, but it is another kind;
He asks us to depend on faith; to see where we are blind,
To evidence that is not seen, or based on something “school-ish”:
He asks us to believe in Him when others call us foolish.
Academics scoff at faith. They even have the gumption
To ridicule belief as something based on mere assumption!
But even science makes assumptions everywhere you turn,
And there are leaps of faith required no matter what you learn.
So in that place where evidence ends–perhaps I’m kinda dense–
Having faith in “nothing” doesn’t make intellectual sense.
So I agree with Paul, and I will read his words again:
The “foolishness” of God is wiser than the wisest men…

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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Weakness: The Kind That Actually Makes You Stronger

Perhaps the strongest moments you ever have will only come through your weakness…
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV)

We live in a world where strength is made perfect in strength. We are impressed by athletes and actors, media stars and moguls. We don’t tend to see a lot of value in the ordinary or the marginal. It’s even the same way in Christian stuff: If you can teach, God uses your teaching. If you can sing, He uses your talent. If you can turn a phrase, create a nifty slogan, and “unpack” the Bible, God will show himself through your competent efforts. And please don’t misunderstand this, all of those things are good. I certainly like it when I can do my best work for God instead of for myself.

But God is way bigger than that. I think he is perhaps glorified most when we are experiencing things in HIS power rather than in our competency. It’s a lot easier to talk about our victories in Jesus, or the mighty things God has done through, and for, and around us. We appreciate God’s strength in healings, but maybe not so much in the cases where somebody DOESN’T get healed…yet His grace is there in either case.

We share and rejoice together in victories when we win by human standards, not so much when things don’t go our way. Is it possible that it’s actually MORE miraculous when we “lose”, but experience God’s grace, and encounter His comfort in the midst of sorrow? I think the same is true about spiritual health—it’s harder to share our failures, or talk about the ways God’s secret grace has brought us out of the depths of our own depravity, but if we encountered God’s power in our weakness, then it’s truly miraculous.

I can honestly say that whatever worth I have in this world is based solely on God’s grace and forgiveness, not upon my wit or charm. Had I been the only architect of my fate, the structure of my life would have collapsed and burned long ago, compromised by inherent weaknesses and mistakes.

weakness

I have found over the years that if I’m left to my own devices, I will fall into personal selfishness and fail (usually on an impressive scale). I will turn away from sanctification and embrace sin. I will exercise greed instead of grace, lust instead of love, and hate instead of holiness…I can’t possibly give you all the details about how ugly and selfish and foolish I have been, but trust: my life should easily be a testament to failure.

I’ll tell you this: God has been present when I’ve done those things. He has forgiven me and restored me. The details aren’t important, but His presence in my weakness was far greater than any of my gifts in their finest hour. We are comfortable letting God use our strengths. But how do we let him use our weaknesses? For instance, I’m not worthy in any way to write about God, but here I am, offering a testimony to His grace and to the fact that He saved me from myself. You probably aren’t worthy either, but what’s YOUR testimony about God? Paul says he would brag about his own weakness, for when he was weak, God was strong. Let God’s strength shine through your life, not in your accomplishments, but in your failures.

The Wanderer

I’ve been married thirty-seven years,
I have three awesome children who are grown;
I’ve had the most enjoyable of careers,
A lovely wife, a house to call my own.

Perhaps you’d look at me and say, “Success”,
According to the things that you can see,
But I can tell you, life would be a mess
If everything depended upon me.

I’ve done some things of which I cannot speak,
Made choices that I never should have made;
I have been stupidly, unutterably weak,
Like Esau offering birthright in a trade…

I’ve turned my back on God without remorse,
Allowed myself to squander and to roam–
Yet He reached out to me, and changed my course,
And killed the fatted calf, and brought me home.

No matter what you’ve done, or where you’ve been,
The Father’s love will go to any length–
Yes, to the Cross! To save you from your sin-
Your weakness will reveal the Father’s strength.

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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Danger Held No Fear For Him: But Should We Really Follow Paul’s Example?

The apostle Paul went to great lengths to spread Christ’s message, and he willingly faced all kinds of danger. Maybe he was so zealous because he had tried to wipe out this new movement about following Jesus; maybe he was just a passionate guy. But he served Christ with all of his heart, regardless of personal discomfort or danger.

In spite of that, he was criticized by others, picked at by wanna-be church leaders, and stabbed in the back by jealous contemporaries. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he addressed some of the folks who boasted about all they had done, casting aspersions that Paul was not as committed as people said he was. Since they had called him a fool, he said in 2 Corinthians 11:16: “Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting…”

He went on to remind them of his qualifications:
“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.

danger

I have been in danger from rivers, from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked…” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, NIV)

This was Paul’s response to critics who tried to disparage his ministry. As you look at it, just make a note of each of the dangers, risks, hardships, and life-threatening situations he endured to share the Gospel. It’s quite a resume. Five beatings of thirty-nine lashes. Three beatings with rods. One very personal encounter with angry stones. Three shipwrecks. And those are just the highlights! He doesn’t even get to his imprisonments and martyrdom…

To Paul, following Christ was an “all in” proposition. (After all, he was the one who said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”) You really should read that list again to let it sink in. In today’s world, we get bent out of shape if the sermon goes 20 minutes over, and people (on average) spend about NINE minutes a day being involved in church. Yep, about an hour a week. When I look at Paul’s list, I am struck by both the hardship he was willing to endure and the passion he brought to sharing the message of the gospel. To Paul, things like hunger and thirst were just minor inconveniences compared to the glory of telling the good news. Kinda makes you feel a little bad about saying you don’t have time to be a greeter, doesn’t it?

I, Paul

I have lived a joyful life! I’ve learned to be content.
Just think of all I saw, and all the places that I went!
I went to Macedonia, and traveled far from home;
I sailed upon the open sea! I got to go to Rome!
Yes there have been some hardships that occurred along the way,
Like when our ship went down, and I went swimming for a day.
And yes I was arrested, and got whipped a time or five–
And that time I was stoned, I’m still amazed I stayed alive!
But even though I’ve had some inconvenience and some pain:
I know for me to Live is Christ, for me to die is gain!
But looking back now, I can say I’ve served Him from the start:
And I would challenge you, my friend, to serve with all your heart.
When you are looking back on life, with all the good and bad,
I hope that you can say with me, “I gave it all I had!”

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

Reputation Follows You: When The Bravest Man in Jerusalem met the man with the Worst Reputation

Saul of Tarsus was a Jewish zealot who aimed to stamp out the Christian movement using violence and intimidation. After he encountered Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus, he had been dramatically converted to The Way, but his reputation still intimidated everybody. That’s not too surprising, since he had recently been active killing Christians and persecuting the church… Followers of Jesus avoided him with good reason; was he just pretending to be a Christian so he could go undercover and infiltrate the inner circle? Was he actually a believer? Was he still dangerous? No one really knew…

reputation

“And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 10:26-7, KJV)  The man with the worst reputation among believers was shunned by the church, conversion or no.

Let’s make just a couple of observations: if we have been doing wrong, then even if we repent and change, our past actions have consequences. Saul, the self-described “Pharisee of the Pharisees”, had been out there persecuting and killing Christians. He had gained a reputation before his conversion, and the reputation did not go away just because he said things were different now. It took some time, and he had to demonstrate that his life had really changed.

People in church are often hesitant to associate with people who are not. There is a subtle brand of righteous insulation that takes place, and this was certainly the case with Saul! There are some church-goers who believe that if righteous Christians hang out with sinners, they might themselves be tainted with sin. That sort of logic creates a cultural divide between Christians and non-believers, and it smacks of some sort of presumed spiritual superiority for believers which doesn’t actually exist (It might be instructive to remember that the church would be empty if only perfect people got to join…)

As Saul discovered, having a change of heart doesn’t change the past. If you’ve ever wronged a loved one, and then asked for forgiveness, don’t be surprised if they are skeptical about your new attitude. It may be that you’ll have to show them that things really have changed. Saul was an outright enemy to believers, so when he told people about how he encountered Jesus on the Road to Damascus, his conversion didn’t seem possible to most folks. It’s not really surprising that when he tried to join the church, he was ostracized and rejected.

Can you imagine how different the world would be if Saul had never been accepted by the church? If he had walked away, bitter and resentful? Imagine the consequences! Yet as Saul stood on the outside looking in, even when everyone was afraid of him and avoiding him, there was one man who looked beyond his fearsome reputation.

Luke says this: “But Barnabas…” In the midst of paralyzing fear, it only takes one courageous person to get things moving the right direction. Saul had been guilty of horrendous things BUT Barnabas looked beyond them. Saul was not the kind of guy you’d want to sit next to at the covered dish supper, BUT Barnabas invited him… Saul had a terrible reputation and a checkered past, BUT Barnabas took him and brought him. Saul was not accepted into the church, BUT Barnabas brought him. Barnabas somehow saw beyond Saul’s past, and shepherded him into God’s fearful family.

Without Barnabas, who knows? Perhaps Saul would never have become Paul. Perhaps an embittered and frustrated Saul might have slunk off, rejected and hurt, and gone back to persecuting Christians. What person outside of your church family is being excluded or marginalized? Who are you loving and bringing into the kingdom?

Saul to Paul by Way of Barnabas

Greeting someone new to church may seem a little small,
Unless the guest has had a wanted poster on the wall,
For persecuting Christians– yeah, a guy by the name of Saul,
Who watched as they stoned Stephen, and was feared by one and all.
But Barnabas reached out to him, and not in trepidation,
Undaunted by Saul’s former life or current reputation.
He didn’t cater to the enemy’s intimidation,
And brought Saul right into the Apostolic delegation.
The rest is history. Saul changed his life and changed his name,
And due to Barnabas, the world has never been the same.
Paul became a missionary, saved from sin and shame,
And said, “For me to live is Christ; for me to die is gain!”
The next time someone comes to church who doesn’t quite fit in,
No matter what they look like, and no matter where they’ve been,
Remember Barnabas and Paul, and all that happened after all,
And realize that greeting someone is not small at all.

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

 

Importance May not be what You think: The Important Man Who Discovered Something More Important

A funny thing regarding importance happened to a man of importance on the Way to Damascus…

importance

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. The he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as to one abnormally born.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV)

Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew scholar, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a famous rabbi of that era. Saul was a career Pharisee who spent his formative years studying the Hebrew Scriptures, teaching and spreading the message of Judaism. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (He referred to himself as “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was mentioned as the official consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, a man feared by followers of the Way because of his aggressive self-righteousness. Shortly after he endorsed Stephen’s execution, however, he encountered Jesus in a vision while traveling to Damascus.

It was certainly a dramatic conversion that sent shock-waves through the early church. He embraced the reality of the resurrection and began to follow Christ with the same zeal he previously applied to persecuting believers of the Way. He became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the earth.

At the time he wrote this passage to the Corinthians, most of the witnesses he referred to were still alive, and could still verify that what he said about Christ was true. Had his statements been false, he would have been branded as a lunatic, and the Christian movement would have died along with the generation who invented it. Instead, believers with changed lives held resolutely to the Gospel in spite of suffering persecution and even martyrdom.

That’s what Paul did, along with thousands of other believers. If you haven’t read his letters, they can be life-changing, and they are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. Read some of his Epistles, and you will be impressed with his logic, his knowledge, and the inspiration behind his work. He gave an impressive testimony about who Jesus was and what his teaching meant.

His testimony still counts as eyewitness because in the real world he was an enemy of those who followed Jesus until he encountered Jesus himself, and then he began to connect the dots. It’s really the same for all of us—a lot of things aren’t clear until we encounter Jesus. But once we put him in the proper place, there are so many things that suddenly make sense. Once you have received the things of first importance, give them first importance.

Conversion

Tell me, do you think it strange that everything in life can change?
On roads where countless men have trod, can one lone man encounter God?
Can a Scholar change his mind? Can the sighted see, though blind?
Will a zealot cease to kill and change his heart, and change his will?
Somehow in the darkest night a blinded man can find his sight,
Can see that love–not law–is right, and move from darkness into light.

 

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

 

Evil Days Call for Wise Living. Are The Days Still Evil? Do You Live Wisely?

Here’s some advice as we get ready for a brand new year: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15-20 NIV)

Before Paul says we should always be thankful, he tells us to live wisely because the days are evil. We are starting a brand New Year, but are we really starting with a clean slate? In a day characterized by wars and political strife, dishonest leadership, licentious sexual practices, and rampant sexual abuse by men in government, Paul certainly understood evil days. Christians and gladiators were killed in the Colosseum for entertainment; men celebrated homosexuality and even kept young boys as concubines, and racial and social discrimination were rampant everywhere. Evil was so common it didn’t even make front-page headlines in the pagan Roman-occupied world. (Wait, what? Did all that sound familiar?)

As for the other part of his statement, are you living wisely? Would you look at your life and say that you make pretty wise choices? That question is really a little more difficult than it seems. Where do find your wisdom? If there was a Book of Wisdom, would you read it? How much wisdom are you exposed to every day? What type of wisdom are you counting on when you have to make choices? (Remember, Eve ate the apple partly because she saw that it imparted wisdom…there are some things the world counts as wise that really aren’t.

Paul draws that distinction about the world’s view of the cross in 1 Corinthians 1:18-20 when he quotes Isaiah 29:14, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”). In the Biblical definition, true wisdom only comes from God—and if it isn’t godly, it isn’t good…

Do you know what Proverbs says about wisdom? What Jesus taught? What James said? Do you subjugate your temporary needs for long-term results? Do you seek first what God wants, or what YOU want? There is a lot to consider. Here in Ephesians, Paul also says we should understand what the Lord’s will is. How does one gain understanding of THAT? In Romans 12:2 he offers a clue when he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

God’s will won’t be found in the world’s values. It resides in spiritual insights that only come from the renewal of your mind. Tell me, what will you be doing in 2020 to renew your mind with wisdom? I’ll finish this thought by asking two questions: First, do you think the days still qualify as evil?

devil evil    evil legalism kills

Put another way, are men in 2020 still as selfish, evil, and corrupt as they were when Paul wrote those words in the first century AD? (If you consider the hatred and lack of integrity on BOTH sides of American politics, the rise of ISIS as a murderous pseudo-religious state, the racism that still exists across our planet, and the genocide CURRENTLY TAKING PLACE in Somalia, Burundi, Iraq, Myanmar, Sudan, and Nigeria, the answer is fairly obvious).

With that in mind, the second question is: Do you understand what the Lord’s will is for you? Chances are, if the answer is yes to the first question, it’s even more important to be able to answer the second one.

Hindsight is 2020

The days were evil, way back when, and the world was full of evil men
Who violated public trust and loved to exercise their lust.
He didn’t put it into rhyme, but Paul said to redeem the time,
To live in wisdom every day, prepared for what would come your way.
Today, the calendar has moved but men have really not improved!
So… Are you ready? Are you wise? Can you see evil in disguise?
Can you see things through Wisdom’s eyes?
We live in a fallen world that’s evil still.
Be wise, and live within the Father’s will.

 

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

The Mighty Works that Don’t Work; the Foolishness that Does

Would you consider yourself a righteous person? I think most of us would like to think we are pretty good (as opposed to being cruel or “bad”), but do we really strive to be righteous? That idea in itself conjures up some questions: how would one go about achieving such a thing? Do you attain righteousness by what you do? Is a person justified by what they do or by how well they live? The Bible says this: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.” (Romans 1:17, NIV)

One of the biggest conundrums about being a Christian is the idea of justification by faith. It seems counter-intuitive to most that salvation is gifted by faith, and cannot be gained by doing good works. For legalistic and self-righteous man it is an astounding thing, one of the hardest concepts to grasp, and one of the most difficult things to accept. We just can’t believe that righteousness can be given apart from the good works we do.

The major religions of the world are based upon effort and reward. “IF I’m good enough, God will accept me.” Religion depends upon people earning their way into God’s favor, (or perhaps achieving enlightenment), but those things are not consistent with the Biblical view of God. The Bible teaches that God requires righteousness (since He can’t abide sin), and since man is unable to earn it with works, God gives it to man for free. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” The people who work for God’s favor will always resent those who accept it as a gift. Religion based on works instead of grace becomes a full-time job…

works

That’s why the Pharisees could not see who Jesus was (they didn’t believe in Him). It’s why Satan fell (He had faith in himself rather than God). It’s why the Roman Catholic Church condemned Martin Luther to death for nailing this statement to the door as one of his 95 Theses in Wittenberg. They couldn’t imagine that sin’s penalty had been paid apart from their system of penances and indulgences. Self-centered man cannot accept the fact that God would give him that which costs everything for nothing. It defies human logic.

That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the Gospel is not works, or righteousness out of duty or even obligation; it is not about striving or attaining perfection. It is about God giving the perfect gift to us imperfect men; and it is about our pursuing righteousness out of gratitude rather than obligation.

Faith begets righteousness, not the other way around. You can’t work your way to grace, but grace can lead you to do good works. Accept God’s free gift. Be astounded by the overflowing measure of grace. Think about the cost of it all, and shed a grateful tear. Then remember the foolishness of it all, and smile. Embrace the foolish power of God…

The Righteous Lord cannot abide our fallen, sinful state;
Our works don’t make us righteous, even if we’re good, or great!
Because we want to work our way to holiness–or near it–
The message of the cross is foolishness to most who hear it;
It proclaims that works don’t work, no matter how hard we chase:
The just shall live by faith, and sinners must be saved by grace.
Stop hoping, then, in mere good works to give your soul a lift,
And open the Father’s foolish, graceful, unbelievable gift.

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