Knowledge Puffs Up, So Here’s What You Really Ought to Know:

“And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” (1 Corinthians 8:2 KJV) A long time ago I chose this as my life verse, thinking that having an arbitrarily closed mind is not really a Christian attribute, that knowledge in itself has limited value, and that life should be a constant opportunity to learn.

Socrates may have contributed to Paul’s logic when he taught that “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” It is sometimes challenging to try to stay intellectually open as a Christian when there are certain bedrock truths that are non-negotiable, and the idea of being dogmatic is probably seen as a negative by most folks in our culture. But being dogmatic is not necessarily a bad thing. Without bedrock, there is nothing to build upon. Perhaps it is the WAY some people are dogmatic that can be objectionable.

knowledge puffs

Paul was right when he said that “knowledge puffs one up” and contributes to pride and self-aggrandizement. It is only by allowing for our own possible ignorance that we access the opportunity for wisdom. You can’t put more treasure into a buried chest; a full Xmas stocking holds no more gifts; a sprung trap captures no more game; you can’t put ten pounds of… Well, you get the idea.

And really, if you look a little deeper, the point of our spiritual lives is not knowledge, but love. The verse right after this one says, “But if any man loves God, the same is known of him.” Paul knew that it is not knowledge but LOVE that transforms us. What fun would a friendship or a marriage be if we limited our relationship to only rational thought and knowledge, without any emotional connection? And yet we often treat God that way. It is not knowledge that completes us, but love. Paul reminded us about that in 1 Corinthians 13:13, when he said, “these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

As humans our very nature is not based on knowledge, but on loving relationships that actualize us and enable us to be who we were created to be. I don’t follow the rules just because I know them, but I follow them because I care about breaking them. Timothy Keller connects the dots like this: “The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you.”

knowledge worship

How much have you been moved by God lately? You may be reading your Bible, and you may be increasing your knowledge, but when is that last time you were so moved by God that you fell in love with Him all over again? If you are in love with God, your worship will transform you and people will notice. And isn’t it a much cooler thing for someone to say, “Wow, that person really loves God!” rather than, “Wow, that person really thinks he’s smart!” Love God. Be known for it.

Go to College, get more knowledge; it will help you win debates.
Just beware and be aware that ego sometimes self-inflates.
Find your mind some worldly wisdom, it will make you self-assured;
But realize you’ll be surprised at some things wisdom does not cure.
You can’t earn and you can’t learn this truth no matter where you go:
Just Love God. That’s all you need to live, and all you need to know.

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

Law Versus Grace: and The Reluctant Apologist Accepted

An apologist is “one who defends or supports something, such as a religion.” Saul of Tarsus zealously pursued righteousness through keeping the law until he discovered God’s reason for law and purpose for grace… “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21, NKJV)

Saul, a Pharisee from Tarsus, was a man striving to do the right thing. He obeyed the statutes to the letter, and he prosecuted blasphemers to its fullest extent. He was a brilliant, passionate man who feared God and wanted to do what pleased Him. He was confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), and had perhaps one of the most significant conversions to Christianity in history.

law conversion

His sight was taken from him for three days, and I am sure he came to grips with his own spiritual blindness as he waited for God to tell him what to do next. As a powerful Pharisee, he originally saw the law as a means to earn God’s favor. As a sightless pilgrim, he grasped the concept of grace, and he came to understand that the law’s purpose was not to save, but only to condemn.

law condemns

In Romans 3:20 he said “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” In Romans 4:15 he said “the law brings wrath.” Religion that is built upon law will always fail for two reasons:

1) The law exists only to demonstrate that men will fall short of its standards and face the wrath of a righteous God; and

2) all men will fall short of its standards.

The Apostle Paul (as Saul is known to us) knew that the law hates sinners, and he called himself the “chief of sinners”. Paul and all of us sinners were doomed under the law’s rigid standards. When Saul encountered Jesus, he stood before Christ not as a righteous Pharisee or even as a good man, but as a sinner. So it is with all of us. Often one of the biggest obstacles we have in discovering God is our own sense of righteousness.

Don’t ever let doing good take the place of discovering Grace. Paul says that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. If, like me, you are a sinner who has done wicked and dishonest things, who has failed the legal requirements in so many respects, that is amazingly good news! Whatever your sins, whatever you have done to break the law, Grace is greater.

Saul of Tarsus, on that night,
When you were blinded by the light,
What did you see? What did you find
That changed your heart and changed your mind?
What caused your ruthless heart to thaw,
To see the hopelessness of law?
Was it the look on Jesus’ face
That turned you towards amazing grace?
Was it in blindness that you found
That Grace could more than sin abound?
Where legalism failed to heal,
Your righteousness from Grace was real!
When you were blinded, you could see
God’s love in perfect clarity,
And wrote so that the mystery
Of Grace–that fell on you—could fall on 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

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

For many people, religion is mainly a form of legalism that embraces holiness and self-righteousness. Rather than spiritual transformation, many religions are reduced to a bunch of do’s and don’ts, the kind of oversight that kills rather than quickens the spirit.

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)

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; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (verses 4-6).

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, he had 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.

Let me be clear: NO FOLLOWER OF JESUS DOES THOSE THINGS! Paul was a great example of that: as a young man, Paul had not only felt superior, 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—he 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.

The truest hope for the human race
Is not in righteousness, but grace.
Legalism just imparts self-righteousness to human hearts.
Instead of judging sins all day,
Embrace the grace that came your way!
If you follow Jesus, know that I can’t be much clearer:
The only time to judge someone is 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

There’s Plenty of Bad News Out There: Here’s Some GOOD News that’s the Gospel Truth

The Gospel simply means “the good news”, and for many, many generations it was taken to mean something that is absolutely true. (“And that’s the Gospel Truth, Your Honor.”) Even Mark Twain, who was critical of church-goers, often wrote colorful dialect for some of his western characters. When they referred to something being true or reliable, he’d have them say: “That’s gospel, pard.” There’s a reason why people relate gospel to truth, but there is even more to the story of that word.

gospel

The gospel as we know it entered the world in the first century after Jesus came. His teaching and the news of his resurrection were so far-reaching and revolutionary that they literally changed the world, and have been changing it ever since. The Greek word meant “good news”, and the Christian message became so connected with it that the word became synonymous with the good news about Jesus. The Apostle Paul changed his vocation, his plans, and his entire life because of the gospel, and he has this to say about it:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NIV)Paul carried the Good News everywhere he went, and ultimately the Christian message displaced the Roman Empire. Countless millions of lives have been changed by the gospel since then! If you stop and think about it, “gospel” may be the most powerful word in history. And it’s true. Stop and think about THAT.

The Good News
The world all around me, I just have to say
Is full of bad news that we hear every day;
There’s real news, and “fake news”, and media spin;
There’s plenty of hatred, and judgment of sin–
[And that just depends on which church you are in!]
In all of our talk about “don’ts” and the “do’s”,
There are lots of Church words that we Church people use,
Such as “gospel”– which, Paul says, means very good news.
In Old English, it’s “God-spell”. So why is such passion
Stirred up by a word that is so darned old-fashioned?
Just what is the gospel? It’s something I’ve heard
In the Church all my life; it’s a Sunday School word–
Just the kind of expression evangelists say:
So why is the Gospel important today?
If your loved one’s in surgery, might not make it through,
Would you hope that the surgeon brings “good news” to you?
When a marriage proposal is made, does he fear
That it won’t be “good news” from the one he holds dear?
When your boss says there’ll be some reorganization,
Do you hope for “good news” about future vocation?
When you took a hard test, and you’re given your grade,
It’s only “good news” if a good grade is made!
But the Gospel is more than a grade on a test–
It’s not news that’s just GOOD, it is news that’s the BEST!
The headline reads: “Jesus Christ died on the Cross,
Giving Life Everlasting to all who were Lost”!
The Gospel is love. It’s about life and death.
It is every last heartbeat and every last breath!
The Gospel is power and passion combined;
It’s truth, transformation, and love intertwined;
Take a look at the gospel anew, redefined,
And let it sink in to your heart and your mind:
It is news just for YOU, of the very best kind.
Jesus died for the world, we all know that is true–
It’s the oldest of news, it’s the newest of new:
But the good news means He also died just for YOU.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35, NIV)

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

Heavenly Thoughts: In A World Full of Low Places, How High Can You Go?

Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, wouldn’t that just be heavenly!”? The Apostle Paul probably used that phrase from time to time, and since he had once been caught up into heaven in a vision, he knew what he was talking about. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on heavenly things, not on earthly things”. (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV) What do heavenly things look like? What would life be like if we could set our hearts on heavenly things?

Stop and think: are there options heaven offers that you haven’t thought of yet? What would you want that you don’t want now, and what would you cease to want that you DO want now? What if there was something far more valuable than money, way more satisfying than pleasure, and much more comforting than food? What if this fallen world provides the merest shadows of what our Father actually intends for us to have?

heavenly things

Take time, for instance. It is almost impossible for us, so wrapped in finite time, to imagine eternity. How much longer will it be? How will infinite time change our perspective, broaden our horizons, and expand our potential? The heavenly view of time will change everything, and we will perceive such a gap between our old earthly sense of time and our new heavenly one that we will consider the earthly view of time laughably outdated and inadequate.

If you can stretch your mind to make that comparison, then apply the same differential to everything else. Our concept of pleasure will totally change, replaced by its infinitely greater counterpart. Our ability to experience comfort and joy and love will be multiplied exponentially, and we will find that our limited view of life itself will explode into an infinitely more fulfilling one, the one that God intended us to have.

Our understanding of intimacy and relationship will expand as well. Paul hints at this in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, when he says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” God wants us to know Him as he knows us; and He wants to replace the incomplete and transient with the perfect and eternal.

In “The Weight of Glory”, C S Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Paul tells us in this to set first our hearts, and then our minds on higher, greater, heavenly things. The good can be the worst enemy of the best. Don’t keep aiming too low. First, connect your passion to the living God. Sing! Dance. Rejoice in honest prayer and test the purity of repentance. Open your heart to eternal possibilities. Then, set your mind on things above. Instead of hungering for the things of this world, discover heavenly wisdom and truth that will change your trajectory. You may just find that you’ve been aiming too low.

Shootin’ Too Low

On top of Ol’ Smokey, all covered with snow,
When winter time comes, Friend, why, that’s where I’ll go.
There’s nothing that brings a man laughter and cheer
Than to go out and hunt in the cold time of year;
When the snow covers all with a blanket of white
And the brisk, bracing air makes a man feel just right;
There’s nothing I know of that so entertains me
As a hunt in the snow—why, my Friend, it sustains me!
There was no better thing, I don’t mind tellin’ you
Than to hunt for some game with my Old Hound Dog, Blue…
You see…Blue was much more than a dog, or a pet:
In all of my life, he’s the best friend I’ve met:
A companion, a soul-mate; much more than a friend,
And it just broke my heart when old Blue met his end.
We were huntin’ on top of Ol’ Smokey one day
When a turkey just happened to flap out our way;
Well, Blue pointed him up, and he stood there stock-still,
When the turkey flapped over the crest of the hill,
And I, in my haste to taste fresh, roasted game,
Pulled my shotgun right up to my shoulder, and aimed,
And, as I was gettin’ that turkey in sight,
I may have been dazzled by all of that white,
when I fired at the turkey, cause something went wrong,
And I saw that shot go where it didn’t belong—
An explosion of white from a snow-covered log,
Made it hard to see Smokey, or turkey, or dog—
And I waited to look, when the powder had cleared
When my eyes were exposed to a sight that I feared…
For the turkey flew down from the snow-covered hill,
But my good old dog Blue lay there, breathless and still.
Yes, there on the ground was the dog that I loved,
For it seems that my aim was just not high enough.
On top of Ol’ Smokey, all covered with snow,
I lost my dog Blue from a-shootin’ too low…

 

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

Infinite Dreams Deserve Infinite Possibilities: How About an Infinite God?

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he prays about the possibility of connecting finite man to an infinite God. The potential result causes him to run clean out of superlatives! “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:22, NKJV) Wow. Read that again. Paul says that God is able “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

infinite glory

Stop and think about that one for a moment. Are you a dreamer? Do you dream BIG? Even if you do, Paul says it may not be big enough. If you question his judgment, or think maybe he was a bit off, then check out 2 Corinthians 12:4, where he describes himself as a man who, either in a vision or in reality, was “caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell…” His statements seem almost giddy, or an expression of infinite wonder by a visionary who had entered a dream-world of fantasy. We might expect that from Ezekiel or John, but it’s a little surprising coming from Paul.

In most of his epistle writing, Paul is more likely to offer a legal brief than a hyperbolic exaggeration. His letters abound with brilliance in terms of connecting the Old Testament Scriptures to the person of Jesus Christ, and his language is usually organized and logical. If he ever waxes eloquent, it is usually connected to God’s glory, which he somewhat sheepishly admits to the Corinthians that he saw firsthand.

So when Paul gives advice about an infinite God, we should consider the source. (After all, he had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees; trained under Gamaliel; a missionary who was “not ashamed of the gospel”; and the man who was caught up into the third heaven and had experienced glimpses of God that very few mortals can imagine.) If Paul says that we need to recalibrate our earthly expectations regarding what God has in store for us, maybe we should pay attention.

Our problem, he says, is not that we bother God by asking for too much; it’s that we limit ourselves by asking for too LITTLE. Jesus reminded us of that same thing in Matthew 7:11: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Paul says that God’s lowest starting point may just be exceedingly above our highest asking point. His smallest gift may be bigger than our biggest dream…. perhaps an infinite God offers more possibilities than we are aware of. As finite linear thinkers, we struggle with understanding God’s resources. We rarely imagine Him in all His infinite glory. Paul says we should venture out as far on the horizon of imagination as we can go; then go FARTHER. If you are willing to embrace that challenge, then Dream big. Pray big! God will take it from there.

Try to stretch your highest dreams as far as they can go;
Stretch them out until they pass all boundaries that you know.
Let God take them every one and sprinkle them with love,
And they’ll expand exceedingly abundantly above
The fondest wish and deepest dream that you’ve been thinking of.
Be infinite, and take your dreams to Jesus face to face:
His lowest starting point’s above your highest asking place.

 

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

Culture Shock Is Happening to YOU, and You Don’t Even Know It

There is a conflict going on all around you, and you may not have even noticed. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV) If you’ve ever lived in another country where English is not spoken you may have gone through culture shock, which is NOT being shocked by stuff we see in another culture– it’s the emotional impact of assimilating into a foreign society.

Culture is related (obviously) to cult, which makes sense if you think about it. In any local environment, we all listen to the same news, wear the same fashions, and somewhat slavishly follow the same celebrities and customs. When we travel to another country and are plunked down into a different set of customs and especially language, something starts to happen…

After a brief honeymoon period where everything is exciting and new, you begin to experience frustration and alienation, particularly over your inability to express yourself and to have meaningful dialog with those around you. Culture shock is like hitting an identity wall because you feel stunted and dense; you can’t explain some of the most elemental things you feel or think, and you can’t share your opinions, your humor, or your feelings as effectively as you are used to doing. Your self-worth is challenged because almost all of the things you value about yourself are locked inside, hidden away unexpressed. Peter called believers sojourners and pilgrims on this earth (1 Peter 2:11), because we are aliens in a foreign land.

Jesus said “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit”, and because of that irreconcilable tension, Christians are forced to live as spiritual beings in a culture driven by flesh and the values of the world. The world adores celebrities, the kind of people who project themselves out there by any means available, who say “Don’t you know who I am?” You receive literally thousands of messages a day celebrating the shallow and the temporary, calling your attention away from things that are actually important. But Jesus called his followers to be sanctified, to be “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves”, and to somehow live “IN the world without being OF the world”.

And at this we fail. Early and often. We compromise. We withdraw into holy huddles, and reduce the amazing Christian life wherein we are forgiven and reborn to a bunch of lame “do’s” and “don’ts”. We justify ourselves, we rationalize our mistakes, we criticize all those OTHER sinners and we struggle at articulating what we really feel about being a follower of Christ in a world that doesn’t always care about that. Have you ever had spiritual culture shock? Found yourself frustrated over being unable to express love the way you know Jesus wants you to? Ever used the usual excuses: “I’m not a speaker/evangelist/professional, I don’t like being up front, that’s not my gift, I’d rather work behind the scenes, or I’m really nobody special, God will use gifted folks for that kind of stuff…”?

culture

Ever felt like the love of Christ within you is an amazing treasure locked inside of you, but you’re just not sure how to express it? Then there is GREAT NEWS! God never intended for YOU to be accountable for that. In fact, Paul says the opposite is true. God has placed His amazing love within you so that people see it and recognize that it’s not yours, but HIS. We are only “earthen vessels”, but Paul says there is more to us than that!

In a TMZ world that celebrates looks, money, achievement, power, and external things, that rewards those who push their way to the front of the culture, Paul says that it is not the obvious outer stuff that makes us amazing. It is the hidden inner treasure. It is not so much a matter of who we are. It is more a matter of WHOSE we are…

 
You don't have to tweet a lot, or drive a fancy car;
You don't have to get tattoos or try to be bizarre;
You don't have to play guitar, or have your name on a candy bar,
Or get too far in politics, or be a senator or a czar!
You don't have to be too rich, or be a movie star;
You don't have to get high and impress friends at the bar:
It's not just who you know that counts, but more in WHOSE you ARE.

 

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

Potential: Have you Reached Yours? If You Unlocked It, What Would You Find?

The word “potential” means “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.” The Apostle Paul apparently thought that there was an amazing amount of potential out there:

“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”. (Philippians 1:6, NIV)

Paul’s wonderful prayer of thanksgiving for his friends in Philippi is a tribute to friendship and Christian community. Paul’s affection for and intimacy with the recipients is evident in every line. He says things like “I pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel”, “I have you in my heart”, and “I long for you with the affection of Christ Jesus”. These simple but passionate words of friendship abound with applications. Read 1:6 again and see what questions come into your mind. Here are a few to consider:

1) What gave Paul such confidence? Isn’t he writing this from prison? Apparently Paul was not too good at focusing on his circumstances… Perhaps he could have used his talents to write a play (maybe “Chains are the New Tunic”), or at least to write his appeal to Rome. Instead, he is bubbling over with confidence about potential; he’s excited about what God is doing in his friends. Are we perhaps more focused on circumstances than we are on the gospel? Would circumstances be less stressful if we put them in their proper place? What do you place the most confidence in?

potential

2) God has begun a good work in Paul’s Philippian friends. Since Paul is writing to his fellow believers, we can truly connect the dots here and accept as fact that God begins a good work in everyone who shares “partnership in the gospel”. Paul regarded these people as his spiritual children, or as his spiritual brothers and sisters. Who do you regard as spiritual family? What is God doing among you?

If you are a Christian, what “good work” has He begun in you? If you are reading this, you have tons of unrealized potential. My parents used to tell me that all the time. As a kid, I got really tired of hearing about my potential. Apparently, buried underneath all the playfulness, immaturity, laziness, and nonchalance, my folks thought there were some useful characteristics trying to peek out.

Once when I messed up, I think I even tried to use it on the good side of the ledger. “Dad, I know my grades are bad but you yourself have said I have lots of potential.” My Dad’s response (probably not original but as always well-timed) was, “Son, potential is a French word that means, ‘you haven’t done anything yet’.” That may not be the Webster definition, but it enlarged my perspective about what how the word applied to me. Years later, I even heard Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells quote my Dad, so it MUST be true!

potential Parcells

What is YOUR potential? What good work has God begun in you? When God looks at you in your immature and unfinished state, who do you think He sees? I bet you’d be surprised at who God created you to be, at how awesome He thinks you are, and how joyful He is at your development. Would you live today any differently if you stopped to realize that God is DOING A GOOD WORK IN YOU?! He is. DO.

3) God’s good work will continue in you as long as you live (or until the day of Christ, for sure). If you haven’t thought about what God is doing in you, discover it. Stay aware of it. Put it on your bucket list. Whoever you are, whenever you read this, I have taken Paul’s lead and prayed a prayer for you this morning: “Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us as your children. You alone know our true potential. Work ON us. Work WITHIN us! Help us to be who You created us to be. Please do your good work in us, and continue it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

There. God was already working but it’s good to acknowledge and claim it in prayer. May His good work continue in you until it is complete!

What is there locked within your life that yet remains undone?
What thing would you accomplish if you could?
No matter who you are there is a work that God’s begun,
To use your full potential for His good.

So, let Him do his work. There are some folks who will be shocked
To see the things that you and God can do,
When you and all your glorious potential are unlocked,
And He continues His good work in 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

Meekness is Not Weakness. It Could Even Win the Preakness.

I have heard the phrase “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” many times, and I have always wondered about Jesus’ meekness. Was he just some sort of milk-toast or doormat? Was Jesus a weakling? Then I did some research about meekness, and found out there was more to it than being a wimp:

meekness not weakness

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in meekness correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26, NKJV)

Paul’s letter to Timothy contains practical advice about relationships and sharing the truth as well as a startling cosmic reminder about the state of mankind. He admonishes Timothy to avoid fruitless arguments, and to be gentle and patient when facing opposition. This is pretty good advice about all relationships, and there are some valuable insights that can be gained from what Paul says here.

He tells Timothy to teach with humility. The Greek word he uses (praus) is usually translated as mildness or meekness. Jesus uses it in Matthew 11:29-30, when he says “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Remember, this is the same Jesus who overthrew the moneychangers’ tables in the temple. He who blazed with glory on the Mount of transfiguration. He endured the cross. The Greek idea for meekness is not being a doormat. It is one of controlled power. Think of a gentled horse. They don’t lose all of their power, but they are trained and therefore disciplined enough to channel their power; they are still strong enough to throw you but they don’t.

meekness

Gentleness is also the eighth fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. The quality of meekness is not abject weakness, it’s like a horse that could win the Preakness. (Ha, try to forget THAT!) Emulate Jesus and be filled with the Spirit.

The other thing Paul points out in this passage is that there are only two kinds of people in this world: there are those who know the truth, and those who have been taken captive by the snare of the devil. Seems kind of radical, doesn’t it? I mean, taken captive by the devil, come on! Surely my friends, my neighbors, those other people on the highway are not captured by the devil!

Ask yourself this, though: If someone is not living for Christ, who are they living for? Never forget that you reside in occupied territory behind enemy lines. Everyone who has not found the truth is captive to something else, something they may not even acknowledge or be aware of. It may be that you are uniquely positioned to share the Truth with someone so that they can escape the devil’s trap. Be powerful. Be gentle.

This world is hard. This world is wild, and ever since I was a child
I’ve heard the Lord described as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”.
I know that he was good and right; I know that Jesus didn’t fight,
But there were things about him that would indicate a hidden might:
He entered the Temple with a shout and threw the money changers out.
He took the beating and the cross, defeated Satan like a Boss,
And conquered evil, sin and death as all eternity held its breath.
See, “meekness” in the Greek has more of a meaning if you seek it,
And it doesn’t always come across the way we usually speak it.
In Greek it’s like a harnessed force, something like a gentled horse,
Very strong and yet controlled in all the power that it holds.
Greek meekness is not weakness, it’s enough to win the Preakness.
Meek Jesus really should be styled as “Powerful Savior, strong and Wild”

 

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

Respect: I Guess Aretha Franklin Was Right, After All

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

respect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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