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

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

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

revenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Stuck in a Negative Cycle? Try Getting On New One

Life hits us sometimes with a cycle of suffering. Something goes wrong, or little things pile up, and circumstances seem to come at us in waves. The road gets rocky and it’s all we can do to just hang in there. In Romans, Paul says that God offers another cycle we can ride:

cycle stone

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5, NIV)

Often when bad things happen, there is a cycle that goes like this: First, question WHY has this happened? WHY ME? Then DOUBT that God has your best interests at heart. Shake your fist at God, and conclude He’s not interested. Then decide that this faith stuff is useless. Move on in bitter cynicism… it’s a cycle of pessimistic pain, isn’t it? When we respond to tragedy from an earthly point of view, it’s understandable that people end up bitter or even hopeless with nothing to live for.

cycle

There are many things that enter our lives and create scars, leaving regret or anger behind. Paul says that hoping in God’s glory is not one of them. Think about it: would it ever be a bad thing for us to reflect on the glory of God and how it relates to us?  In fact, Paul asserts that our lives have been affected by glory in every sense–past present, and future. We have been justified through our past adherence to faith, so that we NOW have peace with God and access into His grace. His grace seasons our everyday life with spiritual insights, forgiveness, and love. And because of this radical new relationship with God, we can stand confidently in hope that He will take care of the future. It turns difficult circumstances into a choice: either THEY shape our perspective, or GOD does. Participating in God’s glory offers us the opportunity to exchange hardship for hope, and to live with a different view of a cycle of pain…

Our suffering in this present world, when appropriated by faith, bears fruit that remains, and Paul (certainly no stranger to suffering) offers a broader view. IF we can hope in the glory of God, then adverse circumstances produce perseverance; perseverance produces character; and character begets hope. God validates that hope with love, a cycle of productive pain that allows for character building instead of cynicism. It’s a much better cycle than the other one, don’t you think?

Sometimes life will knock you down. You’ll find yourself retreating,
As things come in relentless waves, just beating, beating, beating…
Paul declared that suffering provides a chance to boast,
And when we’re at our least sufficient, God is at His most.
Lifting up our hearts to God can really change our story,
And we can find His peace, and apprehend the hope of glory.
When things occur that outstrip our ability to cope,
Persevere and pray, and call upon the God of Hope.
Circumstance and sin can’t win as long as you allow Him in,
And He will change the hard refrain of pain into your gain.
If you’re hopeless, take a step to God in faith, because
Events can never shape your outlook any more than God does.

 

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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