The Upside of Rebuke: Why a Kick in the Teeth Can Be an Act of Love

Have you ever been stung by a rebuke? It’s not any fun. It hurts a little, and it can be a tough thing to endure. If you’ve been rebuked, you know what I mean. But the Bible offers a statement about rebuke than can change your perspective entirely: “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools”. (Ecclesiastes 7:5, NIV)

Who in your life offers you wise correction? I once made a list of all the “difference makers” in my life. I thought about people who taught me something useful, exhorted me to go farther, offered me rebuke, or pushed me to elevate my game in some form or fashion. In almost every case, those people caused me discomfort or even pain at the time. I certainly didn’t recognize 100% back then that they were helping me instead of hurting me. In fact, there were times I surely resented it; it wasn’t comfortable or (I felt) complimentary.

But maybe rebuke was a good thing. Looking back, I can clearly see how my Dad (in particular) and certain teachers, coaches, and friends motivated me to achieve more than I would have without their sometimes abrasive assistance. Oddly enough, I thought most of them were being mean to me in the moment, but they were actually pushing me to get out of my comfort zone and into my potential.

rebuke helps

Walt Disney said “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” Jesus said it in a different way: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2, NIV) Even fruitful branches get pruned by the gardener. A healthy plant actually bears more fruit after it has undergone the stress of losing branches; Jesus presented that as an analogy for human growth as well.

Our Father uses the pain and difficulty of today to prepare us for tomorrow. When Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers and then sold into slavery, he could have stayed bitter over his mistreatment. Instead, he recognized that there was a larger purpose involved. He told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20, NIV)

I’m certainly not trying to make light of tragedy in any way, but the next time you find yourself in discomfort or difficult circumstances, say a little prayer of thanksgiving for the fact that you will be “even more fruitful”. That person telling you to take it easy or inviting you to slack off may not be your friend; and the person who challenges you and offers you rebuke may not be your enemy.

The Harsh Sting of Pleasing Words

Jesus said we are the branches, and he is the vine;
“My Father”, Jesus said, “will prune on every branch of mine.”
Unfruitful branches are cut off completely, while the rest
Are cut and pruned so that their fruit will be the very best.
When we are tempted to relax, stop trying–just to coast–
The people who rebuke us are the ones who love us most.
A wise rebuke may hurt our feelings, or at least seem cruel,
But it’s better than the soothing flattery of a fool…

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

Sin Happens, and Sometimes You Have to Work Hard to Accidentally Fall Into It

Sin happens to everybody. We may think somebody is righteous or above the carnal deeds of men, but the Bible says it even happened to “a man after God’s own heart.” “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem…” (2 Samuel 11:1, NIV)

The Wrong Thing to be Famous For

Thus begins the account of perhaps the most famous fall from grace since the Garden of Eden. David, the King of Israel, sent his army out to battle while he stayed back at the palace enjoying all the comforts of home. It’s not like David was cowardly or soft—he was one of the most valiant warriors in Israel’s history—but for whatever reason, he decided to stay home for this campaign. It was the costliest decision he ever made.

“One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” (11:2-4) Apparently David, the man after God’s own heart, also had a heart of his own. He spotted Bathsheba, coveted her, sent for her and slept with her.

sin of David

More Than Meets the Eye

Lest we feel too sorry for these victims of circumstance who just “fell into sin”, think about what each of them did. Sin happens for a reason. There was a reason why David liked to walk the palace roof. I would imagine he was able to spot more than one woman bathing outside hoping the king might notice, or perhaps he had seen this particular woman before and it was a repeat performance. Bathsheba was apparently no shrinking violet. (Later on, she is ambitious and resourceful in promoting her son Solomon as heir to the throne). The fact that Bathsheba brazenly displayed herself in view of the King suggests an agenda. This was perhaps a calculated effort on her part to draw the King’s eye and favor.

But the story gets worse. She got pregnant. David called Uriah home so he could sleep with her to provide a logical reason why she would be with child when her husband was off to war; the honorable Uriah refused to go in to sleep with his wife while his own men were out in the field. David, feeling a little desperate, then secretly had Uriah isolated in battle so that he would be killed. An admiring look at a bathing beauty turned into lust, betrayal, adultery, and murder. Left alone with time on his hands, David turned his back on his troops, his responsibilities, and his walk with God.

What Does this Story Have to do With YOU?

We’ve all been there. Well, maybe you haven’t been exactly where David was, but you have definitely turned your back on God to chase a secret sin. I know I have. Sin happens along, beckoning us to play. Oscar Wilde said “I tell you that there are terrible temptations which it requires strength, strength and courage, to yield to.” We may not want to adhere to Mr. Wilde’s philosophy, but I’m pretty sure each of us has unfortunately found the strength to pursue sin, just like David. Here are a couple of observations taken from his story:

1) When you take yourself away from accountability, responsibility, and good companions, you are vulnerable to sin. My grandmother (and maybe everybody’s grandmother!) used to say, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” If you are busy staying close to God and His people, you might be too busy to get into mischief.

2) One thing leads to another. You can start with merely “walking around on the roof of the palace” and end up as an adulterer and a murderer. Never forget that depravity is a progressive condition. Like in so many other things in life, even “baby steps” into sin will take us further into sin.

3) All your past victories over Goliath do not guarantee that you will always make the right choice. If you have been spiritually successful, if you are currently the reigning monarch over all you survey, you are still vulnerable to sin. Stay humble. If David, the man after God’s own heart, could fall into sin by following his own desires, remember: You have a heart of your own, too.

Watch Where You Walk

David walked upon the roof, where much to his surprise,
He saw a naked woman bathing right before his eyes.
He took some steps: he sent for her. He called her, and she came;
For them, and for their nation, things would never be the same.
David saw a woman. It’s a story old but true–
Temptation beckons folks to sin in what they say or do–
So tell me: What temptation beckons secretly to YOU?
Beware when something calls you to immerse yourself in sin:
David walked upon the roof. And looked. And he fell in.
If porn or Pinterest beckons you with something you can covet,
Beware of what can happen if your heart decides to love it.
If you think you are not so bad, and need a little proof,
Just look where David ended up by walking on the roof…

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

“Peace to You, my Brother”: Change Your Greeting, Change the World

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:2, NIV) This is a very simple greeting, but as is so often true, the simple is sometimes the most profound.

Author Linda Olsson said, “It’s often about the simple things, isn’t it? Painting and photography are first about seeing, they say. Writing is about observing. Technique is secondary. Sometimes the simple is the most difficult.” We live in such a complex world, but at the root of all complexity is simplicity, so maybe it makes sense to take all of the world’s problems and begin to address them at a very simple level.

A Simple Place to Start

Consider the act of greeting one another. In everyday conversational exchanges, we say “Hi! What’s up? How are you? Hello there!” or as Joey Tribbiani (from “Friends”) would say, “How YOU doin’?” And while friendly enough, these greetings don’t really carry the same love or impact that saying “Grace and Peace to you, my friend’ would carry.

What if you did something simple, and greeted everyone with “Grace and Peace to you”, and meant it? Would it change anyone’s day? Would it change YOUR day? It would certainly make people think…and it might make YOU think.

First of all, it assumes you know about Grace, and that you wish it upon your fellow-man. What if you really felt that way? What if EVERYONE really felt that way? If you just stop to consider for a moment the magnitude of Grace and how healing and redeeming it truly is, imagine how different life would be if all of us approached everyone with Grace! Wouldn’t we all be in an amazing place if everyone had the goodwill and the passion to wish grace upon each other (and therefore) the world?

No Peace, or Know Peace?

The second part of the greeting has just as much potential: “Peace to you”.

peace sign

How would being peaceful change the world? Ron Artest (an NBA player) changed his name to “Meta World Peace”, but I’m not sure that even changed Ron Artest. The Baby Boomers flashed the peace sign and protested war, but did it really change anything? I think Paul is referring here to the personal inner kind rather than world peace, but if you think about it, if every individual found peace perhaps the world would as well. But think about it: how many people do you know who are both graceful and forgiving? How many people do you encounter who would benefit from being both MORE graceful and MORE forgiving?

We live in the Polar Age, where culture encourages people to divide into opposing social groups, political parties, and critical camps. It’s Conservatives versus Liberals, Whites versus Blacks, Haves versus have-nots, Straights versus Gays, what I want versus what everyone else wants… No matter where you are in any of those polar opposites, could you sincerely wish the other side “Grace and Peace”? What would happen if you DID?

In John 14:27, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” If He was generous enough to leave us His Peace, the least we could do is share it with each other.

A New Way to do Social Media

In a world of polar hate, Full of insult and debate,
Could we try another way? To simply and sincerely say,
“Grace and Peace, my Friend, to YOU. Easy to say, but hard to DO
We can change our attitude, give “peace” and not be misconstrued,
Have dialog and not be rude, and keep from being lewd or crude!
No more insults to be hurled: Change your greeting, change the world!

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 No Caste System in THIS Kingdom: Meet The Great Equalizer

There are many caste systems in our world, and if the Bible is correct, none of them will matter in the end. “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:4-5 NIV)

Celebrate or Separate?

We make many distinctions in this world. A diverse Creator gave us many differences to celebrate, but our selfish, carnal nature has tended towards separation rather than celebration. We place greater value on some people, places or things, often because of external qualities that attract us or catch our eye. As consumers, we pay more for certain brands. Tabloids celebrate people because they have looks or money. We don’t really mix with people who are different than we are, and tend to avoid people we deem unsavory or “beneath us”.

There is a subtle caste system that starts in high school (or earlier) that operates in society and culture that elevates some people even as it marginalizes others. You know that system, with kids grouped together subtly as jocks or stoners, debaters or skaters, glee club or nerds. Hollywood has made movies for the last 30 years that capitalized on those distinctions and perpetuated them. Why? Because almost everyone can relate to being defined in the high school caste system…

caste high school

A Different Caste

We judge/evaluate people with a look and a set of assumptions, categorizing them based on how they look, where they live, what they do. In Acts 10:34 when Peter realized that the gospel had come to Gentiles, he said “I see now that God is no respecter of persons”. By this he meant that in the Lord’s eyes, there is no external value or social caste system. Jesus certainly emphasized this in his ministry by reaching out intentionally to the marginalized people in his world– to tax collectors and sinners, to the Samaritans, to women… He seemed to have a totally different standard of acceptance and therefore a totally different caste system than the Pharisees did.

We look at outward appearance, but the Lord, Samuel told Jesse, “looks on the heart.” Our heavenly Father doesn’t judge on physique or fashion. Rich or poor, handsome/pretty or not, great or small, we are all the same in God’s eyes. For His children, mountains will be made low and all roads made straight. The good news is, our Creator will evaluate us not on looks but on love. The bad news: if you are depending on something external to be acceptable to God, you might find yourself at a rocky roadblock on a mountain you can’t climb.

A Different Level

Don’t slump too low in your valley;
don’t sit too high on your throne;
When the scrolls are unsealed and the Lord is revealed
We will all stand before Him, alone
His judgment’s impartial and perfect,
and will be — like His glory — eternal.
Our status or caste are the things that won’t last,
Since they’re always and only external.
Be careful what you call important,
and of what you rank high on the chart:
‘Cause it’s not how you look and it’s not how you cook,
Or if you wrote a book, or the money you took,
Or your rep on the streets, or in how many tweets,
Even if you were known, on a throne, or alone…
What God sees from the start is your innermost part,
It’s the motives and thoughts and intents of your heart!

It isn’t your cash, or how pretty your face is,
But knowing what heart-felt confession and Grace is.

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

Abide in the Truth, Because “Wherever You Go, There You Are”

Unless you’ve seen The Big Lebowski, abide is a word you don’t hear much anymore. I always think of it as coming from someone like Lonesome Dove’s Gus McCrae, who might have said, “I can’t abide a surly barkeeper.” It was also used more frequently in Biblical times. “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in my word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV) More recently, in “The Big Lebowski”, Jeff Bridges famously described his state of being by saying, “The Dude Abides”. By his definition, if we abide we are chill, content, and at one with the universe.

abide Lebowski

We don’t use the word “abide” very often today, but at its core it means to accept or go along with something. In a Biblical sense, a disciple not only learns the Words of the teacher, but they ABIDE in them.

It’s All Greek to Me

The Greek word for “abide” is also translated “continue in, to dwell, remain, endure, or stand.” By encouraging his disciples to abide in him, Jesus is basically saying that they need to reconfigure their lives to listen to him and to apply what he said. He is asserting that you find freedom not from Google, not in sound bites or tweets, but by being disciplined in the truth. In today’s culture, the idea of being someone’s disciple seems a bit old-fashioned. Why follow a teacher when you have the internet?

If I were the devil, and could not destroy the Truth itself (even though I’d been trying for over 2,000 years) then I would take another tack and try to change the way people HEAR the truth. If ABIDING in a teacher’s words was the most effective way to receive life-changing wisdom, then I would distract and diffuse… I’d emphasize individual freedom so that people would question every set of teachings, and then I’d send them many messages from many sources to keep them from following the words that could help them the most.

The Opposite of Abide is All. Around. You.

Our culture is moving so rapidly that the idea of abiding and remaining seems really old-fashioned, doesn’t it? Perhaps the closest equivalent we have today is in the world of sports, where athletes will follow a coach and abide in his words, but I don’t see that kind of disciple-producing progression happening in church. I wonder if the current generation could disconnect from media long enough to abide in something…But then everybody abides in SOME thing.

What do you abide in? I know guys who abide in sports or cars, I know women who abide in crafts or Pinterest, and people who abide in music or Snapchat or Instagram, but I don’t often meet someone who ABIDES in Jesus. Guys can remember how they played number 13 at such and such a golf course two years ago, but they don’t remember last week’s Sunday school lesson. Women talk about what they saw on Pinterest more often than they share the gospel. (Yeah I know, I’m trying to step on everyone’s toes, how am I doing?) There are darker things to abide in, but I don’t need to tell YOU, do I?

Jesus said, “if you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed.” What does a disciple look like? Well first of all, they are familiar with what Jesus taught, and they embrace and inhabit his words. If, as Jesus claimed, he was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”, and if his words are truth, then it is only logical that Satan makes it his full-time occupation to try to replace, rewrite, or distract from what Jesus said.

The Father of Lies works in every generation to destroy the truth. Is anybody else but me concerned that truth is in such short supply these days? It’s not in advertising, it’s not on the internet, it’s not on TV, it’s not in journalism, and it’s not in politics…. We do not find freedom in liberties, but in Truth. As truth diminishes, so does our freedom. Perhaps as we celebrate our freedom, we should remember to spend more time with the one who gave up His so that we could find ours. Abide. Remain. STAND.

A One-word Change

Try this simple word, you’ve heard it said, it’s in your head,
But understand that this command makes a demand upon your time:
It wants your mind and if you see, then you will find it sets you free
To be who you were meant to be by hearing what the Master taught–
Though it is sought, it must be caught–
He brought the truth to give us freedom,
fought for us when we were beaten,
bought our hearts so he could free them…
Without him, we would all have died, but he renews our hearts inside,
And simply asks us to reside in this one word: Abide. Abide.

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

Lift Up Your Eyes to the Hills: What Do You Really See?

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence cometh my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1, NKJV) There is actually quite a bit going on in this simple verse, so it’s worth breaking down… Let’s take a look.

First, David is an observant man. Like many of us when we are out in nature, we behold the magnitude and majesty of our surroundings and feel strongly convicted that there is something out there greater than we are. In this case, David is so taken with the beauty around him that he is lifting his eyes UP towards the Creator. Think for a moment of things you have seen by lifting up your eyes.

lift eyes

Imagine Reality

You have seen the wind blowing through a canopy of leaves in a kaleidoscope of glittering green as you lay in the shade… You have imagined shapes in the clouds as they shifted and passed overhead, forming nebulous white cotton-candy sculptures that floated across the heavens. You have gazed into a sky so blue it went on forever, or you have watched approaching thunderclouds with dread and apprehension.

Lift your eyes… You have seen the miraculous palette of a sunset as its colors splashed across the horizon, full of shades so rich and so subtle that you almost couldn’t even process them…There are pastel shades of peach and gold, deepening in the twilight as the earth miraculously turns on its axis away from the sun; and there are times that same sun peeks out from behind grey clouds, turning their edges silver as beams of light poke through small windows in the clouds to bathe the earth with magical radiance…

lift eyes

You have watched a bird in flight, marveling with envy at such effortless freedom…You have looked at hills and mountains, impressed with their character and grandeur. You have felt insignificant beside them, and have been awed and inspired by their majesty. You have looked deep into the eternal darkness of the night sky, watching the moon and stars in their courses, moved by the infinity of it all, captured by the deep twinkling lights which sent the very beams you are watching hundreds or even thousands of years ago…

When you lift up your eyes, you see the universe in its awesome magnitude, and perhaps you recognize that such a vast, diverse, and beautiful creation had a vast, diverse and beautiful Creator. David lifted his eyes to the amazing and intricate design in the hills and beyond, and fell in love with the Designer.

Up and In

Second, this Creator not only did amazing work with “up” and “the hills”, He also did some pretty nifty stuff with “around” and “in”. From horizon to horizon, from deep space to deep oceans, from vast mountains to microscopic life, the Lord who made heaven and earth deserves our respect and awe. Everywhere you look, it’s pretty hard not to be impressed with God’s handiwork and curious about His character. David was very personally involved with Him, drew inspiration from Him, and found help in Him. If you stop and think about it just for a second, it really makes a lot of sense. Perhaps if there IS a Creator, He can offer help to those whom he Created.

David had great passion about his Creator. He prayed to the Lord, wrote and sang songs about Him, and even consulted him about important decisions. When he was lonely or troubled, he sought solace and comfort from the One whom he knew was stronger, greater, and wiser than he was. David was pretty smart. I guess he realized that if the Lord God made heaven and earth, He could help those who looked to Him for help. Say! When you  lift up YOUR eyes, what do YOU see?

Lift Us

Lord, who made the heavens and the earth,
Who blesses us with Thy eternal worth,
Surrounds us with Thy everlasting glory
And teaches us the never-ending story:
Enable us to lift our eyes and see
This world the way your will was meant to be.
When dreams are crushed, and life is filled with “why’s,
And, under circumstance, ambition dies,
Enlarge our faith by lifting up our eyes.

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

Names Matter, or DO They? Does a Rose Smell Sweeter if you Call it Anastasia?

Names are interesting things. There seems to be a growing practice of giving babies unusual names, and one current online list of suggested baby names includes Zeus, Adecyn (really? Is anyone EVER going to spell that?), Kodiak, Merrigan, Primo, and Lorcan. I think that perhaps unusual names are given in the hope that the child will be deemed unique and special, and I get that. There might even be cases of someone trying to live up to a name, or standing out because of their name. But I would think that depending on character to make the names works better than depending on the names to make the character…

Chicken or the Egg?

The Bible feels that way, too. Consider this: “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” (Psalm 9:9-11, NIV) This contains the promise that those who know the name of God will put their trust in Him, and those who seek Him will find him. (I do know for a fact that it’s also possible to know his name and NOT put trust in him; there are a lot of people out there who seem know God’s name, because they use it a LOT, but that’s probably a different blog sometime…)

Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but names matter too. Stop to consider the names by which we know the Lord. “I AM”. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Holy God. The Alpha and the Omega. The Living God. The LORD. The Creator of all things. Our Shield and Defender. Emmanuel (God with Us). Wonderful Counselor. Everlasting Father. The Holy Spirit. Comforter. Almighty God. Jesus. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. This partial list comes from Biblical writers who were inspired to describe God’s position, character, and personality through His name. David (a man who knew about trouble and needing refuge) says that if you know God’s name, you will put your trust in Him.

Reasons Not To

If that’s the case, why is it that so many people out there have not put their trust in God? Lots of reasons, but here are a few:

1) People expect a trouble-free life, and are disappointed in God when that doesn’t happen. Every rose has its thorns.

names

When we experience bad things in this life, it can be easy to blame God for pain and suffering. However, Jesus said “In this world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) David also knew that a refuge is not the absence of trouble, but rather a safe place within the troubles that beset us. In a world where trouble is coming and suffering is bound to happen, trusting the God who is called Shield, Defender, and Comforter makes sense.

2) People assume God is too distant or Majestic to know. Many are still looking “out there” in the cosmos for God, not realizing that He lived among us, shared our sorrows, and is here with us. God’s names speak of relationship, of intimacy, and of connection. He is the God of knowing and being known. How well do you know Him? How acquainted are you with the characteristics reflected in His name? Have you talked to him lately?

3) Many are unwilling to accept God in His proper place. David calls him the LORD. He is the mighty king. He is our Father. If we try to create God on our own terms, relegate him to genie status, or limit His authority in our lives, then we do not know Him properly. Only when we submit our will to His do we begin to discover the many facets of His nature, and the attributes that make Him who He is. Have you submitted your will to His?

4) A final reason why people don’t know God personally: they haven’t been properly introduced. Unfortunately, there are a lot people or things out there ascribed to God’s character that have nothing to do with Him at all. (Think: Westboro Baptist) Do you remember who introduced you to God? Can you think about places you have seen Him and felt His presence? Have you passionately pursued a relationship with your Father? It’s an awesome thing to do. And while you’re at it, remember to introduce some others. Once they know God’s name, they will be glad they do. There might be trouble coming.

NAMES THAT MATTER: GOD

Creator, sustainer, the ancient of days
The Spirit, the shepherd, the Truth and the way;
Mighty, Eternal, All-knowing, all-wise,
Maker of all in the seas and the skies;
Star-breather, speaker of glorious light,
Hanging the stars in the vastness of night…
Redeemer, defender, the unblemished lamb–
The healer, the bridegroom, the only “I AM”;
Powerful potentate, Spirit of Truth,
Lover of Abraham, Isaac, and Ruth;
Counselor, Comforter, Almighty King,
Caring, Creative, the Dove on the wing…
Advocate, Righteous, the One who is higher—
The Judge, the avenger, the refining fire;
Father, forgiver, the Word become man;
Light of the World who created the plan…
Holy of holies, the Greatest and least,
Divider of sins from the West to the East;
Loving and intimate, faithful and true,
Giving each day bread and mercy anew;
Holy elector, the God over all—
Protector of sparrows and men when they fall—
Author of History, Elohim, LORD:
Captain, Commander, the bright flaming sword;
Author and finisher, Lover and Friend:
The Alpha-Omega, beginning and End…

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

Hearts Getting Harder Have Nothing to do With Arteries

When you work with your hands, your skin can get toughened so much that you form callouses. Then it becomes tougher, harder, and less sensitive. The writer of Hebrews suggests that the same thing can happen to our hearts.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14, NIV)

Having faith in Jesus and being his follower does not make anyone perfect. Even after becoming Christians, it is possible to turn away from the living God and to be subject to a sinful, unbelieving heart. Anyone who has experienced genuine saving faith can never lose their salvation; however, it is possible to turn away from walking with God and to go our own direction. As Christians we do it all the time.

Baby Steps…

Here’s a familiar list for those of us who sin: We dabble in sin, we even do things over and over because we repeat favorite sins, we rationalize the impact of sin, and we do things “just this once” or “just a little bit”. Maybe it’s fun, maybe it feels good, or maybe it’s what we have always done; but our sinful nature will never truly give in to our Spiritual nature. All the while our hearts grow a little more calloused and our sinful nature hangs around, being opportunistic. Like Jason from the Halloween movies it keeps rising up to try to inflict death and destruction. I’ll grant that not every sin is progressive, but when we dabble in sin, our hearts can fall victim to evil. When it comes to sin, can you predict which one will lead to others?

hard hearts

The Imperfect Hypocrite

The presence of our carnal nature insures that Christians will never be perfect in this life. The biggest mistakes I have ever made, I have made as a Christian. Repeat that: the biggest mistakes I have ever made, I have made as a Christian. I know, right? But this passage isn’t just talking about mistakes, it is describing selfish repetition of sin without repentance… It refers to daily stuff that weaves its way into our hearts and minds and won’t let go.

Sin can be the covetousness inspired by Pinterest, the lure of porn, the hateful thoughts about some of those idiots out there, or even the smug self-righteousness of feeling more spiritual than others. Those things and more are woven into our lives every day, and if you think about it, the world actually offers us a continual bombardment of sin pelting our hearts with little barbs or subtle temptations.

As a result, our hearts can be hardened to sin, and we end up in places we never thought we’d go. We become calloused to sin, or (like the frog in the pot of tepid water on its way to boiling) comfortable with it a little at a time, taking small steps deeper into darkness… Generally, we don’t go straight from church to the evil empire, but sin has a cumulative effect, moving us away from the Truth one step at a time. How do we keep from believing those lies and taking those steps?

What Friends are For

One of the answers is as close as your best Christian friend. The writer of Hebrews tells us to “encourage one another daily.” Who is it that encourages you? Who do you encourage? Someone you know is struggling with something in their life, and could use some kind words. Maybe they’ve wandered into sin, or accepted some of the enemy’s lies about their true value. Encourage them. You may just keep them from ending up with calloused hearts.

Sinful Hearts, Sinful Thoughts

Sin bombards us every day as we are trying to make our way–
It sneaks up, breaks up, speaks up! Offers temptation, carnal relations,
Uses multi-media to offer sensations, holding the carrot of gratifications;
Sin calls us in a step at a time:
You’re thinking of sin while you’re reading this rhyme!
Watch that Pinterest, could be a sin test,
Calling you to look at something of interest,
When you know you love it so that it can make you covet, though.
You’d never admit that it made you kinda lit,
But your heart gets hit, and you sin a little bit…
That’s how it starts to harden your heart,
All those little malice’s building up callouses,
Whether that sin is New York or Dallas’s.
Fight against sin. Don’t let it win,
I’m telling you again don’t even let it in.
Encourage one another to do what’s right,
Gotta help a brother continue in the fight!
Give a little love with the message that you send,
And it might help someone get through to the end.
It’s not fiction, it may cause friction,
But take ahold of Christ and keep your conviction.
There. I said it. So don’t you forget it;
Sin will try to win, but don’t. You. Let it.

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

Prayer the Way It Should Be: How to Change Your Life Through Prayer

Prayer is something which probably all of us have done with different feelings and results. Is there a right way to pray? Jesus was asked that question by his disciples, and here’s what he said: “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10, NIV)

In the Lord’s Prayer (or the “Our Father” prayer), Jesus encouraged us to pray for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven”. What would that look like? How would your daily life be different if God’s will were fully accomplished here on earth? What is God’s will for YOUR life, and how do you know what it is? Here are a couple of references that provide some insight: “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17, NIV)

A Bold Request

John says that God’s will is different than what the world desires. How do material things stack up against abundant, eternal life? I think it’s safe to safe that anyone who equates God’s will with wealth, comfort, fame, or material things is trying to compare apples with oranges. Where God’s will is done, John says, there is eternal life.

prayer

Praying in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt. 26:39, NIV). Doing God’s will does not guarantee comfort or safety. It does involve achieving what God wants and receiving what He promised. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36, NIV).

How Do You Find God’s Will?

The reason for pursuing and doing God’s will is not to find some magic formula for successful living, but to put yourself in right relationship to your Father. “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35, NKJV) It is really stressful chasing around after God’s will. We should not become enamored with the idea of finding “God’s Will”. We should simply FALL IN LOVE with God.

Sometimes when you think you have God’s will figured out, you get all wrapped around the thing you think He is doing, or where you think He might be taking you. Instead, when you pray, just focus on HIM–walking with Him, enjoying His presence, and immersing yourself in his love. I think the rest will sort itself out.

Prayer should be like that; put aside the petitions every now and then and just spend time with the Father.

God sees all ends and has your best interests at heart, and will ultimately bring all things into alignment with the good pleasure of His will. Paul says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:11) What if we prayed every day, “Your will be done today, Father. Not as I will, but as YOU will”? I bet we would “receive what He has promised.” And no matter the circumstances, we’d have a nice day.

Game Changer

Ignore the lies the world instills:
Trade the thrills and pocket-fills,
and cease the petty game of wills.
Take this challenge, if you dare
And step into the world of prayer!
Connect with the Divine and find that your requests will realign:
Jesus in Gethsemane took time to pray for you and me;
But really, what he did was pray
That God the Father have His way.
It's something we can do, today...
Embrace the Father like the Son.
Pray: “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

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

Writing YOUR Story: It’s Time for YOU to write ME! Let me Hear From YOU!

Why have I been writing these posts for the last 3 years? Maybe because “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2, NIV) The Bible is an amazing book, and it makes some powerful claims about Jesus. Those claims are either an incredible lie or they are absolutely true. There’s really no middle ground.

I have been writing these posts because I believe those claims are true.

It has been about three years since I started this daily devotional, and I have a confession to make. Writing these posts every day is hard. It has required a commitment that I honestly didn’t know I had. I am not a “discipline guy”, I am a creative, happy-go-lucky kind of guy. Throughout my life I have been a sporadic Quiet Time guy rather than an every-day-journal kind of guy.

The What of Writing this Blog

From the beginning of this endeavor, I have followed a few simple rules: 1) The first year, I was going to try to produce or edit one every day; 2) I wouldn’t follow anyone else’s menu for Scripture reading or devotionals (which explains why it has been pretty random in terms of what passages it addressed when); 3) during this last year I have gone back through to do some editing and add a poem to every single post; and 4) I would write for an audience of one (Him) and make applications for the reader who needed them the most (me).

The How of Writing this Blog

I have tried my best to keep my posts organic and to allow them to come naturally through my own reading and experiences during the year. While I certainly reflected the good preaching I have heard and authors I have read, the poetry, commentary, errors, reflections and conclusions in my writing have been mine. ( I have tried to be Biblical, not political, and I hope that has been the case in my blog…That has been hard to do in our current political climate.) I wanted to begin every day with the Book that has changed my life in the hope that you, too, could gain a deeper appreciation of its depth and subtlety.

I consider the Bible to be (as Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:16) inspired by God, profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness. If you have been keeping up, during the past year we have had a chance to look more closely at Easter and the Passion week; we followed Jesus and his disciples chronologically in “real-time” over His last week on earth.

We were able to start in Genesis and go through every book in the Bible, discovering some great stuff about God in the Minor Prophets along the way. We dove into Christ’s genealogy, looked at historical and political underpinnings of His birth, and explored the revolutionary way He broke down social and religious barriers in a world full of them. We looked at some of His teachings, and I know I came away more impressed than ever at His wisdom and insight. I have reflected on travels in Israel and been exposed to the land of the Bible. I have tried to compare the teachings of Jesus to our culture and to my own behavior.

Who Wrote this Blog

Trust me, ya’ll, I am not writing as an expert or someone who has it all figured out. I have made tremendous mistakes in my life and committed egregious sins. I have literally blown my life up a couple of times by making bad choices or pursuing sinful behavior, and I have deserved to have that happen a couple more times, only to be surprised that my failures did not become public knowledge. And to be clear, I made these mistakes and committed sins AS A CHRISTIAN, not as some pagan who had rejected God and His values. The one constant (besides my own failures) in life has been the relentless application of grace and forgiveness by the good Lord, as seen through the lens of the Bible and personified in the person of Jesus Christ.

writing about Jesus

If Jesus was who He said he was, then He is a man worth studying, a leader worth emulating, and a God worthy of worship. It is my prayer that you would take an honest look at Him and see those conclusions as evident and logical. If you have read along for any length of time this year, I would LOVE to hear your story, and would really appreciate it if you either:

1) share one of your own insights or applications in the comments (which is easy, come on just jot something down!), or

2) PM me with your story or comment as you feel appropriate. I would really REALLY like to hear from you, so take a minute NOW and reply or respond. I honestly don’t expect to get many replies, but it would be really cool if a bunch of you would surprise me and tell me a little bit of YOUR story, how you met Christ or something you have learned lately… If you want to tell me you disagree with everything I’ve written, that would be OK too! If you are too busy to write a long story, then please respond with a short sentence or a one-word comment.

writing

I have taken comments and feedback to heart, and a couple of people whose opinions I respect encouraged me to invest more time in writing poetry with each of my posts. So I’ve done that over the last year, and started closing every blog with a poem. I’d love to hear if you have a favorite poem or if any of the verse has meant something to you. (My secret dream is that somewhere unbeknownst to me, some pastor uses one of my poems in a sermon because it captures something of the message he preached that day!)
I’ll close with one of my favorite poems of mine, one that reflects on John and the impact his writing has had on me:

The Writer
Youngest disciple, did you know where all the twists and turns would go,
And did you have the line of sight to what would come from what you’d write?
Jesus’ loved one, did you think, when struggling with your pen and ink,
That History hung on every word you wrote of what you’d seen and heard?
Out to a thoughtless, careless world, your personal account was hurled:
The words of a crazy, exiled Jew, who claimed that what he’d seen was true!
Could you have known? Could you have seen the phrasing there, in three sixteen,
And you could somehow sense, or see, down corridors of History,
That someday it would come to me, affecting what my life would be?
Some might say you were misled, or somehow addled in your head,
And some with proud disdain despise your testament, and call it lies…
But some would say you have a friend, whose kingdom’s come, and will not end,
Who showed you love as meant to be, by being who He was sent to be!
Jesus’ Beloved, Apostle John, your words live now, and will live on
For us, from what you saw and heard, and captured in your timeless word:
For all the world—for everyone—God gave his only precious son,
That all who seek Him, and believe, will each eternal life receive.
The perfect love that fell on Thee has fallen, too, 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