Casting Lots May Not Be Enough: Things to consider next Time you have to choose an Apostle

Need to choose a Thirteenth Apostle? You can’t just go to Central Casting and ask for one. There is lots to consider..
After Judas committed suicide, it was deemed necessary to replace him. The disciples followed a time-honored method, selecting likely candidates and casting lots. (Traditional Jewish wisdom held that God would reveal his will via this method, even if it seems cultural, or even a bit like flipping a coin…Even though decision makers would pray and seek God’s will, they still tended to rely upon a process that much of their society also used—kinda like modern search committees…) “So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”

casting

Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:23-26, NIV).

Churches everywhere follow a pretty secular template to selecting people to be on staff. They review resumes, conduct interviews, and they select the candidate who seems most worthy based on the process. They differ from mere business interviews because they pray over their selection, and they certainly ask the Lord to provide them with the one whom He has called. The current model that churches follow today is actually still very similar to the one used by the Apostles. (With the exception of casting lots, which was actually considered a good indicator of God’s will in first century Jewish circles.) I have no doubt Matthias was a godly man and a worthy choice to replace Judas.

I have no doubt that the disciples had good intentions and followed the best process they knew… but here’s the thing: This is the LAST time Matthias is mentioned in the New Testament. I am sure he was an honorable man who had a meaningful ministry, but his name never comes up again in the records of the growth and development of the early church. Meanwhile, through another process, God acted to provide his own replacement for Judas—a guy named Saul of Tarsus, whose name was changed to Paul. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

We often turn to our own ingenuity and wisdom to try to carry out God’s mission, forgetting that the one irreplaceable factor is the power of His Spirit working within us. Let’s not forget that all the processes in the world can’t hold a candle to being selected, motivated and empowered by the Living God!

Disciples did the interview, and got the candidates down to two,
Proceeded in they way they knew by casting lots from which they drew.
Matthias’ name became selected, so he was the one elected.
Though he was named Apostle then, we never heard from him again!
Meanwhile, God sent out a call to a Pharisee whose name was Saul:
A persecutor full of hate, a most unlikely candidate,
Who had to have a brand new start–
God changed Saul’s name, and changed his heart.
Just remember, understand that processes designed by man
Are doing things as best they can but they cannot replace God’s plan.
If you question this at all, just think of the Apostle Paul,
On whom God’s grace was once bestowed
right there on the Damascus road!
God’s choice in this was simply plain;
Instead of trying to explain,
Just read what Paul once wrote again:
“To live is Christ, to die is gain!”

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

Witnesses who Matter: If You are in the Latest Group of Witnesses, What’s YOUR Story?

You see it in movies and on TV, the nervous person in the witness box, swearing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They are usually just people who happened to see or experience something pertaining to a trial in a court of law, and they are called upon to testify before a judge, perhaps a jury, and the plaintiffs or defendants. Witnesses tell the truth as it happened to them, and every witness has a story. Nike had a pretty effective ad campaign for LeBron, saying that we are all witnesses of his exploits. LeBron James does indeed have an impressive basketball resume, but here’s a more important consideration: When it comes to life, what’s YOUR Story? People in Jerusalem were challenged to be witnesses about what they ACTUALLY saw.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV)
When talking about the various witnesses to who Jesus was, it’s important not to forget one last group. He commissioned everyone who would encounter him, eyewitness or not, to be witnesses on his behalf.

witnesses testimonies
It’s not surprising that Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses. After all, they were looking at him, and eyewitness testimony is a powerful thing. It is used in courtrooms and product testimonials. Even Nike and its ubiquitous swoosh appropriated the idea and challenged people to be witnesses. I like LeBron, but I’d have to say that life is not worth much if we are only witnesses to basketball…

This verse is often used to illustrate strategy, and it certainly makes sense to “bloom where you are planted”, and then to extend your outreach to successive concentric circles, beginning with your city and extending to your region and your state. It’s a strategy that worked amazingly well in a time before there were marketing experts and demographic studies and focus groups.

To me, one of the great proofs of Christianity is that so many first century believers were changed so radically by the good news. Everyday people were touched by the message and teachings of Jesus Christ, and lived differently as a result. When they were challenged by opposition, they could have recanted or back down to protect themselves, but they didn’t. Many of them died defending their beliefs, and it is truly astounding to think about the world-changing power that was unleashed through those first century witnesses who confirmed what they had seen and heard. That chain of confirmation includes everyone who heard the good news and found it worthy of a response, from those ordinary citizens in Jerusalem who heard Peter or Stephen preach, to Lydia the seller of purple, to Cornelius the centurion, to philosophers on Mars Hill, to martyrs who chose death over renouncing their testimonies…

The world’s transformation went on and extended to the next generation of witnesses, to Catholic priests, to Reformers, to Lutherans and Methodists and Moravians, and through successive generations of believers who continued to be witnesses one after another, taking the Gospel out to foreign cultures and to other lands, spread out across history against all odds, the word of mouth that reached all shores like ripples in a pond.. And it has come down to here: to you and me. We are all the second generation witnesses, who are now empowered to testify about our experience in our OWN neighborhoods and hometowns, across social and cultural barriers, and everywhere.

I was a fourteen year old who felt like love was not very dependable. I encountered the life, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus in a way that enabled me to feel loved, to love God, and to love others. I wasn’t totally sure it was true, but something made me believe that Jesus mattered, and that he mattered to me. Since then, I have seen God heal; I have seen Him change lives; I have been a witness to His deliverance of a small party of refugees from a war zone; and I have experienced His boundless love and forgiveness in ways that have in return enabled me to love and to forgive. My life is a testament, not to my good nature and sunny disposition, but to God’s love. We are not only witnesses of it but participants in it! What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Post it here in a few sentences, go:
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
(Or post a comment, and PLEASE put your story here!!)

 

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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The Eunuch who Encountered the most amazing Rabbi in History

After the crucifixion and resurrection, there was strong persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and followers of The Way were scattered out into Judea. As a result, believers began sharing the good news wherever they were. In one such instance, Philip encountered a eunuch from Ethiopia who was reading from the OT Scriptures. “The Eunuch was reading this passage (Isaiah 53:7) of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth… The Eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:32-35, NIV)

eunuch

At one time it was pretty common for kings’ courts to have a resident eunuch or two. They were men who looked after the royal harem, and they were emasculated so they could look after the king’s harem without being tempted to make advances to them. In many ways a eunuch probably had a pretty good life (got to live in the palace, eat well, hang out with pretty women all day…) but they paid a high price to be the harem’s bodyguard. I would think most eunuchs would have to be somewhat philosophical, because they experienced something terrible for a man, but then had to consider that, well, life is still not so bad after all…

This Ethiopian eunuch was riding along in his chariot, reading the Scriptures, and asked Philip to explain Isaiah’s metaphor about a lamb being led to slaughter. This conversation is really key in understanding something very important about Jesus. If you just take Jesus at face value, and consider only his teachings, he is at the very least an amazingly gifted Rabbi who taught revolutionary things about interpersonal relationships, the Kingdom of heaven, the law, forgiveness, priorities…

The truth of his teaching resonates not only for first century Judea, but also down the corridors of history and into today, and stands brilliantly at odds with all of the “me-first” humans in a selfish world. But consider this: when you look at the Hebrew Scriptures (OT), they provide a lens through which Jesus of Nazareth must be viewed. Peter quoted them in his first sermon; Stephen was stoned to death while expounding upon them; Philip used them to tell the eunuch the good news; Paul logically connected Christ’s work to the Hebrew Scriptures.

In every case these Scriptures create a context that makes it impossible to dismiss Jesus as a mere brilliant Rabbi. He is the one who the Old Testament foretold with detail and accuracy. He was the one about whom Isaiah was speaking, as well as Moses and Micah, and David, and Daniel. You can rightly be impressed with Jesus if you just read some of his teachings; but you’d be rightly amazed if you study even a few of the ways his life and mission were accurately predicted by men who lived hundreds of years before. If you think Jesus was only a good Rabbi who taught good things, think again: The Scriptures said he was coming, and that he would be our Savior. To paraphrase Philip, that’s pretty good news indeed!

The Eunuch in the chariot was reading from Isaiah;
(His life had been adjusted so he couldn’t be a playa),
But when he had an inquiry about Isaiah’s lamb
Philip helped him see that Jesus was the great “I am.”
Jesus was a Rabbi, yes, whose teaching was so bold,
But more than that, he was the one Isaiah had foretold,
And who the Scripture said would come way back in days of old.
Ask the questions. Search the Scripture, and I bet you’ll see
That Jesus was the man the Scriptures and he claimed to be!

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

On the Road to Emmaus, These Disciples Connected the Dots. Have You?

Shortly after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, some disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus with a Rabbi who obviously knew the Old Testament pretty well… They didn’t seem to know this Rabbi, but he was bold enough to be somewhat sharp with them: “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27 NIV)

road

After the death of Jesus, several disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus, discussing the recent events. They were downcast because it had seemed to them that Jesus might have been the Messiah, but the crucifixion had shattered their hopes. As Gamaliel explained to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5, would-be messiah figures and self-proclaimed deliverers came along fairly often in occupied Judea, and this downcast group of travelers seemed ready to accept the bad news and move along.

This whole Messiah thing had not turned out the way they expected– no victory over Rome, no Messianic kingdom… The strange Rabbi (who happened to be Jesus, but whom they did not recognize) joined their conversation and used the Prophets and the Scriptures to give them a more comprehensive view of the Messiah’s purpose and mission. Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what he said, but apparently it opened their eyes to some new possibilities about life and truth.

Perhaps he quoted Isaiah 53 and talked about the suffering servant; maybe he directed them to Zechariah 12 (“they will look on him whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son”) or Psalm 22 and its graphic depiction of a crucifixion; maybe he quoted Isaiah 40:3 to remind them that John’s mission was to prepare the way of the Lord…

Walking along the road, Jesus pointed out that the Old Testament was full of references to him and his work, something the disciples had not noticed and did not understand. The disciples had to see the larger context and lay aside their own preconceived notions about Jesus to see who he really was.

Question: what preconceived notions do you have about Jesus that keep you from seeing who he really is? How well do you know what the prophets and the Old Testament Scriptures said about him? If the Bible is a tapestry, then the Old Testament contains dozens of threads woven into its fabric of law, genealogy, history, poetry, and prophecy that point to a coming Messiah, and which find fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. The disciples on the road to Emmaus knew the Scriptures, but until they compared them to the person of Jesus, they failed to connect the dots. Upon realizing the connection, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us when he talked with us on the road, and opened the Scriptures to us?”

As Hebrews 1:1 points out, “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…” It was ABOUT His Son that the Old Testament foretold. It is THROUGH His Son that God speaks today. What road are you on? Are you listening? And don’t just listen; while you are at it, connect the dots.

The road was long and weary; the disciples wondered why
Their hopes of liberty, along with Jesus, had to die...
A Rabbi joined their group and said, "This is no mystery!
The Scriptures all foretold exactly how this came to be!"
From Moses through the Prophets, he expounded as they walked,
Revealing truth about Messiah's mission as they talked.
At dinner, they reflected on the things that he had said,
And he revealed himself to them as they were breaking bread.
When he was gone, they went to tell their brothers what to do,
And how their hearts were burning as he told them what he knew.
You can hear the Scriptures too, and listen lots and lots;
But hear the word of God through Jesus: then, connect the dots.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Thirsty for a Nice Cold Beer? Then This Post is for YOU

Ever get REALLY thirsty? Been working in the yard when it’s 90+ degrees, sweat keeps getting into your eyes, and you just gotta have something cool and refreshing? David talked about that, but he gave it a twist and applied it to something more than physical thirst, which brings up a question: What Are You Thirsty For?

Thirst affects us physically in many ways; it causes disorientation, hallucinations, and it can even cause our vital organs to shut down. We get parched and it’s hard to keep moving. We can be stranded in the desert, lips cracked, skin dry and desperate for water. David knew that feeling and realized that it wasn’t only water he was thirsty for…

“O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your loving kindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.” (Psalm 63:1-4, NKJV)

thirsty

Read through David’s prayer again, and consider the way he describes how he feels about the Lord… “You are my God! My soul thirsts for you! My flesh longs for you! Your loving kindness is better than life. My lips shall praise you. I will bless you!” When was the last time your everyday prayer was close to this? Yes, I know my Creator is awesome, but when I compare my hurried “bless this day” prayers to David’s love songs, perhaps I have fallen just a bit short in my estimation of who God is, and how amazingly blessed I am. Perhaps the omniscient Lord of the Universe is waiting for me to fall in love with Him, and would love to hear me tell Him just how much he means to me…

If you pause for just a moment and think about all the blessings in your life, even amidst the irritations, the inconveniences, the troubles, and the sorrows, consider this: God is just as open to this kind of relationship with YOU as He was with David. He is thirsty for you. The Almighty God of the universe longs to be intimate with you. David spoke to Him like a lover, with passion and affection and possession. But He isn’t just David’s God; he is MY God. He is YOUR God. Do you thirst for Him? Do you long for Him?

When was the last time you poured your heart out affectionately to the Father and told Him that you loved him dearly, that you longed for Him, and that couldn’t bear to live without Him? When is the last time you crawled up in His figurative lap and huddled close to Him, overwhelmed with love and joy? I thought so. Stop and tell Him. Use David’s prayer as a template if you need to, but I bet He’d love hearing it in your own words.

Father, when I pray to you from dry and thirsty lands,
I never shout my joy to you; I never lift my hands!
I ask you for all sorts of things, but never sing you songs,
And rarely say that You’re the one for whom my spirit longs…
I pray for people who are sick, and ask you, Lord, to heal them;
But I don’t see your glories, Lord: I ask you to reveal them!
Bless me Father, as I pray, give me a holy thirst
To know your heart as David did, and help me put you first.
Help me look into your sanctuary; help me see
That I am yours, and that your sanctuary, Lord, is 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
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Jealous FOR Someone is Much Different than Jealous OF Someone

Have you ever stopped to consider that the Lord proclaims Himself to be jealous? What do you think He means by that?

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6, NIV)

God’s first instruction to Israel was to worship Him alone. That certainly makes theological sense, because given that He is GOD, He is Supreme and above all human frailty, and worthy of our singular worship. He goes on to say that He is a jealous God. Wait, say what?! We normally see jealousy as a sin, akin to envy and driven by insecurity. Being jealous OF someone has overtones of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and often displays a resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage. It is possessive, demanding, and overbearing.

But God is not speaking here of being jealous OF someone. He is talking about being jealous FOR someone. He is passionate that no harm come to those whom He loves. He has a righteous zeal and anger against anything that can cause pain or death for His children. The Old Testament word for jealousy literally comes from someone getting red in the face, and it has to do with a zealous emotional response. A selfish, insecure person is never justified in being jealous of and resenting someone else; but a husband can be passionate about his wife’s affection; a mother can be jealous FOR her children’s safety. The entire Bible is centered on God’s jealousy for us and His concern that we would allow anything else to come between ourselves and Him. I think that you could take every sin there is and relate it directly to idolatry. We may not bow down to little carved statues, but we all dabble in idolatry from time to time…

jealous

All selfish sin, whether it is generated by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life (1 John 2:16) comes from putting your own desires before God’s, so it is essentially worshipping yourself instead of your creator. Therefore, when we follow our own carnal desires, we are actually placing them ahead of our feelings about God. Why do you think He hates that? Is it because He is selfish and wants all the attention, or because He knows that the wages of sin is death, and that we can only find life in Him?Tell me, what things do you worship instead of God? What selfishness do you justify, and what subtle desires do you rationalize as “ok”? It can be easy to leave God out of the picture when there are hundreds of idols to choose from. Here’s a suggestion:  Don’t. Bow. Down.

 

"I am a jealous God", said He, "And I'm calling you to worship Me,
Instead of statues carved of stone, or images made of wood or bone...
For worshipping such idle things will end in death and all it brings,
So this commandment I will give: Worship Me, and you will live.
Listen, please, and don't ignore; a thousand generations more
Will feel the love I have because it's you that I am jealous FOR.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Sow Seed Any Old Way You Want: But if you Sow wisely, You will Reap Well…

Have you ever sown seeds and watched them grow? I remember the bean we put into a jar in kindergarten. It was so cool to sow it properly and watch it come to life!! Well, think about what it means to Sow and Reap: Consider both the process and the outcome.
“Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12, NKJV) What a full verse this is! The Bible often uses farming terms, which makes a lot of sense since it was written in agrarian societies and it speaks so often about growth. Hosea preached using this farming analogy, which says a great deal in a short verse. First, he says that we should “sow for ourselves righteousness”. Think about what it means to sow seeds. You have to begin with the end in mind. You need to have the right seeds and you also need the right environment, with appropriate conditions and surroundings. Good fruit won’t come from just any kind of dirt, you need to prepare the soil.

sow seeds

Hosea says that you must break up the fallow ground. You can’t just toss seeds out on hard, packed earth and expect results. You must break through the dry crust and till the soil to expose the richer dirt beneath.

Our spiritual growth is a lot like that. You can’t grow healthy crops without disrupting the status quo and breaking through the crust of our assumptions. Sometimes we grow a crust of sin, hardening our hearts against God’s character or standards; and sometimes we put on the stifling armor of self-righteousness, smugly judging others while hunkered down in our bunker of holiness…

Hosea is talking here about God’s righteousness, and he says that if we sow in righteousness, we will reap in mercy. I think this applies in two ways. If we find righteousness through repentance and faith in Christ, we will receive mercy. God always responds to repentance with mercy. Always. When is the last time you turned a repentant heart to the Lord? If it’s been awhile since you have humbled yourself before God, what is there that keeps you from being broken before him today?

Second, those who have found such righteousness will themselves be merciful. I think we often grasp salvation as something wonderful God has done for US, and that is certainly true; but I think the more important thing is that salvation is something God does THROUGH us. “Sow in righteousness, reap in MERCY”. We are given God’s righteousness not for our OWN benefit, but in order to extend mercy. As the recipients of mercy, we should be merciful. Have you been forgiven? Forgive.

Think of how this world would be if there were no forgiving:
Life without forgiveness almost wouldn’t be worth living.
God’s amazing mercy makes us whole, when given TO us;
And His forgiveness, sown in righteousness, will then renew us;
But then His mercy, as intended, is extended THROUGH us.
Sow in righteousness, but here’s a scripture you can keep:
Mercy is the only crop that righteousness should reap.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Chance May Be Involved, But it’s More than Just a Game

Is life a gamble or perhaps a game of chance? Or are events set by God’s will, decreed before the foundation of time? Those bookends can create some theological debate, but Solomon makes an interesting comment about life in Ecclesiastes: “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11 NIV) This is a good reflection to have around Super Bowl week. Solomon had seen it all, and he understood that not everything happened the way the odds-makers might predict.

chance

Life’s outcomes are not predetermined, and we are not automatons living in fatalistic patterns. To quote Solomon: “time and chance happen to them all.” I believe in God’s sovereignty and even in some degree of direct divine intervention. I just don’t know how often He visibly intervenes, or to what degree.

Certainly, God’s presence exists in creation and in the order of the universe, and gravity comes from somewhere. God’s influence is woven into the fabric of the universe, and His character is reflected in the order of things. But we don’t’ see obvious occurrences of God’s direct actions too often (like parting the Red Sea, or walking on water), so it’s easy to question just how involved God is in our world.

Skeptics ask for a sign, and cynics reject God because they say that if He was loving and kind, He would fix all of the ills in this world; since He hasn’t made things perfect, then He must not exist. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are people who think that if you stay in God’s will, then nothing bad will ever happen to you, or you will be given prosperity and comfort. Still others say that God’s will or foreknowledge pre-determines our choices and actions.

I think that while these different approaches are all based on some kind of logic, all of those hypotheses are limited and flawed. God’s sovereignty and will are bigger than any of those rational, logical positions. This quote from Ecclesiastes teaches us that underneath the larger umbrella of God’s sovereignty, there is cause and effect, there are choices and consequences such that outcomes aren’t always inevitable and things don’t always turn out the way we think they will. To borrow the old sports adage, “That’s why they play the games.”

One verse is not enough to build a doctrine upon, but it does provide an important principle: God’s sovereignty is comprehensive enough to allow for human choice. If you just follow the story of the patriarchs, you see men deceiving and cheating to obtain God’s favor; and yet the Lord works around and through even their sinfulness to accomplish His perfect will no matter how their choices twist and turn…

God’s will is so far-seeing and perfect that it allows for time and chance, and includes every possibility for every choice we make. You and I are not robots locked into a fatalistic pattern. We have the freedom and the power to make choices, to be independent, and even to reject God if we want to. We can initiate cause and effect, and we can choose to navigate the currents of time and chance either with God’s help or without it. In spite of the exponential number of possibilities that creates, God maintains His sovereignty over everything. According to the writer of Ecclesiastes, life (and our relationship with God!) is dynamic, and you have a lot of decisions to make. Choose wisely!

Do we humans have a will? Are we truly free?
Or are we just automatons within God’s sovereignty?
Do our choices matter? Is it even realistic
To feel like we can choose, or is the world just fatalistic?
We cannot know how things will go before the race is run;
And Solomon said that Time and Chance will impact everyone.
So does God’s will determine things before they ever start,
Or does He make allowance for the wayward human heart?
Is He in control? Or do we humans have a voice?
Does God determine things, or do we really have a choice?
Solomon said there was an answer. You don’t have to guess:
Those questions can be answered, “yes”. And yes, and yes, and yes…

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Greatest Performance in the Very Biggest Game

A great performance is always pretty impressive. If you are an old-school NFL fan like me, you remember the AFL New York Jets upsetting the mighty NFL Baltimore Colts back in January 1969. Both teams were champions in the Leagues, but only one could win the Super Bowl.

performance

Men work hard to make it in the NFL, and every year now around the Super Bowl, the NFL gives out its annual awards, extolling the accomplishments of players both on and off the field. Each team nominates a player for the Walter Payton man of the year award, and it is good to see some of the athletes giving back to the community. (It helps offset the stories of arrests, drug use, and domestic violence.)

With its inherent dangers and the high risk of injury, the NFL has become our modern equivalent of the gladiators in ancient Rome, because players literally put their bodies on the line to try to win championships. Toughness in the NFL (and in many professional sports) means that men will play through pain and injury to achieve glory, and fans look upon them as heroes for staying on the field of play even when they are put through tremendous physical stress.

I was trying to imagine what those players headed to the Super Bowl were doing and thinking, making the final preparations for their huge moment in the spotlight, when they would be putting their training, their skills, and their determination on the line for team and personal glory. Would they be fine-tuning their technique, confident that they have prepared physically in every way? Would they be visualizing success, or meditating on their assignments? Would they succumb to outside influences, or be distracted from their goal by all of the hype?

What kind of performance would they give on the biggest stage of their careers? I was reflecting on the adulation and status we confer on such men, in some cases rightfully so, because they are men who work hard, who are committed to a goal, who embrace team virtues, and who put themselves at risk to attain glory. People are so fanatical about their teams that we call them “fans”, because they follow and support their athletes with passion and emotion. I know there are still Cowboys’ fans who still are STILL mad that Jackie Smith had a poor performance and dropped a wide open pass against Pittsburgh in 1979!

performance

Based on the effort and the risk and the high stakes involved, it seems natural to us that the men who make such preparations and take such risks should be considered heroic. Their performance certainly has a lot riding on it.

Then it occurred to me: there was once a man who also faced the biggest day of his career, who was committed to a goal, and who put himself completely at risk to not just attain glory but to reflect it and give it away. The night before he had to compete in perhaps the toughest contest of all time, and certainly the biggest game, he was preparing as well. Perhaps we need to recalibrate our perspective on what it means to be a hero:
“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matt 26:36-38, NIV)

Jesus knew what was coming, and he knew the price he was about to pay. I’ve often thought that the fact Jesus knew he would be resurrected from death did not diminish the pain and agony he faced, the devastation of being separated from the Father. And I don’t want to sound like I doubt God’s power or plan, but I’ve always thought that BEFORE the cross, God had never experienced death, so that there had to be some sense of risk involved… what if it didn’t work? What if something went wrong?

While Jesus struggled with the weight of what he was about to do, and prepared for the suffering he knew was coming, he thought of YOU. He said: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20, 21, NIV)

Two things: if you are willing to be fanatical about an athlete who gave his greatest performance in the biggest game, then think about Jesus, and become a fan. He thought about you. Second, take a moment to reflect upon the fact that he prayed for you: Be worthy of that prayer! You, too, are playing in a high-risk game, and it has nothing to do with football.

Every year the League allows its teams
The chance to play upon the field of dreams;
They work all year to win the coveted prize,
To show their skills before a billion eyes…
The pundits say that history is made;
But isn’t it really just a sport that’s played
Between two groups of men who play a game?
The big things in this world will be the same,
With war, corruptions, hunger, lies and fear–
And they will play this game again next year…
There was, however, once the fiercest test,
When one competitor had to be his best.
The heat was on, but he was cool as ice,
When it was on the line, he paid the price
And showed mankind the ultimate sacrifice.
One athlete made a difference on this earth:
Our calendar revolves around his birth,
And he competed right until the end.
I’m proud to call him Savior, Lord, and friend.
He sometimes called himself the Son of Man:
He won the ultimate game, and I’m a fan.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

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

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

importance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread