An Ode to Debt: To the One Who Paid the Debt We Owed

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 12:8-10, NIV)

First Corinthians 13 is certainly a wonderful description of love, but Paul wrote another love chapter in Romans 12 that actually extends about halfway into Romans 13. It is chock full of practical applications about love. The first seven verses exhort Christians to respect authority and to obey those in authority over them, because love is not rebellious or selfish. He encourages us to “give everyone what you owe them”, whether it be financial, social, or spiritual. (Taxes, revenue, respect, honor…)

Who do you owe something to? Paul says we are to live as if we have a “continuing debt of love to one another.” Think for a moment about the people in your life; who are you indebted to? Is there anyone to whom you owe a heart-felt ‘thank you’, an apology, or a kind word? Is there anyone to whom you should express respect or honor? What is keeping you from completing that transaction? Paul then draws his logical progression of thought to a close with an important conclusion about love: it is debt-free. The law is based upon debt. When you break the law, you owe a penalty for what you did. It is only by paying the penalty that you can atone for your transgression and obtain pardon. The fundamental problem with sin and selfishness on a cosmic scale is that we accumulate more debt than we can repay, and God’s righteousness requires payment for justice to be served.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Love paid the debt, and Paul says the only way to keep from incurring further debt is to live in love. Once again he echoes the teachings of Jesus (how did he know so much about what Jesus taught without a printing press or even the internet?), who said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Love fulfills the law in several ways. It offers payment for the penalty of the law; it offers freedom in the presence of the law; and it prevents our falling further under the power of the law. It’s not money or stuff that enables you to live debt-free, it’s only love. Go do something loving today. Send a word of encouragement. Mend an old fence. Say that ‘thank you’ to someone that you somehow forgot to say. Give a hug. Or just get down on your knees and remember who you were most indebted to, and who paid the debt.

 

Heaven: everyone wants in, 
But everyone is touched by sin; 
Remember as you draw each breath, 
The wages for your sin is death. 
You owe a debt you cannot pay 
No matter what you do or say. 
In spite of all the plans you've made, 
You have a debt that must be paid. 
But God reached out to you, and me, 
And Jesus paid our penalty. 
He superseded time and space, 
And offered us amazing grace: 
He paid our debt. He took our place.

To buy my latest book, Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David

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Why Would Anybody Put Priceless Treasure in Jars of Clay?

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NIV)

Have you ever felt hard pressed, or perplexed, or struck down by circumstances? Sometimes it seems that life just turns against us. Circumstances knock you down, and you almost feel like giving up. I knew a coach whose speech to the team about a tough day or moment was always the same: “Men, life is hard. No one ever said it’d be easy. Sometimes you get knocked on your keister. But you’ve got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in there. It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up!” (That’s me, front row, # 77 in your program, but #1 in your hearts: Cambridge Colts, 1964 or 5)

Of course this was good advice for young football players about handling hard knocks, but Paul’s response takes somewhat higher aim. First of all, Paul says that we are full of treasure, that the immeasurable richness of God’s glory has been put into jars of clay.

Is that amazing or what? Our bodies are temporary. They may fail, but the very richness of God’s Spirit has been put within bodies that grow old and decline. The mortal has been invested with immortality. The corrupt, Paul says, has been made incorruptible. We are far more than what we look like on the outside: we may seem fragile, but God is strong; we may seem temporary, but God is eternal. Our bodies will perish, but our souls are another story.

We are merely jars of clay on the outside, but since God has placed his treasure in us, we have been gifted with a new reality and new possibilities. We are endowed with spiritual possibilities that transcend carnal limitations. We have spiritual potential that is not limited to what our bodies can achieve. The only way to appropriate those possibilities, Paul says, is to “carry around in our body the death of Jesus”.

Looking back on Easter, the death of Christ became the springboard to life. The darkest hour exploded in glorious light! No matter what happens to us, we are not abandoned and we do not need to despair. As Christ showed the world on Easter, the jar of clay can be broken; but when that happens it opens the door to release God’s treasure and show his all-surpassing power. Christ’s death was indeed brutal and painful, but it wasn’t final. The power of His resurrection lives on in us, and we will never be crushed, abandoned, or destroyed. Next time something bad happens, take comfort in that. Then dust yourself off and get back in there.

 

We may exist in jars of clay,
And tragedies may come our way,
But few can see our inner measure,
Hiding place of God's great treasure.
Spiritual possibility transcends this earth's reality:
Our vessels house eternity. We are much more than you can see.
When by God's Spirit jars of clay are sealed,
The resurrection's power is revealed. 

 

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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Eternal Things: The Bible Says There Are Two of Them. Know What They Are?

Let’s talk about the Only Two eternal Things on Earth, as we work our way through the four Gospels: Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:33, KJV). Over the last month and a half (in case you haven’t noticed), my FB posts have worked their way through every book in the Old Testament. A couple of days ago we looked at Malachi, the last OT book; then we discussed a couple of things “between the testaments”; then Matthew. Yesterday’s post came out of Mark.

So if you’re keeping up, and you’ve been reading for a while, you have now read through the entire Old Testament. (With some bonus material thrown in for Passion Week!) There are only two eternal things we encounter in this world; one of them is the people we meet (the souls of men), and the other is the Word of God. We should treasure the people we meet, and we can have hope because of the Word of God! I hope you are impressed with yourself for having read in every OT book! You will carry those words into eternity.

Now we’ll continue to go right on through the entire Bible, covering the New Testament… In the days leading up to Passion Week we certainly covered some ground in the Four Gospels, and since those books focus on the story and teachings of Jesus, I thought it might be interesting to ask a couple of questions. First, why trust the Gospels anyway? And second, aren’t they just like any other hero stories from the First Century? Is their content eternal? This little chart offers some detail about the audiences and themes of the Gospels. They have much in common, but tell the story of Jesus to four different groups and in four different ways.

Timing of authorship would place them as early as 37 AD, beginning with Mark. It is commonly held that perhaps he used a source material as background, and that Matthew used either Mark’s Gospel or the same source. They were all certainly written within a decade or so of the crucifixion. So how do we know they are reliable, except for the fact that a bunch of religious fanatics think they are true?

Here are a couple of quick logical reasons, courtesy of Dr. Jim Wicker of SwBTS: First, no Jewish writer would have written about the story of Jesus without utter conviction that it was true. The Messianic titles of Jesus contained in the Gospels were problematic for monotheistic Judaism. If untrue, they would have been considered heresy punishable by death.

So, it is way more likely they are true than that some first-century Jewish Christians made them up. They were committing blasphemy to consider them, and the social consequences were severe; yet these Jewish authors used them anyway.

Second, there were a number of intrinsic historical quality controls that existed in days of early church [when the gospels were written]. For instance, eyewitnesses to Jesus were still alive, who could attest to the truthfulness of the Gospels [or expose their lack of truthfulness]. If it was a hoax or a lie, people would have called them out about it.

Also, the fact that embarrassing and even problematic material is included in the Gospels (such as the denseness of the Disciples) helps prove the Gospels are truth rather than fiction. (You’re an author, writing about Jesus; surely you can make him look good without having to put stuff in there that makes you and your friends seem dumb!) Using such an approach runs contrary to the common literary technique of all other previous hero stories or legends. Why show the disciples as dim-witted or slow to grasp who Jesus was if they are the very witnesses you are depending on to carry his message?

The Gospels are really unlike any other literature ever written up to that point in terms of content, approach, and technique. They are incredibly short portraits of Jesus, and yet they provide a richness of detail and contain the passionate ring of truth. That may be why they are still best-sellers today, and why we are still reading Jesus’ eternal words today. Maybe when he said, “My words will never pass away”, he knew what he was talking about… Quick: how many OTHER Middle Eastern rabbis from over 2,000 years ago are you familiar with? Amazing? Yes. Eternal? Yes. Coincidence? No.

 

The Gospels are Love, and about life and death, 
They're about every heartbeat, and every last breath!
The gospels are power and passion combined, 
Eternal combustion and love intertwined—
Take a look at the Gospels anew, redefined, 
And let them explode in your heart and your mind:
They are news just for YOU, of the very best kind!

 

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The Resurrection: is Quantity or Quality of life more important?

Lazarus died, and his sister Martha was upset that Jesus had not arrived in time to heal him. She made a bold request: Then said Martha unto Jesus, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died. But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” Jesus saith unto her, “Thy brother shall rise again.” Martha saith unto him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said unto her, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” She saith unto him, “Yes, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” (John 11:21-27 KJV) (Sometimes I just have to keep some King James Version in here because I like rockin’ it old school. It’s what I grew up on as a Christian, and I still love its lyrical anachronisms…but I digress.)

When Mary and Martha sent word that their brother Lazarus was sick, Jesus waited two days before coming to them in Bethany. In the meantime, Lazarus died. It’s not hard to imagine the scene at their home as the sisters waited anxiously for Jesus to come heal their brother, only to watch him slip away. They thought they had things under control, but their plans didn’t work out. It had to be emotionally devastating. Ever been there? Things didn’t work out like you planned, and God didn’t do what you expected Him to? Lazarus had just died, and his sister Martha was distraught. (Her tone is even a little accusative, like “why did you take so long?” Have YOU ever asked God, “WHY?” or accused God of failure?) Martha let Jesus know he could have done better. Even so, she expresses her confidence that Jesus has such a connection to God that he can do something miraculous, perhaps even a resurrection from the dead. Jesus comforts her with the statement that her brother will someday rise again. She believes in a traditional Jewish way, that Lazarus will experience resurrection at the last day. (Resurrection was a hot topic of debate between Sadducees and Pharisees—the Pharisees believed in it, but the Sadducees did not, which I’ve always heard is why they were Sad, you see…) Jesus challenges her traditional faith and asks her if she believes in HIM. Now, her brother is dead, and she has no way of knowing, like we all do, that Lazarus will come back to life. But she looks Jesus in the eye and gives testimony to who He is. “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” You know the rest of the story. Lazarus came back to life after three days in the grave. He experienced new birth, new life, and a new beginning. Jesus provided a solution outside of Martha’s control. What is your traditional faith holding you back from? What have you lost that you wish you could have back? Why wait for pie in the sky when you die by-and-by? Eternal life is not a quantity of life, it is a QUALITY of life, and it has already been given to you. Look Jesus in the eye and let him know what you want. Something dear to you that you thought was lost might just come forth and live again. It might be time for a new beginning.

 

Will we be spending endless time just sitting on a cloud?
Will we employ eternity to sing our hymns out loud?
Or will we find that life is life with nothing now to bind it,
Just filled with God's eternal growth around it and behind it? 
For us to learn God's heart and mind, the riches of His love,
I think eternity itself will not be long enough...

 

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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I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No One Comes to the Father, but by Me.

“I am the Way”, perhaps the most volatile thing Jesus ever claimed.
Jesus said, “I am the WAY, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Read the first four words of this sentence four times, and put the emphasis on each word, one at a time. Each different emphasis brings a slightly different twist to the statement, but overall the message is still consistent, and the meaning is uncompromised. Think about this one for a minute, and the sheer exclusivity of it: I am the way. I AM the way. I am THE way. No ambiguity here. No one else is the way but me. No one else is the truth but me. What an intolerant, arrogant, audacious thing to say! How could such a wise and loving rabbi burn all those bridges? Surely he didn’t mean the ONLY way… Surely he didn’t mean THE truth… Surely there must be lots of other ways! This one statement by Jesus is an implicit indictment of all other religions, and probably one of the biggest reasons people in our culture reject him. They can’t imagine taking a stand that excludes other good options. They can’t imagine going “all in”, and believing in one way. (Perhaps you know the old saying, “The good is the worst enemy of the best”? Accepting what is merely good could keep you from discovering the very best!) But this is the watershed claim, the one that calls for a decision. Does that seem preposterous in our enlightened age? But let’s put it into the right context. Would it be a good thing to drive your car the wrong way down a busy one way street? It may limit your travel options, but it might help you arrive safely at your destination.
Isn’t it kinda like a proposal of marriage? I love you, and ask you to join me, forsaking all others, excluding everyone else. I am committed to you, and I’m asking you to be committed to me.

We hear that in weddings all of the time, and no one jumps up and says, “That’s preposterous! How can they do such an intolerant thing?! This choice limits their whole future! They should keep their options open, because there are still lots of other possibilities out there!” No one objects because we see their exclusivity and commitment as good things representing the truth of their love for one another. Jesus said, “I am the way. No man comes to the Father but by me.” People might be offended because this is exclusive, but we have to remember that He is speaking as a groom to His bride. He is asking for commitment, undoubtedly the same measure of commitment He demonstrated to us on the cross. It may seem intolerant on the surface—but if it’s true, then it’s the most loving thing Jesus ever said.

"I Am the Way, the Truth, the Life, and someday you will see
The only access to the Father has to come through me."
This claim was quite audacious, and it sounds intolerant, too;
But it holds everlasting, passionate love if it is true.
If Jesus lied on this one, and is not the only way,
Then we should not acknowledge anything he had to say.
But if He is the Way, the Truth, the Life--both then and now--
Then every seeker will confess, and every knee shall bow...



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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Jesus Said, “I Am the Resurrection.” Was He Crazy, or What?

“I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25) Of all the claims Jesus made, this is the most fantastic and unbelievable—and it’s the one that holds the most promise.

Jesus claims to have power over death, and to be the key to life after death. He’s gotta be crazy to say that, right? He ACTUALLY says, “I am the resurrection”. (Of course, he DOES raise Lazarus from the dead right after this, and he does come back from the dead later himself…) BUT, If THIS claim isn’t true, he’s just another guy. A good teacher, yeah; a wise man, yeah, but if this statement isn’t true then He was just a revolutionary rabbi with a short career. If Jesus did not triumph over death, then there is no greater reason to follow him than there is to follow Buddha, or Joseph Smith, or the Dalai Lama… The resurrection changes everything. If this isn’t true, then we should just “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” We are wasting time being good and serving when we could be concentrating on accumulating fat stacks of cash, making a name for ourselves, or just flat-out partying. Forget all that selfless love stuff and look out for old Number One. Do your own thing. YOLO! Life is short: work hard; you’re gonna die, so play harder. If there’s no resurrection, there’s no hope, and no reason to serve…But here’s an existential question: Is partying really better for people who believe it’s all over when we die? The ones who don’t have the Church lady looking over their shoulder, restricting them to Puritanical behavior? One of the stereotypical views of Christians is that we don’t have any fun, or like to party. From one perspective, that stereotype has a point: if Jesus was NOT the resurrection, then Christians are wasting a lot of time serving and trying to be like him. As Paul says, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 KJV) But here’s the thing: Jesus is also the LIFE. He offers resurrection! He offers hope for eternity, but he also offers abundant life in the here and now. (He actually says that’s why he came in John 10:10). If we actually DO have hope in Christ for the life to come, we are of all men most blessed…we win eternally because Jesus was the resurrection and the life, and we win NOW because we live with purpose in fellowship with our creator. We can party just as hard as anyone, only we don’t have to experience regrets like “How did I get this tattoo?” or “Dude, where’s my car?” or hangovers. The Christian life was meant to be abundant and full, and we have all been invited to the wedding feast. We don’t even have to wait in order to start the party! Eternal life starts NOW. It’s not that we can’t/shouldn’t party right now—it’s really the only way that, in the words of the great Robert Earl Keane, “the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.” Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Party on!

If I said, "I'm the resurrection!", tell me what you'd think:
("Maybe he meant something else, or had too much to drink...
Surely he just didn't know he sounded so intense;
He's nuts. A guy who makes this claim is just not making sense.")
So why then would an honest Rabbi make this astounding claim?
An illustration? Maybe shocking listeners was his aim?
Maybe he was just confused, or maybe he got lazy,
But wouldn't everybody think that such a man was crazy?
We should question everything that's taught by such a man,
Who claimed to be the Son of God, who said he had a plan;
He said, "Though earth will pass away, these words I say will stand."
So there's your answer: question what he did and what he said:
Don't accept, investigate and question him instead.
Was Jesus really wise, or was he just out of his head?
A Con man or a lunatic is not worth listening to,
Something I would not encourage anyone to do--
Unless, perhaps, this crazy claim he made was somehow true...
That changes the game for me. My friend, it changes the game for you.

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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Sit a Little Closer to the Fire

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV) This whole verse seems hopelessly out of date in some ways. It claims that we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, when it seems like Christianity is less accepted and more under attack than it has been in years; it talks about reverence and awe when our culture enjoys coffee and flip flops in church, and we better be out of church in time for the big game; and it says that God is a consuming fire in a world full of distractions, temporary relationships, and instant gratification. Let’s make some observations about it and see if it still applies… 1) Whenever you see a “Therefore” in Scripture, you should look back in the passage and see what it’s there for. The writer of Hebrews quoted Haggai 2:6, reminding a repressed and skeptical people that no matter what their political circumstances, God still had a covenant with them and was still going to exercise His will: “In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory…” The nations will be shaken, but not God’s plans. Remember what God has promised and take heart. 2) He says we should be thankful. All revival begins with thanksgiving. Having a posture of thankfulness assumes humility before the giver and an attitude of gratitude. Have you given thanks today? 3) Worshipping God should involve reverence and awe. What we wear to church doesn’t really matter, but when was the last time you truly experienced reverence and awe in worship? Step out of your timed church service boundaries and your concerns about where to go for lunch and allow yourself to be steeped in the majesty and splendor of an Almighty God. Remember that He loves you and is jealous for you. The writer of Hebrews quotes Deuteronomy 4:24, “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” 4) God is jealous for you in the way a mother is jealous for her child’s safety, and the same way a husband is jealous for his dying wife’s health. He is loving and possessive, and we should remember that. And finally, this: 5) If God is a consuming fire, then why are we not consumed? Is it He that is not hot enough or bright enough? Or is it that we just don’t WANT to be burned? Perhaps we selfishly reserve our passions for ourselves, refusing to be burned and thereby consumed. Consider this: if to avoid consumption, we stay away from the fire, then we also miss the warmth, the illumination, and ultimately the passion in being truly inflamed… Is God not warm enough? Bright enough? Perhaps you are sitting a bit too far from the fire…

fire

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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Tornadoes, Tragedy, and Trying to make Sense of it All

The images of the tornadoes are there, displayed at somebody else’s expense, an unfortunate testimony to the fact that we humans are morbidly curious. The dangerous weather events that caused such devastation in Oklahoma and Texas have left tragedy in their wake, and newspeople can’t quit showing it and talking about it, and we can’t look away. There are a lot of reasons we look at the news coverage when other people are devastated. We are somber over other peoples’ loss, and concerned about survivors. We are curious about people we know in the affected areas, and wonder how they are. We hope for survivors in the wreckage, and grieve over those who didn’t. We see dazed, heartbroken victims, anxious relatives, and aerial views of what must be worse than a war zone. The wreckage from the tornadoes is otherworldly, like something out of a movie, but full of details only reality could provide. Cars have been twisted and tossed like little toys; houses, businesses, street signs and landmarks are all just gone, leaving nothing behind but trash covered slabs and debris-strewn fields that used to be neighborhoods just like ours. Victims have lost possessions, vehicles, photos and heirlooms, personal belongings, shoes, cell phones, computers, homes, everything. As a result, people are glued to television and the internet, listening to stories, looking at images of utter destruction from the deadly tornadoes.

Some just gawk, relieved it wasn’t them. Some try to learn about safety, playing “what if” scenarios in their heads and evaluating potential survival strategies should such a thing happen to them. Some are motivated by the tragic scenes of ground zero to respond, to offer help. People outside the boundaries of the tragedy analyze it, break it down, and speculate about how it happened, and why. Survivors within the tragedy are struck by the randomness of it all, and are grateful for God’s protection and their good fortune. A quick scan of Facebook shows several themes about the deadly tornadoes and the destruction they left in their wake in Moore, in Cleburne, in Granbury… Some thank God for his blessing, because they or their possessions were spared; many express grief or sympathy, or provide what they hope is helpful information; and there are posts saying that schools were damaged as a result of God’s judgment: since we have taken Him out of schools, He has not protected them from natural disaster. Questions arise out of the wreckage. Did God cause this storm? Did he select certain homes for destruction while blessing others by leaving them intact? Did He judge elementary school children for the fact that we have separation of church and state?
How can a loving God allow this to happen? A couple of observations:
1. Under the vast umbrella of God’s sovereignty, in the same place he allows us choice about what house to buy, what food to eat, who to fall in love with, there is a provision for human will, for cause and effect. Solomon said, “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.” Because we have the ability to make choices, we live in a world that is subject to the vagaries of cause and effect, of time and chance. Ultimately, yes, God allowed the environment that leaves room for tornadoes, and they fall under His domain; but the storms happen because we live with choices in a fallen world. Wouldn’t a loving God cause such tragedies to cease? He only would if He was going to circumvent our ability to choose, and He loves us too much to do that. I certainly believe in God’s sovereignty, and that all things happen within His will. I might concede that God does intervene in this world to exert His will at times, but I also believe He allows random things to happen because He loves us enough to let us make choices.
2. Is God’s blessing indicated by survival? I want to tread lightly here, because I would not presume to know all about God’s blessing, or to dispute with anyone who felt that they had received blessing from God. But a couple of things: if God blessed those who survived, does that necessarily mean He cursed those who didn’t? It’s hard to have one without the other. Perhaps we need to recalibrate our assumptions about blessing. God’s blessing is not found in material things, it is not found in prosperity, and it may or may not be indicated by survival. What if God’s blessing is just His presence and His peace? What if it comes from His being with us in the midst of tragedy, rather than His protecting us from harmful events? God’s blessing could exist then in every outcome, not just the ones that favor us circumstantially. We could find His blessing everywhere, and encounter His supernatural peace and presence in the wreckage of natural disasters, in difficulty and disease, as well as in seasons of prosperity and good fortune. Don’t hesitate to thank God for blessing us with love, health, and possessions; but don’t fail to thank Him for blessing us within devastation, loss, and grief. Paul wrote to Timothy that he encountered trials and tribulation at Antioch, Iconium, and Derbe, but was delivered out of all of them. Sure enough, in Acts we read that Paul discovered and escaped from plots to execute him in Antioch and Iconium. However, at Derbe he was stoned by an angry mob and left for dead. (yes, he was struck repeatedly by large, heavy rocks until he was battered and bruised and assumed dead) Apparently Paul’s definition of deliverance is different than mine. What he knew, and what he taught is that sometimes God’s deliverance (blessing) is FROM the stones; sometimes, it is THROUGH the stones.
3. Did God judge elementary school kids for the fact that we have taken Him out of schools? This is almost too ignorant an assumption to address, but the short answer is “no, He didn’t.” In Luke 13, Jesus is asked if some Galileans who had been killed by Pilate deserved to die. He asked, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” He extends the example to an accident in which the Tower of Siloam fell on unsuspecting bystanders. Jesus uses tragedy to teach that for every one of us, the harsh lessons of life should call us to evaluate ourselves, to be accountable, and to humbly repent before God. But he clearly says that the victims of these tragic events were not selected because of their sin. When bad things happen, we should turn to God.
4. If God cares about us, why are there tornadoes? Why does He allow such tragedy? I think there are lots of ways to approach this, but I will choose one: God’s concern for us is not contained in the prevention of tragedy, but in His participation in it. He is not some cosmic Being, sitting majestically removed from us in the heavens, He is “god-with-us”, who humbled Himself, suffered the death on the cross, and as God the Father had to experience the loss of His own child when He could have stopped Jesus’ suffering at any time. The fact that Jesus lived on in resurrection does not diminish his pain and anguish on the cross one teeny bit; and God’s own power and glory did not prevent him from feeling every bit as loving and protective towards His son as any parent would. Yet His love for us was such that He did not intervene, and He cared about us enough to absorb personal tragedy of the darkest kind. God’s empathy is not phony, and His ability to walk with us in the dark times is not based on whimsy or fiction. He really does understand, and He knows everything there is to know about loss and pain. He also knows about redemption and peace. I would add that the finite circumstances we see may be outweighed by the glory of the infinite outcomes we don’t see. For those innocent victims we see in tragedy, God may have infinite outcomes we will only see when all ends are revealed. We assume in our grief that loss of life is the worst thing that can happen; it may be perhaps the doorway to the best thing that can happen.

We are praying for you guys in Oklahoma, and for you guys on Facebook, and for whomever has to deal with the tornadoes that come. May you find the blessing of God’s presence no matter what the circumstances.

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

Strangers and Sojourners

We are getting ready to go on vacation today– and it’s one of those “once in a lifetime” vacations, to Rome (the eternal city) and Tuscany, the heart of Italian wine country and culture. We have been thinking about and preparing for this vacation for over a year, and it seemed as if this day would never come! We have spent hours thinking about going, looking forward to our sojourn in Italy. But now we are killing time today at home, waiting for our evening flight and in the meantime trying to think of what we might need in Italy, or what we may have forgotten to pack. We are also readying our home for our absence– our dog Abby is at grandma’s, the timers are set on a couple of lights, the potted plants are all near sprinklers now, and the thermostats are programmed. As I walk through our home, I feel strangely disconnected, knowing that I am leaving for even a short while to reside somewhere else. Even though our home is warm and familiar, I am looking forward to the journey ahead– new sights, new places and food, new friends, and new adventures! We have been so looking forward to this trip that it has affected our reading, our conversation, and our priorities. It’s amazing how an upcoming experience like this makes an impact on what we do and how we feel– and today we feel the thrill of anticipation, knowing that we will soon look upon work by Michaelangelo, DaVinci, and see first hand the wonders of ancient Rome… that anticipation is so pervasive that part of me has already left this familiar home and is projecting my thoughts to the trip ahead. I’m ready to go!

Then it struck me… I will also be going on a trip soon, one to the “eternal city”, one that will involve new places and friends, where the work of Michaelangelo and DaVinci will seem insignificant, and where growth, friendship, and revelation will be continuous and inspiring. Anticipation will be endlessly fulfilled and surpassed, conjoined with even more delightful anticipation that will be again fulfilled and surpassed. And I wondered… is THAT trip affecting my reading, my thoughts, my conversation? Has it changed my priorities? Am I looking forward to my ultimate destination with enough connection and assurance that I am preparing to go, taking care of details, and not feeling TOO connected to this familiar home? Peter said that we are aliens and sojourners, people on a journey to a wondrous destination, and that as temporary residents we should take care not to get too wrapped up in temporal pursuits. We are never told to ignore our place on this earth, but we are reminded of its brevity– so we should smell the roses, and appreciate not only where we are going, but we should also enjoy where we are, even when the season is temporary. May our journey enliven and transform us, and may we recognize the wonder in our sojourn, even as we anticipate the joy in our arrival!