Mercy is not just Something you Need to Get. It’s also Something you Need to GIVE

Do We Really Have to Have It?

Consider the word “mercy”.  It is something everyone encounters, dispenses, or begs for in this life. Can you imagine a world without mercy? Have you stopped lately to consider how important mercy can be? This Psalm says it well: “Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant. Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.” (Psalm 119:76-77, NIV)

A Familiar Story

Do you need a little more love and mercy in your life? David did. Consider his life and fortunes, and I bet you can relate somehow. David knew about the importance of love and mercy. He was the least and smallest brother, the sheep-tender, stuck way out in the pasture while his older siblings did the important stuff. The shepherd boy knew what it was like to feel lonely, vulnerable, unappreciated. He was the least popular kid in middle school.
When Samuel came to choose Israel’s future king from among Jesse’s sons, David was an afterthought, only brought in from the pasture when Samuel asked “Are these all the sons you have?” (1 Samuel 16:11)

After he was anointed as the future king, he rose to the heights of celebrity by killing Goliath. You’d think a hero like David had it made now, right? Wrong. Saul’s murderous jealousy turned David into a fugitive, hiding in caves and running through the badlands. He had to consort with enemies and feign madness. His future seemed uncertain at best, so he depended on the promise of God and comforted himself with God’s steadfast love. I’m sure there were many times where David prayed, “Let your mercy come to me, that I may live.”

Then Saul was killed, and David became king. But it must have been a bittersweet moment for him, because his best friend Jonathan was killed along with Saul, so David’s ascension was tempered by harsh reality. Life is like that, isn’t it? But once again, “let your mercy come to me, that I may live…”

mercy

Twists and Turns…

Then David became king, so he’s set now, right? Wrong. He gets bored, commits adultery, and then has Uriah killed trying to cover up his sin. Then Nathan called him out in front of everybody. Most despotic monarchs would have killed Nathan and denied everything, but not David. He confessed and threw himself at God’s feet. He dealt with the consequences of his actions the rest of his life. David experienced humiliation, rebellion, heartache and loss. But David found God’s mercy and lived.

Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you’ve been under appreciated. Perhaps you have felt adrift in circumstances, just making your way the best you can. Maybe you’ve been on top of the world. Maybe you have fallen from that mountaintop… I certainly have a couple of times, and let me tell you, it is lonely and painful. Perhaps you know that, too…

What We Need

There are times like that when we all need mercy, when we crave the relief from guilt and stress it brings. There are also times when we have it in our power to offer it to someone else. Someone may have wronged you, perhaps, and they feel bad about it. A relationship may be broken because they long for your forgiveness. You can relieve them by being merciful. In this life, love and mercy are both things we all could use more of.

Here’s a secret: you’ll find them in the Bible. They are in the story of David, and they leap from the stories of Abraham, Jacob, Matthew, John, and Paul. The Prodigal Son discovered it. God’s mercy changes people. God’s people change the world. In 1 Timothy 1:16, Paul said, “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” If you study the Bible with an open heart, it will set you free by bringing you love, mercy, and promises to live by today. And tomorrow… Then the next day….And oh yeah, every day after that.

An Everyday Plea

Lord, when I rebel and turn my face away from your encouragement and grace;
When I listen to those inner voices, following them with stupid, selfish choices;
When I wander from your love and care, and find myself immersed in dark despair,
And when I’ve given all I have to give: Be merciful to me, that I may live.

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

Delight is Your ONLY Job Today. So Show Delight, All Day Long: GO!

Shining De Light on Delight

It’s fun to be delighted. However, we don’t often use it in a sentence like this: “Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life.” (Psalms 119:92-93 NKJV)

What is David talking about here? He is saying that God’s law gives him delight! Delight is defined as “a high degree of pleasure or enjoyment; joy; rapture.” I’ve been delighted by gifts, by the giggle of a toddler, or by something enjoyable or amusing, but I don’t recall being giddy about God’s law recently. How about you?

delight

The Nuts and Bolts

In Richard Bach’s book “Illusions: the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”, he tells the story of an automobile mechanic who delivers a message from God. He is followed by thousands because of the words he delivers to them. In his final sermon he asks the people if a man should be willing to suffer in order to fulfill God’s mission.

People respond, “Of course, Master! It should be pleasure to suffer the tortures of hell itself, should God ask for it!” And the people were ready to carry out God’s will for them no matter how much of a burden, and no matter how painful or difficult. Then the preacher threw the crowd an unexpected curveball. “And what would you do, the Master said unto the multitude, if God spoke directly to your face and said, ‘I COMMAND THAT YOU BE HAPPY IN THE WORLD, AS LONG AS YOU LIVE‘. What would you do then?” And the multitude was silent, not a voice, not a sound was heard upon the hillside across the valleys where they stood.” (Illusions, pages 10-11)

The Hardest Command

God’s command was not that his children suffer or be tortured, but that they be happy. The multitude reacted in stunned silence. They had been ready to suffer for God but had not considered being happy for Him. Doesn’t everybody want to be happy? How many people do you know who ARE? Everybody wants to be happy, but who knows HOW to be happy?

What delights you? What REALLY transports you to a state of pleasure or joy? I bet it’s a short list, and I bet for most of us, it’s different than David’s. David found delight in God’s law. It gave his life order, and it sustained him during times of affliction. It was part of his world and part of his walk. From God’s precepts he received pleasure and enjoyment, and he even says, “For by them You have given me life.”

So, Which is It?

As religious but finite beings, we sometimes focus on the QUANTITY of eternal life rather than on the QUALITY of eternal life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) God wants you to experience not just life, but abundant life. He commands you to be happy. Are you?

Everyone I’ve ever known who truly loves God’s word and lives by it displays some degree of selflessness, concern, passion, wisdom, joy and peace… Not a bad set of attributes as human qualities go, and they are things that transcend circumstances. What’s more, the secrets to happiness delivered by God’s word can be applied no matter what is going on.

Think about being delighted today. Imagine that your delight was not dependent on circumstances, but on how you feel about God, and about how engaged you are with His word. Have you ever associated God’s law with pure unadulterated delight? If you fall more deeply in love with God’s words, I think you’ll also fall in love more deeply in love with life; and you will discover more about its QUALITY, even as you look forward with hope to its QUANTITY.

Delightful

God’s word gives life, its burden is light,
helps you do what’s right, and it shines so bright
in the darkest night that it gives you sight
no matter your plight, and it offers delight
that the world tries to match, but just can’t quite.
It may sound trite, but try it! It might ignite
A light that gives you delight that is infinite!

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

When God Sends You a Message, Don’t Be an Ass About It

He Does What He Says He’ll Do

The story of Balaam and how he received a message from God is unusual, and if you haven’t read it before, right now is a good time. If you have, and it left you scratching your head a little, it’s certainly worth a deeper look. It has to do with God communicating with us and keeping His promises. Check this out: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said it, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19, NIV)

In one of the more unusual stories in the Bible, a prophet named Balaam is sent to Balak, the king over the Moabites. Balak was concerned about the way the Israelites were conquering his neighbors, and sent messengers to Balaam to ask for some relief from God. The Lord gave Balaam a message and told him he could go to Moab, but only to deliver His message word for word. In Numbers twenty-two Balaam was riding his donkey to Moab, but apparently was not fully committed to carrying out the Lord’s mission.

message

An Unusual Twist

God sent an angel to block the road, which apparently the donkey could see but Balaam could not. He struck the stubborn donkey several times, until the animal went all “Mr. Ed” on him and spoke, asking him why he was being hit. (For those of you too young to remember, Mr. Ed was a sitcom about a talking horse named Ed who had a dumb owner named Wilbur). At that point Balaam saw the angel of the Lord and listened with greater focus to his instructions. The angel told him: “The donkey saw Me and turned aside from Me these three times. If she had not turned aside from Me, surely I would also have killed you by now, and let her live.” (Numbers 22:33)

So, What Can We Learn From a Talking Donkey?

One lesson we can learn from this passage is, “Don’t be so consumed with your own agenda that you don’t even see or hear God’s message to you.” Balaam was so wrapped up in politics or personal concerns that he almost rode to his own death. It may seem strange, but sin works that way. You can even think you are doing God’s work (like being a prophet) when you actually motivated by your own pride or fear. I am not exactly sure what Balaam’s problem was, but God went to unusual lengths to get his attention. Don’t be that guy.

Finally, though, in the midst of his prophecy to Moab, Balaam gave them strong assurance about the Lord: God is not a mere man. His word is true, and when He has made a promise, He will bring it to pass. Think about the promises God has made to you, there are lots to choose from: hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11); unending love (Romans 8:38); peace (John 14:27, Philippians 4:7); and according to Peter, many other great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4). Open your eyes to God’s word. Listen to His promises and claim them. It might just keep you from riding to your own death.

A Road Trip to Remember

Balaam had a mission, but an angel blocked his way,
And made him pay attention to what his donkey had to say:
God gave him a message, but he really hadn’t heard
That he should take that message and deliver it word for word.
If you ride a Donkey who turns into Mr. Ed,
I’d pay attention to what he says, or you could wind up dead!
If God sends you a message, listen. Do not be an ass;
Remember: whatever the Lord has promised, He will bring to pass.

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

What Gifts are the Very Best Kind of Gifts to Open?

Good Gifts

We all like opening gifts, and we do it at showers, birthday parties, Christmas, and any time we are lucky enough to receive a gift. Jesus pointed out that we also enjoy giving good gifts to someone we love: “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11, NIV)

gifts stone

Does God Really Give Gifts?

Right after he instructed his followers to ASK (“Ask, Seek, and Knock), Jesus spoke confidently of the fact that the Father gives good things to those who ask Him. I don’t know about you, but I personally have asked God for a lot of things that I didn’t get. (Ok, so maybe they were utterly selfish things, or maybe I was trying to make a deal with God to avoid consequences, but I asked and did not receive. So does that mean Jesus was lying, or that he just didn’t know what he was talking about? Or did it perhaps mean that I had absolutely the wrong perspective on gifts, and on how God gives?) I know the Bible teaches that God loves to bless His children with gifts, but is that really true? I do know the Bible uses the word “give” 1433 times, and that’s a LOT. But how many of them have to do with God’s gifts to us?

Read the creation account. God GAVE creation to man. In Genesis 9:3 God said, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.” The Lord told Abram, “Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” (Genesis 13:17) Read all the “gives” in the Bible, and I think you will find that God has been pretty consistent about giving.

How Much Does a Gift Cost?

Paul echoes this teaching about God’s generosity, and He extends it beyond creation or even a promised land into another realm: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12, NIV) Paul says that God has given us his Spirit so that we can recognize the things he has given to us. Put on your spiritual glasses for a minute. Make a list of the things God has given you.

We almost always start with material things—and I’m not saying that they are not indicators of God’s generosity—but I’m also not sure that material comforts and money are that important to Him either. (For some reason that makes me think of Tevya singing “If I Were a Rich man” in “Fiddler on the Roof”. He talks to God about material blessing and says, “I realize that it’s no sin to be poor; but it’s no great honor, either.” Tevya thought that perhaps God’s plan would not be disturbed by making him a rich man, but still discovered God’s presence in his own humble circumstances…)

What Kinds Mean the Most?

So try to set material gifts aside for a moment and reflect on just the Spiritual blessings that God has given us for free: His Son. His Spirit. Access to the throne of Grace. His Presence. Prayer. Fellowship. The New Covenant. Perspective. Love. Wisdom. The Word. Adoption into His family. Resurrection. The hope of Glory. I could go on, but hey, it’s YOUR list. What has God given you? How generous has He been? Perhaps the true depth of His generosity can be measured by the costliest gift. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, NIV) Ask. Seek. Knock. Receive.

Generous Gifts

Which of you would give your child a snake and not a fish?
And who would give a rock when it is bread for which they wish?
If you, being evil, give good gifts to those you love,
Then how much will your Father give you more from heaven above?
It is not just material things, or opening some presents,
But basking in your Father’s love and being in His presence.
If He could give His son for us, it’s very clear to see
That we cannot out-give the Father’s generosity.

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

Creator: Stop and Think About Who God Is, and Who We Are

Owner’s Manual

Do you ever use the owner’s manual in your car? It contains almost everything you need to know about your vehicle. Doesn’t it make sense to get information from the designer and creator of your car when you have a question? In the Bible, David says that makes good sense for us to get information from our creator as well: “Your hands have made me and fashioned me; Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments.” (Psalms 119:73 NKJV)

David seemed pretty obsessed with God’s commandments in Psalm 119.He rejoiced in them as in great riches (v 14), he meditated on them (v 15), and he took delight in them (v 16). In verse 27-28 he said, “Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, so that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds. My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.” David found understanding and strength in the Scriptures. Why do you think David was so taken with God’s word? What was it about God’s precepts that made David almost giddy with excitement?

Why the Excitement?

You can certainly reflect on David’s reasons, but here are a couple to consider: 1) He had lived by them and knew they made a difference. David’s life had not always been easy or soft, but it always included meditation and reflection on what God revealed to him. His confidence in God’s commandments came from actual experience, from applying them in the crucible of his life and finding them to be reliable, helpful and sustaining. It made sense for David to recommend them to us because he knew the Creator’s love firsthand.

2) David understood who he was, and he understood who God was. As strong and successful as David became, he never forgot why it made sense to respect God’s authority. David said, “Your hands have made me”. David accepted God’s place in the universe, much like Paul in Romans 9:20: “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Isaiah echoed the same sentiment in Isaiah 64:8: “We are the clay. You are the Potter. We are all the work of your hands.”

creator

More Profound than You Think

Gary Larsen’s humorous view of the Creator doesn’t begin to reflect the complexity of God’s work in and around us. The reason the Bible provides a sound platform for living is because it comes from our Creator. Does anyone know more about how we operate than the one who conceived and formed our DNA? If we are made in His image after all, perhaps His words can give us guidance.

When we have a problem with our car, we look in the owner’s manual for help. It provides insight because it is provided by the one who made the car. When we have problems in life, we can also look into the owner’s manual, provided by the one who made us. And doesn’t it make sense that we should pay attention to our Maker? Is there a better place to look than into His book to find insight? Our Creator should have reliable advice for us that actually works in the crucible of events when life happens. If God is NOT our creator, then follow whomever; but if He is, then there’s no one better to pay attention to.

The Creator’s Place

God conceived and his words gave birth,
Creating the cosmos, Heavens and earth!
He reigns over all, and His presence commands
The stars in the sky and the works of His hands;
He’s the creator of every day,
So we should consider that when we pray:
“Lord, You are the Potter, I am the clay;
Help me see the world that way.
In all I think, and say, and do:
Remind me, Lord, to follow YOU.
Whatever may come, or the day may bring,
I am your subject, and you are my King.”

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

Leadership, God’s Way: the Wrong Kind of Leadership in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

God’s Upside-down Paradigm

There are lots of books and blogs about leadership; apparently God hasn’t read any of them. Instead of dominating His way into men’s affairs, He chose to place Jesus into His Kingdom like this: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…” (Philippians 2:6-7 NIV) As you consider what Paul is saying about leadership, here are a couple of observations about these verses: First, Jesus left his position in the heavenly realm and became a man.

leadership

Take a moment and just try to imagine the gap between where he was and where we are. He came from the right hand of God the Father, a position of heavenly power and glory. He left all that to come to earth. He did not arrive here as the reigning monarch, but he allowed himself to be placed into the tiny form of a helpless baby. He traded the omniscience of deity for the vulnerability of manhood. He left the security of his kingdom to go behind enemy lines, wagering everything in history on not his Father’s might, but His Father’s love…

So, What Were the Odds for a Crucified Itinerant Preacher?

He took no unfair advantage over the powers of this world, and yet he challenged them utterly with nothing but his Word and his life. He was very God of very God, and yet he demanded no riches, no opulence, no glory… Compare that with Roman Emperors, who used every advantage, leveraged every bit of power they could grasp, and even claimed to be gods themselves! Jesus, refusing the trappings of the world, came to a common family far away from palaces and politics. As “Jesus Christ Superstar” once pointed out, he came to earth before the printing press, mass communications, and even before social media. Quick: how many Rabbis do you remember from the first century? How many Roman Emperors? Rulers of Persia, Egypt, China? How many people who were crucified by the Roman government?

leadership

The Roman Empire is long gone, yet Jesus established a kingdom on earth that people everywhere still recognize, and his story had been told throughout history, throughout the world. His organization did not follow any earthly blueprint for success: he didn’t go to the best schools or have earthly wealth; his recruits were fishermen, tradesmen, students, and even a traitor; he came as a servant and always gave glory to someone else; he was vulnerable, honest and forthright; and he was killed at a young age by men who wielded earthly power. Yet in spite of all of those things, his kingdom thrives today, twenty-one centuries later…

Not What Everyone Expected

Which leads to observation #2: His leadership was totally counter-cultural. Even though he was GOD, He humbled himself. He didn’t leverage deity to try to be important, as Caesar did; he came as a servant and served. The contrast between the way Jesus led and the way our leaders do is still dramatic. How many of our Congressmen and Presidents these days are wealthy? How many of them ACTUALLY serve anyone?

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Maybe our criteria for leadership is a bit flawed… If we only selected leaders with humility who are willing to serve, I bet the world would be a better place. I bet it would look a lot more like the place that Jesus left in order to come here.

Upside-down Leadership

Leaders lust for power, fortune, fame, and for renown;
God took earthly leadership and turned it upside down.
Earthly leaders like to strut, but God threw them a curve,
And sent a spiritual king whose only mission was to serve.
What if leaders acted like they all were heaven-sent?
Would it change the Congress, or the current president?
Jesus was a servant. You just think of that, because
I wonder how our world would be if EVERY leader was?
For Jesus that’s only way a leader is defined;
Sadly, servant leadership is pretty hard to find;
(It’s not the way our leaders or our culture is inclined)
But if you’re called to leadership, then please keep that in mind.

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

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

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he prays about the possibility of connecting finite man to an infinite God. If you stop to consider what that might involve, it will open up new realms of thought and possibility in your world. The resulting potential causes him to run clean out of superlatives! “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:22, NKJV) Wow. Read that again. Paul says that God is able “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

infinite glory

Not Big Enough

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

From Logical Legality to Happy Hyperbole

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

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

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

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

Infinite Possibilities

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

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

Restoration for the Smitten Suitor and the Unfaithful Wife

Sin threatened to destroy the relationship between the Smitten Suitor and the wayward bride. Only one thing could bring them Restoration. The Book of Hosea is one of the most unusual and interesting in the Bible, and it tells a story about love and restoration that will expand whatever boundaries you have about both of those words.

A Surprising Vow

After both his heart and their wedding vows have been broken by an unfaithful bride, the groom pulls himself together and makes another vow: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master’”. (Hosea 2:14-16, NIV).

Hosea’s prophecy compares Israel to an unfaithful wife who committed all manner of adulterous acts. (It’s interesting that Hosea chooses a wayward bride, since our stereotypes might suggest that husbands are far more likely to be unfaithful than wives…His prophetic allusion is probably driven by our role as the Bride of Christ, and the fact that the Lord referred to himself as a husband several times in the OT.) In this prophecy, the Lord is her wounded husband whose passion cannot stem the righteous indignation and judgment his wife deserves. And yet in the middle of his anger and grief, these verses remind us that God has something else in mind for his wayward wife: restoration.

restoration

He not only promises to restore their relationship, he intends to woo her and speak tenderly to her. Just as I am often startled by the Old Testament promises of swift and certain judgment by a righteous God, I find myself equally surprised by this picture. God is the passionate and loving husband who has been cheated on and lied to, embarrassed and hurt to the core by his wife’s infidelities. This jealous and passionate God dispense not swift and terrible judgment or vengeance, but tender love.

God’s people  have stopped worshipping the Lord and started giving their affection to other things, like money, status, control, or power. Hosea points out that Israel has forgotten her first love and traded it for shallow pagan rituals and illicit unions. They are estranged, and their relationship cries out for restoration with their creator and deliverer.

Loving Groom or Vengeful God?

Let me make two observations: First, God is an emotional God. I think we sometimes feel like He is enthroned remotely, dispassionately over the universe, but remember: we are made in his image. We tend to think of God as a Judge; He thinks of us as a beloved spouse. The emotional winds that blow through us are shadows of the powerful emotions the Lord feels. He loves us wildly, completely, and powerfully, which leads logically to the second point: God’s love for you may be far deeper than you realize.

God’s love is not a theological construct, and it’s not a Bible verse. It’s not even a religious love story told on a grand cosmic scale. It’s a passionate romance that includes betrayal and restoration. God is a lover smitten with His beloved; even when she betrays him (and, oh, she betrays him all the time!) He is reaching out to call her back. He plans to allure her, to shower her with affirmation and gentleness, to speak tenderly to her. The Lord will woo her with grace when He has every right to destroy her with judgment… He says that he loves her SO much that he will forgive her unfaithfulness and restore her as his one true bride, even though she hurt him so deeply. Stop now, for just a moment, and think about who the bride is in this story.

Israel was so callous as to turn her back on the Lord, to ignore His loving pleas, and to go off chasing other (little) gods… Think about Hosea’s message and reflect on Israel’s unfaithfulness. They traded love for something less; they pursued selfish temporary satisfaction in place of abiding affection. How foolish could they be? How could they fail to see the error of their ways? Certainly they should have realized what they were missing. Say… when’s the last time you cheated on God?

Closer Than You Think

We think of God as in command,
Enthroned out in some distant land,
The Righteous Judge who now condemns
The actions and the hearts of men.
And yet He sends us tender notes,
And fills His word with loving quotes,
Reminding us that His great love
Could never be expressed enough.
No matter what you think you’ve heard
Look deeper through His written word,
And then perhaps you’ll make a start
To see what’s written in His heart.
Look deep and see how much He feels!
You’ll find that He’s head over heels,
And even when you run away,
He’ll woo you every single day.
Discover, when you’ve gone off track,
Your Lover always wants you back.
Listen, now: His love is strong.
His love erases every wrong,
So listen: you can hear His song
Wooing you back where you belong…

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

Sex the way it Was Meant to Be: Fifty Shades of God

The Bible can be pretty Puritanical when it comes to sex. Does God hate sex? Or did He just have different intentions about its purpose?

“I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.” (Song of Solomon 7:10, NIV)

In the Bible there are many warnings about indiscriminate sex, and prohibitions against all kinds of sexual activity. In our world today, there are those who call such values outdated, Puritanical, repressive, and even hateful. So why is there a book smack dab in the middle of the Bible that rejoices in sex, that celebrates intimacy between a man and a woman, and that sets Biblical prudishness back 3,000 years? Have you read the Song of Solomon lately? It’s a racy dialog between two lovers, whose intimacy is anticipated, sung about by friends, and broadcast across the pages of the Bible for all the world to read wherever Bibles are sold.

sex

From the way these lovers rejoice in blessed carnality, the way they adore each other’s bodies and feast among each other’s lilies, one might actually get the idea that the Creator created SEX! And that it can be guilt free, pleasurable, and downright HOT. There seems to be only one catch: it was designed to function best in a relationship between a husband and wife.

sex

People have been having other kinds of sex (and seemingly getting away with it) ever since man left the garden to live in a fallen world. If you look around today’s world, we are encouraged to have more kinds of sex than ever before. A partial list includes premarital, extramarital, same gender, swinging, wild, experimental, prostituted, BDSM, who-knows-what online, and all kinds of casual, temporary sexual activity.

All of these, we are told, provide pleasure and possible fulfillment. I’m sure that to some degree they do. And yet, somehow, there is a lot of hit and miss in those promises. Apart from temporary, transient pleasure, those activities can also result in low self-esteem, “the walk of shame”, humiliation, VD, or the abortion clinic, where the pleasure seems far away and the residue of lust seems lonely and incomplete.

Folks who have engaged in those pursuits often end up feeling used, broken-hearted, lonely, bitter, and empty. Guys try to make a clean getaway while girls wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” What if we asked the world to say, “Me too” if they’ve experienced that? We see couples on TV hooking up on almost every show we watch, and we hear about the promised thrills a lot—but not so much about the failed relationships, broken hearts, and the emptiness of the morning after…

Great sex, according to the Bible, is hottest when two lovers belong to each other. It has intimacy based on the fact that it represents the union between us and our creator; it has spiritual depth because it represents not only carnality and passion but caring and compassion. The Song of Solomon says that God wants lovers to have great sex—just not cheap, selfish, abusive, or temporary sex. You’d think the creator might know some secrets about the creation. I bet if you asked Him about kissing, He’d tell; He’d probably even write a little something down about it, and it would have way more than 50 shades. Read the manual, and you’ll know a lot more about how to drive the car…

Fifty Shades of God

Doesn't God hate sex? The Bible tells us not to do it,
Doesn't God prohibit sex and all that there is to it?
I've heard, when sex is talked about, that God is just tyrannical,
And that the Bible's stance on it is somewhat Puritanical...
And yet the Song of Solomon presents two smitten lovers
Who obviously enjoy themselves while underneath the covers!
It celebrates their intimacy in waves of carnal pleasure,
And God says that their love should be expressed in fullest measure!
They feast among the lilies, and they frolic in the glades,
Enjoying Godly intimacy in more than Fifty Shades!
When sex is blessed by God, it seems that nothing is forbidden;
When love unites the lovers, God says nothing must be hidden!
There is some ancient wisdom on it: go and take a look;
Just check with your Creator. After all, He wrote the book.

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 Random, But What Chance is there that You’ll Read This? YOU Decide.

Time and Chance might seem to have no place in a world ruled by a Sovereign God. Both Bible Scholars and skeptics believe in an either-or universe in which God has pre-ordained all things, and where determinism restricts the choices men may make about existence. The tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is a difficult thing to sort out, but surely God has a plan designed to accomplish His will which would override random events.

So why did the wisest man who ever lived say this:
“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 9:10).

I have always been in awe of God’s majesty and omniscience, but I have often wondered about his sovereignty. What does God’s sovereignty mean to us in a practical sense, and do we really have any choice in this world? On one hand, I have heard it argued that there is nothing that happens outside of God’s plan, and that there is a sort of determinism about life: since God has foreknowledge, and knows everything in advance, then we really have no options and we are basically puppets dangling at the end of God’s strings. On the other hand, there are many things in scripture that suggest man was given will and the ability to make choices for a reason; there is cause and effect, there are consequences to actions—but it’s not always the outcome we think is logical or fair.

chance

I have always believed that God’s sovereignty is somehow big enough to allow for human choices without limiting His authority, or interfering with the outcome He desires. God’s perfect will allowed for Abraham to sleep with Hagar, and still somehow used the players in their faithless disobedience to fulfill His ultimate plan. God allowed Jacob to lie and steal the blessing from Esau, yet it all worked to fulfill the covenant. He permitted a harlot to betray her own people to save the spies in Jericho and become one of David’s ancestors. In each of these cases, people made their own decisions, committed sins, or followed seemingly unpredictable paths of choice and chance.

The universe is not simply an “either-or” situation between God’s will and man’s will. The Bible views them as a “both-and” scenario, where God is utterly sovereign and man takes his chances and makes his choices. There are many twists and turns throughout Scripture that seem disconnected from God’s will (or totally random, based on earthly factors), but they did not deter His will or prevent the outcome He had ordained. And then this verse from Ecclesiastes: “time and chance happen to them all.”

I believe that God allows for time and chance in a fallen world. If that is true, then He does not program us like automatons or dictate every action. Things are not always logical, and outcomes are not all predetermined. We act freely. We take our chances. Every eventuality exists under the umbrella of God’s sovereignty, and His foreknowledge does not limit our choices or dictate our decisions.

Sometimes the underdog wins. God allows for that. Sometimes humans exercise their will in business or athletics. God allows for that. And sometimes, in a fallen world, random things occur and accidents happen. Sometimes people pay for making stupid choices, or even pay for someone else’s stupid choices, and life is affected by time and chance. Ultimately, however, God is in control and we can have faith in a risen Lord in the middle of a fallen world. Are there things in life that seem unfair or impossible? Sometimes. Do those things ever circumvent God’s will? Never.

Chance or Choice?

If everything is prearranged, and history’s die is cast,
Then every action is ordained from the first one to the last.
The Lord is sovereign (heaven knows), and has a master plan–
So what remains within the province of the mortal man?
The Lord knows every man’s demise, and every sparrow’s fall,
But Solomon said Time and Chance still happen to us all.
So, is God in control, or do we have the right to choose?
If you gamble, bet on God. There’s no way you can lose…

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