Nick at Night: Maybe the Most Important Conversation in History

The Pharisee Who Took a Chance

“Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:1-2, NIV)

It has often been speculated that Nicodemus went to Jesus at night because of the risks involved. If the ruling council saw his actions as supporting or endorsing Jesus, it could have had serious consequences for him. Nicodemus could have been thrown off the council, or at the very least endured criticism and persecution.

On the other hand, perhaps he went at the council’s request, and was there as an intermediary to try to get a fix on Jesus and report back. But the fact that he went at night suggests that he was avoiding public scrutiny, and was not there on behalf of the council. If that was the case, then he was risking ostracism, persecution, and the loss of his social (and vocational) position in Jerusalem. Since he took such a huge chance, perhaps he was just an honest man seeking the truth about Jesus.

Nicodemus at night

Most Important Conversation: Really?

Whatever his motives, this became arguably the most quoted and pivotal conversation in all of human history. It certainly contains perhaps the best-known and most quoted Bible verse. From this brief encounter we get “born again” (v 3); “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (v 6); and the fact that the Son of Man must be lifted up (v 15). And from this brief conversation, we get this:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (v 16).

If you’ve never read that verse before, read again and think about what it means. It’s the verse everyone knows, and the most quoted verse in the Bible. It rocked Nicodemus’ world, and it changed his life. From the snapshots we get of Nicodemus later in John’s Gospel, a story of transformation emerges. In John 7 he subtly advocated on Jesus’ behalf in the Sanhedrin. He was still on the council, but flies in the face of the overriding hatred of Jesus.

The Rest of the Story

And then this: We see Nicodemus again in the terrible aftermath of the cross, helping to take down Jesus’ body to prepare it for burial (John 20:39). He has stepped out of the shadows of night to identify with him even when it no longer seems to matter. By performing this service, Nicodemus indeed places himself in the crosshairs of the Sanhedrin as a dangerous nonconformist. He risks his life and his reputation to identify with Jesus the crucified “criminal”.

This conversation from John Chapter three obviously meant something to him. The real question is, however: what does it mean to YOU?

Nicodemus

Late at night, he smelled the alleyways;
Secretly, he stalked the truth in silence.
Darkness fouled his progress with its murky haze;
The echoes whispered softly, and with violence…
The Inner Council would not see his coming here
As anything but blatant heresy;
His heart beat faster as he walked along in fear,
A lonely and conflicted Pharisee…
He paused before the doorway, now unsure,
Should this conversation even start?
He wavered now, so righteous, so impure,
Listening to the beating of his heart…
The quiet night created space for him to doubt;
What would happen to him if they knew?
What penalty awaited him if they found out?
Should he be here? Or run? What should he do?
He froze in fear of who he’d meet behind that door;
Confused anxiety almost made him run,
But Nicodemus knocked because he wanted more,
And Jesus smiled and said, “Come in, my son”.

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

Imagine Yourself as an Image: How Does It Reflect on You?

Here’s a little reflection (pardon the pun) about the fact that YOU are created in the IMAGE of GOD. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”. (Genesis 1:27 NIV)

The Creative Distinctive

You (as in all of you, as in mankind) are different than the animals. While we humanize many animals, and we marvel at their ability to mimic us and their instinct to interact with us socially, there is still one major difference between you and the beasts of the field. YOU are created in God’s image. Animals aren’t. So, what’s the big deal about that?

When you think about it, we humans are very image oriented. Primitive man worshipped images to the extent that God forbade such foolishness specifically in the Ten Commandments. We spend a lot of thought and effort building or repairing our SELF image. At work they once gave all of us a copy of Marianne Williamson’s well-known quote about how we view ourselves:

What Were You Created to Do?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Her words nibble around the edges of Genesis 1:27, but in a sense they fall short. They rightly encourage us to believe in ourselves because we are God’s children, but they limit us to the mere human part of our potential.

image reflection

Technically, an image does whatever the original does. It copies the characteristics of the original, and it is an exact reflection, having all of the appearance and likeness of the source. Therefore, as beings created in the image of God, we should reflect His nature, His character, and His characteristics. (Much like a mirror’s image reflects the real thing before it.)

The Godly Distinctive

As beings made in the image of God, we possess some evident characteristics that influence our longings and behavior. We have a love for beauty and an appreciation for creativity. We have a hunger for love and relationship. We are emotional, passionate beings who understand morality and aspire to wisdom and completion. We have many facets of God’s character reflected in our own.

The Earthly Distinctive

But even though mankind was created in the image of the Father, things have changed. Man fell in sin and became captive to sinful impulses in a fallen world. The fallen world in turn distorts and clouds our understanding of God’s holiness and character. It’s sometimes hard to see God’s image in the actions and behavior of those around us (in fact we are selfish ourselves) and we feel distanced and separated from a Holy God. We all know from experience it is certainly possible to live much of your life without ever really reflecting the God-like qualities that reside in you.

So do some quick evaluation. Since this is about being an IMAGE, take a look at yourself in the mirror. You will see yourself looking back at you, and according to the Bible you are looking at someone made in the image of God.
What are some things about you that make you believe it’s true?
What are some things about you that make you think it’s not?
Don’t worry about your self-image. Enjoy being made in His. Reflect on THAT.

Imagine This

Life is not a practice or a scrimmage;
It’s more than building up a fallen image.
It’s not about what we project,
Or some illusion we protect,
Or our respect or disrespect,
But more about who we reflect!
Of all the animal kingdom, man
Alone of all the species, can
Engage in spirituality, and reflect on immortality
While he practices morality as a part of his reality.
Just go look into the mirror;
Look intently, see it clearer,
Reflection of the Trinity that stretches to infinity,
Defined by what the Bible stated
About the way you were created.
Don’t serve the world by playing small,
Or listen to the doubter’s call;
Let passion and His love enthrall,
And reflect the One who made us all.

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

Maybe the Best Thing About the Past is That It’s Actually a Present

the past on a cycle

If there is anything to be learned from history, it’s that we should learn from the past. George Santayana famously said, “Men who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So history can be educational, but there is another observation about the past that we should remember: we can’t live there…

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “Brethren, I do not count myself yet to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14 ASV)

Because he followed a worthy goal, Paul left everything behind in pursuit of his new quest. He changed vocation, friends, goals and his future to follow Jesus. An important part of reaching his prize was being able to let go of the past, which creates an interesting question: If you’re a Christian, do you really forget the things you’ve left behind?

past

There are a couple of ways to look at that. We can easily get trapped by looking back in a somewhat unhealthy way, longing for un-spiritual things, and the fulfillment of old, unsavory appetites. Paul talks about that in Romans 7, where he expresses frustration over the fact that he does things that he doesn’t want to do, motivated by his own sinful nature. The pull of temporary, sinful desire can certainly derail us from loftier goals.

SET A COURSE

Paul challenges us to concentrate on where we are going, not on where we used to be. I think this is what Jesus meant in Luke 9:62, when he said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” When you plow a field, you have to stay focused on a point out in front of where you are headed.

past plowing

If you want to plow a straight furrow, you have to focus on what’s ahead; otherwise you will get off-line and your rows will be crooked and useless for cultivation. Jesus knew that it was impossible to be fruitful and productive in the present while gazing back into the past. To paraphrase George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who choose to stay chained to the past will be doomed to repeat it.” Release yourself from old habits and patterns by focusing on new goals and opportunities!

#LIFEGOALS

The other mistake we often make about the past is that we fail to allow ourselves to grow beyond it. We repeat unkind messages to ourselves, we refuse to forgive ourselves, and we limit our potential based on feelings of unworthiness. In the Kingdom of God, those limitations are past. Remember that when God introduced Himself to Moses, he was “I AM”, not “I was”, or “I used to be”.

Do you see yourself the way God sees you? He’s not looking at your mistakes or failures, He sees you the way he intended you to be. He sees you complete and perfect, pristine and pure, and He has already forgotten your flaws and imperfection. Psalm 103:11-12 says, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” I can’t think of any better self-motivational message that we could tell ourselves each day.

If that’s not enough assurance, then read Isaiah 43:25: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” God removes our transgressions from us and remembers them no more. If HE is willing to forget your mistakes and move on, then So. Should. You.

Keep Moving

There are a few things from your past– you wish you could delete them,
Mistakes we all should learn from so that we do not repeat them!
Forgetting that which is behind, we strive to run the race
By reaching forth to what’s ahead, empowered now by grace.
We lay aside unneeded weight, and give the race our all,
As we pursue the prize extended by the Savior’s call!
Press onward to the mark, and towards the finish set your eyes;
Don’t look back! Your race is forward, running for the prize.

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

The Mystery of Gifts: Perhaps the Best Gift Ever Was Given on the Worst Day Ever

Everybody likes getting gifts! (Well, yeah, there are the bunny pajamas in A Christmas Story, but all of us like getting something to unwrap). Jesus had this to say about gifts, so let’s unwrap it together, shall we? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11 ASV)

Think About Gifts…

There are a couple of thoughts that jump out of this verse. First of all, if you are a parent or grandparent (or an Aunt or Uncle, or a passionate pet owner who loves a furry family member!) think about how much you love your child. I mean, stop and think about that. You picture them fondly in your mind. They have traits that endear them to you. You love them!

gifts for dad

Over the course of a lifetime, there are numerous gifts that you give them, whether it’s at Christmas or birthdays, a wedding or graduation, or even tooth fairy money…There are countless small sacrifices you make, from giving them the last piece of cake, to going without that new car or washing machine in order to pay tuition. There is the gift of time, the many gifts of teaching them to eat with a spoon, to use a potty, to ride a bicycle, to read, to imagine, and to dream. Have you ever stopped to think that when God calls us His children, He thinks about us in all of those same ways?

Do Gifts Really Cost God Anything?

Perhaps because we see God as omnipotent and self-sufficient, we tend to minimize the idea that He really actually sacrificed anything to give us gifts. After all, He is GOD. But when you start with the cross, the very real weight of God’s Fatherly love for us should surround us like a hug. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son…” It surely cost the Living God dearly (in ways we cannot fathom) to suffer the separation of sin and condemnation in our place, and to experience the death that was meant for us. Real death. Real cost. Real Grace.

There are countless other ways that God’s gifts to us must cost Him something. Imagine what it’s like to be omnipotent. Now imagine God giving free will to his wayward kids. He didn’t HAVE to; he could have created beings without choice, without the option to reject you or hate Him. But instead He created potentially disobedient, willful, deceitful, selfish beings who pursue false and lesser gods. Throughout every generation of men, God has dealt with children who ignore his gifts while they play with the paper and the trash…Has God quit being passionate? Stopped being jealous? Is He sitting in heaven watching us on cosmic TV eating popcorn, the wheels set in motion as He passively watches our rebellion play itself out? NO!!

How Many Thank-You Notes Have YOU Sent?

He is our Father, still loving us, giving us daily gifts of love and wisdom and comfort and possibility. Our Father in heaven is engaged with us DAILY, just as we should be engaged with Him. And His gifts are incessant, immeasurable, constant, and real—even when most of us ignore most of them most of the time. Oh sure, we acknowledge mountains and flowers and sunsets from time to time, but we take so many things for granted, things like breathing and family and relationships, like our capacity to experience love, and peace and joy…All of those things are gifts that God gives us because He is our Father, gifts that we fail to recognize or appreciate. Over the course of a lifetime, God has given you many gifts. Have you opened them? Do you appreciate them?

gifts from God

Secondly, let’s talk about the nature of God’s gifts a little bit. I have sometimes thought, “Wait a minute! God doesn’t always give me what I ask for! I’m having some rough times, and life isn’t always easy or smooth. Maybe God has withheld his gifts from me.” Then it occurred to me. Perhaps God’s economy in giving gifts is different than mine… Have you ever gotten a firm “no” from God on one of your requests, accepted it, and found that later on something better than your request came along? Or perhaps in the midst of stress or difficulty, you suddenly found a peace about it that helped you cope?

Maybe a trial that stretches me is actually a better gift than something that gives me temporary satisfaction. Maybe difficulties that call me to seek God ARE the gifts that he is actually giving me while I sit around waiting for some reward, or comfort, or beneficial circumstance. Maybe the ultimate gift, other than grace, is the Father’s comforting presence when bad things happen. Perhaps the bad thing is the good gift. That kinda makes sense. After all, the worst thing ever for God was the best gift ever for me.

Many Gifts, One Conclusion

I look around my world and see
The things which God has given me,
From mountains’ grandeur on the heights,
To stars that bathe the sky at night.
A thousand countless gifts each hour:
The delicate beauty of a flower,
The marvelous canvas of the sun
Who paints the sky when day is done.
The glorious leaves that turn each fall!
Amazing presents, great and small,
So many, I can’t count them all!
Yet God gave me capacity
To see them, or choose not to see…
Just look around. What do you see?
If you can’t feel His presence,
Start by looking at His presents.

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

From Publican to Apostle: the Scandalous Invitation That Shocked the Whole Nation

guess who’s coming to dinner?

The Gospel of Mark recorded a scandalous invitation which must have shocked everyone who heard about it: “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14 ASV)

On the surface this verse doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but there are several things that make it noteworthy. First, look at Levi the son of Alphaeus. He is known to us as Matthew, who was probably the brother of another apostle, James the son of Alphaeus (who was known as James “the less” to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee). He was identified as a publican or tax collector, and was sitting in the toll booth extracting fees from his fellow Israelites when Jesus called him.

not the most popular career choice

Matthew was not the kind of guy who would have received an invitation to any of the church socials at the local synagogue… Nobody in Jewish society liked the guys sitting in the tax booths! Because they worked for the Romans, tax collectors were among the most despised of all Hebrews. In Luke 18, when Jesus compares the self-righteousness of a Pharisee’s prayer to the lowest sort of man imaginable, he picks someone who all of his Jewish listeners would have agreed was the worst kind of human: a tax collector.

scandalous invitation

That’s exactly how a good Jewish citizen would have thought of Levi, sitting there in the toll booth collecting taxes—and yet that’s who Jesus called and gave an invitation to follow him. By calling Matthew, he demonstrated that his followers don’t have to be perfect; in fact they can be FAR LESS than perfect…

So Jesus called this tax collector to be a disciple, but understand that Matthew made good money and had a lot of friends; they just weren’t the kind of folks acceptable in the local churches. When Matthew throws a party for Jesus (Matthew 9), the Pharisees are quick to condemn Jesus for hanging out with “tax collectors and sinners”, since in their eyes those people were one and the same.

The calling of Matthew tells us that there is often more to someone than meets the eye, that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge, and that Jesus did not call his followers based on status, position, or religiosity. He calls anyone and everyone who will repent and follow him. His startling recruitment of a lowly publican sent shock waves through the Jewish world; it also ultimately gave us the book of Matthew, a historic work of epic proportions.

what IS “the good life”?

The second noteworthy thing in this verse has to do with Matthew and his response to Jesus’ invitation. As a tax collector, he was probably wealthy. He lived in a nice house, and apart from the social ostracism he endured, probably had a pretty nice life from a material point of view. The latest fashion, lots of parties and plenty of friends. He had running water, a patio with a view, a nice car, a 70” HDTV, and a good sound system. (Ok I am probably stretching a little here). But leaving his job to follow Jesus, (a relative newcomer who was really not connected with the powers that be in Jerusalem), meant that Matthew had to leave his wealth and security to answer Jesus’ call.

Now think about this: This was BEFORE everything about Jesus had been revealed, before everyone knew who Jesus really was, and Levi (Matthew) the tax collector just up and left his job to go with him… He didn’t yet have proof about Jesus being the Son of God, but he saw potential, and he responded immediately to the invitation.

What if Jesus asked you today to leave your high paying job and your future and your place in society to follow him? How would you react? Do you see potential? What if Jesus gave YOU the invitation: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me”? (Matthew 16:24)

Guess what? He already has…

Scandal

The Jewish world was shocked to find
That Jesus must have lost his mind,
Or deviated from the truth by calling Matthew from his booth!
Why, such a man was less than scum!
A traitorous, tax-collecting bum
Who helped the Romans get their tax. Why, such a man deserved the axe!
Yet Matthew went and shocked them all
By stepping out to Jesus’ call,
And leaving all his worldly wealth to go pursue his spiritual health.
He threw a party for his friends
To join a world that never ends!
But Matthew followed Christ. And look! We have his really awesome book
That helps us understand and see
“Take up your cross and follow me.”
Jesus called Matthew on the way;
He’s calling you and me today.
When he calls you: what will you say?

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

Earthly Wisdom is One Thing, and Heavenly Wisdom Is Another

Earthly Things or Heavenly things?

Ever describe something as “heavenly”? When it’s so good or pleasant that it seems other-worldly? There are things that are earthly and things that are heavenly. James says wisdom is that way, and he describes heavenly wisdom like this: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17 NIV)

There are different kinds of smart. There is book-smart, street-smart, people smart, and then there is smart-aleck or smarting off. Well, in the same way there are different kinds of wisdom, and different outcomes from each kind. You could technically make the case that all True Wisdom (with a capital W) comes from the ruler of heaven, and all earthly wisdom (with a little w) comes from the ruler of that other place. (Kinda like the difference between a “wise man” and a “wise guy”).

Lots of Earthly Kinds

If you think about it, there are a lot of different kinds of earthly wisdom. There is cunning wisdom that manipulates the facts and sounds logical even when it is false. Our media and politics are filled with this kind to the point that we are sick and tired of it. There is shrewd, self-serving wisdom; this type is not always flashy or in your face, but those who possess it maneuver well in business, are able to evaluate things and make the right moves so that they come out ahead. There is the narcissistic, “look how much I know” wisdom; this type often dominates conversation and drops facts to demonstrate that they know more than you do. There is condescending academic wisdom, the kind that delights in subject mastery and putting naïve students in their place. There is a “my mind’s made up” kind of wisdom, that has investigated, arrived at a position, and will not be swayed.

earthly wisdom

There is the type A “I’m always right” wisdom. (Say! Have you ever noticed that the ONLY people who ever proclaim their personality type are ALWAYS “type A”? No one ever says, “Well you know, I’m a type C personality”. I think whoever invented that classification system must have been the more assertive type and naturally wanted their classification to be “A”, the FIRST letter in the alphabet… I probably just made a bunch of type A people mad, but it’s ok because I’m like a type C personality. Or D, I forget…)

But it seems that a lot of earthly forms of astuteness are somewhat self-serving or driven by ego and being confrontational (like I just did there with type A), as opposed to the heavenly kind. I’m not saying that such people are not wise—they are—but that there’s a difference between earthly wisdom and the kind that comes from God.

So, What’s the Difference?

James says the kind that comes from heaven is pure. It is not tainted by selfish motives or coupled to ambition. It is peace-loving and considerate. It is not aggressive but is submissive, using the Greek term that means gentleness, indicating controlled power—so even when it yields to others it is not submissively weak and ineffectual. James builds much of his letter around this important concept, and it is hard to underestimate how important humility is in the Christian life.

In modern times, the three most important things in real estate are said to be “location, location, and location.” Augustine perhaps originated this logic when writing about being a Christian long ago: “When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, `Delivery’; what was the second rule, `Delivery’; what was the third rule, `Delivery’; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, `Humility’ ” (Institutes 2. 2. 11).

Godly wisdom is humble. True heavenly wisdom doesn’t raise its hand and call attention to itself like earthly wisdom does, but it gets our attention when we hear it. It is not only humble but also merciful, impartial, and sincere. The next time someone impresses you as wise, place their wisdom alongside this verse; you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if it is heavenly wisdom–or if it came from that other place.

Two Different Kinds

Earthly wisdom knows just how to scheme or to connive,
To help the folks who have it stay alive, and even thrive!
Wisdom that’s direct from heaven has a different lure;
It offers answers from a source that’s sanctified and pure.
Such wisdom is considerate, submissive and sincere;
It loves the peace, and offers mercy when it’s needed here.
True Wisdom doesn’t come to you because you think you’re smart,
But it will bear much fruit when it is hidden in your heart.
If you long for wisdom, then it’s not too late for you:
Ask the Lord some to give you some in everything you do.

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

It’s What’s Inside That Counts: Keep Your Heart With All Diligence

A Common Refrain

Hank Williams knew that it’s what’s inside that counts, because he said that when it comes to broken promises, “Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you…” The Bible talks about it this way: Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 ASV)

The Hebrew people had a highly developed view of the heart, and believed it to be central to intellect, emotion, and will. They recognized that we have a spiritual imperative inside of us which separates us from all other animals, and that the heart is not just a blood-pumping organ– it is the center of a person’s body and soul.

Samuel told Jesse that the Lord chose David to be king (instead of his older, seemingly more attractive brothers) using a different criteria than we use. Even though men could be swayed by outward appearance, the Lord could see David’s inner desires, thoughts and motives, and He made his selection based on what was INSIDE, not what was on the outside…

Outside/Inside

Jesus certainly viewed the heart as the place where man’s moral compass resided, and he warned that external actions were not as dangerous as internal motives: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:19-20, NIV). Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

inside heart

The reason that men don’t demonstrate greater nobility or higher values is that we are more naturally inclined to be selfish and deceitful than to be godly. If you don’t believe that, just drive in traffic or watch the local news… The selfish, carnal heart must be awakened by the Spirit of God to rise above its basest desires; and the undeveloped heart will only produce what it is equipped to produce.

Maintenance Matters

The fact that we need to keep our hearts diligently also implies that they may be unkempt; and unattended hearts, the Bible says, are proud, deceitful, vengeful, and full of bitter schemes and language. Cursing and taking the Lord’s name in vain might just be colorful vocabulary, but a potty mouth can also reflect that there’s a sewage backup problem further inside. Jesus said, “O generation of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)

inside matters

How is your heart? Are you diligent in keeping it secure and strong? Is it, as the Bible characterizes well-tended hearts, humble, loving, full and glad? If you wonder, then do a quick inventory of what you say, and how you spend your time and money: “for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21 ASV)

Treasure

Keep your heart with diligence; it governs what you say,
And from it come the actions you engage in every day.
Our human inclinations tend to lead us far astray,
Surrendering to tempting things that often come our way.
Jeremiah said from common folks to lofty kings,
The heart is desperately wicked, and deceitful above all things.
Jesus warned that we are not defiled by Satan’s darts,
But by the wickedness we carry in our selfish hearts.
As you take inventory of your heart, remember this:
Whatever most your heart desires is where your treasure is…

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

Shine: When the World Around You Seems Dark, Be a Glowing Alternative

A Different Approach

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16 NIV)

Do you ever grumble? Argue? Does it do any good? We live in a society characterized by grumbling and arguing. We run into it everywhere we go! Whether it’s on social media or in conversation, people are ready to do either or both.

The Wrong Kind of Spiral

It seems that every topic in our culture creates polarity and division. People loudly complain that they’ve been offended. Debate almost always seems to get personal rather than productive; and small-minded, selfish people grumble about everything, hoping to pull happier people into their discontent. There’s an old saying: “Misery loves company.” Look around and you’ll see how true that is. Unhappy people love to create a spiral of discontent that draws in everything around them.

Most miserable people want to pull others down rather than lift them up. From ugly comments about leaders to self-serving political media, from the promoting of racial division to “religious” extremism that calls for the deaths of its opponents, the grumbling and arguing in our world are spiraling towards something worse. Everywhere you look, there are warped and crooked people driving events towards more bad news.

Perhaps followers of Jesus are supposed to stand apart from the ugliness, to offer encouragement rather than criticism. What if more people spread love rather than hate, gave forgiveness rather than criticism, and offered contentment instead of contention? Paul says that God’s children are meant to shine as lights in the darkening sky. (Hmm, very similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Amazing considering Paul never followed Jesus or listened to his teachings before the crucifixion…) But both challenges call us to the same action.

Onward, Through the Fog

A child in Elizabethan London was looking out the window in the gloomy dusk, watching a worker far down the street come towards them, lighting the new gas streetlights one by one as he came towards their house through the foggy night. The closer he came in the distance, the illumination provided larger circles of light in the foggy night The child exclaimed, “Mummy, come quick! Look! There’s a man outside punching holes in the darkness!” As I look around this world, it sometimes seems to me that it is darker than I remember, that the night is hastening. Perhaps it is time for all of us to shine, and to punch some holes in the darkness.

shine

The world will not gravitate naturally towards unity. It never has before, and it won’t start now. Selfish men, motivated by a carnal spirit and spurred on by the grumblers and the haters, will always point their generation down a warped and crooked road.

Paul says that the only way to bring light to the darkness, the only alternative to living in a twisted reality is to “hold firmly to the Word of Life”. If Christians don’t do it, who will? Become familiar with the Word of Life. Let your light shine in the gathering gloom. Serve others. Reach out to the marginalized. Live without bigotry. Do what Jesus told us to do: love one another. Get out there and punch some holes in the darkness. Shine.

Punching Holes

The London night was damp and cold as dusk began to fall;
Mollie, looking out her window, couldn’t see at all.
She sat there in the living room and quietly watched the gathering gloom,
While twilight bathed the Promenade and turned the world from light to shade.
But magically, and suddenly, a light appeared that she could see,
A sudden glow way down the street that shone with radiance soft and sweet.
And then another spot of light, just nearer now, and glowing bright–
A halo in the cold and damp atop the gas-lit street-side lamp.
One by one the lamps were lit. The night gave way a little bit,
While Mollie, looking through the glass, was wondering how this came to pass.
And then she saw him as he came, the street-lamp man who lit each flame,
Stopping on the avenue where she could see the Park less…
She called out, “Mummy! Quick, come see! The fog is all along the street,
But there’s a man outside who’s punching holes into the darkness!”
And as we sit here in our rooms, while we can see a gathering gloom,
Perhaps it’s time for each of us to climb up on our poles,
To light at least one flickering flame–this world would never be the same,
If we just took the time to shine. Go out and punch some holes.

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

There’s Plenty of Bad News Out There: Here’s Some GOOD News that’s the Gospel Truth

Good News That’s the Gospel Truth

The Gospel simply means “the good news”, and for many, many generations it was taken to mean something that is absolutely true. (“And that’s the Gospel Truth, Your Honor.”) Even Mark Twain, who was critical of church-goers, often wrote colorful dialect for some of his western characters. When they referred to something being true or reliable, he’d have them say: “That’s gospel, pard.” There’s a reason why people relate gospel to truth, but there is even more to the story of that word.

gospel

The gospel as we know it entered the world in the first century after Jesus came. His teaching and the news of his resurrection were so far-reaching and revolutionary that they literally changed the world, and have been changing it ever since. The Greek word meant “good news”, and the Christian message became so connected with it that the word became synonymous with the good news about Jesus. The Apostle Paul changed his vocation, his plans, and his entire life because of the gospel, and he has this to say about it:

No Shame

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, NIV)Paul carried the Good News everywhere he went, and ultimately the Christian message displaced the Roman Empire. Countless millions of lives have been changed by the gospel since then! If you stop and think about it, “gospel” may be the most powerful word in history. And it’s true. Stop and think about THAT.

The Good News
The world all around me, I just have to say
Is full of bad news that we hear every day;
There’s real news, and “fake news”, and media spin;
There’s plenty of hatred, and judgment of sin–
[And that just depends on which church you are in!]
In all of our talk about “don’ts” and the “do’s”,
There are lots of Church words that we Church people use,
Such as “gospel”– which, Paul says, means very good news.
In Old English, it’s “God-spell”. So why is such passion
Stirred up by a word that is so darned old-fashioned?
Just what is the gospel? It’s something I’ve heard
In the Church all my life; it’s a Sunday School word–
Just the kind of expression evangelists say:
So why is the Gospel important today?
If your loved one’s in surgery, might not make it through,
Would you hope that the surgeon brings “good news” to you?
When a marriage proposal is made, does he fear
That it won’t be “good news” from the one he holds dear?
When your boss says there’ll be some reorganization,
Do you hope for “good news” about future vocation?
When you took a hard test, and you’re given your grade,
It’s only “good news” if a good grade is made!
But the Gospel is more than a grade on a test–
It’s not news that’s just GOOD, it is news that’s the BEST!
The headline reads: “Jesus Christ died on the Cross,
Giving Life Everlasting to all who were Lost”!
The Gospel is love. It’s about life and death.
It is every last heartbeat and every last breath!
The Gospel is power and passion combined;
It’s truth, transformation, and love intertwined;
Take a look at the gospel anew, redefined,
And let it sink in to your heart and your mind:
It is news just for YOU, of the very best kind.
Jesus died for the world, we all know that is true–
It’s the oldest of news, it’s the newest of new:
But the good news means He also died just for YOU.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:35, NIV)

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

Heavenly Thoughts: In A World Full of Low Places, How High Can You Go?

Where is Your Heart Set?

Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, wouldn’t that just be heavenly!”? The Apostle Paul probably used that phrase from time to time, and since he had once been caught up into heaven in a vision, he knew what he was talking about. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on heavenly things, not on earthly things”. (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV) What do heavenly things look like? What would life be like if we could set our hearts on heavenly things?

Soul Food versus Comfort Food

Stop and think: are there options heaven offers that you haven’t thought of yet? Is there something you would want that you don’t want now? Is there something you would cease to want that you DO want now? What if there was something far more valuable than money, way more satisfying than pleasure, and much more comforting than food? What if this fallen world provides the merest shadows of what our Father actually intends for us to have?

heavenly things

Take time, for instance. It is almost impossible for us, so wrapped in finite time, to imagine eternity. How much longer will it be? How will infinite time change our perspective, broaden our horizons, and expand our potential? The heavenly view of time will change everything, and we will perceive such a gap between our old earthly sense of time and our new heavenly one that we will consider the earthly view of time laughably outdated and inadequate.

Infinite Possibilities

If you can stretch your mind to make that comparison, then apply the same differential to everything else. Our concept of pleasure will totally change, replaced by its infinitely greater counterpart. The ability we have to experience comfort and joy and love will be multiplied exponentially, and we will find that our limited view of life itself will explode into an infinitely more fulfilling one, the one that God intended us to have.

Our understanding of intimacy and relationship will expand as well. Paul hints at this in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, when he says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” God wants us to know Him as he knows us; and He wants to replace the incomplete and transient with the perfect and eternal.

Don’t Settle

In “The Weight of Glory”, C S Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Paul tells us in this to set first our hearts, and then our minds on higher, greater, heavenly things. The good can be the worst enemy of the best. Don’t keep aiming too low. First, connect your passion to the living God. Sing! Dance. Rejoice in honest prayer and test the purity of repentance. Open your heart to eternal possibilities. Then, set your mind on things above. Instead of hungering for the things of this world, discover heavenly wisdom and truth that will change your trajectory. You may just find that you’ve been aiming too low.

Shootin’ Too Low

On top of Ol’ Smokey, all covered with snow,
When winter time comes, Friend, why, that’s where I’ll go.
There’s nothing that brings a man laughter and cheer
Than to go out and hunt in the cold time of year;
When the snow covers all with a blanket of white
And the brisk, bracing air makes a man feel just right;
There’s nothing I know of that so entertains me
As a hunt in the snow—why, my Friend, it sustains me!
There was no better thing, I don’t mind tellin’ you
Than to hunt for some game with my Old Hound Dog, Blue…
You see…Blue was much more than a dog, or a pet:
In all of my life, he’s the best friend I’ve met:
A companion, a soul-mate; much more than a friend,
And it just broke my heart when old Blue met his end.
We were huntin’ on top of Ol’ Smokey one day
When a turkey just happened to flap out our way;
Well, Blue pointed him up, and he stood there stock-still,
When the turkey flapped over the crest of the hill,
And I, in my haste to taste fresh, roasted game,
Pulled my shotgun right up to my shoulder, and aimed,
And, as I was gettin’ that turkey in sight,
I may have been dazzled by all of that white,
when I fired at the turkey, cause something went wrong,
And I saw that shot go where it didn’t belong—
An explosion of white from a snow-covered log,
Made it hard to see Smokey, or turkey, or dog—
And I waited to look, when the powder had cleared
When my eyes were exposed to a sight that I feared…
For the turkey flew down from the snow-covered hill,
But my good old dog Blue lay there, breathless and still.
Yes, there on the ground was the dog that I loved,
For it seems that my aim was just not high enough.
On top of Ol’ Smokey, all covered with snow,
I lost my dog Blue from a-shootin’ too low…

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