Four Dimensions of God’s Love: Amazing Height, Width, Depth, Length

In yesterday’s post I challenged you to look in John 3:16 and see the four dimensions of God’s love that Paul mentioned in Ephesians 3:17; Take a moment now and read John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”)

four dimensions of love

Now ask yourself, How high is God’s love? How wide? How deep? How long? After you have paused to reflect on that, make a list of the four dimensions–height, width, depth, and length–and jot down how John 3:16 applies to each one. Then compare your thoughts to my observations below:

How high is it? It is infinitely high, defined by the character of the one who extended it: GOD. It comes from above us in every way. It is purer than what we call love, more committed, more personal, more selfless, more complete and more complex than our earthly perception allows. Isaiah 55:9 says: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Think higher than Everest, higher than the heavens, and beyond the vast reaches of infinite space…

You can speak with men and angels, you can search the heights above; Beloved, if you count the ways, the greatest of these is love…

How wide is it? It is so wide that it includes EVERYONE. Every color, creed, culture and character is under the span of God’s amazing love. “God so loved the WORLD (Yes, Grace is available to everyone) so that WHOEVER believes is saved…” Romans 10:13 says “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

2 Peter 3:9 says, “Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but EVERYONE to come to repentance.” God’s love is as wide as every person who ever had a choice.

No need to hide from love that cannot be denied, It changes who you are inside, And ultimately you become His bride– And not just you but everyone who believes, receives, Yes every. One. So if you wondered: that’s how wide…

How deep is it? It is so deep that God spared no expense and paid the ultimate price to extend it. He gave his ONLY begotten son. Salvation is free but it’s not cheap. It cost God his Son; it cost his Son his life. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

God is not an automaton without feelings or emotions, and yet the loving, jealous, passionate God allowed His Son to experience the cross in MY place. Read that sentence again. Seamlessly together for eternity past, they separated. The only perfect and unified force in the universe tore itself apart for us. Without any guarantee apart from His own character that everything would go as planned, God sacrificed his Son and Christ died. That, my friends, is DEEP.

How LONG is it? The verse concludes with, “So that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have EVERLASTING life!” How long is THAT? There was a song from 1957 by Johnny Mathis where he said he would love his girlfriend “until the Twelfth of Never. And that’s a long, long time.” EVERLASTING is longer than that.

A thousand, ten thousand years from now, we will all be somewhere, perhaps remembering when we first opened our hearts to the four dimensions of God’s love. I hope that you and I will be still be experiencing those four dimensions, and we will just be getting started.

There they are: John 3:16, the four dimensions of God’s amazing love. You are welcome.

You can speak with men and angels, you can search the heights above;  
Beloved, if you count the ways, the greatest of these is love…
That love is in God's Character, reflecting who He is;
So if you wonder just how high it is, remember this:
The love extends beyond the sky, as lofty as the world is wide--
Don't hide from love that cannot be denied!
It changes who you are inside, and ultimately you become His bride-- 
And not just you but everyone who believes, receives: Yes every. One.
It's as wide, you see, as Calvary, and that's how it was done.
God made the ultimate payment at a cost that was infinitely steep;
Salvation may be free, my friends, but it was never cheap:
God sacrificed His only Son for us. His love is deep.
That love will live beyond this world, forever and a day:
(The love that's higher, wider, deeper than these words can say!)
The love of God will far outlast the words within this rhyme:
Beyond the twelfth of never, friends! (And that's a long, long time!)

 

 

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
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Remember the Thrill of Your First Love? Maybe you Should

In John’s Book of Revelation he describes one of the greatest dangers to today’s church: losing your first love… “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write…you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” (Revelation 2:1; 3-4, NKJV)

When John wrote to the seven Churches in Asia Minor, he wrote to literal church locations. His book about the Apocalypse was carried by messenger and read aloud to each congregation, and his message was cosmic and stunning to say the least. I’m sure that the reading of John’s letters in the late first century drew crowds and created quite a buzz in the local churches!

To each congregation he gave a compliment, a criticism, and a command that probably addressed actual contemporary events or persons in that particular church, so I’m sure that listeners had many questions about who was to blame, how things got to be that way, and what to do about it. Many theologians also believe that the letters to the seven churches also have a historical application and that each church can be compared to an era in history that corresponds with John’s message. (For instance, the church at Ephesus symbolizes the cooling off of the Church’s first love, and the end of the Apostolic age; Smyrna represents the era of church oppression and martyrdom, Pergamos the church becoming connected to the world, and so on. It’s a stimulating study if you are interested.)

But the application that intrigues me most is the PERSONAL ONE. When you read the messages to the seven churches, what jumps out at YOU? Are there compliments you identify with? Are there criticisms that make you uncomfortable?

As you read John’s words to Ephesus, for instance, does anything resonate in your heart of hearts? “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” Our Sunday school class yesterday described the characteristics of new or first love from a romantic point of view, and here is a partial list: “You want to spend time together.” “You think about each other all the time.” “You love talking together. You love being together.” Ever feel that way? Have you ever been caught up in the new stages of a romance that are so powerful that it commands your thoughts, your time, and your desires? Romance writers talk about it, and surely you can remember it from that time you first “fell in love”!

first love

Now think about the things you felt when you first encountered God’s love, when you learned about Grace it became real to you… what happened on the day you realized that God loved you, that Christ died for you, and you decided to grab ahold of it and love Him back? Do you remember the joy? Do you recall the comfort, relief, happiness and gratitude you felt? For me, it was like seeing the world through new eyes, and about finding a confidence that wasn’t held down by my own inadequacy or insecurity.

If you ever appropriated God’s love by faith, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a feeling of life-changing love and assurance so complete that it is both infinite and intimate. It’s a doorway to new possibilities that include spiritual awakening and eternal life! As I recall, it came with a bunch of new discoveries about life and the way the world works.

So here’s the question: do you still feel that way today? Are you walking around feeling loved, touched by grace, grateful that you can spend time with the Father? Have you left your first love? If you have, remember. Remember the early feelings you experienced when you stepped away from the deadly selfishness of the world to the selfless love of Jesus. If you have wandered away from those emotions, reclaim them. Allow yourself to be courted by the Creator. Read some Psalms or the book of John. Go on a honeymoon with God. Serve someone else in His name, and see how you feel. It’s ok to feel romantic or smitten with God. He feels that way about you, and His first love is also His eternal one.

A Love Sonnet

Oh Lord, when there are times I, failing, doubt,
And do not seek to know Thy love and grace;
When I, in haste and worry, rush about,
And turn all inward seeking from Thy face;
When I forget that you were my first love,
And take for granted how I have been blessed;
When I, with thoughts below and not above
Am tempted, and I fail to pass the test –
When I am sore beset by worldly grief,
For having failed to put my trust in Thee,
While knowing that this trust would bring relief,
And that Thy face would never turn from me;
Oh Lord, when your sweet fellowship I spurn,
Please call me back, and help me to return.

 

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
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Birthday Celebrations Don’t Have to Be a One-Time Thing! Have TWO!

There was once a man who got to celebrate his Birthday! Twice!

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3, NIV)

Nicodemus was a member of the ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. This group of up to 71 men, comprised of Scribes, Pharisees and Elders, became increasingly antagonistic towards Jesus as he conducted his public ministry, which is probably why Nicodemus had to visit “at night”. He couldn’t risk censure or afford to make enemies in that group. But he was impressed enough with Jesus’ work to acknowledge that God’s hand was upon Him, and honest enough to seek the truth.

When Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, it was puzzling to the Jewish leader, and he asked how such a thing could be. Jesus explained that it was a spiritual thing; you cannot see the Kingdom of God unless you have had a spiritual birthday to go with your physical one. He told him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit”, and he encouraged Nicodemus to pursue the type of new life that was only available through God’s spirit.

This past month I got to celebrate my birthday on May 9. (Although at our house, we kinda like to celebrate all week long, and there’s even a card you can buy on Amazon that actually encourages that!)
https://www.amazon.com/Happy-Birthday-Week-Book-thats/dp/1539326918

birthday

My actual birth day was apparently pretty difficult. My momma always told me I was lucky to make it. I was very premature, an RH baby, and apparently had a couple of medical issues that were touch and go. She used to tell me that the doctors told her I wasn’t going to live, but the Lord saved me for a reason, and I’ve always been reminded of her belief about this time each year. I have to admit there are times when I’ve wondered if it was true…

My 3 kids would tell you there are at least THREE great reasons that God saved me as an infant, and to be honest, I’d have a hard time thinking of anything better or more important than having helped to bring them into the world. I got to be in the delivery room with Nancy and hold each one of them moments after they arrived on THEIR birthday!

But as meaningful as my birth story has been for me, and as meaningful as their birth events were, I am even more grateful for the fact that all of them have all experienced another birthday, the kind Jesus discussed with Nicodemus. I was “born again” the summer of 1968 at YMCA camp Flaming Arrow near Kerrville, Texas, when I came to realize that Jesus was not just an amazing Rabbi. I read what he said to Nicodemus and decided to follow him, thereby gaining another birthday. That’s the birthday that happens as a result of seeing who Jesus is, and trusting in what He did for us on the cross. That’s the birth that granted spiritual life, participation in God’s word, and adoption into God’s family. And as fun as it is to have a party on our original birthday, I think the celebration that awaits us because of our second birthday will be beyond our wildest expectations! So during my birthday WEEK, my wish is that YOU would consider this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. And pick yourself up a second set of cake and candles!

THE BIRTHDAY WEEK CARD

I was getting you a birthday card,
Which really wasn’t very hard,
But I saw this, and so I said,
“It’s good for the heart and good for the head!
So this is what I got, instead…
Read it every day. You’ll find
It will bless your heart and help your mind.
Once again, the time is near to celebrate another year!
This year the baker had to make more room for candles on your cake,
And friends and family couldn’t wait to wish you well, and celebrate!
But getting wiser can be hard, so this is more than just a card:
There is wisdom, if you look, within the pages of this book.
Spend some time with God each day, and you will grow a different way:
Intellectually stimulated, personally motivated, spiritually activated,
Ego properly deflated, you will wonder why you waited!
Read a page each day this week, and if you listen, God will Speak!

 

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

King of Kings: We Shouldn’t Bow Down to Anyone Else

(This is Day 75 or so of Reading through the Bible) In case you haven’t noticed, back in February we started in Genesis and have proceeded almost daily through every book in the Bible, the book about the King of kings. (We covered some stuff between the Testaments and took a Passion Week detour through the four Gospels during the Easter season, so we took more than 66 days to cover all 66 books). Today the passage is from John’s Revelation, so if you’ve been reading along for the last 2 1/2 months, you have now read your way through the entire Bible! (If you haven’t, you can always go back and “binge read” on a rainy day…)

In the opening statement of his book of Revelations, John says, “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 1:4-6, NIV)

Many people think the book of Revelation is mainly about the end times, and what’s going to happen in the future. While John did see visions about what is to come, what sometimes gets lost among speculation about the future is that John’s visions were really not about us, our curiosity, or our fate relative to the tribulation… They were about who Jesus is. They are about the Word made flesh, the promised Messiah, the King of Kings.

king of kings

The apocalypse is not just about the end of history, it’s about His Story. Read through the book and you’ll know a whole lot more about Jesus, his mission, and his nature. Do you see him as he really is? If he really is King of kings and lord of lords, are you giving him the respect he deserves?

You can ignore him if you like; in fact you have both the will and the right to make that decision. But what if Jesus of Nazareth is who John envisioned him to be? John saw him not just as a suffering servant who came to be the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind (as his Gospel clearly portrayed), but as a victorious king returning in triumph to rule over everything. The life of Jesus has already impacted history and changed the world, so there’s at least a chance that John’s (some would say) crazy vision was right. If even PART of it was accurate, then Jesus is worth investigating. Read the list below, taken from the Book of Revelation. Then, YOU decide…

1:5 Jesus is the faithful witness, firstborn from the dead, ruler of the kings; he paid for our freedom.

1:13 He is “One like a Son of Man” (compare Dan 7:13–14)

1:13–15 Jesus is the King, priest, warrior, God

1:16 He will wield universal, cosmic power

1:17 Jesus is the first and the last, (compare 22:13)

1:18 Jesus has the keys to death and Hades (cf. ‘key of David’, 3:7), He is the living one

Chapters 2 and 3 He knows the church intimately, and holds their reward or judgment in his hand

5:5 Jesus alone has all authority for judgment,

5:5-6 He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah; He is the Lamb who is worthy

5:6 He is God (in the center of the throne). With all power (7 horns) and all spiritual insight (7 eyes).

5:8 He receives the prayers of the saints

5:11-14 He is worshiped as God

6:16-17 He is frightening in his retribution!

7:17 He is the Shepherd who leads us to living water

12:5 He will rule with an iron scepter

19:11-16 Jesus returns as a victorious and powerful warrior. His name is ‘word of God’

19:16 He is the ‘king of kings and lord of lords’

21:22-23 Jesus and God are the temple and the light of the New Jerusalem.

22:13 He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End.

He’s worth your time, He’s worth your attention, and He’s worth your worship.

 

John’s Revelation spells it out:
About this King there is no doubt!
The Lamb who was slain, the chosen one,
The Son of Man, and God’s own Son;
The King of Kings, the Lord of all
Who rules all kingdoms, large and small;
He’s the Good Shepherd, warrior priest–
The Bridegroom at the wedding feast,
At once the Greatest and the Least…
The Holy One, the closest friend,
He is the beginning and the end
The one by Whom all things consist,
The ruler no one will resist.
The Alpha and Omega who
Was there when everything was new:
If the Revelation’s true,
Then it will impact me, and you.
Jesus will someday come again
To rule His Kingdom without end.
For now, there is a choice for men:
To be his foe, or be his friend.
I think I’d rather choose him now,
For someday, every knee will bow.

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

Famous People May Not Always Be Famous for the Right Reasons

Here in America, we think being famous is cool. We get all gaga if we meet somebody famous, and if we were honest, a lot of us would love to BE famous. In Third John, we get some good advice about how being famous is going to count in the grand scheme of things: What if Your 15 Seconds of Fame Fizzled?

famous

“It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth… I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.” (3 John 1:3-4; 9)

John wrote this letter to Gaius, a friend who had shown hospitality to John’s messengers on a previous trip. In it, he makes a couple of guys famous for completely different reasons. It is a contrast in two ways of doing business in the church. There is the warm, hospitable way that Gaius had demonstrated. His way apparently involved being faithful to the truth and loving others, even strangers (v 6). Gaius’ faithfulness and love earned him good reports and the appreciation of the church, and since we are reading about him today, I guess you could say it made him famous.

Diotrephes (Die-ah-truh-fees), on the other hand, was a local church leader who for some reason refused John’s messengers and refused John’s message. He did not allow John’s message to be read, and even kicked some church members out for welcoming other, different believers to church. Diotrephes (“who loves to be first”) may have been driven by jealousy; he may have wanted to maintain control; he may have even thought that, as a man called by God to lead, his own opinion was paramount and should not be contaminated by John’s message or his people.

Whatever his reasons, Diotrephes had ONE shot at being mentioned in Scripture, and instead of being called out as a hero of the faith, or even as a faithful man, he is mentioned for being evil. He became famous for all the wrong reasons.

Here are two things about that: first, I hope your church is inclusive, friendly, loving, and truthful, and run by servant leaders who follow the truth. The most common complaint I hear about Christians is that we are too judgmental, too snooty, or too righteous. STOP IT! Let’s be known for being too generous or too loving… And second: If you had one shot to be mentioned in the Lord’s book, what would Scripture say about you? When successive generations read your snippet in the Second book of Acts, how will the writer characterize YOU? Will they describe someone “who loves to be first”, or someone who lives in love and walks in truth? Well, that book is being written. It’s not too late for you to influence your paragraph. Write one that matters. Write one that loves.

Diotrephes just loved to be first;
But John called him out for being the worst.
The Bible recorded Diotrephes name,
But linked him with selfishness, power, and shame.
It’s lame that he wasted his one shot at fame
By playing his own little personal game…
He didn’t like John or deliver his letter;
He only did worse when he could have done better!
He wasn’t too godly, and those are the facts;
But tell me, when they write the NEW Book of Acts,
That records all the works that we Christians will do,
What will your paragraph say about YOU?
I hope we aren’t mentioned for things that will shame us:
There’s more than one way to approach being famous.

 

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

Love the Father, Not the World. What Does That Mean, Exactly?

In his first letter, John describes the juxtaposition of the Father versus the World. Have you ever stopped to think about what John really means? If there is a heavenly father, how is he different from the world? Are His values different from the world’s values? And what exactly does “the world” refer to? (As you answer these questions, take a moment to congratulate yourself for reaching Day 70 of Reading through the Bible; just a few books to go and you will have read passages from Genesis to Revelation!)

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16, NIV) The conflict between what the world has to offer against God’s promises has been going on since Esau traded his birthright for a pot of stew. John sees a dramatic contrast between the Father and the world: they have different values, priorities, and characteristics.

father love

The world, in John’s eyes, was made up of carnal appetites, earthly ambitions, and temporal values. It is a place where human nature pursues its lusts, and where men vie for wealth and power. The world is, candidly, a place where humans are concerned primarily with self-fulfillment.

On the other hand , John contrasts the world and its agenda with the Father. What are the Father’s characteristics? In his Gospel and in his letters, John spells them out. God is love. He is truth. He is goodness. He is life. The Father’s domain includes faith and redemption, hope and transformation…It is about servant leadership and new birth.
The world, on the other hand, is characterized by self: it includes all greedy desires, lust, appetite, pride, and self-sufficiency. It is about building yourself up, and salving your insecurities with temporary fixes; it is about grasping, power-hungry leaders; it is about death.

John warns us not to love the world, but we do anyway: we abandon grace for gratification and accept lust in place of love. Have you ever stopped to realize that the world mimics the Father? For every good thing the Father offers, the world offers a replacement that is either a watered-down version of the real thing or the opposite of it. The Father offers humility; the world offers pride. The Father offers peace; the world offers thrills; the Father offers Truth. The world gives us relativism with its spin, half-truths, and outright lies…with the Father, it’s all about HIM; in the world, it’s all about ME. God’s kingdom is based on unusual logic, where you have to accept another’s will to be free, give to gain, die to live, and serve to lead.

The world is based on selfish logic, where freedom means doing whatever you want, people worship shallow possessions or money (it’s all about the Benjamins in the Lifestyles of the rich and famous), they look out for number One (“nice guys finish last”), and leaders covet and capture power using sophisticated deceit. It was John who informed us that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Now he’s telling us there is a simple choice to make: love the Word, or love the World. John says you can’t love both. Tell me, what choice have you made? Look at your priorities, your time, your inner thoughts, your desires… what do you love? John says, “the world passes away, and the lust of it: but he that does the will of God abides forever.”

The world is full of fun and flesh, and thrills that are forever fresh:
The biggest house, the latest styles, the nicest car, the biggest smiles…
The orbit of the world, you see, revolves around the planet “Me”–
Where consequence brings no regret, and I should take what I can get!
Eat and drink today! Get High! Because tomorrow we may die!
The Father says, “Love me instead.” Don’t give the world your heart or head;
Love me, my child; remember this: the world is never all there 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
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

Turn Around: the non-Sailor’s Guide to Repentance

If you’re sailing against the wind, Turn That Boat Around! At least that’s what John the Baptist told his audiences at the beginning of his ministry… In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:1-2 NIV)

John wasn’t preaching some casual message about being a little sorry for what you had done. He was issuing a challenge to a people who lived by the law to a fanatical degree, who sought righteousness through legalism, and who probably saw themselves as righteous already. The average Israelite in John’s day probably did not see themselves as having very much to repent FROM. “Did I take too many steps on the Sabbath? Did I do something that made me unclean? After all, I am a pretty righteous guy!” And yet John called these practitioners of self-righteousness to turn away from sin and REPENT. He said the Kingdom of Heaven did not involve self-righteousness, but a whole different approach. He was challenging his listeners to change their lives by changing their direction.

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The Greek word metanoeo literally means to have a change of heart, but it was also used as a sailing term to describe coming about, and sailing back in the opposite direction. Sailors would use it to describe how a boat could “turn away, go the other direction.” This meant the boat had to reverse its course, tack against the wind, and make a commitment to head 180 degrees back the other way. It meant altering your course, and it involved full commitment to the new heading.

Ever get frustrated? Ever feel selfish? Ever experience a lack of love? Repent! Change your approach! Turn around and travel the opposite direction from where you are currently headed. John the Baptist preached it; Jesus proclaimed this message repeatedly in the gospels; so did Paul. It must mean something important in the Kingdom of Heaven, right? So, ask yourself: what do you need to repent FROM? And, Where are you sailing TO? Is it time for you to turn around?

John the Baptist preached this sermon everywhere he went;
Jesus preached it, too: He called on people to REPENT!
They called on men to turn around, to make a brand new start,
And change their lives by changing what they had inside their hearts.
Repentance meant to come about, to sail the other way–
To do things differently tomorrow than you did today.
If you have run from God, or balked at having His protection,
REPENT! And make your way back in the opposite direction!
When you repent, I think you’ll find your vessel needs less bailing;
There will be smoother seas in the direction you are sailing.
Turn about. You’ll find the Father loving you–not hating–
And as you head for home, you’ll find He has safe harbor waiting.

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

 

Reliable Information From a Completely Unreliable Source

You would assume that the writers of the Gospels would have taken great pains to insure that their sources were completely reliable. So why did John say THIS? “After the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene was distraught because she thought someone had taken the body. John 20:14 says, “She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman”, he said, “Why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?” Thinking that it was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

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She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:14-18, NIV)

I love the honesty of this story, because it captures the full range of Mary’s emotions and confusion. A work of fiction would probably not have included details like her initial failure to recognize Jesus, and the way she thought at first that he was the gardener. If John had been making it up, he would have used a more reliable and acceptable source, and there were better literary devices he could have used to create drama and impact. After all, the story is not about Mary’s confusion but about Jesus’ resurrection!

Any normal, self-respecting Hebrew literary work from this time would not have made a mere woman such a central character in this discovery—women were not considered legal witnesses, and did not have social standing that justified her inclusion in this event. No serious Jewish reader would accept a woman’s testimony as reliable in that time and place. John actually risks all credibility by telling the truth, so why didn’t he just make up a better version of the story?

Replace Mary with a man whose testimony would be considered reliable, tweak the events just a bit, keep the central part about the resurrection, and boom! You’ve got yourself some front page news. Since he goes out on a limb by including Mary, and since a lie here would have served him better than the truth, the logical conclusion is that this has to be TRUE. If it was an attempt to convince others of the plausibility of Jesus’ resurrection, John went about it all wrong. He should have had someone important like Peter or James meet the risen Lord first, and he should have made it seamlessly perfect. He didn’t need to include details about Mary’s initial conversation with the supposed gardener. But Mary’s testimony is valuable because it IS true, and it has significance because it is told so simply and so accurately. John’s gospel is noteworthy because he ignores social convention. He tells the truth when a lie would have been easier. Probably a good practice for all of us.

John, the scholars tell me that your gospel might be phony!
No Hebrew writer would have used a woman’s testimony.
A woman couldn’t offer proof in matters of the law,
So why on earth did you record the things that Mary saw?
If you had used a man to see the proof, and to receive it,
The temple elders might have bought that story, and believed it!
Instead, you told the truth when falsehood might have served you better:
Since Mary saw the Lord, you wrote the truth down to the letter,
Insuring that the Word of God would not let us forget her!
Mary made the statement that just could not be ignored;
With trembling lips she told the others: “I have seen the Lord!”

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

 

True Story: John Said his Best Friend was Full of Grace and Truth: Was He Lying?

This is a true story about lies… If your life depended upon knowing the truth, would you be happy with a lie? We generally don’t want to lead lives based on a lie, or feel that it’s healthy to engage in falsehood. (In fact, people who live lives based on falsehood are often called delusional, and locked away.)

The Gospel of John takes great care to remind us that truth is important, and he even tells us where to find it. John says that we beheld the glory of that baby born in Bethlehem, and that he was “full of grace and truth.” I am willing to compliment a friend, and it’s good to say something nice about someone, but I can’t really recall ever saying, “Old Charlie is a good guy. He’s full of grace and truth!” I’ve known people who were graceful, and I’ve known folks who were honest, but I’ve never described someone I knew really well as the repository of veracity. Usually when we say, “He’s full of it”, we are NOT talking about grace and truth…

Is it possible to say anything more descriptive and astounding about someone? John had observed Jesus at close range for at least 3 years, and certainly knew him well enough to be aware of any flaws he had to contradict this statement. Perhaps John is here echoing the claim Jesus made which was recorded in chapter 14: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” Jesus said, “I am the truth”, and John BELIEVED him.

Today, in an era when “objective” journalists (who were once bastions of truth and objectivity) publish sensational stories and suppositions without checking facts, or present part of a story as all of the story, someone who personifies the Truth is rare indeed. In our culture, spin is more common than fact.

To accentuate that point, consider that we actually spend most of our lives simmering in falsehood. Advertising agencies present stories and scenarios that will subtly convince you to believe whatever they claim about their products (even if those claims have no basis in reality). In an era where truth is watered down, twisted, and manipulated, truth is an endangered species. Think about this: almost every commercial message you hear tells a story that either makes claims that are not true, or creates a virtual myth-like environment in an attempt to alter what you think about reality. Christmas shoppers can avoid black Friday crowds and “save thousands” by buying a car.

story

Shaving commercials show guys lathered up like Santa with a shaving cream beard, when only about 1/3 of that amount of shaving cream is needed to actually shave– but they are trying to implant a false idea of how much cream a guy should use on every shave. (Same thing happens with pictures of toothpaste slathered on top of the toothbrush!) In the commercial story, if a guy uses a certain cologne, women go nuts over him. In reality a good smelling nerd is still a nerd. In the ads, beer drinkers are all hot, slim young people for whom life is a party (and Alpine climbers live in the cooler to bring up some cold ones from the pristine mountain waters.) I know a few beer drinkers whose actual profile is somewhat different, and up in the mountains you can’t even drink the stream water because you might get infected with Giardia, a particularly stubborn and nasty little parasite…

It’s not just advertising that twists the truth. Messages on social media are full of outright balderdash presented as fact, or partial and biased stories are published that pretend to be the whole truth. Based on the amount of exposure we have to advertising and social media, it is highly probable that you hear WAY more lies every day than you hear truth. Even if you don’t believe the story they are throwing at you 100%, the ads are designed to move your needle just a little bit over towards their version of reality.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, said “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” Ironically, that’s still true. In a world filled with subtlety and spin, be careful that your needle isn’t moved too far by falsehood. I’d say this: find truth in your world; read it, listen to it, cultivate it, and rejoice in it. If Jesus was the truth, as he claimed to be, he is worth far more of your time than all of the newscasts, FB posts and commercial messages you will ever hear. According to John, Jesus was also full of grace. Would the world be a better place if there was a little more grace in it? Could YOU ever use a little more grace? Well here’s the deal: I’m willing to bet that if you seek the truth, you will also find grace.

The truth about lies is they’re hard to see,
Bombarding us from everywhere,
Reshaping our reality with subtle falsehoods that we share…
Lies come at us from every place–
From ads that do more than they seem–
Convincing us to load our face with 3 shaves worth of shaving cream.
We’re surrounded by these lies from cradle through impetuous youth
While subtle Falsehood in disguise disparages important Truth.
Grab hold of Truth! Don’t let it go,
And don’t let Falsehood take its place.
Beauty may be Truth, but know
That more importantly, Truth is Grace.

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

 

Light that Helps You See. Evidence that Helps You Decide

Light may help you see where you are going, but it doesn’t dictate which course you choose to take. John refers to the Word as “the true light that gives light to every man”. (John 1:9, NIV)

I used to think this couldn’t be true, since every man might not have had a chance to see or hear about Jesus (such as all who came before, and everyone who was raised in darkest Africa or China, where Jesus was not a household name…) But in thinking about him as the Word, as the creative expression of God’s personality, (John 1:3, “without him nothing was made that has been made) it hit me: every man is exposed to some revelation about God through the order and design of the universe, which reflect the creative nature and character of God. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”

We may not see Jesus directly, but because He is the Word who created all things, we see evidence of Him all around us, as well as above and beyond us. (“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.” Psalms 19:1) If you look at creation, you can certainly get a sense of the personality of the Creator. But here’s the problem: while you can infer a Design from design, you cannot empirically prove that the Designer exists. So why didn’t the Word make himself undeniably evident?

light life

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The thing is, God has given us evidence instead of proof so that we have a choice about faith. If I could PROVE God’s existence to you, then you would HAVE to accept it, and faith would play no part in discovering who God is. The creation tells us much about God, but He has not directly revealed himself for good reason. People who say to God, “Show me who you are and I’ll accept it” are testing the God of the universe and telling Him to come to them on their own terms… But God doesn’t do that. He comes to us on His terms, and He has already told us how that will happen.

C.S. Lewis points out that people who want God to appear before them may be asking the wrong question. “But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on the stage the play is over… That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not” (p. 65, Mere Christianity).

In our daily exposure to creative design, we encounter the Word of God. (Since He created those things, it makes sense that we would see Him in them, right?) It is interesting to compare the teachings of Christ to the structure of the universe, and to see the intimate details wrought into galaxies and microbes, to realize just how astoundingly right John was. Jesus taught about agriculture, the Kingdom of Heaven, and about seeing the Father. There is beauty in the creator’s handiwork that can only be discovered in the light of the Word.

There is light coming to us from the vast reaches of space, from stars whose network of gravitational power holds us in exactly the right place in our solar system so that we can exist. There is light from our own sun, which keeps us from freezing, activates photosynthesis in plants, provides us with vitamins, and which makes it possible for us here on earth to experience life and growth. There is order in the ways things operate, whether you look as far out into the heavens as you can, or as deeply into the microscope as it is possible to look. Every created thing reflects principles of order and design. God’s handiwork displays infinite scale that is both massive and microscopic; there is relationship, there are consequences, there is harmony and truth.

See if Abraham Lincoln was right. Go out to the country on a clear night and gaze into the stars, past the constellations and out into space. Think about the fact that some of the light your eyes can see has traveled thousands of light-years across space, and originated before the pyramids. See if your soul isn’t stirred a bit, if you don’t find yourself a little bit in awe of the Creator… Compare what you feel to what you know about the Word of God. It just may be that you are receiving more light out there than you ever realized before.

John declared that the Word was light, that somewhere in God’s plan
There is a revelation that has come to every man.
The skeptic calls this false, of course,
And says you cannot prove the source;
He hopes he will not have remorse,
But believes in a kind of cosmic force…
This kind of independent thinking prospers and persists
Since God will not force anyone to know that He exists.
He offers every man–not proof– which would be undeniable;
But evidence, so that man’s faith would not be unreliable.
It may seem right to look around, and ask God for a sign;
But if there’s light when you look up, perhaps there is design…

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