Roman Road: Follow It and See Where it Takes You. I Promise You’ll Be Glad You Did

The Roman Road system was an amazing accomplishment in the ancient world, and it allowed people to travel all over Europe. The Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, was traveling on such a road from Jerusalem to Damascus when he had a life-changing experience. In the Book of Acts, Luke describes it like this: “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.” The road to Damascus took Paul on a life-changing journey; the “Roman Road” he described in the book of Romans can do the same for you

Roman road.

One of ancient Rome’s contributions to civilization was a system of public roads that was unrivalled in the ancient world. Their handiwork is still evident today, and in fact our tour group rode bicycles down the Appian Way, a road said to have been traversed by the Apostle Paul (among many others) back in the day… In terms of its impact on life and culture, the Roman roads were sort of the equivalent of light speed in Star Wars, or a Star Trek transporter. Wikipedia says, “At the peak of Rome’s development, no fewer than 29 great military highways radiated from the capital, and the late Empire’s 113 provinces were interconnected by 372 great roads.“ It was the best means of getting to the desired destination in the entire world, and stretched from Rome all the way to Gaul and Great Britain.

Roman road

Robert Frost wrote about taking “The Road Less Traveled”, and the difference it made in his life. He pointed out that our choices can take us down roads whose destination is uncertain or unscripted. In “The Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy met the Scarecrow at an intersection when she wasn’t sure where to go. We encounter many such crossroads in life’s journey, and some of our choices cause us to fall in with dubious companions or go down the wrong path.

In Scriptures, there is another “road” that provides the best means of getting to your desired destination. Do you want to go to heaven? Would you like assurance that your journey is leading to God’s Kingdom? The “Roman Road” is a series of verses in Romans that outlines man’s position relative to being judged by a Holy, righteous God, and outlines God’s provision for man’s salvation. If you’ve never travelled the Roman Road, I highly recommend that you follow its course.

Read through these verses from Romans and see where it leads you:

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (3:20)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (3:23).

“For the wages of sin is death…” (6:23a).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:8)

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23b).

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (10:9, 13).

It’s why Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (1:16). Take a walk down the Roman Road. And while you’re at it, take somebody else with you.

Roman soldiers built their roads to carry armies, men and loads
So Roman soldiers could be hurled to any target in the world.
Roads were built for one and all–Roads in Europe! Roads to Gaul!
Starting here and going there, your feet could take you anywhere.
Paul described a journey, too–a roadway built for me and you,
To transport us from earthly states up all the way to Heaven’s Gates.
Just read Romans, you will see the path laid out for you and me:
Walk that path around the bend. Who knows indeed where it will end?
Read in Romans, then take heed; who knows indeed where it will lead?
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Astonishing People, Astonishing Men! You Might Just Be One of Them

What makes something astonishing? Have you been astonished lately? Or have you been astonishing? The Gospels contain some astonishing stories, like these from Matthew:
“Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 12:22-23, NIV)

“When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.” (Matthew 22:33, NIV)

Jesus did some things that were astonishing to everyone around him. Crowds gathered around him and followed after him to see what he would do. Before there were paparazzi, there were people from all walks of life around Jesus, waiting to see what would happen. There were miracles everyone wanted to see and sermons everyone wanted to hear.

I think of the four guys who carried their friend on a pallet and then broke through the roof to get him close to Jesus. They were hoping he would do something astonishing!

I think of blind Bartimaeus standing at the edge of the crowd shouting out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He paid no attention to those trying to shush him. He wanted Jesus to do something astonishing.

These events highlight the fact that Jesus was different. After all, Jesus was the Son of God, and it was natural that he do amazing things. He had power and connection to his Father that gave him access to miraculous possibilities. That makes sense, but how do you explain this verse? “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13, NIV)

astonishing men

I love to point out (along with Dr. Luke) that Peter and John were unschooled, ordinary men, and yet they astonished those around them. Now, what on earth made them able to do that? The Bible doesn’t say that the people around them were astonished and took note that they had been to seminary. Observers didn’t note that they were busy at church, held official religious positions, or were even vocational pastors. What people noticed about unschooled and ordinary fishermen James and John was one thing: “they had been with Jesus.”

Hmmm, does that mean anything to you? You too have opportunity to be with Jesus every day. You can read his words, speak privately with him, and walk with him everywhere. Take note: go be with Jesus. Then go be astonishing!

If only I’d been with Jesus, maybe seen him in the flesh,
My walk would be dynamic! And my writing would be ‘fresh’!
If only I had heard him talk, or ever seen him heal,
My faith would be amazing, and I’d walk with him for REAL.
If I had only seen him laugh, or watched him preach the word,
Then I would recollect for sure the wisdom I had heard…
Well if you want to walk with Jesus, there is still a way
To see his life and hear him preach a sermon every day.
Just take your Bible, open it to Matthew–take a look–
The things that Jesus said and did are written in that Book!
You may think that only the Apostles had the power,
But when’s the last time you just sat with Jesus for an hour?
Please don’t be offended, understand I’m not admonishing–
But just go be with Jesus. Then, just go and be astonishing.

 

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

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

road

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

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

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

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

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

As Hebrews 1:1 points out, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” It was ABOUT His Son that the Old Testament foretold. It is THROUGH His Son that God speaks today. What road are you on? Are you listening? And don’t just listen; while you are at it, connect the dots.

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

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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Give me what I Deserve! But Are you sure that’s What you REALLY Want?

Do you Really want What You Deserve? Stop and think about that before you answer too quickly…
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)

deserve

The “thief on the cross” is perhaps the last eyewitness to talk to Jesus before his death. There is a little semantic disagreement about the two thieves’ crime in the Gospels, since Matthew calls the two men crucified with Jesus “robbers” and Luke calls them “criminals”. Most scholars simply agree that they had apparently committed a crime worthy of capital punishment, and this criminal in particular supports that because he says to the other: “we are getting what our deeds deserve.”

Here are a couple of observations about this unknown eyewitness: 1) he had a realistic view of his own situation, even saying that he was getting what he deserved. Tell me, what would the outcome be like if each of us got what we deserve? What if you were judged TODAY based on what you deserve? Do you have any selfishness, anger or pride? Any secret sins or prejudices? People today would try to shift the blame, or put it on their upbringing, but he was accountable for his actions without pointing fingers or making excuses.

2) He saw something in Jesus that impressed him so much that he was convinced of His righteousness.

3) He called Jesus by name.

4) He saw Jesus as a future king, and asked to be included in his future kingdom.

Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. This is perhaps the most obvious explanation of Grace in the entire Bible. There is no doubt in my mind that this criminal was forgiven for his crimes, and redeemed from sin’s marketplace into God’s kingdom.

So what are the dynamics behind this criminal’s redemption? He could not point to a life of good deeds. If good works were required to make it to paradise, then this conversation could NOT have happened. He came to Christ “just as I am”. He had faith in who Jesus was, and acknowledged him as king. He was given assurance that he would see Jesus in paradise that very day.
Here’s the deal: NOTHING about that has changed in over 2,000 years: none of us is good enough to earn our way into heaven; each of us stands condemned for what we’ve done; but if we come to Jesus in simple faith and ask him to be king, we will be with him in paradise. No matter who you are or where you stand today, I hope to see you there!

Do you really have the nerve to ask for what you just deserve?
Think of it before you start: what really lurks within your heart?
Are you righteous? Are you sure
That what’s within your heart is pure?
Where final justice is concerned,
I will not ask for what I’ve earned!
Just like the thief on Calvary,
I’ll ask: Lord, Please remember me.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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Criminals in the Kingdom provide Hope for the Rest of Us

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified between two criminals. They were two different men with different attitudes, and two different outcomes. Their story leads me to one conclusion: someday, there will be Criminals in the Kingdom of God.

criminals

“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, NASB)

This is another snapshot of an eyewitness report about Jesus, from another unlikely place. After he was unjustly tried and condemned, Jesus was taken to Golgotha, where he was crucified between two other men, both criminals who apparently had qualified for capital punishment. (Matthew calls them “robbers” but since theft did not warrant such a severe penalty, scholars say they must have been insurrectionists or repeat offenders. Luke calls them “criminals”.)

One of them taunted him skeptically and challenged him to save them from crucifixion, while the other observed his behavior and declared that Jesus was guiltless. Three crosses: one man in the middle, two opposite opinions on either side. It’s a telling reminder that two people can see the exact same thing and disagree about what it means. One criminal looked at Jesus and exercised skepticism, demanding proof and instant gratification: “Save yourself and us!” The other exercised faith and saw Jesus as a king: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”

Hmmm… I wonder where those two guys are today. Come to think of it, where are YOU are today? Are you skeptical? Do you need instant gratification? Do you sometimes look at how difficult your circumstances are and shake your fist at God? Or do you say, “Lord, remember me”? No matter how tough things get, don’t lose faith. The King established his kingdom, and he has promised us a place in it. Therefore, remember Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” As one hopeful criminal to another, I’ll see you in the Kingdom someday!

When Christ was being crucified,
There were two thieves on either side.
One mocked him, but the other cried,
“Remember me in Paradise!”
Jesus heard his dying plea
While paying for his penalty,
And told him, “Son, you soon will be
In paradise today with me.”
If into heaven he was let–
A sinful man with much regret–
Because the King forgave his debt,
Then perhaps we’ll make it to heaven yet!
The only way to heaven is to bring
Our sin before the gracious, loving King.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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The Obedient God: Something from Jesus’ Childhood that Might Surprise You

Hidden away in Luke’s comments about Jesus as a boy is a nugget you should not miss: Luke tells the story of the Obedient God.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them…” (Luke 2:49-51 NIV)

Yesterday we talked about this passage from Luke, which gives us pretty much everything we know about the years between Jesus’ childhood and manhood. Here are a few final thoughts on Jesus as a boy… Remember, this is God with skin on, the Son of God, the Messiah who has been foretold. Surely he was no average twelve-year-old…

obedient

Have you ever wondered: What was he like? How did he exercise his power? Was he gifted physically the way he was gifted spiritually? If he was alive today, surely he’d be an NFL quarterback, right? There is so little in Scripture to go on about Jesus’ boyhood, and it’s tempting to try to reconstruct some things, but it is always important to let Scripture be Scripture, and allow the story to speak for itself. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” He was growing in a balanced way; and the Bible basically says that his development was apparently fairly normal.

obedient

I love the fact that Luke points out how Jesus grew in four dimensions: mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. He wasn’t some spiritual nerd who didn’t live in the real world, but there was a balance in his growth that encompassed intelligence, strength, and his relationship with both God and men. That’s probably a good template for goal-setting when we start jotting down those New Year’s resolutions…

As for this story, the fact that he slipped away and stayed at the temple caught both Mary and Joseph a bit by surprise. I’m sure he was normally very obedient, and this was new behavior. Jesus was exploring some independence at age 12, and apparently knew an impressive amount of Scripture and was able to teach about the principles it contained. He knew enough, according to Luke, to astonish learned men. Since his own parents were surprised by what he was saying about doing his Father’s business, it makes sense to assume that this was not behavior they were yet accustomed to.

The Son of God was leaving boyhood behind, and stepping out onto a larger stage. He knew who his Father was, and was already connected to his mission. Those are all pretty impressive qualities to exhibit at only twelve. Luke’s short account of twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple makes it clear that Jesus was destined for greater things; but that last phrase in verse 49 about how he treated his parents kinda sneaks up on you. “He was obedient to them.” Apparently even the King of Kings obeyed his mom and dad. Young people take note: If God with skin on obeyed his parents, so should you.

Our culture loves the shallow things,
And all the toys celebrity brings:
The bling, the cars, the diamond rings,
The cash register when it cha-chings!
But Jesus grew up mentally,
And physically, and socially.
He also grew up spiritually,
In ways you could and could not see.
You’d think that Jesus had it made,
The power of God in man displayed–
And yet the hand that Jesus played
Was this: the Son of God obeyed.
He didn’t try to take command,
He didn’t overplay his hand,
But followed what His Father planned:
Obey. Be humble. Understand
That life in all its parts can be much greater than the sum;
And greatness doesn’t celebrate before its hour is come.
The key to life is not what is expedient,
But this: know what God wants, and be obedient.

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
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His Amazed Parents Must Have Said, “I Thought He was With YOU”!

When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they (too) were amazed… (Luke 2:42-48 NIV)

amazed

This is the only anecdote Luke shared about the boy Jesus, the only real scrap of information we have about his formative years. I have always wondered how he became aware of his supernatural capacity. Did it happen all at once, or bit by bit? Certainly he was commissioned for public ministry at John’s baptism, but we are not really given clarity about when he knew who he was and why he came.

This story offers a couple of clues: first, at age 12 he demonstrated wisdom and comprehension beyond his years, which amazed the teachers at the temple. Men who were able to teach in the temple courts had generally spent a lifetime in the Scriptures and studying at the feet of other rabbis, so the fact that Jesus could astonish such men was no small thing. But interestingly, it says in verse 48 that when his parents saw him, “they were [also] amazed”, meaning perhaps they had not really seen such precocity in their son before now… When Jesus told them he must be about his Father’s business, Luke says in verse 50, “they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” This incident at the temple was new information to Mary and Joseph, and therefore was new behavior on their son’s part.

I like to think that Jesus enjoyed a fairly normal childhood, playing and learning and growing alongside his brothers and sisters, that his formative years were full of joy and growth and love. (And yes, Jesus had siblings. Mark 3:21 and 31 speak of his mother and brothers seeking him, and in Mark 6:3, the people from the village ask, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?”) Jesus grew up in fairly large family, playing with his brothers and sisters. Perhaps they played hide and seek in the village, or chunked rocks at a nearby stream. Somehow I think that his early years connected him with his creation, deepened his compassion for mankind, and contributed to the love and resolve that later carried him through his mission. Russ Massey, my BSF teaching leader in Conroe, taught logically that if Joseph died fairly soon after this happened, then Jesus would have assumed (as the eldest son) familial responsibilities, helping Mary run the household, and that he assumed some of the burdens of running a family.

But I hope that in the years leading up to this he had carefree moments of play and laughter as well, bathed in the love of parents who knew all too well how special he was, waiting and watching to see how the prophesies would come true. This “I thought he was with you” trip to Jerusalem was probably Mary and Joseph’s first big “Aha!” moment that the Time was getting closer at hand, and that Jesus truly was gifted in ways that had been foretold. I wonder if it changed their relationship with him, and what they began to learn about him from that point going forward…

Say, when was your first big “Aha!” moment about Jesus? Has it changed your relationship with him, and is there something more you can learn from him going forward? When you see him in a new way, you’ll discover who He really is (like Joseph and Mary, and the guys at the temple) Perhaps you, too, will be amazed!

“I thought he was with YOU!” Or, “Wow, we thought he was with THEM!”
But here they were, a long day’s travel from Jerusalem,
And Jesus wasn’t there. Joseph and Mary turned around
And searched for several days before their precious son was found.
They found him in the temple, calmly sitting there unfazed,
Reasoning with the elders. Everybody was amazed
At all the wisdom he displayed, when all was said and done:
A page had turned. His parents knew his mission had begun…

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

 

Grow the Church. It’s Something We Have to Do in Order to Grow the Church

Is the Church supposed to grow? Today’s church seems to be different from the one mentioned here: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they [the church] were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 NASB)
The first days of the Book of Acts must have been exciting. There was a new Spirit at work on planet earth. The small group of believers had started to grow. A movement had begun that literally changed the world. Social barriers were being broken down, habits were being changed, and transformation was taking place. Believers enjoyed a sense of unity and fellowship that no repression or persecution could break, that no apathy or boredom could diminish.

Tell me, has there been a movement in your life that changed your world? Among the first-century believers, people put their money where their mouth is, practicing what was preached and committing the two most personal items they had: time and resources. The new church had started to grow. Relationships provided a basis for loving evangelism, and spending time together daily provided a platform for organic growth. They went deeper in order to get wider.

As a result, Luke says that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Is the Lord adding folks to your church day by day? Are you and your church being transformed by love? In our modern world, there are marketing plans and efforts made to get folks to come on Sunday by promoting celebrities or hooking up to what’s hot in culture—but surprisingly, with all of our marketing sophistication, church attendance is actually down.

It’s a little awkward talking about growing numbers, 1) because most churches today aren’t growing numerically, and 2) because numerical growth is truly not the end game. Maybe we need to grow the church internally before we worry about growing the church externally. The focus of the early church was not on larger numbers but on being together, breaking bread, sharing gladness and sincerity, and praising God together. Growth was a by-product of unity and gladness.

There’s an old joke about a man who was marooned on a desert island. When he was found, rescuers discovered three huts on the island. Curious, they asked the man about them. “Oh, the first one is where I live”, he said. “The middle one is where I go to church. And the one of the right is where I USED to go to church.” Sadly, that joke has legs because believers have forgotten what church is for. Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.

What Luke describes is still the blueprint for the church: be of one mind. Enjoy mealtimes and fellowship together. Be glad! Keep God in His proper place, and get along with others. It’s a simple recipe, and when believers come together to share sincerely, praising God in love and gladness, the church will grow. And since we ARE the church, it’s up to us to go deeper in order to get wider. Have dinner with somebody from church this week. Invite somebody who’s not. If you’re too busy to love somebody this week, then you’re too busy.

Acts 2
Breaking bread with one accord,
believers served before the Lord.
Christians gave the church its start
from house to house, and heart to heart.
It wasn’t how much stuff they had,
but how the Lord had made them glad!
Focus on love, and not on growth;
I think you’ll find you have them both!
Have fellowship with those who search;
unite in love, and BE the church.

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

 

The Purpose Driven Life: Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Dream

Nothing defines your purpose better than standing up and announcing it in front of everybody you know. Have you ever done that? According to Dr. Luke, Jesus did it in his hometown, at his home church:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, “ (Isaiah 61:1-2, NIV) These were the words Jesus read in Luke 4:16-19 at his home synagogue in Nazareth to proclaim his purpose and begin his public ministry.

Luke’s account of it says, “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He [read from Isaiah 61].” Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, where apparently it was his normal practice to attend synagogue on the Sabbath. He announced his mission to a group who probably found it surprising that an apprentice carpenter would claim to be called to devote his life to fulfilling the word of God.

As the eldest son in Mary’s house after the death of Joseph (sometime after Jesus was 12), he had probably been fulfilling his obligation of working to take care of his mother, brothers and sisters. He was undoubtedly part of the village landscape, and people there were familiar with him. I’m sure most of them assumed they knew what his station in life would be. But things had recently changed.

He had been baptized by John the Baptist and allowed his connection to the Spirit of God to go public. He had been tempted by Satan in the wilderness and had offered the Word of God as his defense. He had gone and preached to great acclaim in Galilee. Now he began his public ministry with a proclamation from Scripture. He read from Isaiah with conviction and understanding, and his commentary on the meaning of these verses put a stake in the ground about his identity and his purpose.

So, what happened next? The very people he grew up around tried to stop him! “So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way…” (Luke 4:28-30) This somewhat surprising turn of events is really not all that surprising. The people in the village had labeled Jesus, and assumed he would be a tradesman like Joseph before him. Their culture was not ready for such radical change, and Jesus’ announcement scared and intimidated them.

He claimed to have a mission from God, so they suddenly saw him differently and treated him differently. But wait, you say, that doesn’t happen in our enlightened and tolerant culture! Hmm… why does the media follow the Kardashians and the Jenner’s but ignore all the good things that happen through every church in America each week? Why does it criticize Tim Tebow so much but celebrate the shallow and self-absorbed? Why was Martin Luther King killed for proclaiming a dream?

Have you ever wondered about God’s purpose for your life? He has one, you know. There is something to be done in the Kingdom of God that only you were created to do. It has nothing to do with worldly assumptions, money, fame, or self-importance; it could very well involve helping the poor, healing those who are broken-hearted, and sharing freedom with those who are bound. When you discover that purpose, you may be surprised at who supports you and who tears you down. When you decide to better yourself, to commit yourself to the Lord, to pursue His mission for you, there will be someone around you who wants to keep you down, and wants things to stay the way they are.

The example of Jesus says, “When God calls you to do something, don’t listen to the discouragers, the labelers, the dream killers, the ones who will try to stop you and tear you down. Follow your calling above all else.” If you are surrounded by naysayers and skeptics, pass through the midst of them, and go on your way. The Kingdom of God should always get priority over the labels and assumptions of culture.

Jesus stood before his friends and chose Isaiah's scroll,
And there proclaimed his mission from the words upon the roll.
The Spirit is upon me, and my mission has been started
To preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted.
I've come to set the captives free! To all of you I say:
The Kingdom of the Lord is now upon you. Here. Today.
The people almost came undone! Why, how could this man be the one?
How has the Kingdom now begun? Isn't this Joseph and Mary's son?
They formed an angry mob and tried to throw him from a hill,
But Jesus slipped among them through the power of his will,
Committed to the mission he had come here to fulfill.
His purpose was compelling then; it is compelling still.

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

Will the REAL Prodigal Please Stand Up? (Hint: It’s NOT the Son)

The story of the Prodigal son is fascinating for many reasons. It resonates with many of us in the way it describes the impatience and impetuousness of youth. Young adults still grow restless or rebellious and leave home. People with money still acquire shallow friends who leave them when the money runs out. A fool and his money are still soon parted. Parents still have to deal with disrespect and sibling rivalry. When you fail on your own and hit rock bottom, you still think about going home.

The Prodigal Son 1888 John Macallan Swan 1847-1910 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01569

There are universal themes in this parable that are still alive and fresh. We find it easy to identify with these themes, but like Jesus’ audience, we are surprised by the Father’s reactions: “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:23-24, NIV)

Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” does an amazing job bringing this parable home to each of us. By definition a prodigal is someone who “spends money or resources freely and recklessly”; or is “wastefully extravagant”. The younger son has always been known to us as “the prodigal son” because he wasted his money on extravagant living, but the real story Jesus told was about two sons, one who was lost and then found, and one who did his duty but secretly resented it. Both sons were disrespectful and rebellious to their Father. Both sons were dysfunctional about family, wrapped up way more in the reality of me rather than the possibility of us. Is your family ever that way? Have YOU ever been that way?

As the story ends, only the younger brother found restoration, while the older brother is left waiting stubbornly in the courtyard, refusing to go in to the party. What happened next? Did the older brother ever escape self-righteousness to find love and peace? There are unanswered questions, and to me the most interesting one is, “Who is really the prodigal in this parable?” The one who shows true extravagance and lavish spending in this story is the FATHER. He spends his resources on both sons, willing to part with his entire estate to sustain one and to reclaim the other.

As he educates us about who the Father really is, Jesus teaches that 1) God is searching for his lost children to come home; 2) the Father wants to restore his rebellious children to the family; 3) When someone has hit rock bottom, but repents and turns upward to God, He greets them not in judgment but in compassion with a hug and a kiss; 4) The Father goes all prodigal on the celebration: He brings out the best robe, his family ring, new sandals, and kills the fatted calf. He not only throws a lavish party for us but he also dresses us up with His finest stuff so that we won’t feel out of place. He clothes us in HIS righteousness and adopts us into HIS family! 5) His home is a place of joy, where it is ok to make merry and celebrate. (And it’s ok to invite other sinners to the party!)

The Prodigal Father is the God who rejoices in finding what is lost, restoring what was broken, and being extravagant with his children. If you’ve been hanging out somewhere else, it really is ok to go home. Repent. Today. Your Father is waiting for you.

A prodigal is extravagant, someone who likes to live
By spending without limit, giving all they have to give!
There was the prodigal son, who went and squandered all he had;
He spent the precious money he'd been given by his dad.
The prodigal father held a party, killed the fatted calf:
"My son is home!" The servants saw him run, and heard him laugh!
The son came home alone and spent, his walk slowed to a plod,
Humbled by his failures, beaten by the miles he'd trod;
His father's celebration may have seemed a little odd,
But he had learned of grace by worshipping the Prodigal God.

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