A Campaign of Sabotage: Behind Enemy Lines

In this year of political campaigns, there is a campaign going on all around you, and you may not have even noticed it. It is a real campaign in a real war, but you may not have heard the sounds of gunfire. It is a war where misinformation is portrayed as truth, where the selfish lust for power reigns, and where fractious opinions and offenses disseminate division. It is a war where strength and weakness are upside down, and where the rich and powerful seem to be able to marginalize the poor and the weak. From where I sit, the enemy has made huge gains, and many of us are trapped now behind enemy lands… Paul talks about it like this:

“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” (1 Corinthians 1:25-27 KJV)

The whole story of the gospel sounds improbable. God created heaven and earth. He made earth perfect and full of love, a place where He could walk with man and interact with his creation. He offered a place where man could live in peace and harmony as long as he chose to be obedient. The great deceiver launched a campaign of misinformation to counter God’s offer, and mankind rebelled and set up his own system based on power, greed, and lust.

campaign

Status Quo

Instead of a world free from pain and suffering, man lives in a fallen world whose selfish inhabitants bully, hate, and kill each other. (If you don’t believe that, check your history books, listen to the news, or heck, just offer an opinion on social media.) Those inhabitants have used corruption, money, and brute strength to build their various kingdoms apart from God’s values and authority. By His very nature God is loving and kind, and stands apart from the campaign of death and destruction that the world pursues… God has offered people opportunities to set themselves apart and return to him– but Man, with his logic and pride, figured he could earn his way back to heaven by works, and force God to take him back on his own merits.

The Logical Solution that Defies Logic

The Creator (knowing what was truly required to satisfy Righteous Judgment) had a different plan. Instead of retaking the world by force, He opted to take it back by using mere love. God entered the world in the form of a tiny, helpless infant who alone could pay the price for man’s rebellion and offer peace and salvation. God did not force rebels to receive Him, but allowed (and still allows) man to find and accept Him by faith. The catch is that man must relinquish by faith his independence in order to allow God to empower his spiritual self in the midst of a carnal world.

God sent His Son into a rebellious, deadly kingdom ruled by selfishness, pride, and power and offered instead love, humility, and service. He chose to confound men’s wisdom with seeming foolishness, and men’s power with what seemed like weakness. Depravity exercised its muscle in this earthly kingdom in the form of despots and dictators who rule by using violence and intimidation. Jesus came to earth and taught that men should serve to lead and humble themselves in order to be exalted.

C. S. Lewis said, “Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed, you might say in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in His great campaign of sabotage.” Saboteurs resist the status quo, refusing to buy in to the world’s power structures, the things that men celebrate, and the short-sighted goals of the carnal mentality.

If there is indeed a God, then there is a different set of values and an eternal timetable. There is a spiritual world available to men in the midst of the world of carnal power. If Jesus is who he said he is, then all Christians are living as part of the resistance behind enemy lines. The question is this: Which side are you on? You are either living behind enemy lines, offering alternatives to force, hatred, power, and pride, or you ARE the enemy. Read that last statement again.
Beware, and choose wisely.

Behind Enemy Lines

God has chosen foolish things to contradict the wise,
Confounding both the mighty and the strong.
God has used invisible power right before our eyes,
And asked the world of men to come along.
But things that men have celebrated are not really consecrated:
Things the world will seek go to the strong, and not the meek!
The weakness is the wise won't speak of spirit which it deems as weak;
The outlook here is getting bleak, with escalating danger...
The world of men's conceit will hold that there is nothing stranger
Than God investing mankind's hope into a rustic manger,
And somehow turning that into a history re-arranger.

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

Potential: Have you Reached Yours? If You Unlocked It, What Would You Find?

The word “potential” means “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.” The Apostle Paul apparently thought that there was an amazing amount of potential out there:

“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”. (Philippians 1:6, NIV)

Paul’s wonderful prayer of thanksgiving for his friends in Philippi is a tribute to friendship and Christian community. Paul’s affection for and intimacy with the recipients is evident in every line. He says things like “I pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel”, “I have you in my heart”, and “I long for you with the affection of Christ Jesus”. These simple but passionate words of friendship abound with applications. Read 1:6 again and see what questions come into your mind. Here are a few to consider:

1) What gave Paul such confidence? Isn’t he writing this from prison? Apparently Paul was not too good at focusing on his circumstances… Perhaps he could have used his talents to write a play (maybe “Chains are the New Tunic”), or at least to write his appeal to Rome. Instead, he is bubbling over with confidence about potential; he’s excited about what God is doing in his friends. Are we perhaps more focused on circumstances than we are on the gospel? Would circumstances be less stressful if we put them in their proper place? What do you place the most confidence in?

potential

2) God has begun a good work in Paul’s Philippian friends. Since Paul is writing to his fellow believers, we can truly connect the dots here and accept as fact that God begins a good work in everyone who shares “partnership in the gospel”. Paul regarded these people as his spiritual children, or as his spiritual brothers and sisters. Who do you regard as spiritual family? What is God doing among you?

If you are a Christian, what “good work” has He begun in you? If you are reading this, you have tons of unrealized potential. My parents used to tell me that all the time. As a kid, I got really tired of hearing about my potential. Apparently, buried underneath all the playfulness, immaturity, laziness, and nonchalance, my folks thought there were some useful characteristics trying to peek out.

Once when I messed up, I think I even tried to use it on the good side of the ledger. “Dad, I know my grades are bad but you yourself have said I have lots of potential.” My Dad’s response (probably not original but as always well-timed) was, “Son, potential is a French word that means, ‘you haven’t done anything yet’.” That may not be the Webster definition, but it enlarged my perspective about what how the word applied to me. Years later, I even heard Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells quote my Dad, so it MUST be true!

potential Parcells

What is YOUR potential? What good work has God begun in you? When God looks at you in your immature and unfinished state, who do you think He sees? I bet you’d be surprised at who God created you to be, at how awesome He thinks you are, and how joyful He is at your development. Would you live today any differently if you stopped to realize that God is DOING A GOOD WORK IN YOU?! He is. DO.

3) God’s good work will continue in you as long as you live (or until the day of Christ, for sure). If you haven’t thought about what God is doing in you, discover it. Stay aware of it. Put it on your bucket list. Whoever you are, whenever you read this, I have taken Paul’s lead and prayed a prayer for you this morning: “Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us as your children. You alone know our true potential. Work ON us. Work WITHIN us! Help us to be who You created us to be. Please do your good work in us, and continue it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

There. God was already working but it’s good to acknowledge and claim it in prayer. May His good work continue in you until it is complete!

Coming Soon..

What is there locked within your life that yet remains undone?
What thing would you accomplish if you could?
No matter who you are there is a work that God’s begun,
To use your full potential for His good.

So, let Him do his work. There are some folks who will be shocked
To see the things that you and God can do,
When you and all your glorious potential are unlocked,
And He continues His good work in you.

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

When You are Given Gifts: Receive them. Open Them. Give them Away.

When you are given gifts, you usually get excited about opening them. You probably don’t think of giving them away. Paul, however, says that’s exactly what you should do:
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8, NIV)

given gifts

The Reason for Gifts

Gifts, says Paul, are given to each of us according to grace. Not the “tear open the wrapping paper” kind of gifts, and not necessarily the “this is your gift, for only you to enjoy” kind of gifts, but the “I am giving this to you so that you can give it to others” kind of gift. Our flesh loves to celebrate giftedness itself, and we make much of talented musicians and athletes; Grace loves to make gifts useful by humbling them in service to others.

Right after Paul says that we are all part of the body of Christ, and we all belong to each other, he exhorts us to utilize what we have been given on behalf of others.
He presents this as an “if-then” kind of process, which really has two steps. First, determine what your gift is. Paul declares that we all have different gifts, given to us spiritually “according to the grace given to each of us.”

There are gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4, and they are all focused on “others”, not on “Me”. In context, he is saying that these gifts are bestowed on each believer as part of the body of Christ in order to serve the other members of the body. And here in Romans Paul basically says, “If you have been given a gift, then use it.”

How Should You Use What You Have?

So ask yourself the question: what have I been gifted with? A spiritual gift is not necessarily a talent (although it could be related), and not necessarily something you are accomplished at; it is really more a quality that other believers see in you even when you don’t always see it in yourself. If you aren’t sure, pray about it, and then ask some fellow believers close to you what they feel your gift(s) might be. You might be surprised by the answers you get.

Secondly, whatever gift you have been given, USE IT. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.“ Being motivated by grace puts a whole different spin on receiving a gift: Open it. Use it. Give it away.

A Gift Given Should Be A Gift, Given

God’s given something to everyone
To enrich our lives, to create some fun.
These gifts aren’t meant to be just enjoyed,
But are given to us to be re-employed!
When you can do something and others it lifts,
You’ve probably discovered your spiritual gifts.
As we open them up we should give them to others,
To build and encourage our sisters and brothers.
If Paul was still preaching among us, today,
He’d look at our gifts and here’s what he’d say:
Your gifts are not gifts ’til they’re given away!

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

Sacrifice: The Mystery That Turns Murderers Into Missionaries

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

While it may be that 1 Corinthians 13 is the most-quoted chapter about love, Romans 12 deserves far more attention for being a pretty good “love chapter” on its own. The last few verses offer some explicit applications about what love in action looks like, but the whole chapter is really a pretty good working definition of love. It is a love based on sacrifice rather than superiority.

sacrifice transforms


In John 15:13, Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Go back to all the things that were said and written about love before Jesus, and you will find a number of different words for love, many descriptions and definitions, and certainly lots ways it was expressed. It’s always been one of the central elements of human nature. But amazingly, Jesus Christ redefined love and set its standard in a very singular way that has stood above all others for over 2,000 years. Who WAS that guy? Where did He come from? Why haven’t there been other teachers the caliber of Jesus of Nazareth? You have to admit, he was different.

What made the Difference?

In Romans 12, Paul begins with Christ’s definition. (And does anybody besides me ever wonder where Saul, a persecutor of the believers in the fledgling church, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees”, achieved such harmony with and knowledge of the teachings of Christ, when he didn’t encounter Jesus at all until well after the resurrection and ascension? If you read his work closely, it reflects the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus incredibly well, even though the early copies of the gospels were probably only just starting to be in circulation when Paul wrote his letters. His conversion and subsequent education about Jesus have to be one of the amazing biographical stories of all time!) He wrote about love and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in ways that reflected the Jesus we see in the Gospels, even though he had never followed the Messiah during his lifetime… Think about that!

What is a Living Sacrifice, Anyway?

And so here Paul begins Romans 12 with an earnest plea for us to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice, repeating the action of the one who gave us that definition and set that standard. Since Jesus did that literally for us, Paul maintains that it is only reasonable for us to give ourselves back to him.

Love responds to love, and love begets more love. As a result, Paul says, we will be different than the world, transformed and renewed, and will walk around as living proof of God’s will… The J. B. Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within”. It infers that we are all being molded, one way or another. We can conform to the world, or we can conform to God.

The world says, “Whatever you do is really ok; what’s right for me may not be right for you; get what you can; if you don’t like it, change it, hey, life is short…”
God says, “Love. Be redeemed by love, present yourselves back to me in love, be transformed by love, and remember that it’s not so much about your will as it is about MINE. If you trust me, you will discover that I have your best interests at heart, and I will perfect you in ways you never imagined. Others will look at you and say, ‘that must be kinda what God looks like’.” Have you offered God your life lately? Ever wonder what He could do with it if you really gave it to Him?

Living

This passage does much more than teaches; Romans twelve says Paul beseeches:
Sacrifice yourself and live; give everything you have to give,
And Paul says you will surely find a brand new heart and transformed mind.
Don’t follow the world. Don’t be that dude. Allow your mind to be renewed,
And you will live a life that proves that God transforms. And loves. And moves.

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

Philemon Had a Problem Which All of Us Share, and an Opportunity All of Us Have

As we make our way through the last of Paul’s epistles, we encounter the curious case of Paul’s letter on behalf of Onesimus, a slave who ran away from his master, Philemon. Now, Philemon could have sat in judgment over Onesimus. The law and society was on his side. He had the right to be offended, and to extract the ultimate penalty. Instead, Paul encouraged him not to.

“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow-man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (Philemon, Verses 8-17, NIV)

This interesting and touching story reminds us that Paul lived in the real world. Apparently while he was in Rome, he encountered a runaway slave from Colossae named Onesimus (whose name translates as “profitable” or “helpful”) and led him to belief in Christ. After his conversion, Onesimus realized he was wrong for deserting and was willing to return to Colossae to go back to his master, Philemon. Apparently Paul counseled him to do so even though Philemon could demand judgment–possibly even capital punishment–for his runaway slave. (Paul was asking Onesimus to take a risk but he probably encouraged Onesimus to return because he had become a changed man in Christ, and because Paul knew Philemon as a fellow believer.)

Even though he could face the death penalty for running away when he carried Paul’s letter back to Colossae, Onesimus was willing to risk Philemon’s wrath because Paul interceded for him. Martin Luther believed that this letter mirrored the one Christ wrote to the Father on OUR behalf: that we were all slaves facing the death penalty, and if we stood before our Master without any help, we would face his wrath.

Philemon

However, Christ made us sons and adopted us into the Father’s family, so we could have the boldness to throw ourselves on his mercy and serve him again.
Ok, so this is more than a story. This is your life. What have you been enslaved to? How far away have you run? Are you willing to allow yourself to be adopted into the family? As an adopted family member, do you sometimes sit in judgment over those who are outside? And more than that, as an adopted child, does your gratitude for His mercy make you willing to serve the Father freely, not out of obligation but out of love?

 
Philemon's Choice

Every one of us had run away 
And faced the ultimate penalty, all alone;
The Judge had raised his gavel as if to say
"This trial is over, and the judgment's done."

But Jesus said that he would vouch for me, 
And stepped into the dock, and took my place:
The law required I pay my penalty;
But Jesus paid my price. And offered grace.

No matter where you've been, or why you've run,
Your pardon has been given from above!
The Master now accepts you as a son:
Come home to Him in gratitude and love.

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

Dive into the Raging River of Grace, and Start Swimming!

The dictionary says grace is “simple elegance or refinement of movement: She moved through the water with grace.” But I think there’s more to it. We all know that grace is unmerited favor, a free gift extended out of generosity. Perhaps that creates a sense of elegance and well-being… But Paul says something very surprising about grace in the Book of Titus. If you think Grace is a passive state of peaceful tranquility, think again! Just read this, recalibrate, and dive into the raging river of Grace.

A Different Defnition

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people who are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

Grace offers salvation to all people, and Paul says that a person touched by grace should live a different kind of life. He says that graces “teaches” us to live a godly life. The Greek word he uses for “teach” here is stronger than the usual academic term. It (paideuo) is usually used to describe training a child, which indicates a long-term daily commitment to teaching, to admonishment, and to chastisement when necessary. Here’s where it gets interesting: that form of grace is also used sometimes to describe the punishment of criminals. (It was the word Pilate used in Luke 23:16, recommending that Jesus be scourged).

The Whip of Grace?

What?! Grace as a beating? I never think of Grace that way! Grace is a gift! It’s free! However, try to see Paul’s thinking here. The grace of God is more than an easy free gift we get to open: it is a motivator, a life-changing agent that influences our passions, our behavior, and everything in our daily lives. We don’t dip into the pool of grace and then lounge by the side, getting a tan; we dive into the river of Grace and are swept along, always moving forward, learning to swim, navigating difficult currents, and calling others to dive in with us.

river swim

We are cleansed from wickedness and immersed in gratitude. We are not saved to bask in our own self-righteousness, but to live a life fully amazed and motivated by God’s gift. Grace teaches us rejoice in thanksgiving and become “eager to do good.” The current in the river of grace sweeps us into new territory and helps us experience new life! It may not always be comfortable, but it might be exhilarating! It might chastise us; it might change us; and it just might challenge us.

I would bet that if all Christians accepted not only the gift of grace, but also the chastisement of grace, there would be more good being done in this world. And we’d have more swimmers.

The River of Grace

Sin is known to all of us, and pays its deadly wages;
The Bible speaks of saving grace for us within its pages…
But here’s a thought that’s not been offered often through the ages:
Grace is not a gift, but it’s a river as it rages!
Grace can cut through hearts of stone,
It changes lives with grace alone–
Its power through the years has shown
It redirects and teaches every pilgrim that it reaches,
And it carries us through rapids to the sandy, peaceful beaches.
Grace provides a current of chastisement to direct us;
It can offer discipline to teach us and protect us.
If you doubt eternal life, and where you want to go,
The depths of grace provide a landing-place that you should know:
Dive in to the raging river of grace, and let His mercy flow!

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

Reproduction: There May be More to It Than We Learned in Biology Class

Biological reproduction has to do with the propagation of the species, among other things. You remember cellular reproduction, and then of course there is all that stuff about “the birds and the bees”… But there may be more to it than they taught us in Biology Class; in his second letter to Timothy, Paul talks to Timothy about spiritual reproduction, which is a whole ‘nother thing…

reproduction

A Different Kind of Multiplication

“Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me in among many witnesses, the same thou commit to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:1-2, KJV)

This verse is well-known for being the template for spiritual reproduction. One believer teaches another who teaches another, and so on. It is Paul’s one sentence plan for reaching the whole world with the message of Jesus Christ. Quick, how many generations of disciples are connected to your reading of these verses?

The classic answer is four generations: Paul, who teaches Timothy (in the presence of other witnesses), who is told to teach faithful men, who will teach others also. That’s how spiritual reproduction works, one generation passing the gospel down to the next.

So, What is Paul Saying?

1) Paul calls Timothy his son. These men had a close bond, forged from a friendship that transcended tribulations and generations. Passing the torch of discipleship is no casual relationship. It is one of commitment and expectation.

2) Committing something to faithful men is different from “let’s all go to church once a week and maybe that’ll get it done spiritually”. It uses the word “commit”, so maybe that’s self evident. It involves training, consistency, discipline, and daily devotion. How fair would it be to men sent into battle after training them an hour or two a week for a few months? (Think spiritual Marines. And yet most of us are FAR from being the equivalent of spiritual Marines!) We approach the very real spiritual warfare in which we are engaged with a very cavalier attitude…Perhaps that’s why churches are waning all around us, and perhaps that is why the enemy seems to be taking ground from us every day in our generation.

3) Every generation has the opportunity to be the final (last) Christian generation. While I know that God has other plans, if we all quit teaching others, and all stopped committing it to faithful believers, the Christian movement would simply die from neglect. Are you ending or extending the marvelous story of Grace?

4) Count the generations again. I think there are actually SIX generations represented. The first unspoken one is the one who taught Paul. Since he spent time in the desert being taught by Christ, it’s logical to say that Jesus was the first generation (and come to think of it, that is logical not only for Paul but for all of us!).

The sixth generation, as you read this verse, is YOU. You are the one who was ultimately reached by “others also”. You are the next one up, the generation upon whom future generations depend. Who are you reaching? Who are your “faithful men”? Not all of us are gifted as prophets or evangelists or preachers. But all of us are gifted with relationships, and each of us has the opportunity to pass the torch. It is up to us to extend not just the gospel but a culture of discipleship to those coming after us. Don’t break the chain.

The Next Generation

Paul explained to Timothy, “What you have seen and heard from me
Review and study well, and then commit those things to faithful men
Who, when they listen well and learn, will carry on and take their turn
To pass the torch as Christ directs from this generation to the next.
Make sure your generation’s torch is passed.
The seeds are sown, the die is cast:
If you are not the next one, then you may just be the last…

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

Reality Check: You May Be Far More Powerful than You Think

Paul’s brilliant treatise connecting the Hebrew Law with the work of Jesus is both logical and challenging. Even though he stood on a firm foundation of faith, Paul did not separate his brain from his beliefs, and he presented the reality of the Gospel in ways that have clarified it for billions of people. But as intellectually powerful as it is, the logic was not what Paul fixed upon; in fact, he grew downright passionate about something else:

No Power On this List is Big Enough

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)

separate reality

Here, in his letter about sin, the law, and faith, the Apostle Paul puts a stake in the ground about the reality of God’s love. He is convinced. Nothing in all of creation can separate us from it! It’s a magnificent statement from an amazing book; if you read that list, it covers pretty much everything in existence that could somehow keep us from being surrounded, protected, and rescued by God’s love in Christ Jesus.

The Most Powerful

There’s one thing he leaves off this list, however. In reality, it’s the one power on earth that will allow you to be separate from God’s love, and in fact it’s the ONLY thing I know of that can do it: YOU. Your WILL is able to separate you from God’s love. While Angels and Demons can’t do it, YOU can. Just decide you don’t want him. Decide he’s not there for you. Decide that God’s love has no place in your life, and you can be totally separate from God. It may seem odd, because God is love and He’ll never take His love away from you–but he will allow you to take yourself away from it.

reality

C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” You can be independent and do your own thing all you want to; or you can feel convinced about the inseparable love of God. It’s totally up to you.

A Choice Above All Powers

Not the future, nor the past,
Nor any power that can last;
Not witches who could cast a spell,
Or demons from the pit of hell,
Nor angels’ voices as they sing,
Or any earthly lord or king,
Or any mere created thing–
Nor height or depth, nor width or breadth,
Not even the power of life or death!
No fatal flaw or ancient curse,
Not one thing in this universe,
Not things below us or above,
Can separate us from God’s love!
The only way that you can lose
Is if that is the way you choose.
You want God’s love? Expect it.
And if not, just reject it.

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

Weakness: The Kind That Actually Makes You Stronger

Perhaps the strongest moments you ever have will only come through your weakness…
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV)

We live in a world where strength is made perfect in strength. We are impressed by athletes and actors, media stars and moguls. We don’t tend to see a lot of value in the ordinary or the marginal. It’s even the same way in Christian stuff: If you can teach, God uses your teaching. If you can sing, He uses your talent. If you can turn a phrase, create a nifty slogan, and “unpack” the Bible, God will show himself through your competent efforts. And please don’t misunderstand this, all of those things are good. I certainly like it when I can do my best work for God instead of for myself.

But God is way bigger than that. I think he is perhaps glorified most when we are experiencing things in HIS power rather than in our competency. It’s a lot easier to talk about our victories in Jesus, or the mighty things God has done through, and for, and around us. We appreciate God’s strength in healings, but maybe not so much in the cases where somebody DOESN’T get healed…yet His grace is there in either case.

We share and rejoice together in victories when we win by human standards, not so much when things don’t go our way. Is it possible that it’s actually MORE miraculous when we “lose”, but experience God’s grace, and encounter His comfort in the midst of sorrow? I think the same is true about spiritual health—it’s harder to share our failures, or talk about the ways God’s secret grace has brought us out of the depths of our own depravity, but if we encountered God’s power in our weakness, then it’s truly miraculous.

I can honestly say that whatever worth I have in this world is based solely on God’s grace and forgiveness, not upon my wit or charm. Had I been the only architect of my fate, the structure of my life would have collapsed and burned long ago, compromised by inherent weaknesses and mistakes.

weakness

I have found over the years that if I’m left to my own devices, I will fall into personal selfishness and fail (usually on an impressive scale). I will turn away from sanctification and embrace sin. I will exercise greed instead of grace, lust instead of love, and hate instead of holiness…I can’t possibly give you all the details about how ugly and selfish and foolish I have been, but trust: my life should easily be a testament to failure.

I’ll tell you this: God has been present when I’ve done those things. He has forgiven me and restored me. The details aren’t important, but His presence in my weakness was far greater than any of my gifts in their finest hour. We are comfortable letting God use our strengths. But how do we let him use our weaknesses? For instance, I’m not worthy in any way to write about God, but here I am, offering a testimony to His grace and to the fact that He saved me from myself. You probably aren’t worthy either, but what’s YOUR testimony about God? Paul says he would brag about his own weakness, for when he was weak, God was strong. Let God’s strength shine through your life, not in your accomplishments, but in your failures.

The Wanderer

I’ve been married thirty-seven years,
I have three awesome children who are grown;
I’ve had the most enjoyable of careers,
A lovely wife, a house to call my own.

Perhaps you’d look at me and say, “Success”,
According to the things that you can see,
But I can tell you, life would be a mess
If everything depended upon me.

I’ve done some things of which I cannot speak,
Made choices that I never should have made;
I have been stupidly, unutterably weak,
Like Esau offering birthright in a trade…

I’ve turned my back on God without remorse,
Allowed myself to squander and to roam–
Yet He reached out to me, and changed my course,
And killed the fatted calf, and brought me home.

No matter what you’ve done, or where you’ve been,
The Father’s love will go to any length–
Yes, to the Cross! To save you from your sin-
Your weakness will reveal the Father’s strength.

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

Danger Held No Fear For Him: But Should We Really Follow Paul’s Example?

The apostle Paul went to great lengths to spread Christ’s message, and he willingly faced all kinds of danger. Maybe he was so zealous because he had tried to wipe out this new movement about following Jesus; maybe he was just a passionate guy. But he served Christ with all of his heart, regardless of personal discomfort or danger.

In spite of that, he was criticized by others, picked at by wanna-be church leaders, and stabbed in the back by jealous contemporaries. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he addressed some of the folks who boasted about all they had done, casting aspersions that Paul was not as committed as people said he was. Since they had called him a fool, he said in 2 Corinthians 11:16: “Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting…”

He went on to remind them of his qualifications:
“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.

danger

I have been in danger from rivers, from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked…” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, NIV)

This was Paul’s response to critics who tried to disparage his ministry. As you look at it, just make a note of each of the dangers, risks, hardships, and life-threatening situations he endured to share the Gospel. It’s quite a resume. Five beatings of thirty-nine lashes. Three beatings with rods. One very personal encounter with angry stones. Three shipwrecks. And those are just the highlights! He doesn’t even get to his imprisonments and martyrdom…

To Paul, following Christ was an “all in” proposition. (After all, he was the one who said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”) You really should read that list again to let it sink in. In today’s world, we get bent out of shape if the sermon goes 20 minutes over, and people (on average) spend about NINE minutes a day being involved in church. Yep, about an hour a week. When I look at Paul’s list, I am struck by both the hardship he was willing to endure and the passion he brought to sharing the message of the gospel. To Paul, things like hunger and thirst were just minor inconveniences compared to the glory of telling the good news. Kinda makes you feel a little bad about saying you don’t have time to be a greeter, doesn’t it?

I, Paul

I have lived a joyful life! I’ve learned to be content.
Just think of all I saw, and all the places that I went!
I went to Macedonia, and traveled far from home;
I sailed upon the open sea! I got to go to Rome!
Yes there have been some hardships that occurred along the way,
Like when our ship went down, and I went swimming for a day.
And yes I was arrested, and got whipped a time or five–
And that time I was stoned, I’m still amazed I stayed alive!
But even though I’ve had some inconvenience and some pain:
I know for me to Live is Christ, for me to die is gain!
But looking back now, I can say I’ve served Him from the start:
And I would challenge you, my friend, to serve with all your heart.
When you are looking back on life, with all the good and bad,
I hope that you can say with me, “I gave it all I had!”

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