Independence Day: Remember What Your Freedom REALLY Cost

We value freedom in America, and we exercise it, too. On July 4 we celebrate the freedom that we gained by becoming independent, but there’s far more to that than meets the eye. It is in the personal stories behind the American Revolution that we can, I think, truly come to appreciate what the word Independence means. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not merely making a political statement; they were risking their lives….

independence day

Stephen Hopkins from Rhode Island, aged 70, said as he signed, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.” Benjamin Franklin uttered the famous words, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.”

The wealthy John Hancock was already a wanted man, and the British were offering a 500-pound reward for him. He said he signed in enormous letters so that “John Bull can read my name without spectacles and may now double his reward.”

Benjamin Harrison, a large man, jested with one of his smaller colleagues that he would hang more quickly because of his large girth, while the smaller man would hang much less efficiently…

Each of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence became a wanted man; and each, knowing full well what the cost might be, put his signature beneath this statement:
“For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Of the 56 signers, five were captured by the British, and were tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked or burned. Two lost sons in the Revolutionary army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War.

Francis Lewis of New York saw his home plundered and destroyed by British soldiers. His wife was captured and treated with brutality, and though she was finally exchanged for two British prisoners through the efforts of Congress, she died a few months later.
John Hart of Hopewell, New Jersey risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. After her death, the British hounded Hart, who was forced to live in forests and caves for over a year. His fields and gristmill were laid to waste. When the British were driven from the area and he was able to return home, his wife was dead, his children gone, and his home destroyed. He died a few weeks later, in 1779, of an illness; some say of a broken heart.

Governor Thomas Nelson, Jr., of Virginia, became aware of the fact that the British General Cornwallis had made his headquarters in Nelson’s beautiful home. When the Marquis de Lafayette invited Nelson to direct the artillery fire, he instructed the troops to fire upon his own home, destroying it. Nelson went bankrupt and died 7 years later at the age of 50.

Carter Braxton of Virginia was a wealthy planter and trader. The British navy sank his ships, and he was forced to sell his properties to cover his debts. He died in rags.
Thomas Lynch, Jr., of South Carolina, suffered broken health from deprivation and exposure he endured as a company commander in the military. His doctors ordered him to seek a cure in Europe, and on the voyage there he and a young bride were drowned at sea.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence paid a terrible price so that you and I might have freedom; most of them died without ever knowing if their desperate gamble would pay off.

John Adams, in a letter to his wife, called out to those of us who would come after him:
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent it in heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it.”

On July 4 we have Parades, fireworks, shows and games to celebrate our Independence Day, and most of us enjoy the day without even being aware of the individual sacrifices that took place to make it happen…
We value independence in America. We celebrate it. It is part of the fabric of our lives. If you look up the word independence in Webster’s, it says: “free from the authority, control, or influence of others”. As Americans, we treasure this aspect of our political life, we are accustomed to it, we even take it for granted! Most of us will agree that Independence is a good thing.

I’ve got some bad news. In a spiritual sense, independence is a terrible thing. As glorious as our Freedom is, and as much as I gained researching the stories of the sacrifices and noble actions of the Patriots who risked everything for Independence, I realized that there is a different perspective on independence, a Christian perspective. The first letter of Independence is “I”.

Think about it for a minute…Christianity is full of paradoxes, which stand conventional thinking on its ear: you have to acknowledge your sin to be made righteous; to be nothing in order to become something; to die to yourself to live for Christ; act as a servant to be the leader; be last to be first; give to get; lose your life to keep it; and be glorified only through humility.

The Biblical perspective on Independence is clear: it gets us into trouble.
Satan was independent (“I will exalt my throne above the stars of God…”) He fell from God’s glory into a world of dark shadows, disaster, selfishness, and pain.

Eve was independent. (“I know Adam told me God said I shouldn’t eat this fruit, but why shouldn’t I be able to do what I want?) She ate the fruit God said not to eat, and exercised her will over God’s instructions.

Adam was independent. (Why shouldn’t I have the right to know good and evil?) He ate the fruit and introduced death and shame into the world, bringing destruction to all mankind.

Cain was independent. (Why should I have to sacrifice the way God says? I’ll do things my way) He was so consumed by pride and self-will he murdered his brother…

The Israelites gained Independence. They threw a wild party, worshipped a golden calf, and had to wander 40 years in the wilderness so that a whole generation could die before going on to the promised land… Later, in Judges 21:25 it says, “And every man did that which was right in his own eyes… [The story of the nation of Israel gets repetitive: they do what they want, they pay a fearsome price for it, they are humbled by circumstances, they cry out to God for help, and he delivers them from their oppression. Once they are delivered, they get comfortable, and they start doing whatever they want again.] It may be the story of Israel, but it is the story of us all.

I have been independent. And I guarantee you that every big mistake I’ve ever made has been because I decided to do what I wanted to do, regardless of the consequences. I have acted, to recall Webster’s definition, “free from authority or control”…

What about you? The downside of Independence and the freedom it brings is that it also allows selfishness, and the ability to act however we want. So as you celebrate today, remember: Freedom isn’t free. And freedom doesn’t come from doing whatever you want; it comes from doing what is right. In John 8:32 Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” In verse 36 he said, “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” As you celebrate independence today, be free. Be free indeed.

Because it’s free, American life and citizenship are sought;
So when you think of freedom, and the good things it has brought,
Remember: freedom isn’t free, for it is dearly bought.
America, don’t do what you want, but please do what you OUGHT.

 

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

What Are You Doing Here on Earth, For Heaven’s Sake?

What are you doing? I mean yes, in the grand scheme of things, what are you doing here on earth? Life is not about feeling, it is about DOING.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12: 12-16, NIV)

Paul started this “love chapter” by exhorting us to be living sacrifices, and to follow Christ’s selfless example. In verses 9-11 he talks about the need for sincere love. Here in verses 12-16 he says that DOING love is more important than FEELING love…

He acknowledges that love is a great motivator, and I bet your own personal experience would bear that out. (Think about some of the things you have done because of love—whether foolish things to pursue romantic love, or acts of service inspired by unselfish love… We have all found ourselves doing something differently at some point because of love’s motivational pull.)

Here are two very different examples: The summer I was 15, I was on the aquatics staff at YMCA Camp Flaming Arrow in Kerrville, Texas. Hoping to meet girls, I put “HI THERE” with adhesive tape on my chest for about a week. When I removed the tape, my tan lines said HI THERE all by themselves for at least a couple of weeks. (True story. Yeah it’s a dumb thing, but I was 15 and it did actually help break the ice with local girls a couple of times. It was, however, a little embarrassing on Parents’ Day at the end of the session, since I was on the aquatics staff and was in the pool working with kids with a chest that said, “HI THERE”…)

doing  (NOT an actual photo)

A few years later, I was on staff at the Navigators’ Eagle Lake Boys’ Camp in Colorado Springs. At the end of the summer, I donated a big portion of my salary to the camp (which, my Dad pointed out, was supposed to be my spending money at college that fall; when he had to replace it, it actually meant that HE had given the money to Eagle Lake. Sorry, Daddy. My heart may have been in the right place, but the net result of my decision fell on you…)

Both of those actions were motivated by love in one form or another—one foolish, and one sublime—but both were done in hopes of having a different outcome than would have been achieved by standing pat. The point is, what are you doing differently today because of love? What outcome are you hoping for?

Paul says here that love will help us overcome adverse circumstances. It enables us to view the world differently: to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. I have to say I am ashamed at how often I am NOT patient in affliction or faithful in prayer. How about you?

Love inspires generosity towards others, and it even helps us act differently towards those with whom we disagree. Do you bless those who persecute you, or do you curse them? If we are living sacrifices, Paul says, we will be empathetic and live in harmony with others. Burt Bacharach’s1965 pop song said, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love”… The Beatles said, “Love is all you need.” How true.

There is too much division in our world and in our culture, and not enough blessing. Paul said a living sacrifice is not stuck up or conceited, but spends time doing loving things, which creates a means for God’s love to reside on earth through us, to us. Be loving today. Make the same decision tomorrow.

Love is not emotion or the giddy way you feel;
Love is more than feelings, (although feelings may be real);
Love is more than romance, or the love songs used for wooing:
Love is found in how you do the things that you are doing.
Do them well, and serve as if you worked for God above,
And fill your life with godliness by doing things with 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

Here Are Two Words You Don’t Use Every Day: Passionate Fervor

In Romans 12 (the “other” love chapter) Paul describes love’s many facets, and he uses familiar words like sincerity, devotion, and honor. He also uses uncommon terms, like fervor, which is not a word that’s much in vogue today… (The dictionary says it means having passion, or intense heat.) When was the last time you talked about having FERVOR? It happens at sporting events, maybe, or rock concerts, but there aren’t many cultural equivalents I can think of. I’ve heard about a religious fervor where people get whipped up into a frenzy, but I’m pretty sure Paul is not talking about that here. When you look at the passage, he describes it as something else:

fervor

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:9-11 NIV) I’ve mentioned that in Romans 12, Paul has been painting a picture of love. It’s slightly different from his eloquent words in 1 Corinthians 13, and it expands and explores the boundaries of our definition.

He started by exhorting us to follow Christ’s example of sacrificial love, and continued by encouraging us to build each other up with whatever tools God has given us. Now he gets specific about love and starts to break it down for us with some detail. Be authentic (as Robin Williams’ Genie told Aladdin, “Beeee yourself!”).

Hate what is evil. Do you? I hate some of the big ugly evils, but I’m still pretty comfortable with some of my “little” secret evils… How about you? Any secret evils you need to hate?

Treat each other with respect and honor. Have you noticed any lack of respect and honor in our society today? When it comes to respect, do you extend it to others, or just expect it for yourself?

And then my favorite, “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor”! Do you have fervor? Are you passionate for Jesus? I know people worry about being pushy or overwhelming, but I don’t think that’s the kind of zeal Paul is talking about. This is the kind that seasons our thoughts and conversations, and encourages us to dream godly things.

What dreams do you have? Are your spiritual fires burning? Are you falling in love with God a little more each day? The natural result of emotional love is passion. So is the spiritual one. “Fervor” means “intense and passionate feeling”. Have some fervor about God. Be ferverous. (No that’s not a word, but I wanted you to think about it all day, ha!) Paul says that the natural result of spiritual fervor is service; as we grow more passionate about the Lord, we’ll be more inclined to serve him. I guess you could say that fervor makes you a server!

So what should we do with Romans 12? Get out there and serve! Be ferverous in your serverous.

 

Paul takes some time to delve deep into love in Romans twelve:
Honor one another. Hate evil, but love your brother.
In all your dealings, make it clear that purest love is quite sincere.
If you live the way you should, you will cling to what is good,
And devoted love will guide you as it stokes the fire inside you.
It seems if you have fervor, you will love to be a server,
And devotion to the Lord will help us act with one accord.
If the gospel makes good sense, let your fervor be intense;
Let the way you truly feel invoke a passion that is real,
And let no others steal your joy or criticize your zeal.
Be passionately ferverous in your walk and in your serverous!

 

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

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.”

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.

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

A Good Body May Involve More than How You Look on the Beach

While you’re getting ready for the beach, think about ANOTHER kind of body: ”For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:3-5, NIV)

body of Christ

There is a lot to consider in this passage in Romans. It refers to a sacrifice that stays alive, and a body that is more than a body…And it tells us not to think too highly of ourselves. Do you know anybody who thinks more highly of themselves than they ought to? Are they fun to be around? When someone is self-absorbed, that’s really the opposite of love, isn’t it?

Here in the (other) love chapter, Paul declares that the result of love is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but it is a life seasoned with humility and honest reflection. A life of faith does not abandon rational self-evaluation. On the contrary, it encourages us to look at ourselves honestly, and to see ourselves the way God sees us.

On one hand, that’s a bit intimidating. God sees my inward failings, my secret sins, my selfishness, and my insecurity. If I think of myself the way God does, then I should probably be frustrated over my limitations and sad about all my failures, right? Wrong!
Because if I truly look at myself through the lens of Grace, then I can see my redeemed self the way God sees me, unblemished and full of potential, ready to be made into who He created me to be!

I have been given a place in the family, and a role as part of the body of Christ. No one is born in a vacuum; every one of us is designed for relationship, to be part of a bigger team. If I am willing to take MY story and subjugate it to HIS story, then I will find meaning and fulfillment in my role. Further, Paul says that in the body of Christ we ALL have different roles, and that “each member belongs to all the others.”

Anyone who has ever participated in a team activity knows how this works: you make the extra pass, take on extra duty to support a teammate, lay down the sacrifice bunt, take a meal over during stressful times, watch the kids, make the key block, contribute your creativity to someone else’s presentation…

There’s an old saying that it’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit. I’ve been privileged to be on that kind of team several times in my life, and it is absolutely true. If you are not seeing the results in your life that you’d like to see, ask yourself two questions: What team(s) are you on? And, Who do you belong to? Maybe it’s time to work on a DIFFERENT kind of body…

People work out every day to maximize their looks,
Striving to achieve a nice physique that really cooks.
While you flex or stop to see the beach’s latest hottie,
Don’t forget you also have another kind of body.
If you find your role with other people who believe,
And no one’s concerned with any credit that’s received,
You’ll be amazed at how it works, and what you can achieve!
You’ll do almost anything with this body, if you let it.
You’re part of the body of Christ, so do not let yourself forget it.
God will bless if no one cares about who gets the credit!

 

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. 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.

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 gospels were probably only just starting to be in circulation when Paul wrote. 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 he had never followed the Messiah during his lifetime… Think about that!

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?

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

 

Scripture: It’s More Than a Collection of Writings. It’s the Right Tool for the Job

What if I told you that there was a tool that will help you be more profitable and do more good? Would you use it? There is such a tool, and it is probably as close as your bookshelf. It’s a book of wisdom that says this: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV)

scripture

In order to guard against “evil men and impostors”, Paul tells Timothy to look at his own exemplary life, and to continue in the things he has learned and been assured of (v 14). Paul reminds Timothy that the Scriptures offer him the necessary assurance to bear opposition and uncertainty. What are you ASSURED of? When the chips are down, what gives you strength and confidence? What do you absolutely believe?

We live in a world assaulted by relativism, where we are told that truth is subjective and individual. Something may be true for you, but it’s not necessarily true for everyone. One of Satan’s great accomplishments in our lifetime is his assault on the truth. If he can make us, like Pontius Pilate, question the nature of truth, he can reduce the influence of Scripture and erode the underpinnings of faith. And since Jesus said, “I am the truth”, it follows absolutely that by attacking truth, Satan is attacking Jesus, the Gospel, and everything that offers hope in this world.

Paul reminds Timothy that the Scripture is still his foundation. First, it is inspired by God. The original language asserts that God’s word is “God-breathed”. It is a dynamic, living document that was infused into authors so that it can be infused into us. Are Scriptures as much a part of your life as breathing? Paul says that if they are, they are profitable and useful. They will equip you for doctrine (you will understand what generates and maintains the foundation of faith), for reproof (you will know how to exhort and encourage others), for correction (you will know right from wrong and be able to act upon it), and for instruction in righteousness (you can continue to be infused with the same character that God has).

If you invest in the Word, Paul says, you will be “complete”, and “thoroughly equipped for EVERY good work.” That covers a lot of good works. Grab hold of the Scripture. Get equipped. Do good.

Paul tells Timothy to stay and study Scripture every day,
To find within its pages all the wisdom of the ages.
It offers doctrine and correction, reproof and spiritual protection;
Follow what it says. You'll find it helps your heart & soul and mind.
When into its wisdom you have dipped,
You'll find you have a foot that hasn't slipped,
And furthermore, my son, you'll be equipped!
Life can be approached by any fool; 
It's better if you use this awesome tool.
If you apply yourself, and do not shirk,
You'll soon be well-equipped to do good work.

 

 

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

Citizenship Quiz: As A Legal Alien, What are Your Rights and Obligations?

There is a lot of talk about citizenship these days. We tend to focus on political citizenship, and it’s certainly a hot topic, but there is another kind of citizenship that has no barriers and doesn’t require any walls: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20, NKJV) Even though we live on this earth, we are just passing through. Paul reminds us that the physical world, and even our physical bodies, are temporary dwelling places. As a Roman, Paul placed great importance on his citizenship.

citizenship

He boldly claimed rights as a Roman citizen when he was involved in conflicts, and he was well-versed in what protection he had under Roman law. In the polyglot world of different cultures and religions, Roman citizenship was the gold standard of political protection. He often used his standing in the Empire to his legal or practical advantage, and people reacted with respect when he invoked the name of Rome. In Philippi he demanded that the magistrates come to validate his release from jail; in Ephesus, the city clerk quelled a riot that threatened violence; and in Jerusalem his status as a Roman once again saved him from an angry mob. Yet as much as he valued being Roman, his political status in the Roman world meant nothing compared to his true citizenship in heaven. (If people took American citizenship as seriously as Paul took being a Roman, we would all we would all be far more thankful about enjoying the rights we have in the United States!)

But the Bible takes a longer view of citizenship. Peter says that we are merely “sojourners and pilgrims” here (1 Peter 2:11). James is more to the point: “Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14, NIV) Comparing our short number of years here on earth to the reality of the years we will spend in eternity is an intimidating exercise.

Perhaps you have seen Francis Chan’s very powerful illustration of our life’s timeline as a long, long piece of rope, where our earthly sojourn is shown as a mere couple of inches at one end, and our eternal life stretches on and on, off the stage and out the door. It’s a very visible object lesson our an earthly life span compared to an eternal one.

We are not here on earth very long. Stop to imagine for a moment how long eternity is, and picture yourself in it. Think of the possibilities of growth and learning, about the opportunity to build everlasting relationships that grow in every way but never grow stale. Think about being part of a kingdom where the King is amazingly loving and incredibly wise, and where you are not only His subject but his heir, with rights and privileges you never dreamed of. While our flesh is corruptible, and our bodies live in a carnal world where everything dies, our spirit is already residing in heaven, taking baby steps into immortality.

Do you really live as if your citizenship is in heaven? As a citizen of heaven, what are your rights? What are your obligations? Where is your allegiance? These are questions that all good citizens should be asking. If you don’t know the answers, maybe it’s time to spend a little more time on your heavenly social studies.

What if you had rights and privileges that you could use,
And permanent legal standing that no judge could dare refuse?
What if you had citizenship with all the perks it brings,
And got to be a subject for a wise and gracious king?
Would you exercise the right to live in such a place?
Would you be obedient to the lenient law of grace?
You should. And furthermore, I’d go tell all my friends and buddies
That there’s still time to brush up on their heavenly social studies.

 

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

 

A Little Yeast Leavens the Whole Loaf. What the Heck Does that Mean?

Should we be keeping the law to avoid Guilt? Aren’t we supposed to be righteous? Shouldn’t Christians be better than other folks? When Paul speaks about circumcision he is referring to keeping the law, which he says has no real value under grace. To those who feel some sort of satisfaction in keeping rules, he reminds us that a little yeast leavens the whole loaf. I used to think he meant that a little sin contaminated the whole body, but I think if you look closer that he means something else. Something that righteous folks need to keep in mind…

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast [leavens] works through the whole batch of dough.” (Galatians 5:6-9 NIV)

yeast

In the early church, many of the recently converted Hebrew Christians felt like Gentile believers from outside the Jewish faith should have to follow the law (like circumcision). In the Jewish system, following the law was so ingrained into their lifestyle that it became pervasive. Folks like the Pharisees had already replaced God’s love with the law, and when they became Christians they felt like everyone else should, too.
Cultures who worship following the rules in order to gain salvation elevate punishment over compassion, and legalism over love. In Romans 4:13, Paul reminded them, “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” Paul did not nullify the law, but said in Romans 6:1 that right living should be a result of salvation, not the author of it. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!”

Paul warned the Galatians against replacing grace with deadly, soul-killing legalism. Keeping the law is not the end game, even though most religion is focused on that. Tell me, if YOU were the devil, wouldn’t you rather have everyone equating God to keeping rules rather than loving each other? Wouldn’t you rather involve people in self-righteousness and recrimination rather than Grace?

Paul says that keeping the law is NOT beneficial for salvation. It’s a result of being saved. Here in Galatians he unpacks the notion that Christ died so that we can express faith in love, not so we can get caught in the chains of legalism and pompous self-righteousness. It is so easy to lose sight of that. We get caught up in how right we are, or who we are better than, and we get swollen with the pride of self-sufficiency. Paul points out that (KJV) “a little leaven leavens the whole loaf.” Even a little bit of yeast can influence a whole batch of dough, making it an entirely different type of bread. In the Jewish world, where unleavened bread was the staple, a little yeast ruined the whole batch, making it puffed-up and unsuitable. Conclusion? Eat the bread of life. Don’t be self-rising flour.

Paul reminded legalists who keep the rules the most
That leavened bread resulted in a different kind of toast.
He said that yeast would permeate the dough with all its power,
And puffed-up bread resulted from contaminated flour.
Run the race with love, and don’t let legalism in–
Claiming to be righteous is another kind of sin!
Just obey the truth, and keep the law within its place:
The path to righteousness is found not in the law, but 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

Armor is Needed In Order to Go Into Battle, Right?

As long as there has been conflict, men have sought ways to protect themselves. Roman soldiers carried shields; samurai wore protective body panels; and armor has been employed by everyone from medieval knights to battleships. Gladiators wore pieces of body armor in the arena, and NFL football players wear pads and helmets today. In the Bible, Paul describes a different kind of armor for a different kind of conflict.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:10-13 NIV)

armor football

Can you imagine an NFL football player taking the field with just their shorts, a t-shirt, and their cleats to protect them? Or wearing their shoulder pads but no other protective gear? Or even just their helmet? No way. These guys compete on a field with strong, fast athletes who are trying to knock them into the middle of next week! If they weren’t wearing the proper equipment, they couldn’t perform the same way the other guys could. They would be tentative, limited, and vulnerable. Football players wear all of the protective gear they can in order to keep from being hurt or knocked out of the game. Makes sense, right?

How about the body armor worn by troops and SWAT team members? Ask the policeman whose vest just stopped a bullet if he thinks it’s a good idea to wear armor…

So, why do you go into daily spiritual battle against far more malicious foes wearing less than the full armor of God? There are spiritual forces at work in this world that want to bring you down, to limit you and make you vulnerable. You may not think about it much, but you are in a spiritual war every day, and there really are forces at work trying to change the values in our world and in our culture. If you are uncertain about that, read the news once in a while…

While Paul doesn’t tell Christians to go around knocking people down, he does tell us to stand our ground. So stand firm. Protect yourself. Avail yourself of all of the equipment God offers. If you are walking around wearing only gospel shoes, you are pretty vulnerable. Read the rest of the list, which includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shield of faith (verses 14-17). Don’t go into battle un-equipped. Make sure you are completely dressed.

When you take the battlefield, conditions can be hard;
Make sure you protect yourself, and maximize your guard.
God has armor He designed to guard His troops before, behind,
To keep his soldiers all aligned in all conditions they may find.
The armor of God has been designed and put together, all combined
To guard your heart and mind when Satan tries to put you in a bind.
In the battle always keep your weapon close at hand;
When evil comes, you’ll be equipped to rise! And fight! And stand.

 

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