A Soldier, an Athlete, and a Farmer Walked Into a Church…

What do a Soldier, an Athlete and a Farmer have in common? And what do they have to do with you?
“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” (2 Timothy 2:4-7, NIV).

soldier athlete farmer

Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is a great challenge about leadership on the Christian walk, and it is full of subtle details that make it applicable no matter who you are. Paul begins by saying, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier”. Being a Christian, Paul says, is like being a soldier. We are in a battle. We have a chain of command. We have orders. We experience suffering. He is not challenging Timothy to lead from afar, he is calling him to his side in the battle’s fray. Paul is not consulting, or leading theoretically. He is familiar with the hardships, the inconveniences, and the requirements of battle. His advice is true because it comes from experience. What soldier wouldn’t follow a leader like that? A good soldier understands his/her orders, and is committed to carrying out his/her mission. They stay focused on the objective.

Tell me, what is YOUR mission? How entangled are you in other affairs? How much do you want to please your commanding officer? But wait, there’s more: Apparently following Christ involves way more than going to church once a week. Paul also compares the Christian life to running a race. Why this analogy? Christians as athletes? Running to win? Athletes train. Athletes compete. They play by the rules. They strive mightily, and leave it all out there on the field…

Do we really do those things in our spiritual lives? How much do you train? How spiritually fit are you? How hard do you strive? How badly do you want the prize? Most athletes train every day, fine-tuning their bodies or trying to gain small improvements over their baseline. They work on specific areas where they can improve, with regimens designed to get them there. What’s the spiritual equivalent of that? Are we spiritual couch potatoes or athletes?

Finally, Paul compares the Christian life with being a “hardworking farmer”. A farmer clears land, prepares soil, plants, and cultivates. He calculates and plans his outcome, anticipating the benefits he will reap from his harvest. He invests countless hours in planting, tending, and harvesting his crops, and is rewarded with the fruits of his labor. He has to have patience and faith in order to complete his process. In each of these three examples, the participant is called upon to suffer, to strive, to work; and in each case there is a reward: the commander’s commendation, the victor’s crown, the first fruits.

These labors and these rewards are natural aspects of their respective crafts, but Paul takes it a step further. He says they apply not only to Timothy but to us. When Paul says, “Join with me in suffering”, he is inviting all of us. We are all in the battle. We are all in the race. The fields are white unto harvest. FIGHT. COMPETE. GROW.

Soldiers go through weeks of training; they do not meander.
They work hard to satisfy the demands of their commander.
Athletes work out constantly gain the speed and size
So that in competition they can strive to win the prize.
Farmers work out in the fields with toil, and sweat, and grime
So they can reap the first fruits of their harvest when it’s time.
Why does Paul compare us to the way an athlete strives?
He says it represents the way we live our Christian lives.
We are in the battle and the race, and you should know:
The fields are ready for the harvest. Fight, compete, and GROW.

 

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Philemon Had a Problem Which All of Us Share, and an Opportunity All of Us Have

Philemon could have sat in judgment over Onesimus. He had the right to be offended, and to extract the ultimate penalty. 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 means “profitable” or “helpful”) and led him to belief in Christ. After his conversion, Onesimus was willing to return to Colossae to go back to his master, Philemon, even though Philemon could demand judgment 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?

 
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

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. But there may be more to it than they taught us in Biology Class; Paul here talks to Timothy about spiritual reproduction, which is a whole ‘nother thing…

reproduction

“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.

A few quick observations:

1) Paul calls Timothy his son. 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 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 we are FAR from 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. Just quit teaching others, and stop committing it to faithful believers. 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.

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

The Worst Sinners Often Make the Best Kind of Repenters

Here’s a question: Who is the worst sinner you can think of throughout history? Or who is just the worst sinner you know? Think before you answer this one…

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV)

We all think of the Apostle Paul as a holy man. He was an amazing convert, a dedicated missionary, and an amazing theologian. But that’s not how Paul thought of himself. Based on what he wrote, I’m pretty sure Paul believed himself to be the worst of all sinners. And since he had been not only a self-righteous “Pharisee of the Pharisees”, but also a persecutor of the early church, I’m sure he had a lot to answer for. But what I have been learning over the last few years is that every one of us has a lot to answer for—and that what YOU have to answer for should matter to YOU, and what I have to answer for should matter to ME. I’m not sure the Holy Spirit convicts us about OTHER peoples’ sins, and I have observed that often the people who think they are close to God are righteous and indignant over the wrong person’s sin.

worst sinner

You may think you have been relatively good, but the more I read Scripture, the more concerned I am about all the things I have done. I’m concerned even more about all the things I haven’t done. I see things in Scripture that hold me accountable not just for what I have done, but for what I have thought. (And I hate to admit this, but I have committed far more despicable sins in my mind than I have even had time to physically commit.) Based on my rough assessment of my own personal inventory of sin, I’d have to say that Paul might need to move over and accept his place as the SECOND worst of sinners; he may have over-staked his claim to being worst.

In the real world, my ACTUAL sinfulness has cost me opportunities and relationships, and it has caused immeasurable harm to any number of people, including those I love the most. It has also diminished my own usefulness: how much time have I wasted on sin that could have been spent serving others, or spending time with my Father. How do I account for that? Paul says that it took the “immense patience” of Jesus Christ. His brutal, painful death paid the penalty for sin, and made it possible for a Righteous Judge to offer mercy to all sinners.

So here’s the thing: even if I were the ONLY sinner to ever live, Jesus would still have had to go to the cross for my redemption. It’s nice that Jesus died for the sins of the world, but the main thing to me is that he had to die because of ME. MY sin was incredibly costly. Salvation is free but it’s not cheap: It cost God his Son. It cost his Son his life.

It has become clearer to me that the closer we get to God, the more our own sins matter, and the more convicted we become—and not in a morbid, negative way (oh I feel so guilty! Whatever am I to do?), but more in an ‘awareness of the majesty and mystery of Grace’ way (oh I feel so grateful! What, Lord, should I do?). I hope you are aware enough of what Christ did to be grateful. I hope that we sinners can be aware enough to be deeply convicted as well… If you feel like you’ve been pretty good overall, and you are not somehow devastated by the price that has to be paid for your sins, then you probably ought to do a quick position check. You may not be as close to God as you think.

Of all the righteous Pharisees, Paul said he was the first;
But out of all the sinners he proclaimed himself the worst.
Now, Paul preached Christ in every town and prison he was in,
But he still felt inadequate because of all his sin.
We all judge sin from time to time–it’s what we see in others;
We even notice faults among our Christian friends and brothers.
Surely Paul’s assessment of his sins was overrated,
And when He called himself the worst, perhaps he over-stated…
Perhaps we’d see Paul differently and understand him clearer
If we felt worst about the sin reflected in our mirror.

 

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

Encouragement is What You Should Choose When You Are Tempted by Dis

You know about people who gripe, right? There’s always a complaint because they are disgusted or disappointed with something. They discuss negative things, or offer disparaging comments. They diss things. They like to dispute more than they like to contribute. There’s a BIG Difference between “en” and “dis”, when it comes to courage. Think about the difference between “Encouragement” and “Discouragement”…

(And by the way, if you are following along, it’s Day 60 of our Reading through the Bible, bringing us to Second Thessalonians…)
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17, NIV)

Some days it’s just good to hear encouragement. So many things happen in life that wear us down or cause distress that we might just need an encouraging word… Some of those things are merely mechanical. Perhaps you’ve had one of those weeks where your car breaks down, your refrigerator goes out, your flight gets cancelled, or your phone breaks. Days like that are irritating and annoying. And it’s not just these “little” things that tear us down, but on top of that we are beset with bad news, health issues, loneliness, and emotional distress. Life has so many ways to discourage us…

It was true in the first century and it is true now. If we focus on the negative, we can get caught up in discouragement. But don’t do “dis”: Do “en”. Think about the difference those prefixes can make. “Dis” can turn enchantment into Disenchantment. Courage can be made into Discouragement or it can become Encouragement! In the days of the great sailing ships, mariners would often tattoo words of encouragement onto their knuckles to remind them of what to do.

encouragement

Chuck Swindoll encourages us to encourage someone else! Paul says, “Stand firm” and “hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you”. Do you know teachings that build you up and give you hope? (I know where you can find some!) He promises that God (who “loved us by his grace” and gave us “eternal encouragement and good hope”) will Himself encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good word and deed. Have you ever felt strengthened by God? Have you ever felt encouraged by his presence? God’s encouragement is no small thing. It’s eternal, which always trumps temporary, and you don’t have to earn it because it is freely given to us. What’s more, when we embrace it, it will show up in our actions and our words. So wherever you are, be ENCOURAGED today. Act ENCOURAGING. Speak an ENCOURAGING word. I think you’ll find those are all related.

Here's a word that I hope will last:
Be strong! Stand firm! Hold on; hold fast!
Be encouraged today if things go wrong,
Find hope in God! Rise up! Be strong!
When life is hard and goes amiss,
And the world for 'couragement' offers "dis",
Remember the man who set his face
To go to the cross to take our place
And pay the price for amazing grace!
He took my place, where I might have been,
So I've said it before, and I'll say it again:
Because of his courage, I'm all "en"!

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

Share What’s Important: Maybe They Were Right in Kindergarden, After All

You know that friend you have with whom you share everything? I think Paul had lots of those kinds of friends. When he wrote to the Believers at Thessalonica, he reminded them of just how close they had become when he had worked among them.
“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well… For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, 11-12 NIV)
To me, this is the true picture of evangelism: a relationship that builds upon the foundation of the gospel to incorporate love and encouragement into everyday life. I think the KJV translation portrays it even better: “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.”

Who is dear to you? Who do you cherish? I often think of cherishing my own children or grandchildren; not so much people very different from me, or people who don’t share my values…
And what is evangelism? Is it big crusades with invitations? Is it taking the chance to share the Gospel on the streets? Why we do Evangelism is not based on numbers or results, or even on the importance of our mission; but the reason we should share the gospel with anyone should be because we love them. It emphasizes the underlying reason for the gospel, reminding us it is not only about fulfilling a mission but about performing ministry; it is a means to engage others to encourage, comfort and exhort. It is a way to express to others what Jesus gave to us. The gospel is delightful and important; it is tender and demanding. It is a call to kingdom and glory, and to service and humility.

share life

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least encourage my own kids, Jessica Nelson, Katy Burton, and Jordan Jackson (and Chris Nelson, John Burton, and Mallory Jackson too!) to “live lives worthy of God”. I know you do, and I know it’s not always easy. But take heart, and be courageous! It’s a journey worth taking.
Paul’s verses here in his letter to the Thessalonians remind us that we should urge and encourage one another to live the right kind of life. And to all of us today, Paul says: share the gospel, share your life. That also works when you flip it around: share your life, share the gospel! We were all taught to share in kindergarten. Maybe this is why.

Evangelism conjures up a sermon and a Bible,
A fiery preacher calling folks to have a big revival.
Paul said there’s another way to share the gospel news:
Cherish people. That’s a harder sermon to refuse.
If you’d like to win someone to Christ, then take this dare:
Love them well, just as you’d love a child for whom you care.
Offer them your friendship, showing love by what you do:
And then they’ll find the gospel easier to listen to.

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

Upon Reflection, the Son is the Spitting Image of the Father

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? The reflection there will do everything you do, and say only what you say. Paul said in the book of Colossians that if you want to see God, then just look at His image.

reflection

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation… And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15, 18-20 NIV)

Jesus said, “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, and “I and my Father are one”, claims which–if false– would have been abhorrent to a follower of YHWH. Paul offers a reflection about Christ’s resurrection here, and it builds a very logical case about Jesus’ identity and authority, IF the resurrection is true:

1) It AUTHENTICATED who Jesus was: he was not just an itinerant rabbi, he was the incarnate image of the invisible God. He’s a pure reflection of the Father. An image can ONLY reflect the original, and do exactly what the original does. Stand in front of a mirror and try it! Your image will do what you do. Jesus showed us what the Father looked like. It means that Jesus is the visible image of a spiritual God, and you know what? We can be, too.

2) It CONFIRMED the possibility of eternal life. As the firstborn from the dead, Christ opened the very gates of hell and demonstrated a new possibility of triumph over death.

3) The resurrection VALIDATED Christ’s position: he is the head of the church, the pure expression of the Father’s fullness in human form… God’s fullness burst forth in new life not only for Him but for us. He shows us how God looks, acts, and lives, and calls us to follow him. Because of his actions, He now has supremacy in everything. He earned his position not by conquest, not by coercion, but by humility and sacrifice.

4) Finally, it proved that he RECONCILED us to God: the wages of sin are death, and every human after Adam was held to account for their trespasses. The only hope seemed to be in keeping the law (at which all men failed) or having faith in an unlikely promise of redemption. Christ’s position enabled him to keep that promise, (since his voluntary death paid our accounts in full), and his resurrection demonstrated the result of being reconciled: LIFE! If Christ is in you, then your now-reconciled, eternal life is indeed a reflection of the very image of God. Doesn’t that just fill your day with new possibilities? Smile at someone today as if God was smiling through you to them. Then do everything else as if He was, too.
You know what? He is.

A Reflection

When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
It’s really not you, but who could it be?
It’s your image, a precise presentation of you
Who says all that you say, and does all that you do.
Your image reflects every wrinkle and scar,
And it shows you exactly the way that you are.
There’s an image of God, which he gave us to show
Every detail about him that we’d like to know–
His image is not in a temple of stone,
Or a statue of gold, or an idol of bone–
There is only one image of God, only one:
It’s reflected, perfected in God’s only Son.
Since you can’t see God’s Spirit, try looking instead
At the life that he lived, and the things that he said.
Look closely at Jesus. Upon close inspection,
I think you will see God the Father’s reflection.

 

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

Watch What You Hear, and Think and See: Such Things Become Your Destiny

Paul’s letter to the people of Philippi was essentially a love letter to a group of dear friends. At the time he wrote it, he was in all likelihood under the watch of Roman guards during his house arrest in Rome, around AD 61. His letter was full of affection and Fatherly advice, seasoned with some encouraging exhortation. If you read the whole letter, it is easy to see that Paul wrote them based on the close personal relationships he had formed among them.

watch

As the epistle draws to a close, he offers them this exhortation: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 NIV).

Paul’s advice to the Philippians was given in a simpler time, when people had fewer options and more control over what they thought about. They could actually choose what to think about rather than having their thoughts (pick one) influenced, polluted, distracted, contaminated, invaded, diluted, or dulled by hundreds or perhaps thousands of daily media messages… (Sources say that they average American sees 3000-5000 commercial messages a DAY! Even if it is half that, think about the number of images and messages you encounter daily.) Of the media you hear or see every day (TV, movies, advertising, song lyrics, social media, Pinterest, Internet searches, etc.), how much of it is noble or pure? How much of it is excellent or praiseworthy? How many hours a day are you watching or listening to someone else? What music do you listen to? What does it really say? What song lyrics have you memorized over the years without even thinking about it? Paul says what we put into our minds is one of the keys to enjoying a peaceful heart!

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “I am a part of all that I have met.” What has become part of YOU? Even some of the “harmless” media like Facebook or Pinterest can suck you in and hold you spellbound over things of this earth. You can waste a LOT of time dreaming of things and comparing, even perhaps coveting some of the things you see… And there are FAR more harmful things than Pinterest out there on the internet. So be careful what you think about. Don’t forget the acronym to WATCH your inner life: Watch your Words, for Words become Actions. Watch your Actions, for Actions become Thoughts; Watch your Thoughts, for Thoughts become Consistent; Consistent Actions become Habits. Watch your Habits, for they become your Destiny. I have modified that old statement in a way that seems more progressive to me: WATCH refers to What you see, your Attitudes, Time, Character, and Habits, and how that influences your Will, your Actions, your Treasure, your Companions, and How you Live:

Watch WHAT YOU SEE, for when you close your eyes, you see it still:
It nibbles the foundation at the corners of your WILL.
Your Will affects your ATTITUDE and ACTIONS that you take;
They influence your TIME and the decisions that you make.
Your THOUGHTS become your CHARACTER, which governs what you do,
Or maybe the COMPANIONS you decide to take with you…
Will they create good HABITS in the end, or will you see
That what you’ve done in all these things affects your destiny?
Paul challenged folks in Philippi to think on what is pure,
To dwell on lovely, noble things of which they could be sure.
He challenged them to think on what is lovely, right and true:
If that advice was good for them, it’s good for me. And 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
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

Treasure in Jars of Clay: Why Would Anybody Do That?

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NIV)

Have you ever felt hard pressed, or perplexed, or struck down by circumstances? Sometimes it seems that life just turns against us. Circumstances knock you down, and you almost feel like giving up. I knew a coach whose speech to the team about a tough day or moment was always the same: “Men, life is hard. No one ever said it’d be easy. Sometimes you get knocked on your keister. But you’ve got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in there. It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up!” (That’s me, front row center, # 77 in your program, but #1 in your hearts: Cambridge Colts, 1964 or 5) Our coach may not have been quoting Paul, but he certainly reinforced the idea of hanging tough when life knocked you down.

treasure

Of course this was good advice for young football players about handling hard knocks, but Paul’s response takes somewhat higher aim. First of all, Paul says that we are full of treasure, that the immeasurable richness of God’s glory has been put into jars of clay.
Is that amazing or what? Our bodies are temporary. They can and will fail, but the very richness of God’s Spirit has been put within bodies that grow old and decline. The mortal has been invested with immortality. The corrupt, Paul says, has been made incorruptible. We are far more than what we look like on the outside: we may seem fragile, but God is strong; we may seem temporary, but God is eternal. Our bodies will perish, but our souls are another story.

We are merely jars of clay on the outside, but since God has placed his treasure in us, we have been gifted with a new reality and new possibilities. We are endowed with spiritual possibilities that transcend carnal limitations. We have spiritual potential that is not limited to what our bodies can achieve. The only way to appropriate those possibilities, Paul says, is to “carry around in our body the death of Jesus”.

Looking back on Easter, the death of Christ became the springboard to life. The darkest hour exploded in glorious light! No matter what happens to us, we are not abandoned and we do not need to despair. As Christ showed the world on Easter, the jar of clay can be broken; but when that happens it opens the door to release God’s treasure and show his all-surpassing power. Christ’s death was indeed brutal and painful, but it wasn’t final. The power of His resurrection lives on in us, and we will never be crushed, abandoned, or destroyed. Next time something bad happens, take comfort in that. Then dust yourself off and get back in there.

Think on this brief thought today:
We may exist in jars of clay,
And tragedies may come our way,
But few can see our inner measure,
Hiding place of God’s great treasure.
Spiritual possibility transcends this earth’s reality:
Our vessels house eternity. We are much more than you can see.
When by God’s Spirit jars of clay are sealed,
The resurrection’s power is revealed.

 

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

Work Only Works If It is Built on the Proper Foundation

Generally speaking, the foundation of a building dictates its size and strength. It is certainly possible to create a structure that looks great from the outside, but is actually worthless because it is built on the wrong type of foundation. If the foundation is faulty, then the structure of the house won’t work either. Jesus spoke of the difference of the house built upon sand versus the house that was built upon rock. Ancient builders were no strangers to using huge stones as the foundation for large structures. As a carpenter, Jesus understood this principle well.

work works

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of another type of construction: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15, NIV).

What are you trying to build in this world? And what are you building it upon? Paul tells the Corinthians that our only foundation for good work is Jesus Christ. That seems like a rather narrow and pretentious claim, but take a closer look at it. As humans, we do good works for all manner of other reasons. We do good things to look good, to impress somebody else, feel better about ourselves, or to keep from feeling guilty… We work to perform acts of kindness to pay it forward or to earn Brownie points. But all those temporary motivations to work in the flesh do NOT provide the right foundation for true goodness. Technically speaking, all good works that we do to feel or look good are still acts of selfishness. Good works to get to heaven? Selfishness.

Paul teaches that true goodness resides in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Grace is free because Christ’s death on the cross was an utterly selfless act. He didn’t die for HIMSELF; he died for US. Therefore our true reward doesn’t come from our own good works but from His. Paul explains that not all good works carry eternal value, and that come Judgment Day, our selfish portfolio of good works may not survive. Many things which we assume will carry a reward will disintegrate when tested by fire; but the foundation will remain.

Paul’s statement echoes what Jesus said in Matthew 6:5-6. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” There’s an old saying that it’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit. Let’s give God all the credit– and build more good stuff in secret.

Why do people do nice things?
Is there some blessing that it brings?
Perhaps a place in heaven is had
By doing good instead of bad…
Do we do good works because we should,
Or just because we feel so good?
Should we get credit for what we do,
And hope our deeds will pull us through?
Instead of doing works to please,
Do works for Christ that no one sees:
Paul says there’ll be a celebration
Because we built on the right foundation!
“Only one Life, ’twill soon be past;
Only what’s built for Christ will last.”*

*last two lines from “Only One Life” by C.T. Studd
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