Of All the Commands, This is Perhaps the Hardest One to Follow

Commands from leaders have come and gone throughout history, but this one really stands out: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13 NASB) Think about Leaders and commands.

commands death

The word of a reigning monarch is a life and death matter. Artaxerxes could sentence someone to death just for asking for an audience with him. There were the Caesars who passed themselves off as deities and in their power sentenced hundreds of thousands of prisoners and Christians to death; there was Adolph Hitler, who orchestrated the Holocaust, and Stalin, who commanded that dissidents be “purged” from society. There have been despotic leaders throughout history whose commands led their followers to commit acts of war, atrocities, and mayhem. There have been countless commands from Kings and tyrants which only spread fear and dread among their followers.

If you were given absolute power over the entire nation, and could do whatever you wanted to without fear of penalty or reprisal, what sort of commands would you issue? (And before you answer that, remember that Winston Churchill said, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”) You might start out as a benevolent dictator, but be careful: Leaders tend to gravitate towards governance that is self-interested, or that seems to be intended for good but which actually benefits mainly themselves. (Just look at Congressional perks and programs!)

Even in the name of religion, there are those who misuse power for evil purposes. There have been cult leaders like Bob Jones and David Koresh who gave commands which led followers to their doom. There have been religious leaders who asked for money, or other men’s wives, or who commanded their followers to commit suicide; there are religious leaders today who command their followers to strap on a bomb and commit both murder AND suicide. Commands given by such men are corrupt at best, lunacy at worst…

Of course, leaders also pass laws AGAINST all manner of crime. Our legal system penalizes people for doing wrong So, when you read what Jesus commands, it kinda sets you back on your heels for a minute. This commandment from Jesus is remarkable not only in his time and culture, but in all times and in all cultures. As King of Kings and Lord of Lords, I guess he could command us to do anything, and we’d ultimately have to submit. But get this: He commands us to love one another. “Love one another, just as I have loved you.” You heard him. Love one another today. And I guess pretty much every day! And by the way — if you are reading this, I love you, and I just prayed for you this morning. Boom!

Watch the ones who govern; just look out at all the lands
Where people rule with might and power, issuing commands;
The King of Kings came down to earth and walked across His land
Without the Secret Service or a military band...
He dressed in humble garb. There was no scepter in His hand.
His sermon was his life. He wasn't digital. He had no Brand,
But we still hear His great commandment, just the way He planned.
It's short and to the point, not very hard to understand:
"As I have loved you, Love each other. This is my command."
The world will fall. Will Fall. But Jesus and His words will 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

Fresh Wind and Full Sail is the Antidote to Getting Stale

Jesus was talking to his disciples about the wind, using it to describe the mystery of the spiritual life: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NASB)

So, what exactly does Jesus mean by this? The wind is an intriguing analogy for one of the most difficult aspects of inner life. How do we know about the Spirit of God? Is He real to us, and as much a part of our perception of God as the other two members of the Trinity? Is a spiritual life some vague, random occurrence? Is Jesus emphasizing what we don’t know and can’t see? Is he saying, like Mohammed Ali, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee; you can’t hit what you can’t see!” Or something else? Here are a few observations related to wind:

1) A spiritual life does have a source beyond us, something that is not necessarily evident. We don’t have the resources on our own to produce it, and our inherent human nature dwells on natural, not spiritual things. Paul points this out in 1 Corinthians 2:14: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

2) There is an element of mystery to it; since it is not something we produce and control, we don’t know for sure where it will take us. We took a balloon ride over Napa Valley, and I was surprised that the balloon pilot had so little control over direction. He could go up and down, but he had to navigate according to what the wind dictated. In terms of our spiritual wind, it has a definite direction, but we don’t always know what that is, and it doesn’t necessarily serve human logic.

3) We notice it by its absence. Ever wished for a breeze, when it was still and miserable? Have you ever been spiritually becalmed? Dead in the water? If you are lacking that spiritual push, maybe you long for a little fresh air.

wind and spirit

4) The wind, while we can’t see it, provides empirical evidence of its existence—we hear it and feel it. We know it from its effect, much like we know the Spirit from its fruit. What Spiritual evidence is displayed in your life? Can people see the empirical results of a Spiritual influence?

5) The wind is unimaginably powerful (think: tornado, hurricane). Yet we usually feel it blowing gently, or see it filling the sails of a graceful vessel, providing energy and speed. The Spirit is the same: while It is overwhelmingly powerful, He can also move gently through our inner life, providing a source of power and direction. Much like a sailing vessel, if we yield to the wind and apply our resources to capture its power, it can send us through storms and across oceans! Do you have all your canvas out? Are you yielding to God’s Spirit?

If so, do you feel a freshening breeze? Better put up another jib, and make sure we are properly rigged; we’re about to set sail for adventure!

The wind expands the billowing sail,
Pushing a mighty ship with ease;
A wind can displace all that’s stale,
And cool your porch with a freshening breeze…
The wind is powerful, wild and free:
You sense the wind and you feel it blow,
Although it’s something you can’t see!
It goes wherever it wants to go…
The breeze can blow the goldenrod,
Invisible whether it’s light or dark;
And so it is with the Spirit of God,
Who is not seen, but leaves His mark.
For when you let the Spirit take command,
He’ll guide you with His gracious, unseen hand.

 

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

Esther Had An Impossible Choice: Sometimes You Have to be Willing to Risk it All

The Book of Esther would make a great Disney movie. It has a beautiful woman, a treacherous villain, a kindly uncle, and a happy ending. The story of Esther is an amazing study in courage in the face of deception, treachery, and the twists and turns of political intrigue in a pagan royal court. Esther was placed on the horns of a dilemma, and the fate of every one of her people depended on what she decided to risk.

[Mordecai said:] “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NKJV)

Esther before Xerxes

In the Persian City of Susa, in the court of King Xerxes, a bitter and corrupt man named Haman concocted a plot to destroy the Jewish people. Haman had been promoted in Xerxes’ court and was a very important man. He became a murderous bigot,  angry at Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) because Mordecai would not bow to him in the street, and proclaimed that as a Jew he would bow to none but YHWH.

So Haman decided to get revenge not just on Mordecai but on all of his relatives, and basically duped the King into signing a death warrant for all of the Jews in Persia. (Have you ever wondered WHY it is the Jews who are so often targeted with genocide throughout history? Could it be the result of spiritual conflict between God’s people and the malevolent power of this world who would seek to destroy them? Just some food for thought…)

Esther

Xerxes signed Haman’s petition under false pretenses and without much thought, not realizing it applied to his newest wife, Esther. Because of her great beauty, she had been chosen out of all the women in the kingdom to be queen of Persia. It was quite a process. After she was chosen in the nation-wide beauty pageant, she was prepared with oils and beauty treatments for TWELVE MONTHS. No one had asked about her religion or family background, and no one in the court knew that she herself was Jewish. Her Uncle Mordecai had advised her not to disclose this information, and so no one in the Royal court realized Haman’s evil plan applied to the beautiful new queen.

Esther could have stayed incognito and hoped that she would be safe; but she also was in a unique position to help. As a result of these events, a life-changing choice lay before Esther. She could go before the King and expose the plot, but there was a catch: in his court, King Xerxes (like most despotic monarchs) had the right to kill anyone in the court who approached him uninvited. I’m sure that helped him stay on schedule, but it presented a real problem to Esther. Even further, by going forward and identifying with the Jews, she was placing herself voluntarily under Haman’s nefarious edict. Either way, she literally had to risk her own life in order to try to save her people.

Esther risked it all

I’m sure she was tempted to stay silent and hope for the best (something all of us do from time to time). After all, she had some security as a royal wife, and no one really knew that she was a Jew. In Esther 4:14 her uncle Mordecai encouraged her to approach the king. His counsel was that if she stayed silent, God’s deliverance for his people would still occur; but that perhaps she had been put in a unique position with a singular opportunity to act.

Esther is a great story, and her decision created an amazingly dramatic moment. But stop for a moment and think about that story in terms of your own life. Have you been brought to wherever you are for a purpose? Is there something you can do that no one else can do? Haven’t all of us been brought to moments large and small, with opportunities to risk our own comfort or our pride in return for greater gains? Aren’t all of us asked to die to self so that God’s greater good is realized? There’s a moment of choice in front of you, maybe even today… you can choose to remain silent and hope for the best, or proclaim your loyalty and allegiance to God. Who knows–perhaps it is YOU who have come to the kingdom for such a time as this! Step. up.

Esther’s Courage

Xerxes ruled with random lust; his court approached with fear.
His whimsy might be cruel or just, and Haman held his ear.
Haman’s hateful, murderous heart was filled with selfish pride,
Which turned against the man who worshipped Yahweh: Mordecai.
Haman lied to Xerxes, and his twisted, evil ruse
Convinced the King to grant the execution of the Jews.
Mordecai told Esther, then, of Haman’s vile plan,
Since her position in the court might thwart this evil man.
But if she came to the Royal court from the harem, where they kept her,
He might decline to see her with a gesture of his scepter,
And this declining gesture would mean death for good Queen Esther!
How could they escape this bind? How to change the Monarch’s mind?
Approaching him, she just might find that her request would be
declined…
Uncertain now, she wavered as she tried to count the cost.
Mordecai said, “Esther, if you don’t go, you’ll be lost–
God will save us either way, despite the turns and twists:
Who knows if you were put where you are for such a time as this?”
So Esther left the Harem and approached the Royal Hall,
Willing to save her people by being willing to risk it all.

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

You Want the TRUTH? Well Maybe You Can’t Handle THIS:

“Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, ‘If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32 ASV)

In a world where tons and tons of slanted opinions are tossed at us (read: Facebook, Twitter, CNN vs Fox, TV commercials, politics), the truth is becoming a rare and precious commodity. Every day you are presented with tons of information; how much of it is factual and how much of it is questionable? How do you know what is authentic and true versus what is twisted and spun? I still remember being encouraged several years ago because Congress declared that they were giving us a tax cut. Naturally I assumed that my taxes would therefore be lower. When my tax bill came, I found I was paying MORE in taxes! I actually called a congressman’s office to ask what happened to the tax cut. I wanted the TRUTH!

truth

Their answer was classic congressional double-talk: they told me that even though my total tax bill was higher, I was paying “less” in taxes because they had reduced the amount my taxes were scheduled to go up!

The art of prevarication is more sophisticated and subtle today than it has ever been in history. Over a century and a half ago, Mark Twain said “A lie will make it halfway around the world before the truth has had a chance to put its boots on.” And that was before we even had the internet. What is spin and what is factual? As Bill Clinton once said, “That depends on what your definition of the word “is”, is… In our politics and in our culture, deception has been raised to an art form, and it is far more common and pervasive today than it was when Mr. Twain made his observation.

How do we know what is true and what is not? I have heard it said that when the Treasury Department trains agents how to detect counterfeit bills, they don’t waste time studying every possible variation. They invest time in knowing the original backwards and forwards. They are so attuned to the true original that they develop sort of an inner “truth meter” that detects flaws and irregularities in the counterfeit script. This sounds a little simplistic, to be honest, but the principle makes sense. By being intimately familiar with the real thing, they can then detect the phony variations of it.

Most people remember Jesus said “the truth shall make you free.” What they forget is that he prefaced that remark not by saying, “read lots of men’s opinions”, or “watch the nightly news”, and certainly not, “get on Social Media”… He said to abide in his word. Give that a try. Know who Jesus really is. Bask in his words. Be intimately familiar with the truth. Then when you hear a variation of it your Truth Meter will go off like crazy!

The truth, I’ve said, and I’ll say it again
Is harder find than “A Few Good Men”,
When our culture tries to dismantle it,
And Jack Nicholson says, “You can’t handle it!”
It gets to be so strenuous, detecting the disingenuous
When things reported by the press
are not the truth, but something less.
Of all the things that come at you,
how can you tell which ones are true?
Things can be fake, if digital, so study the original:
Whether mature or just a youth, get to know the solid truth–
Know Jesus. Get to know His word, and out of everything you’ve heard,
Of everything that you can see, know this: The truth will set you free.

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

Knowledge Puffs Up, So Here’s What You Really Ought to Know:

“And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” (1 Corinthians 8:2 KJV) A long time ago I chose this as my life verse, thinking that having an arbitrarily closed mind is not really a Christian attribute, that knowledge in itself has limited value, and that life should be a constant opportunity to learn.

Socrates may have contributed to Paul’s logic when he taught that “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” It is sometimes challenging to try to stay intellectually open as a Christian when there are certain bedrock truths that are non-negotiable, and the idea of being dogmatic is probably seen as a negative by most folks in our culture. But being dogmatic is not necessarily a bad thing. Without bedrock, there is nothing to build upon. Perhaps it is the WAY some people are dogmatic that can be objectionable.

knowledge puffs

Paul was right when he said that “knowledge puffs one up” and contributes to pride and self-aggrandizement. It is only by allowing for our own possible ignorance that we access the opportunity for wisdom. You can’t put more treasure into a buried chest; a full Xmas stocking holds no more gifts; a sprung trap captures no more game; you can’t put ten pounds of… Well, you get the idea.

And really, if you look a little deeper, the point of our spiritual lives is not knowledge, but love. The verse right after this one says, “But if any man loves God, the same is known of him.” Paul knew that it is not knowledge but LOVE that transforms us. What fun would a friendship or a marriage be if we limited our relationship to only rational thought and knowledge, without any emotional connection? And yet we often treat God that way. It is not knowledge that completes us, but love. Paul reminded us about that in 1 Corinthians 13:13, when he said, “these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

As humans our very nature is not based on knowledge, but on loving relationships that actualize us and enable us to be who we were created to be. I don’t follow the rules just because I know them, but I follow them because I care about breaking them. Timothy Keller connects the dots like this: “The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you.”

knowledge worship

How much have you been moved by God lately? You may be reading your Bible, and you may be increasing your knowledge, but when is that last time you were so moved by God that you fell in love with Him all over again? If you are in love with God, your worship will transform you and people will notice. And isn’t it a much cooler thing for someone to say, “Wow, that person really loves God!” rather than, “Wow, that person really thinks he’s smart!” Love God. Be known for it.

Go to College, get more knowledge; it will help you win debates.
Just beware and be aware that ego sometimes self-inflates.
Find your mind some worldly wisdom, it will make you self-assured;
But realize you’ll be surprised at some things wisdom does not cure.
You can’t earn and you can’t learn this truth no matter where you go:
Just Love God. That’s all you need to live, and all you need to know.

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

Consider This: The Best Arguments Have Nothing to Do With Words…

“For consider him [Jesus] that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Hebrews 12:3 KJV) The uniqueness of Jesus is often overlooked, believe it or not. His parables and teachings have a timeless quality, and have been woven into the common wisdom of many of the world’s cultures. Most people credit him with being a prophet or a great teacher, apparently without knowing anything else about him; but when you truly consider what he said and taught about God’s love, he is unique among all the rabbis, teachers, and wise men who ever lived. The writer of Hebrews touches it here.

Two things about him stand out in this verse. First, there are only two groups mentioned here: 1) sinners; and 2) Jesus. He is not listed with the sinners, but he is in a different category, listed as the one who endured their contradictions against himself. He stands apart from sin, the man who broke no law. Consider our leadership today and even those who lived in all past generations. Can you think of another public figure from history that meets this criteria? Who even comes close? It’s not just the author of Hebrews who makes this assertion; so did Jesus’ best friend, John! So did Peter, Matthew, Mark and Luke. So did a Jewish zealot named Saul. The fact that everyone close to Jesus claimed that he was sinless is pretty unique, and sets Jesus apart from, well… everyone.

consider leaders

Would my wife or any of my close friends claim I was sinless? (Quit laughing!) How about yours? Would they say YOU are sinless? (Ha! Who’s laughing now?) And yet men who were around Jesus every day for years comment upon his behavior in ways that haven’t applied to any other man or woman. In fact, they COULDN’T apply. But consider this: In 1 Peter 2:22 Peter says of Jesus, “He committed no sin”.

John says  “In him [Jesus] was no sin.” (1 John 3:5)

Paul, who originally persecuted followers of Jesus as heretics, says this about him in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He knew no sin.”

Even the man who sentenced him to death (Pontius Pilate) said, “I find no fault in Him”. The fact that eyewitnesses, friends and even enemies claim he was sinless make Jesus very unique indeed.

consider Christ

Second, there is power in his being an example. The writer of Hebrews says, “Consider him.” The motivational power of a good example is huge in life, and it’s natural that we think about Jesus’ life and find encouragement when times are tough, “lest we be wearied and faint in our minds”. Are you stressed? Can the world be rude and uncaring at times? Don’t you hate driving with all of those careless, distracted, selfish people on the road? Consider him.

Consider the man who blessed the children, healed the sick and caused the lame to walk. Consider him who spoke wisdom and taught us that we should love one another. Consider him who bore the cross to Calvary, “lest you be wearied and faint in your mind”. Does anybody dispute that if you meditate and reflect upon the example and teachings of Jesus Christ, it will make you a better person? Who in this world can disparage his life and teachings, or the example that he set? After all, he gave his very life so that we might live.

But don’t forget that being an example creates a legacy and a standard for followers to live up to. Jesus said, “As I have loved you, you should also love one another.” He used himself as an example of how to love! And then he told us to do it ourselves! Not only did he present himself as our example, he challenged us to BE one as well. So here’s the question: What are you doing that’s exemplary? And who might be watching you, encouraged by your persistence, your habits, and your attitude? Consider them, too.

The greatest sermon ever heard
Had no alliteration;
You didn’t hear a single word
Of grand pontification.
There weren’t three points, a poem, a prayer–
Perhaps some teaching here and there,
But this: a life of love to share,
A cross that He alone could bear,
A servant’s heart beyond compare
Who counted the cost, who saved the lost,
Who stills the storms for the tempest-tossed,
Who lived without a sin or vice to be a perfect sacrifice;
He gave himself so we could be secured:
Consider Christ, and all that He endured…

 

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

The World Changes Faster Than Ever These Days, But Remember This: Grace Doesn’t

Stop and think for a moment about all the changes you’ve seen just in the last couple of years… Or back up and take a longer view of the changes that have happened in the last fifty years, when the world had no cell phones or personal computers. Everything changes so rapidly it is hard to keep up!

Well, the Bible has a take on change: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10, NIV)

The world is changing all around us at a pace unequalled in human history. Each generation likes to talk about “the good old days”, when things were simpler and life was less stressful and less complex. But no generation has ever witnessed the changes and the rate of change that we have experienced over the last 50 years, which shows no sign of slowing down; if anything, it seems to be accelerating.

changes happen fast

The flow of information has accelerated exponentially, and you are exposed to more messages (both good and bad, true and false) in a WEEK than the average person 50 years ago received in a lifetime. Today there are over 35 billion Google searches every month. In 2006, there were only 2.7 billion. In 1992 there were a million internet devices. Today there are more than FIFTEEN billion (and growing). To put it in Isaiah’s words, changes are “shaking the mountains”.

Opinions, discoveries, and facts are flying at us at a rate faster than we have the ability to process. The amount of new technical data is said to be doubling every two years, which means that a 4 year technical college student will find that what she learned her freshman year is out of date by the time she is a junior. The amount of new information generated in 2015 surpassed the total amount of annual new information generated (combined) over the last FIVE THOUSAND years.

changes phone

We are a generation immersed in change, forced to do things in new ways while leaving traditional values behind. One in seven couples who gets married in America today met on the internet. Gender is a choice. The average employee will have held 10 jobs by the time they are 38. Our world has been shaken by continuous, rapid change. Social gatherings consist of people getting together to sit separately and look at their phones.
Electronic connection has overtaken the personal touch in our world, and it makes you wonder if the best things in life are still free.

Isaiah says that there is a constant in the midst of a changing world. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.” Love and peace are still the two things everybody wants, and the two things sometimes hardest to find. Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” While the mountains are shaken and the hills are removed, God’s unfailing love surrounds and supports us. “The Lord”, Isaiah says, “has compassion on you.” God’s love offers us peace in the midst of turmoil and consistency in the midst of change.

Today’s message is simple and it is clear: The world changes. Grace doesn’t.

In cities, or on the open range
The only constant thing is change.
People, Data, growth, disaster
Fly around us ever faster,
Causing things to rearrange:
But don’t worry, that will change.
You can’t run, and you can’t hide,
No matter what you’ve done, or tried
The changes come at us so fast
It seems like nothing good will last!
Blast these changes! So infernal,
Is there nothing that’s eternal?
In a world of speed and sham,
There’s always him: the Great I AM.
Change will fly through time and space,
Moving at a faster pace,
And mountain tops will be replaced,
But this abides: Amazing 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

Heaven: Do You Want to Know What It is Really Like? Then Read This

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but only one person has ever been qualified to talk about what it will be like when we get there. His teachings abound with references to heaven, and they are not about harps, angels, and streets of gold. In fact, most of them–like this one–should make us scratch our heads and think:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” (Matthew 25:14-19 NKJV)

What on earth did Jesus mean about heaven?
In these verses, as He often does in the book of Matthew, Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven. It was a major theme in his preaching (see the Beatitudes, and read through his parables), and is certainly highlighted in Matthew, where Jesus used the phrase more than 50 times. Some scholars think that “heaven” is actually interchangeable with “God”, but that Jewish sensitivity to using God’s name prevented Jesus from using it unnecessarily. Since Jesus did occasionally use the phrase “kingdom of God”, I think when he says the Kingdom of Heaven, he is pointing us to something specific.

Consider this: of all the people who ever lived, Jesus alone is qualified to make distinctions about heaven. He’s the ONLY man who ever lived who had been there BEFORE he came to earth. His Father lived there, and even while on earth, Jesus spent time with him every day. When Jesus tells us about the kingdom of heaven, he is talking about a real place with a real King, and he is reminding us that we are subjects in that kingdom. So, what does that mean?

In this somewhat unusual story, Jesus describes how subjects of the king are given talents and expected to invest them wisely. Wait, what?! Does that mean heaven is all about investments, banking, and ROI? What will it be like to live in God’s kingdom? What observations can we make from this passage?

First, it appears that our citizenship in heaven begins here and now. Second, there is accountability in the kingdom; and third, all of the citizens of heaven are given assets to be accountable FOR. As you reflect on your daily activities, what resources have you been given? Would you say that you are bearing fruit? Are you creating a profitable return?

heaven investment

In terms of heaven, how do we apply this story? I think a good way to start is to understand the benefits and responsibilities of living in the Kingdom. Retell this story to yourself by putting God in the place of the man who was traveling, and your own name in place of the servants. “The kingdom of heaven is like the Lord, who called ____________ (YOUR NAME HERE) and gave talents to you, according to your ability. After a long time, God came and settled your account.”

So, what talent(s) do you think the king given has given you? And what have you done with them? Have they been used profitably? Being a good subject means that you can’t hide your talents. What are you doing with them? Someday you will settle accounts with the one who gave them to you: invest them wisely.

Thoughts of heaven may inspire a throne that burns with Holy Fire,
Or angels sitting on a cloud and singing songs of praise real loud.
But Jesus knew of heaven’s ways–
He’s the Alpha-Omega, the Ancient of days–
He spoke of a king that none could denounce,
Who will look at our books and will settle accounts.
He will show us our talents and tell us our story,
Asking if we used our gifts for His glory;
And we will be utterly chastened to find
That we wasted our talents and gifts, and our time…
He’s the King we are serving, we don’t have to wait
‘Til we’re standing in front of the heavenly gate!
The Kingdom of Heaven begins here, today:
Don’t take all your talents and hide them away,
But put them to work for the King and his Son;
When He settles accounts, He will tell you, “Well done.”

 

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

Promises You Should Know, Promises You Should Claim!

“And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” (2 Peter 1:4, NIV)

promises

How long has it been since you explored the promises of God? According to BibleInfo.com, someone has counted 3573 promises in the Bible. Bible Gateway.com lists 127 uses of the word promise in the NKJV. How many of them do you know? How many have you claimed?

According to Peter, God has given us “great and precious” promises that enable us to share in his divine nature. What promises do you think Peter had in mind when he wrote this? Was he thinking of God’s promises to Noah, Abram, Moses, and David? As Christians, those promises extend to us, and God’s covenant with them is also His new covenant with us. Are you familiar with the terms and promises of the covenant? They are part of God’s precious promises to YOU.

Peter would have been familiar with the law and the prophets; and he would have certainly been familiar with the teachings of Jesus. (You remember, Peter’s best friend, Rabbi, mentor, hero, redeemer…) Maybe he was thinking of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He may have been thinking of Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” He may have been reflecting on Pentecost and thinking of what Jesus said in John 16:7: “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

There are so many precious promises that applied to Peter but that also apply to YOU. Do you know them? Have you claimed them? Perhaps he thought of God’s ability to provide peace in a violent world: Isaiah 26:3 says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is fixed upon Thee; because he trusts in Thee.” Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27). Are you peaceful? Do you believe God’s promises enough to find peace when circumstances dictate otherwise?

God’s word offers more than promises about peace; it offers ways to deal with success and failure. Peter, who was a passionate and impetuous man, experienced extreme highs and lows in his relationship with Jesus. In the same chapter when Jesus promised him the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16), Jesus also rebuked him as worldly, calling him “Satan”. Peter was willing to take up a sword to defend Jesus and yet denied him on the same night. Peter the leader became Peter the loser; and Peter the disciple became Peter the denier. After he refused to identify with his Lord, the three synoptic gospels record that Peter “wept bitterly”–not the kind of response you’d expect from a man who was tuned in to God’s promises…

John recorded the way Peter was restored by Jesus by the Sea of Galilee (John 21), but he also took note of what Jesus said in verses 18-19: “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” Circumstances were not always going to be easy for Peter, but I bet he claimed God’s great and precious promises to the very end, and I bet he thought of something else written by his good friend John, the most important promise of all:
“And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.” (1 John 2:25, NKJV) It’s a pretty good promise, and John says it belongs not just to Peter, but to us! Know it. Claim it.

Peter made the brashest boast, then failed the man he loved the most;
There in the courtyard, he denied his friend and had to run and hide,
A broken man who could not keep his promise, and it made him weep.
But later Peter was restored to service by the Risen Lord:
So Peter preached at Pentecost to thousands who had once been lost!
Despite his prior, bitter tears, he led the church for many years,
As proof of God’s amazing grace, redeemed again from his disgrace.
Full of power, grace and glory, this is God’s redemptive story;
That we should all be witnesses to great and precious promises,
That lift us far from our mistakes. God’s promises are all it takes.

 

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

An Ode to Debt: To the One Who Paid the Debt We Owed

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 12:8-10, NIV)

First Corinthians 13 is certainly a wonderful description of love, but Paul wrote another love chapter in Romans 12 that actually extends about halfway into Romans 13. It is chock full of practical applications about love. The first seven verses exhort Christians to respect authority and to obey those in authority over them, because love is not rebellious or selfish. He encourages us to “give everyone what you owe them”, whether it be financial, social, or spiritual. (Taxes, revenue, respect, honor…)

Who do you owe something to? Paul says we are to live as if we have a “continuing debt of love to one another.” Think for a moment about the people in your life; who are you indebted to? Is there anyone to whom you owe a heart-felt ‘thank you’, an apology, or a kind word? Is there anyone to whom you should express respect or honor? What is keeping you from completing that transaction? Paul then draws his logical progression of thought to a close with an important conclusion about love: it is debt-free.

The law is based upon debt. When you break the law, you owe a penalty for what you did. It is only by paying the penalty that you can atone for your transgression and obtain pardon. The fundamental problem with sin and selfishness on a cosmic scale is that we accumulate more debt than we can repay, and God’s righteousness requires payment for justice to be served.

debt paid

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Love paid the debt, and Paul says the only way to keep from incurring further debt is to live in love. Once again he echoes the teachings of Jesus (how did he know so much about what Jesus taught without a printing press or even the internet?), who said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Love fulfills the law in several ways. It offers payment for the penalty of the law; it offers freedom in the presence of the law; and it prevents our falling further under the power of the law. It’s not money or stuff that enables you to live debt-free, it’s only love. Go do something loving today. Send a word of encouragement. Mend an old fence. Say that ‘thank you’ to someone you once carelessly forgot to thank. Give a hug. Or just get down on your knees and remember who you were most indebted to, and who paid the debt.

Heaven: everyone wants in,
But everyone is touched by sin;
Remember as you draw each breath,
The wages for your sin is death.
You owe a debt you cannot pay
No matter what you do or say.
In spite of all the plans you’ve made,
You have a debt that must be paid.
But God reached out to you, and me,
And Jesus paid our penalty.
He superseded time and space,
And offered us amazing grace:
He paid our debt. He took our place.

 

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