Speaking Out: As for Us, We Cannot Help Speaking about What we have Seen and Heard

After Jesus was crucified, Peter and John were out speaking in public about recent events. Not everybody wanted to hear what they had to say, and in fact their religious and cultural leaders told them they had to stop speaking. “Cancel culture” is not new in the twenty-first century. It alive and well in First Century Judea. Here’s how it went down:

“Then they (the Sanhedrin) called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20 NIV)

speaking

Undeniable Evidence Meant They Couldn’t Stop Speaking Out

Peter and John, whom Luke described as “ignorant and unlearned men”, were called before the Sanhedrin and told they needed to stop telling people about Jesus. If they didn’t stop, the Sanhedrin would take action: they could be arrested, imprisoned, perhaps even stoned. But for some reason they were not intimidated, and proclaimed boldly that they could not help but speak out about what they had seen and heard.

I have often thought that the main reason Christianity is around today is because the followers of Jesus were utterly convince about the resurrection. They were so overwhelmed with the magnitude of what happened that they could not keep from telling people about it.

Tell me, what have YOU seen and heard? Has the good news about Jesus been validated in your life? Are you different because of it? We also find ourselves in many places and social contexts that make it feel uncomfortable or prohibitive to discuss our faith candidly and without reservation. Our political system requires separation of church and state. We are told that God has no place in our schools. More and more, God is being taken out of our public lives…

So, Then…

Is “speaking out” ok? Should we pray at a restaurant? Is it ok to mention our faith at work? Should we obey the current culture of tolerance, which suggests that we not offend anyone with our beliefs? Or should we speak boldly about what we have seen and heard? Every day, in so many little ways, we are faced with a choice– to be cultural or to be godly.

As Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ”! And as he wrote to the Thessalonians, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 KJV) If you’ve seen it, you believe it. If you believe it, speak it.

Little Choices

John and Peter were rebuked for telling what they knew;
The Pharisees commanded them to stop their preaching, too!
But they replied, “We’ve said it once, we’ll say it now again,
Should we obey the Lord our God, or listen to you men?”
The Council was surprised by John and Peter’s forceful word;
They said they had to testify to what they’d seen and heard.
This story is still relevant, although it’s very old:
John and Peter’s actions should inspire us to be bold–
To speak the truth, to testify about what God has done–
Not bowing to the many, but obedient to the One.

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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Marvelous Men Had One Thing in Common. YOU can Be Marvelous, Too!

Wanna Be Marvelous? It doesn’t always happen by the world’s standards…
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 KJV)

marvelous

Have you ever been marveled at? In our culture, we think people are “marvelous” for all kinds of reasons, and most of those reasons are shallow and temporary. You wouldn’t think that a couple of grubby fishermen would be marvelous, but it happened…

Unlikely Candidates

Peter and John were fishermen by trade, and held no advanced theological degrees or education. By all rights they should have returned to Galilee after Jesus’ crucifixion and gone back to their vocation, finding good spots and hauling up nets full of fish. Yet within days of the crucifixion, they were in the religious and cultural center of Judea, way out of their depth both politically and socially. You might say that if they didn’t fall off of no turnip truck, it was because they rode it all the way into town!

They didn’t belong in the Temple anymore than a rube from the country belongs on the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Yet, in Jerusalem, they boldly proclaimed the gospel without fear or hesitation! Peter preached a sermon that rocked the Temple. Thousands of people responded to their message that Jesus was the Son of God.

The Sanhedrin, who were the religious leaders and seminary graduates, was alarmed by their success and took counsel about how to stop this surprising movement. Luke says that these learned religious power brokers marveled at the powerful preaching from “unlearned and ignorant men”. They thought Peter and John were, yes, marvelous.

marvelous

What made Peter and John so amazing? Their speech was rough and they spoke with Galilean accents that identified them as hicks from the sticks. What made them “marvelous” to the learned Rabbis of the day, who surely looked down upon these two raw preachers with an air of superiority and surprise? Peter and John hadn’t been to seminary, and they weren’t clergymen or trained experts in evangelism. They weren’t even Junior College graduates. They were unlearned and ignorant, yet they were changing the world. Their common denominator is one that YOU also share. Wanna be marvelous? Spend time with Jesus.

Marvelous Men

Peter and John had never been to college,
Yet they astounded people with their knowledge.
No seminary, no advanced degrees,
But they contended with the Pharisees.
The only thing about them folks could tell
Was that their Rabbi taught them really well;
They had no other formal education,
And fishing was their background and vocation,
But they were marvelous. As ignorant men,
Uneducated by the standards then,
They may have seemed to be a bit too rough,
But they had been with Jesus. That’s enough.

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
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Turn Around: the non-Sailor’s Guide to Repentance

Bob Seger has a song titled “Running Against the Wind”, which laments the transient and sometimes difficult nature of life. It might seem crazy, but the Bible comments on that very subject: If you’re sailing against the wind, Turn That Boat Around! At least that’s what John the Baptist told his audiences at the beginning of his ministry… In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:1-2 NIV)

Why Did Righteous Folks Need to Repent?

John wasn’t preaching some casual message about being a little sorry for what you had done. He was issuing a challenge to a people who lived by the law to a fanatical degree, who sought righteousness through legalism, and who probably saw themselves as righteous already. The average Israelite in John’s day probably did not see themselves as having very much to repent FROM.

“Did I take too many steps on the Sabbath? Did I do something that made me unclean? After all, I am a pretty righteous guy!” And yet John called these practitioners of self-righteousness to turn away from sin and REPENT. He said the Kingdom of Heaven did not involve self-righteousness, but a whole different approach. He was challenging his listeners to change their lives by changing their direction.

turn

You’re Going the Wrong Way!

The Greek word metanoeo literally means to have a change of heart, but it was also used as a sailing term to describe coming about, and sailing back in the opposite direction. Sailors would use it to describe how a boat could “turn away, go the other direction.” This meant the boat had to reverse its course, tack against the wind, and make a commitment to head 180 degrees back the other way. It meant altering your course, and it involved full commitment to the new heading.

Do you ever get frustrated? Ever feel selfish? Ever experience a lack of love? Repent! Change your approach! Turn around and travel the opposite direction from where you are currently headed. John the Baptist preached it; Jesus proclaimed this message repeatedly in the gospels; so did Paul. It must mean something important in the Kingdom of Heaven, right? So, ask yourself: what do you need to repent FROM? And, Where are you sailing TO? Is it time for you to turn around?

Turnabout is Fair Play

John the Baptist preached this sermon everywhere he went;
Jesus preached it, too: He called on people to REPENT!
They called on men to turn around, to make a brand new start,
And change their lives by changing what they had inside their hearts.
Repentance meant to come about, to sail the other way–
To do things differently tomorrow than you did today.

If you have run from God, or balked at having His protection,
REPENT! And make your way back in the opposite direction!
When you repent, I think you’ll find your vessel needs less bailing;
There will be smoother seas in the direction you are sailing.
Turn about. You’ll find the Father loving you–not hating–
And as you head for home, you’ll find He has safe harbor waiting.

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
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Thirsty for a Cold Beer? This Post is for YOU

Ever get REALLY thirsty? Been working in the yard when it’s 90+ degrees, sweat keeps getting into your eyes, and you just gotta have something cool and refreshing? We can all relate to being really thirsty, and sometimes there’s nothing like an ice cold beer to quench our thirst. David talked about something like that, but he gave it a twist and applied it to something different. He said he had more than a physical thirst, which brings up a question: What Are You Thirsty For?

Life-Threatening Thirst

Thirst affects us physically in many ways; it causes disorientation, hallucinations, and it can even cause our vital organs to shut down. We get parched and it’s hard to keep moving. We can be stranded in the desert, lips cracked, skin dry and desperate for water. Dehydration can kill us. David knew that feeling. He had been a fugitive hiding in the desert and had probably been stranded in the arid landscape of southern Judea more than once. Yet even as daunting as that circumstance could be, he realized that water wasn’t the only thing he could be thirsty for…

“O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory. Because Your loving kindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.” (Psalm 63:1-4, NKJV)

thirsty

Unquenchable

Read through David’s prayer again, and consider the way he describes how he feels about the Lord… “You are my God! My soul thirsts for you! My flesh longs for you! Your loving kindness is better than life. My lips shall praise you. I will bless you!” When was the last time your everyday prayer was close to this? When was the last time you poured your heart out like this?

Let’s face it, I may know my Creator is awesome, but when I compare my hurried “bless this day” prayers to David’s love songs, perhaps I have fallen just a bit short in my estimation of who God is, and how amazingly blessed I am. Perhaps the omniscient Lord of the Universe is waiting for me to fall in love with Him. If David was right, He would love to hear me tell Him just how much he means to me…

Since David Could Do it, Then Where Does That Leave Us?

If you pause for just a moment and think about all the blessings in your life, even amidst the irritations, the inconveniences, the troubles, and the sorrows, consider this: God is just as open to this kind of relationship with YOU as He was with David. He is thirsty for you. The Almighty God of the universe longs to be intimate with you. David spoke to Him like a lover, with passion and affection and possession. But He isn’t just David’s God; he is MY God. He is YOUR God. Do you thirst for Him? Do you long for Him?

Think about your spiritual self. Are they soul-satisfied and thirst-quenched, or are they crawling through a spiritual desert? Are they dehydrated, or Most-High-drated?

When was the last time you poured your heart out affectionately to the Father and told Him that you loved him dearly, that you longed for Him, and that couldn’t bear to live without Him? When is the last time you crawled up in His figurative lap and huddled close to Him, overwhelmed with love and joy? I thought so. Stop and tell Him. Use David’s prayer as a template if you need to, but I bet He’d love hearing it in your own words.

Thirsty?

Father, when I pray to you from dry and thirsty lands,
I never shout my joy to you, and never lift my hands!
I ask you for all sorts of things, but never sing you songs,
And rarely say that You’re the one for whom my spirit longs…
I pray for people who are sick, and ask you, Lord, to heal them;
But I don’t see your glories, Lord: I ask you to reveal them!
Bless me Father, as I pray, give me a holy thirst
To know your heart as David did, and help me put you first.
Help me look into your sanctuary; help me see
That I am yours, and that your sanctuary, Lord, is me.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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
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Casting Lots May Not be Enough When Choosing an Apostle

Need to choose a Thirteenth Apostle? You can’t just go to Central Casting and ask for one. There is a lot to consider..

After Judas committed suicide, it was deemed necessary to replace him. There had been twelve almost from the beginning. Surely the disciples were aware of the number, which was significant to the Hebrew people. In Scriptural terms, it signified strength and power. There were twelve tribes, and twelve spies sent to scout the Promised Land. Elements in the Tabernacle were accordingly in lots of twelve, such as the unleavened bread, the plates and the sacrifices. It surely made sense that the disciples would restore their number to the appropriate symbolic number.

A Time-Honored Process

As they met in the upper room, the disciples followed a time-honored method, selecting likely candidates and casting lots. (Traditional Jewish wisdom held that God would reveal his will via this method, even if it seems cultural, or even a bit like flipping a coin… Even though decision makers would pray and seek God’s will, they still tended to rely upon a process that much of their society also used—kinda like modern search committees…)

“So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.”

casting

Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:23-26, NIV).

Still, A Time-Honored Process…

Churches everywhere today follow a pretty secular template to selecting people to be on staff. They review resumes, conduct interviews, and they select the candidate who seems most worthy based on the process. They differ from mere business interviews because they pray over their selection, and they certainly ask the Lord to provide them with the one whom He has called. The current model that churches follow today is actually still very similar to the one used by the Apostles. (With the exception of casting lots, which was actually considered a good indicator of God’s will in first century Jewish circles.)

I have no doubt that the disciples had good intentions and followed the best process they knew, and Matthias was a good man. But, here’s the thing: This is the LAST time Matthias is mentioned in the New Testament. I am sure he was an honorable man who had a meaningful ministry, but his name never comes up again in the records of the growth and development of the early church. He was chosen to be an APOSTLE, so his credentials were undoubtedly good. And the disciples followed the cultural formula to select him. So why am I pointing to this process?

A Different Way

Because meanwhile, through another process, God acted to provide his own replacement for Judas. He’s not a candidate that was on any of the disciples’ radar. It was a guy named Saul of Tarsus, whose name was changed to Paul. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.

We often turn to our own ingenuity and wisdom to try to carry out God’s mission, forgetting that the one irreplaceable factor is the power of His Spirit working within us. Let’s not forget that all the processes in the world can’t hold a candle to being selected, motivated and empowered by the Living God!

Casting Call

Disciples did the interview, and got the candidates down to two,
Proceeded in they way they knew by casting lots from which they drew.
Matthias’ name became selected, so he was the one elected.
Though he was named Apostle then, we never heard from him again!
Meanwhile, God sent out a call to a Pharisee whose name was Saul:
A persecutor full of hate, a most unlikely candidate,
Who had to have a brand new start–
God changed Saul’s name, and changed his heart.

Just remember, understand that processes designed by man
Are doing things as best they can but they cannot replace God’s plan.
If you question this at all, just think of the Apostle Paul,
On whom God’s grace was once bestowed
right there on the Damascus road!
God’s choice in this was simply plain;
Instead of trying to explain,
Just read what Paul once wrote again:
“To live is Christ, to die is gain!”

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

Sow Seed Any Old Way You Want: But if you Sow wisely, You will Reap Well…

Have you ever sown seeds and watched them grow? I remember the bean we put into a jar in kindergarten. It was so cool to sow it properly and watch it come to life!! Well, think about what it means to Sow and Reap: Consider both the process and the outcome.

sow

“Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the Lord, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12, NKJV) What a full verse this is! The Bible often uses farming terms, which makes a lot of sense since it was written in agrarian societies and it speaks so often about growth.

Hosea preached using this farming analogy, which says a great deal in a short verse. First, he says that we should “sow for ourselves righteousness”. Think about what it means to sow seeds. You have to begin with the end in mind. You need to have the right seeds and you also need the right environment, with appropriate conditions and surroundings. Galatians 6:7 reminds us that “whatever a man sows, he shall also reap.” Good fruit won’t come from just any kind of dirt, you need to prepare the soil.

sow seeds

Break to Build

Hosea says that you must break up the fallow ground. You can’t just toss seeds out on hard, packed earth and expect results. You must break through the dry crust and till the soil to expose the richer dirt beneath.

Our spiritual growth is a lot like that. You can’t grow healthy crops without disrupting the status quo and breaking through the crust of our assumptions. Sometimes we grow a crust of sin, hardening our hearts against God’s character or standards; and sometimes we put on the stifling armor of self-righteousness, smugly judging others while hunkered down in our bunker of holiness…

Hosea is talking here about God’s righteousness, and he says that if we sow in righteousness, we will reap in mercy. I think this applies in two ways. If we find righteousness through repentance and faith in Christ, we will receive mercy. God always responds to repentance with mercy. Always. When is the last time you turned a repentant heart to the Lord? If it’s been awhile since you have humbled yourself before God, what is there that keeps you from being broken before him today?

Second, those who have found such righteousness will themselves be merciful. Our righteousness in God’s eyes is not earned but gifted. We may grasp salvation as something wonderful God has done for US, and that is certainly true. But I think the more important thing is that salvation is something God does THROUGH us. “Sow in righteousness, reap in MERCY”. We are given God’s righteousness not for our OWN benefit, but in order to extend mercy. As the recipients of mercy, we should be merciful. Have you been forgiven? Forgive.

Sow Well and Reap Well

Think of how this world would be if there were no forgiving:
Life without forgiveness almost wouldn’t be worth living!
God’s amazing mercy makes us whole, when given TO us;
And His forgiveness, sown in righteousness, will then renew us;
But then His mercy, as intended, is extended THROUGH us.
Sow in righteousness! But here’s a scripture you can keep:
Mercy is the only crop that righteousness should reap.

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

Jealous FOR Someone is Different than Jealous OF Someone

Have you ever stopped to consider that the Lord proclaims Himself to be jealous? What do you think He means by that?

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6, NIV)

God’s first instruction to Israel was to worship Him alone. That certainly makes theological sense, because given that He is GOD, He is Supreme and above all human frailty. He is worthy of our singular worship. He goes on to say that He is a jealous God. Wait, say what?! We normally see jealousy as a sin, akin to envy and driven by insecurity. Being jealous OF someone has overtones of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and often displays a resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage. It is possessive, demanding, and overbearing.

OF as Opposed to FOR

But God is not speaking here of being jealous OF someone. The Lord is talking about being jealous FOR someone. He is passionate that no harm come to those whom He loves. He has a righteous zeal and anger against anything that can cause pain or death for His children. The Old Testament word for jealousy literally comes from someone getting red in the face, and it has to do with a zealous emotional response.

A selfish, insecure person is never justified in being jealous of and resenting someone else; but a husband can be passionate about his wife’s affection; a mother can be jealous FOR her children’s safety. The entire Bible is centered on God’s jealousy for us and His concern that we would allow anything else to come between ourselves and Him. You can take every sin there is and relate it directly to idolatry. We may not bow down to little carved statues, but we all dabble in idolatry from time to time…

jealous

There’s a Reason

Sin is selfish. It leads to death, according to Romans 6:23. It is ultimately destructive to those who practice it. Idolatry is dangerous because, in taking us away from our Creator, it will try to kill us. God’s concern about idolatry is not merely that He won’t get the attention He deserves. He hates it because it draws His children deeper into selfish sin.

All selfish sin, whether it is generated by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life (1 John 2:16) comes from putting your own desires before God’s, so it is essentially worshiping yourself instead of your creator. Therefore, when we follow our own carnal desires, we are actually placing them ahead of our feelings about God.

Why do you think He hates that so much? It is not because He is petty and selfish and jealous OF. It is because He knows that our payment for sin is death, and that we can only find life in Him. Tell me, what things do you worship instead of God? What selfishness do you justify, and what subtle desires do you rationalize as “OK”? It can be easy to leave God out of the picture when there are hundreds of idols to choose from. Here’s a suggestion:  Don’t. Bow. Down.

The Jealous Suitor

“I am a jealous God”, said He, “And I’m calling you to worship Me,
Instead of statues carved of stone, or images made of wood or bone…
For worshiping such idle things will end in death and all it brings,
And take from Me adoring eyes, to things they shouldn’t idolize.
So this commandment I will give: Worship Me, and you will live.
Listen, please, and don’t ignore; a thousand generations more
Will feel the love I have because it’s you that I am jealous FOR.

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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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

Witnesses who Matter: If You are in the Latest Group of Witnesses, What’s YOUR Story?

You see it in movies and on TV. There’s a nervous person in the witness-box. They swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They are usually just people who happened to see or experience something pertaining to a trial in a court of law. As a result, they are called upon to testify before a judge, perhaps a jury, and the plaintiffs or defendants. Witnesses tell the truth as it happened to them, and every witness has a story.

witnesses

Are We?

Nike had a pretty effective ad campaign for LeBron, saying that we are all witnesses of his exploits. LeBron James does indeed have an impressive basketball resume, but here’s a more important consideration. It has nothing to do with LeBron. When it comes to life, what’s YOUR Story? What have you witnessed?

People in Jerusalem were challenged to be witnesses about what they ACTUALLY saw.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 NIV)

The last couple of weeks, we have been observing the folks who witnessed Jesus on earth, and who recorded testimony about him. When talking about the various witnesses to who Jesus was, it’s important not to forget one last group. He commissioned everyone who would encounter him, eyewitness or not, to be witnesses on his behalf.

Witnesses to What?

It’s not surprising that Jesus commissioned his disciples to be witnesses. After all, they were looking at him, and eyewitness testimony is a powerful thing. It is used in courtrooms and product testimonials. Even Nike and its ubiquitous swoosh appropriated the idea and challenged people to be witnesses. I like LeBron, but I’d have to say that life is not worth much if we are only witnesses to basketball…

This verse is often used to illustrate strategy. It certainly makes sense to “bloom where you are planted”. From there, you extend your outreach to successive concentric circles, beginning with your city and extending to your region and your state. It’s a strategy that worked amazingly well in a time before there were marketing experts, demographic studies and focus groups.

To me, one of the great proofs of Christianity is that so many first century believers were changed so radically by the good news. Everyday people were touched by the message and teachings of Jesus Christ, and lived differently as a result. When they were challenged by opposition, they could have recanted or back down to protect themselves, but they didn’t. Many of them died defending their beliefs, and it is truly astounding to think about the world-changing power that was unleashed through those first century witnesses. They even died confirming what they had seen and heard.

More Than First Century Myth

That chain of confirmation includes everyone who heard the good news and found it worthy of a response. Witnesses came from those ordinary citizens in Jerusalem who heard Peter or Stephen preach. They were people like Lydia the seller of purple and Cornelius the centurion. The chain linked to philosophers on Mars Hill. It was held by martyrs who chose public and painful deaths rather than renouncing their testimonies…

The world’s transformation went on and extended to the next generation of witnesses. It went through Catholic priests, to Reformers, to Lutherans and Methodists and Moravians. Testimonies popped up through successive generations of believers who continued to be witnesses one after another.

These witnesses took the Gospel out to foreign cultures and to other lands, spread out across history against all odds, using the word of mouth that reached all shores like ripples in a pond.. And it has come down to here: to you and me. We are all among the secondary generation witnesses. We are now empowered to testify about our experience in our OWN neighborhoods and hometowns, across social and cultural barriers, and everywhere we go.

More Than Other Witnesses

I am a witness. At fourteen, I had lived in eight or nine different family configurations. My mom, who was a vivacious and beautiful woman, struggled with alcohol and relationships. As a result, things changed a lot, and they changed often. My dad, who took me in at age 10, was secure but tough. Net result: I was an insecure kid. I had grown to feel that affectionate love was not very dependable, and dependable love was not very affectionate. It seemed like the more I reached out for it, the harder it was to find.

But I encountered the life, teachings, and resurrection of Jesus in a way that changed my life. It enabled me to feel loved, to love God, and to love others. To be honest, I wasn’t totally sure it was true. But something made me believe that Jesus mattered, and that he mattered to me.

Since then, I have seen God heal. I have seen Him change lives. I have been a witness to His deliverance as part of a small party of refugees from a war zone. In short, I have experienced His boundless love and forgiveness in real life. In turn, that has encouraged me to love and to forgive. My life is a testament, not to my good nature and sunny disposition, but to God’s love.

What Have YOU Witnessed?

It occurs to me: we are not only witnesses of it but participants in it! What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. Post it here in a few sentences, go:
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
(Or post a comment, and PLEASE put your story here!!)

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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Pain is No Fun. But Is it Possible We Couldn’t Grow Without It?

Pain is a bad thing. and certainly isn’t something we enjoy or want to experience; but is it always bad? What can it possibly be Good For? Jesus offers us some insight:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he taketh away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit. (John 15:1-2 KJV)

We often wonder why pain exists, why bad things happen to God’s children. The obvious philosophical answer is that God had to allow us to experience both good and evil to give us free will—without the ability to choose evil, wouldn’t our choice of good be somewhat meaningless? Without the existence of Pain, would we truly know comfort?

Pain Might Have a Purpose

But here Christ also points out that pruning makes us more fruitful—something true in agriculture and in life. We trim away dead and unproductive branches so that all of the tree’s resources can be committed to useful ones. It is something of a shock to the tree, but in the long run you have a healthier, stronger tree as a result. The same is often true in our lives. Difficult circumstances give us growth and insight we would never otherwise achieve.

pain

Think Back

Quick: think of the 3 people in your life who helped you grow and achieve the most—teachers, coaches, leaders… Chances are they were not easy on you. They demanded more from you than you thought you had. They probably caused you pain. At times they challenged you, frustrated you, and called you to reach beyond your current level of performance. Is it possible that Your Father is using difficult circumstances in the same way?

Jesus said, “He [my Father] purges every branch so that it may bring forth more fruit.” Allow this sentence to sink in. Pray that it could change your outlook about hard times. Remember that Jesus faced discomfort and hardship throughout his life—and certainly during his painful death—so he knew what he was talking about. If we take hold of his perspective about pain, perhaps it can open us to new possibilities within our circumstances. Allow His loving care guide you through painful experiences into new perspective and fruitfulness, and perhaps you can find a thankful heart no matter what happens. Even painful things can have fruitful results.

As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The thanksgiving season reminds us how important having an attitude of gratitude can be; it is also a great way to start remembering the greatest gift ever given, and the birth of the one who gave it! His life proved that the even the greatest evil can be transformed into the greatest good. Perhaps in smaller ways, our lives can prove the same thing.

PAIN: What is it Good For?

Although contentment is our aim,
This life is touched by storms and rain;
Our comfort is disturbed by Pain,
Who sneaks around us like a thief
Breaking into our relief
To sow discouragement and grief.
Yet Pain can also play a part
As part of a loving Father’s art,
In strengthening our will, our heart,
If pain is used productively
The way that pruning helps a tree;
There can be more to pain, you see…
So when you cannot bear it any longer,
Keep going. Somehow, pain will make you stronger.

To purchase my newest 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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The Reluctant Brothers Who Didn’t Believe

As we’ve been talking about eyewitnesses around the life of Jesus, there is a small group that bears consideration. Think about his own brothers. They saw him every day growing up, and knew him well. The few glimpses we get of them suggest that they had concerns about their eldest brother. Mark 3:21 says that as Jesus’ ministry began to draw crowds, “[his family] went to take charge of him, for they said, he is out of his mind.” We know that the Pharisees expressed this opinion later on, since John in 10:20 they say “he is demon possessed and raving mad”, but it might seem surprising that his own brothers raised concerns about Jesus’ mental stability.

Brothers Familiarity

Since our knowledge about Jesus’ childhood is limited to a couple of short glimpses, I would offer a couple of opinions about why his brothers might have felt that way. First, we know from Luke’s gospel that twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind in the Temple. When he interacted with the teachers, his exasperated parents were “astonished” at his display of wisdom (2:48). They “did not understand” that he had to be in his father’s house ( verse 50). This suggests that Jesus did not fully display his spiritual and intellectual gifts at home as a child, and lived as a fairly normal boy in a normal family.

Did Jesus Have Siblings?

There has been some degree of ecclesiastical debate about Jesus’ family. The Roman Catholic church believes that Mary remained a virgin for life. This is at odds with Scripture. Mark 6:3 specifically mentions his brothers “James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon”, as well as his sisters. Some believe that these were perhaps older children Joseph had from a previous marriage. Others theorize they were cousins of Jesus that Mary was raising. (Those assumptions are never explicitly stated in Scripture, however.)

While these positions allow for Mary to remain a virgin, nowhere in Scripture does it proclaim Mary to be such. In fact, Matthew 1:28 suggests otherwise, saying that Joseph “had no union with her until she gave birth” to Jesus. I’d also point out that Gospel writers had several Aramaic words for brother they could have used. But, several times they used adelphos, which refers to a brother out of the same womb. (It also meant born to the same parents). I mean no disrespect to Mary’s reputation, but it seems clear that Mary and Joseph had other children, and that Jesus grew up in a good-sized family.

Skeptics Close to Home

In any case, Jesus certainly displayed patience as he prepared for his mission (note his several references to “my hour is not yet come”). I have always thought that his baptism at the Jordan signified a change in the way Jesus displayed his anointing. It is very likely that even his brothers were therefore somewhat surprised by his sudden (awesome) display of wisdom and spiritual gifts when he began his ministry.

That’s probably why John 7 records this : “Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”

Early in his ministry, it seems pretty clear that Jesus’ family struggled with what to think about his preaching and his display of miraculous power, although as John pointed out, Mary had great confidence in her son’s ability to do something amazing at the wedding in Cana of Galilee…

But Jesus’ brothers, who tried to take him home from the gathering crowds, and also pushed him to go to the feast of Tabernacles, didn’t know what to think about him. Matthew 13:57 quotes Jesus as saying that a prophet is “without honor in his own house.” Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt, but it’s also quite probable that, having seen Jesus every day living a somewhat normal life, his brothers had established a baseline opinion about him that was just hard for them to expand.

So, Why Mention It?

So, why do I mention his unbelieving brothers, and what do they have to do with what you might think about Jesus? It’s because they didn’t stay unbelieving. Acts 1:14 says that after the crucifixion, the disciples waited in the upper room along with “Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” We know that his oldest brother James went on to be a respected leader in the Jerusalem church and wrote the epistle bearing his name. In Jude’s letter (written by the younger brother of Jesus), Jude identifies himself not as an apostle, but as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude v 1).

 jesus' brothers did not believe

Even though they struggled at first with their eldest brother’s identity, at least two of Jesus’ brothers became strong believers as well as leaders in the early church. After the resurrection, they joined the growing throng of people who verified that Jesus was who he said he was. Jude said, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life” (verse 21).

James characterized himself as a “believer in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1). If you’ve ever been skeptical about Jesus, consider the reaction of those who witnessed him in person, including his own brothers. Hear their testimony before you decide. James 5:9 says, “the judge is standing at the door”. Don’t reach a verdict before you have listened to all of the evidence.

The Brothers

They say familiarity can cloud a person’s view,
Obscuring what they see because of what they thought they knew.
Jesus’ brothers had concerns that he was going crazy,
Because they were so close to him, it made their vision hazy.
I’m sure they were concerned about the family’s reputation
When crowds began to follow him, and caused so much sensation!

But after their initial doubt had caused them such concern,
Apparently they realized how much they had to learn;
Both wound up following Jesus as they worked with one accord,
And served the early church with zeal. They even called him ‘Lord’!

If you still doubt who Jesus is, then read their words, and get this:
You wouldn’t judge a trial without assessing every witness.
His brothers may have started out as doubters who were rude,
But what they had to say about him can’t be misconstrued:
The letters offer testimony made by James, and Jude.
They both saw what they saw, and then they wrote it down because
They both believed that Jesus Christ was who he said he was.

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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The Eunuch who Encountered the most amazing Rabbi in History

After the crucifixion and resurrection, there was strong persecution against the church in Jerusalem. Followers of The Way were scattered out into Judea. Both the Romans and the Pharisees tried to stamp out the Christian movement. However, the unintended consequence was that believers began sharing the good news wherever they were.

In one such instance, Philip encountered a eunuch from Ethiopia who was reading from the OT Scriptures. “The Eunuch was reading this passage (Isaiah 53:7) of Scripture. “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. The Eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:32-35, NIV)

eunuch

Common, Yet Uncommon

At one time it was pretty common for kings’ courts to have a resident eunuch or two. They were men who looked after the royal harem. They were emasculated so they could guard the king’s harem without being tempted to make any romantic advances to them. I’m sure, for the eunuchs, it was a life-changing career choice.

In many ways a eunuch probably had a pretty good life (got to live in the palace, eat well, hang out with pretty women all day…). But they paid a high price to be the harem’s bodyguard. I would think at some point most eunuchs had to be somewhat philosophical. They experienced something terrible for a man, but then had to consider that, well, perhaps life is still not so bad after all…

Unburdened by sexual entanglements, eunuchs apparently had time for travel and study. This Ethiopian eunuch was riding along in his chariot, reading the Scriptures. When Philip showed up, he asked Philip to explain Isaiah’s metaphor about a lamb being led to slaughter. Philip then guided their discussion into the Hebrew Scriptures, explaining how they related to Jesus.

This conversation is really key in understanding something very important about Jesus. If you just take Jesus at face value, and consider only his teachings, he is at the very least an amazingly gifted Rabbi who taught revolutionary things. He spoke ground-breaking truth about interpersonal relationships, the Kingdom of heaven, the law, forgiveness, priorities, and love. He broke social barriers, elevated women, and reached out to the sick and marginalized people in his culture.

More Than a Rabbi

The truth of his teaching resonates not only for first century Judea, but also down the corridors of history. Even today his teachings stand brilliantly at odds with all of the “me-first” humans in a selfish world. But consider this. When you look at the Old Testament Scriptures, they provide a lens through which Jesus of Nazareth must be viewed. Peter quoted them in his first sermon. Stephen was stoned to death while expounding upon them. Philip used them to tell the eunuch the good news. And the Apostle Paul logically connected Christ’s work to the Hebrew Scriptures.

In every case these Scriptures create a context that makes it impossible to dismiss Jesus as a mere brilliant Rabbi. He is the one about whom the Old Testament foretold with detail and accuracy. He was the one about whom Isaiah was speaking, as well as Moses and Micah, and David, and Daniel.

You can be impressed with Jesus if you just read some of his teachings. But, you’d be rightly amazed if you study just a few of the ways his mission was accurately predicted. Men who lived hundreds of years before pointed to details of his life. If you think Jesus was only a good Rabbi who taught good things, think again. The Scriptures said he was coming, and that he would be our Savior. To paraphrase Philip, that is very good news indeed!

To Ethiopia and the World

The Eunuch in the chariot was reading from Isaiah;
(His life had been adjusted so he couldn’t be a playa),
But when he had an inquiry about Isaiah’s lamb
Philip helped him see that Jesus was the great “I am.”
Jesus was a Rabbi, yes, whose teaching was so bold,
But more than that, he was the one Isaiah had foretold,
And who the Scripture said would come way back in days of old.
Ask the questions. Search the Scripture, and I bet you’ll see
That Jesus was the man the Scriptures and he claimed to be!

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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These Disciples Connected the Dots While Walking to Emmaus. Have You?

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

road

A Turn of Events

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

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

What the Scriptures Said

Perhaps he quoted Isaiah 53 and talked about the suffering servant. Maybe he directed them to Zechariah 12:10. (“They will look on him whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son”). He might have referred to Psalm 22 and its graphic depiction of a crucifixion. He could have quoted Isaiah 40:3 to remind them that John’s mission was to prepare the way of the Lord…

Walking along the road, Jesus pointed out that the Old Testament was full of references to him and his work. It was something the disciples had not noticed and did not understand. The disciples had to see the larger context. They needed to lay aside their own preconceived notions about Jesus to see who he really was. As John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you already know it all that counts.”

Question: what preconceived notions do you have about Jesus that keep you from seeing who he really is? How well do you know what the prophets and the Old Testament Scriptures said about him?

If the Bible is a tapestry, then the Old Testament contains dozens of threads woven into its fabric of law, genealogy, history, poetry, and prophecy that point to a coming Messiah, and which find fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. The disciples on the road to Emmaus knew the Scriptures, but until they compared them to the person of Jesus, they failed to connect the dots. Upon realizing the connection, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us when he talked with us on the road, and opened the Scriptures to us?”

If God Speaks and No One is Listening, Can They Still Hear Him?

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

The Mysterious Traveling Companion

The road was long and weary; the disciples wondered why
Their hopes of liberty, along with Jesus, had to die...
A Rabbi joined their group and said, "This is no mystery!
The Scriptures all foretold exactly how this came to be!"
From Moses through the Prophets, he expounded as they walked,
Revealing truth about Messiah's mission as they talked.
At dinner, they reflected on the things that he had said,
And he revealed himself to them as they were breaking bread.
They hadn't known this stranger was their Master, undercover,
And realized the Scriptures now held much they could discover!
When he was gone, they went to tell their brothers what to do,
And how their hearts were burning as he told them what he knew.
You can hear the Scriptures too, and listen lots and lots;
But hear the word of God through Jesus: then, connect the dots.

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