Change Your Prayer Life from Perfunctory to Passionate

A Place to Start

Have you thought about your prayer time lately? How would you rate your communication with the Almighty? Do you recite prayers you’ve known for years, or do you perhaps merely out of habit, say, at mealtimes? Would you say your prayer life is lacking power and passion? Maybe it’s time to escape from Perfunctory Prayer… David’s expression of love for his Creator might be a good place to start:

“In the morning, O LORD, You will hear my voice; in the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” (Psalms 5:3 NASB) David didn’t just pray, he seemed to have a deep, abiding love for his Creator that he could not contain. He wrote poetry to God. He sang love songs to the Lord. David begged for help and asked for protection. He expressed his longing and hunger for his Creator. If you would like a deeper prayer life, there are some clues about how to accomplish that in this short verse.

Clues We Can Use

First of all, David prayed a LOT. He prayed at night, during the day, and here he prayed in the morning to start each day. Perhaps that offers us a template. It doesn’t say he prayed long, exhausting prayers; it doesn’t say that he prayed ornate, flowery prayers; but he did pray OFTEN. Do you spend some time talking with God every day? Does it come first? Do you wake up with a need to worship and adore the Lord and talk to Him about your day? David did.

I heard it said that the only time we truly experience eternal life on this earth is when we are engaged in prayer. When we talk with God, we have for that time set aside the everyday world to communicate directly with Him. If you consider what is happening when we commune with our Father in prayer, it means that we are that moment transported into His presence, and we have transcended our finite limitations to be intimate with our Creator. We may not get to see heaven in this world, but as David pointed out, we can make a verbal visit anytime we want to.

nightly prayer

Is It ACTS or CATS?

Second, he ordered his prayer. If you read some of them in the Psalms, David’s prayers consistently included Confession, Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Just remember CATS if you want a quick template for diving a bit deeper into your conversations with God. (Some folks use ACTS, but I like putting confession first.) Taking even this simple approach to prayer will provide structure and focus to your prayer life without turning it into perfunctory repetition of something you learned

Remember who we are by coming to Him confessed and penitent; offer adoration for who He is and reflect upon His majesty and power; Thank Him for all He has done; and offer prayers for those people or circumstances where you desire His help. This simple outline is not magic but I have found it helps me stay focused when I’m making a verbal visit to heaven.

Expect More

Finally, after David prayed he eagerly watched. He prayed with expectation, and then like a kid at Christmas, he couldn’t wait to see what would happen. I guess he expected God was going to do something in response to his prayer. Do you pray to God with the confident expectation that He will respond? How often does your time with the Lord include the “eagerly watching” time? Mine usually doesn’t. Perhaps there’s more to prayer than just throwing it out there and moving on…

A Praying Man’s Lament

Save me, Lord, from perfunctory prayer.
Help me connect, and help me care.
Keep me from saying a nondescript grace
When I come to give thanks to you, face to Face.
Hear me, Lord as I start each day,
And give me transparency when I pray.
Order my prayer around spiritual need,
And help me, Father, to intercede.
Give me the passion that David had!
Teach me to pray with a heart that’s glad.
Take my prayer life up a notch.
I want to pray and then eagerly watch!
Help me to make you my everyday choice.
Fill my heart, and hear my voice.

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

Abandon Your Idolatry: You’re Worshipping the Wrong Things

An Accusation You May not Like

Most of us would scoff at the idea that we would practice idolatry. We are sophisticated church-goers who live in the twenty-first century! And yet most of us engage in it without even feeling guilty about it… “Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly.“ (Ezra 10:1, NIV)

Ezra returned to Israel from exile in Persia to rebuild the temple. Upon arriving, he learned that the people who had remained in Israel had taken up with local women and local gods. They were bowing down to little idols and figurines in supplication and praise. He became utterly convicted because Israel was practicing idolatry and worshipping lesser deities instead of God. In the Jordan area people worshipped the sun, and local gods who were thought to govern fertility or rain.

Idolatry and Desire

Before you smile and say, “How quaint and ignorant”, consider this: Pagan worship was very connected to carnal desires that all men have. (And yes, in the ancient world, temple-goers/worshippers were men. Women mostly stayed at home.) So at the temples or High Places, all kinds of lustful and sensational activities drew the men deeper into “worship”.

Besides sacrifices, temple practices included dancing by temple priestesses and repetitious music which was designed to help men achieve a catatonic state of ecstasy; there were also stimulants and temple prostitutes to add to the local worship experience. (In Greece and Rome, men consorted with young boys and frolicked in bath houses.) Understand this: When a man said, “Honey, I’m going to worship at the temple”, he had more than prayer on his mind…

In our modern world, we may feel a little smug because we don’t bow down to little statues, but trust me—we practice idolatry pretty much every day when we put any other thing or desire in front of our love for God. We love our stuff. We covet. Our motives can be selfish. Be honest now, does anything ever get between you and God? Ever have ANY desires that you want more than Him? Any things you want to do more than you want to worship God? Yep, those things aren’t little statues, but they ARE idols. So, take a little inventory. What do you worship? (Hmm, a question much like, “What’s in your wallet?”)

idolatry

Something to Cry About

Ezra was so stricken with grief over the danger of sin that he confessed and wept openly before the whole assembly. There are a lot of verses from the Bible that we use to express optimism and joy. We rejoice in our salvation. We know that Jesus came that our joy might be full. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. But when is the last time that you went to church and had a good cry, and wept openly in front of God and everybody?

Now, I know we feel that we can cry out to God when misfortune strikes, when life seems unfair, or when we are hurting over something that has happened to us or someone we love…That is an appropriate time to cry, but that is not the kind of crying Ezra is talking about here: When was the last time you wept in a worship service because of something YOU have done (or haven’t done) before God? When were you inconsolable in worship, not because of some bad circumstance, but because you realized the magnitude of both YOUR offense to God and the price He paid for your redemption?

Where Do You Spend Time in Worship?

I think our worship today often falls short of what it could be in terms of being transparent and repentant before the Lord, particularly in churches where expression is frowned upon, and God’s Spirit is limited to what time the local NFL game starts. Perhaps that’s because many of us are only partly committed to worship, and EACH OF US falls short of being truly repentant and vulnerable when we go to church.

Could it be that we worship our own sense of decorum more than we worship the Lord? Do we worship appearances more than transformation? James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

True Worship = True Emotion

Ezra led the people of Israel by confessing, weeping, and bowing down before everyone in the house of God. The large assembly that gathered around him expressed their fellowship by weeping bitterly alongside him, by sharing his conviction over how he had fallen short of true commitment to the Lord, and being repentant over his sin. When is the last time you wept bitterly over your sin? When was the last time the whole church bowed before God in genuine emotion to confess and express true repentance?

Here’s the problem: I’m pretty sure that I’m not ready to go blurt out my sins in front of everyone at church. And I’m pretty sure most of you aren’t ready to hear me do that, either. But perhaps I can take some steps in that direction by being more honest in my confession before God, and a little more distraught about the idolatry in my life. I bet if enough of us did that BEFORE church, we’d have a different experience when we got there.

No Shame in His Game

Ezra bowed, and prayed and cried with love that couldn’t be denied–
No pretense here, no foolish pride, just honesty from deep inside.
And all the people wept and prayed, forsook the idols they had made,
Left the coolness they displayed, and bowed in grief and awe, afraid…
Israel joined–no one declined–to leave their idols far behind.
What about YOUR secret mind? If you looked closely, could you find
Some altars of idolatry that none suspect, and none can see?
Confess and weep. Repent and see that if you pray transparently,
Your worship wouldn’t be so lame, your church would never be the same
And You won’t check the time in worship, waiting for the Cowboys game…

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:

Counter-intuitive

For a man who knew a lot, the Apostle Paul had some interesting advice about knowledge. “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

Less is the Key to More

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. If we are puffed up with knowledge, we will become less open to new knowledge… 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.

A Different Key

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.”

A Deeper Secret

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. (Actually, you need great worship.) You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. And we all 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 the 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.

Knowing More

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 has not cured.
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

The Redeemer Who Could, For the People Who Couldn’t

The Ancient Art of Redemption

Redemption is defined as, “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment.” We might think of redemption about stuff in a pawn shop, but not necessarily in terms involving people. It might come up if someone is kidnapped, but otherwise we probably don’t walk around thinking we need to be bought back. The fact is, however, that everyone needs redemption.

In order for someone to be redeemed, they need a redeemer. In ancient times, a military prisoner needed someone to buy them back from slavery. It was such a common occurrence in Biblical days that everyone would have understood it. The story of redemption follows logic and makes perfect sense. Captives needed redemption, and there was a process about how to get it. But these days, unless they’re in a hostage situation, people don’t always relate to the fact that mankind needs a redeemer.

Maybe we are just fine without one, but the Bible says this about that: “But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might be the redeemer of them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5 ASV)

You’ve Quit Preaching and Gone to Meddling

Here’s how it relates to us: We were condemned under the law and estranged from God because Adam and Eve questioned God’s plan and chose to follow their own will. No matter how much the Father loved us and wanted our good, He could not tolerate the presence of sin; when mankind became sinful, it separated them from a Holy God.

Under the logic of the law, all men lived under the law’s curse because of Adam and Eve’s choice. In effect, mankind was thrown out of the family because of sin, and could not be allowed back in until the sin problem was taken care of. Our will got us thrown out of HIS will…

No Other Options

So why couldn’t God just snap his fingers and provide restoration? I’m sure He would have if it were that easy, but redemption from sin is apparently a cosmic issue, a life or death matter, and not just anyone could rectify Adam and Eve’s fatal choice. Cosmic, irrevocable death had dire, irreversible consequences. Only a redeemer uniquely positioned to fulfill God’s law on our behalf could change our status.

Unique Qualifications

After The Fall, if there was to be redeemer, he would need to meet some very unique qualifications. Since Adam and Eve accepted the curse, he would need to be descended from them in order to reject it on their behalf. He would have to live a sinless life in a sinful world. Because sin was transmitted in the process of procreation and birth, he had to be born of a virgin and the circumstances of his birth would have to be supernatural. He couldn’t be tainted by the carnal, sinful nature that invariably wanted nothing more than to break the law.

redeemer Jesus

Since the law was broken, he needed to be not only subject to the law but free from its penalty. He would need to suffer death at the hands of the law, since the only sentence for sin is death—but he had to live in such a way that he did not deserve that sentence.

Very Unique Qualifications…

A Redeemer would have to have not only the humility to live under the law, but the authority to countermand it. He would need to represent the Father as the righteous judge, and he would need to be an advocate for those who were standing trial. Such a Redeemer would have to be uniquely qualified to mediate a settlement between Heaven and earth. He had to be connected to Adam as part of the fallen human family. However, he also needed to be intimately connected in the Father’s family, since he was arranging the adoption of those who would be redeemed…

No Man Could Do It

Unfortunately, no man who had ever lived had satisfied the criteria for being a redeemer, so all men who ever lived were affected by the curse of sin. Paul puts it this way (Romans 5:18): “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

The Redeemer had to be a sinless man, a man who satisfied the law, and who was not subject to the penalty for sin. In first-century Judea, there WAS such a man. Jesus was that one redeemer, and you can join God’s family, not by being “good enough”, but by being adopted.

When you consider the facts, it’s a logical progression that requires faith to accept; but if you evaluate the Redeemer’s qualifications and decide to accept his payment for your penalty, then there’s Great News! You’re back in the will!

One Consequence, One Redeemer

Mankind exercised his will, and ate an apple, or took a pill,
Or chased a thrill, said “I’m King of the Hill!”,
Ate more than his fill, made another kill,
Or stole from the till–you know the drill–
And ran up one hellacious bill…

The Lord said, “Man, what you’ve done today
Is left the family and gone astray,
And for that sin, you have to pay.”
And mankind said, “There’s just no way”.
So the Lord looked down, and He didn’t think twice,
He sent a redeemer to pay the price.
It couldn’t be just anyone, so He chose to send his only Son,
Uniquely suited to be the one to ensure redemption’s job was done.

The requirements had big shoes to fill,
Like a cross on top of a deadly hill;
But he carried that cross and He paid your bill,
And destroyed the sin that could only kill:
Great News! You’re adopted, and back in the will!

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’s Impossible Choice: Would YOU, Too, Risk It All?

Maybe an “old School” Disney?

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.

[Esther’s Uncle 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. (Anti-Semitism is neither new nor original.) Haman had been promoted in Xerxes’ court and was a very important man. Because of his enormous ego, he ordained that everyone bow to him when he appeared in public. Mordecai, a Jewish gatekeeper, refused to do so because he would only bow to YHWH. Haman overreacted and became a murderous bigot, angry at Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) because he wouldn’t pay homage to Haman.

Bad Man, Bad Plan

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.

During all this time, 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.

The Plot and the Despot

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.

She had to put her life on the line just to appear before the king! 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. Therefore 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. He said, “And who knows whether thou art come the the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Esther’s Question Was Really EVERYONE’S Question

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.

And the Answer Is…

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.


So 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 are Loved. Embrace That, and Find Thanksgiving.

Why Give Thanks?

In Hebrew worship services around and before the time of Christ, people sang a common refrain to verses of some hymns: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” Who do you think this verse is talking about? And who is it talking to? Generally, supplicants sang it in worship, folks who wanted to feel the love of God. Someone like YOU. It offered contentment, hope and perspective about life, love, and our place in the world: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (1 Chronicles 16:34 NIV)

In the New Testament, Paul extends this thought in his love letter to Philippi. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

A Path To Peace

These verses connect the dots from being loved to thanksgiving to peace, and they inspire some observations. I’m sure you will find your own, but here are three things that jumped out to me:

1) Our love, and our ability to be loving can ebb and flow with the hustle and bustle of holidays and family gatherings, God’s love endures. So, in a world full of temporary items and elements, it is good to know that some things last forever. God’s love is one of them, and the Bible tells us it is good. When or if patience gets thin over the holidays, use His to help you show yours. Because you are loved, remind someone else that they are loved, too. Remember, when the casserole isn’t perfect, or you realize again why you only see those relatives once a year, or patience is thin: YOU ARE LOVED. Share that feeling with everyone else!

Proper Perspective

Second (2), being thankful comes from recognizing who God is and what He’s done. Take a moment to reflect on the blessings in your life, and wrap thanksgiving around yourself like a comforting blanket.

loved

Remember to give thanks, not for material things but for the things that actually matter. Take a moment each day to reflect on how loved you are, and on what that means in your life. Claim peace even if the turkey turns out dry like the Griswold’s, or gets eaten by Bumpus’s dogs. The Bible says peace does not depend on earthly circumstances. And don’t forget that the family Holiday banquets we have here will pale in comparison to the Wedding Feast we will experience there.

Proper Prayer

Third, I’d never realized that peace not only depended on my prayer and supplication, but my THANKFUL prayer and supplication. If I lack peace, perhaps I forgot to be grateful as I made my supplication. Hmmm… So, it might just be that if I prayed with thanksgiving for EVERY thing first, I’d end up with a different set of requests. And a different level of peace. Happy Peace Giving, everyone! You are loved.

Forever Loved

An attitude of gratitude can calibrate your altitude,
and help improve your aptitude when someone else is crude or rude.
People can be selfish, mean or hateful,
But you can rise above it if you’re grateful!
Praising God whenever as we worship Him together
Will remind us of His Goodness; and His love endures forever.
Held in His heart, with love that does not cease,
We offer Him our Thanks. He gives us Peace.
Will the Lord stop loving us? No, never!
His steadfast love for us endures forever.

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

Being Thankful can Run Full Circle: Be Thanks Full as well!

Really, EVERY Day is Thanksgiving

There’s a difference between “Thankful” and “Thank-full-ness”… Today is a great day to reflect on what you are thankful for, but it is even more than that.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1 NIV) You’ll notice that this verse from the Psalms is exactly like the verse from Chronicles in yesterday’s devotion. Being thankful for God’s goodness was a regular part of worshipping Him.

thankful

The Bible is full of reasons to be thankful, and David King of Israel expressed it simply but eloquently in his songs of praise to God.  2 Chronicles 5:13 says, “The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.”

David used this verse over and over in the Psalms when singing praises, when he was leading worship, and to commemorate important events. (It also appears in Psalm 106, 107, 118, and 136.) Being thankful for God’s goodness and love was a major part of his life, and a major theme in his praises. He probably hummed this song while shaving or when he was walking to work in the morning.

The Holiday that Shouldn’t End

During the Thanksgiving holiday week, we’ve probably taken a break to give thanks, and after today, our lives will get back to normal (well, as normal as today’s circumstances allow…). There is shopping to do and there are Christmas decorations to put out. Black Friday has become a wildly commercial U-turn after Thanksgiving, but I’m hoping that perhaps this year we will tap the brakes on being in crowded stores and fighting other shoppers for parking spaces at 6:00 am. Based on the ads I’ve seen, retailers are scaling WAY back on Black Friday deals, so maybe there’s more reason to focus on other things…

But TODAY, as we turkey and time together, and as homes experience the joy and busy-ness of family gatherings, remember this: EVERY day is Thanksgiving Day. Even though no one will probably ask you for another year, “What are you thankful for?” it’s still a good question to ask. (Much better than “what’s in your wallet?”—don’t you think?).

Keep Celebrating

Be a little bit thankful every day. God gives us much to be thankful for because it emanates from His character. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father! He actually delights in giving to His children more than we do!

Jesus said in Matthew 7:11 “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Perhaps as you read that, you are thinking about all the gifts you have been given, and you are indeed grateful for all of your blessings.

thankful

A Twist on Being Thankful

If that’s so, then here’s a little twist to think about as you reflect on what you are thankful for: What are other people thankful for about YOU? Are they thankful for your generosity, your patience, or your joy? Have you given someone ELSE a reason to give thanks this week? Be not only thankful; be thanked-full as well. Happy thankfulness-giving, everybody!

Thankfulness is Not Just Something You Have

One special day each year we pause and offer up our thanks
For all the blessings that we have, both in and out of banks.
We’re thankful for the blessings and the love that we’ve received,
And grateful for the grace bestowed on all who have believed.
And while your saying ‘thank you’ is the proper thing to do,
I wonder, is there someone saying, “Thank You, God!” for YOU?

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

Testimonies Matter: the Whole Truth and Nothing But

Half or Whole?

Whether you know it or not, you are surrounded by testimonies. As you browse various forms of media, you are being bombarded with half-truths, outright lies, opinions, and various points of view (kinda like this one, I guess). Be careful which ones you believe. “With my lips I have declared All the judgments of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. (Psalms 119:13-14 NKJV)

A Wide Selection to Choose From

This Psalm calls for a few quick observations. First, how often do you declare God’s thoughts and judgments as opposed to your own? David doesn’t say, “I have declared all the judgments of MY mouth”, because he did not want to misuse the Word of God. (It’s certainly been done. Satan quoted Scripture in the temptation of Christ; Mohammed wove scripture into his dictation of the Koran; Joseph Smith created his own book; preachers justified slavery from the Bible; and Hitler quoted the Bible in his speeches.) God’s words have been altered and misquoted throughout history.

In a subtler way, we should all evaluate our own biases and suppositions and compare them to what God has said. With all of the falsehood surrounding us today, it’s really a little bit scary. Like David, I certainly want to proclaim God’s unvarnished truth and not just my opinions. I double-dog swear on the Bible that is true… David’s desire was to know and proclaim what God said—“the judgments, [Lord], of YOUR mouth”; “…YOUR testimonies”. And testimonies should be the TRUTH and nothing but!

testimonies

Can You Handle the Truth?

He relied on the Word of God, because he knew that scripture is quoted for all kinds of purposes. It is often dispensed with interpretations or subtle changes that alter its meaning and twist its purpose. Why does that matter? If you start with parallel train tracks, and vary the angle of one of the rails just .005%, and build those tracks on towards the horizon, eventually the rails will split far enough apart to cause a train wreck. A small “adjustment” becomes a deadly variation.

Isn’t that what Satan did in the garden? He used God’s words, but then he subtly added to them. We should be extra careful when we put words into God’s mouth. Second, do you find that God’s testimonies motivate and inspire you? David became fired up hearing stories about God. He rejoiced in God’s testimonies. Have you heard any good testimonies lately? Any that made you rejoice?

Testimonies: If the Only Thing Constant is Change

Well here’s one: learning about God’s grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ absolutely changed my life, and has provided me a remarkable journey with God and His Word for almost 50  years. As I grew up, my mom married several times. I lived in pretty much a different family unit almost every year between the ages of 3 and 10. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized my family situation had been all that unusual.

As a child of divorce, I lived with my mom, stepfather and sister. Then my mom, stepfather, sister and a half-brother; after that, my mom, sister and half-brother; then my mom, a different stepfather, my sister and half-brother and two step-sisters; after that, just my sister with my mom, and then just my sister with my grandparents; then with my dad and step-mom, sister, and a different half-brother. All before I was TWELVE! Somehow in the midst of all that change, I found truth that God loves me in–of all places– the Bible. Wow! What a book! Wow! What a life!! I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

It’s The Difference-Maker

God took an insecure boy who had problems at school, addictive behavior, lack of focus, and problems at home and gifted me with the truth. In NO WAY did I become perfect, and in fact I often remind people that I’ve made my BIGGEST mistakes not as a pagan reprobate, but as a struggling believer. But God’s truth consistently reminded me that I AM LOVED, and I HAVE WORTH. So do YOU. God SAYS so!

When you read the Bible, does it put you to sleep? When you go to church, do you becme bored or do you rejoice? Perhaps we need to get more excited when God has a message for us! David went away from worship declaring what God had said and rejoicing in God’s testimonies. We should participate in worship with the same enthusiasm.

And finally, this: be honest; when was the last time you truly valued God’s words more than money? If you compared your thirst for accumulating wealth to your hunger for memorizing God’s word, which one would be stronger? If we were given a choice between attending a good Bible Study and getting $100, I bet most of us would take the cash. And I bet you have more dollars than Bible verses in your pocket. Just sayin’…

The Real Thing

I’m not one to judge, so YOU can be the one to call it:
What means more: what God has said, or what is in your wallet?
You’re in a world of gray where there are many kinds of lies;
In politics and media there are lies of every size!
David didn’t listen to the lies that others voiced,
But when he heard God’s testimonies spoken, he rejoiced!
Don’t be fooled by liars, Congressmen or other phonies:
Depend upon God’s word, and listen to His testimonies.

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

Good Is the Enemy of Great: The Man Who Liked His Stuff

A Hard Choice

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:17-21, NIV)

good vs great

Common Observations

There are several subtle things about Mark’s portrayal of this man’s encounter with Jesus that make it my favorite. Each of the three synoptic gospels offers the same story but include slightly different details. (Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels, which means they were “seen with the same eyes”). Scholars agree that they used common source material, or were perhaps aware of whichever gospel was written first (most think it was probably Mark) and borrowed from it to reach their own intended audience.

In this story, all agree that this good man had great wealth. He approached Jesus sincerely asking about what he needed to inherit eternal life, and yet he went away disappointed. Matthew 19:20 notes that the man was young; Luke 18:18 identifies him as a ruler. Only by combining these details are we informed that this is the story of “the rich young ruler,” perhaps one of the best known stories about Jesus during his ministry.

The Details That Tell the Story

A few observations taken from Mark’s account: 1) The man ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees. There was a sense of urgency about his quest, and he exhibited humility in front of Jesus. Is there anything in your life that should prompt the same type of approach? Should you have a sense of urgency about taking a question to the Master, or hearing his response? Should you humble yourself before him?

2) He called Jesus good, and Jesus challenged him to evaluate where goodness came from, reminding him that God alone is good and that accepting his compliment was tantamount to accepting equal status with the Almighty. All goodness springs from the character of God, and while Jesus did not deny the truth of the man’s declaration, he did point out exactly WHY he could be considered good.

Horizontal Versus Vertical

3) Jesus lists the “horizontal” commandments—the ones dealing with other men—and omits ONE. It’s interesting, because the one he omits is “Thou shalt not covet”, which happens to be precisely where this man’s heart issue lies. When the man answers, he is portrayed as honest and sincere, but perhaps he noticed what Christ omitted and could see what was coming next… It is said that good is the worst enemy of best. It is when we can justify settling for what we already have that we lose motivation to do better. Do we sometimes settle for how things are when greater possibilities are just beyond us? This young man had a chance to be great. He settled for possessions instead.

This man appeared to be successful, and his actions seem to indicate a spiritual hunger, an attempt to please God. But appearances can be deceiving, and he had a flaw that was about to be recorded for all time. Before you feel too smug about this ruler’s weakness, what commandment do you think Jesus might have omitted if he was talking to YOU?

Would it have been coveting, or murder, or adultery, or lying, or committing fraud, or disrespecting your parents? No matter how moral we act, and no matter how good we have been, there is always a place or two where we are vulnerable. There are always a couple of secret sins we are willing to put ahead of God on our priority list. What is your weakness? What do you love more than God?

That Look

4) “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Jesus didn’t look at him in judgment, and he didn’t look down his nose at him in self-righteous condemnation, but he offered him a heartfelt invitation in sincere love. That’s a telling part of the story because it applied to Jesus then, and it applies to him today. In the midst of our sin, Jesus looks at us exactly the same way.

Wealth Versus Wealth

5) When Jesus invited the man to follow him, Mark says, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” If you are an American Christian, you are at least close to being in the same position. Compared to the rest of the world, you have great wealth. According to the New York Times, “the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.” Each of us who is fortunate enough to have the kind of stuff we take for granted in this country should ask ourselves, truly, do I love God more than I love my stuff?

In the rich young ruler’s case, “he went away sad because he had great wealth.” For him, the good life was his primary obstacle to the great life. Don’t be that guy. Think carefully about what you have and what you COULD have; and go away happy instead of sad.

That First Step, Though…

All possessions, all your stuff
Will never ever be enough
To fill the place inside of you
That asks “Oh Lord, what must I do?”
Jesus looks into your eyes,
And pauses before he replies:
“There’s only one thing that you lack,
One thing that you are holding back;
If you will give that thing to me,
My child, then I will set you free.”

You hear the love in Jesus’ voice.
You realize you have a choice
To measure treasure differently–
On earth, or in eternity.
For just a moment, time stands still;
It’s time to exercise your will:
What choices will you make today?
How will you feel when you walk away?
It’s time to speak. What will you say?

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 No 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 Jesus 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 upon it here.

Only two Groups

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 writer of Hebrews who makes this assertion. Jesus’ best friend, John, makes it too! So did the men who followed him: Peter, Matthew, Mark and Luke. So did a Jewish zealot named Saul, who began his career by persecuting Jesus’ followers. The fact that everyone close to Jesus claimed that he was sinless is pretty unique, and sets Jesus apart from, well… everyone.

consider leaders

A Ludicrous Claim?

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

Consider This

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? Then, “Consider him”.

Consider the man who blessed the children, healed the sick and caused the lame to walk. Think about 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.

Follow His Example; BE an Example

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.

Consider Him

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,
And 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

Which Way is Right? Don’t all Paths Lead to the Same Place?

What’s Right?

In college I had a bumper sticker that was an index finger pointing upwards that said, “One Way”. Today, many people would dispute that claim as preposterous! Is there only one way to heaven? Do Christians have any right to be exclusive about heaven? The Bible says this: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, KJV) This is a singular statement that was made to explain a radical event.

one way

Actions Speak Louder

In Acts 3 Peter and John healed a beggar who had been lame from birth, telling him in words that have been memorialized in a well-known children’s song, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” The Sanhedrin (whom Peter addressed as the “rulers of the people and elders of Israel”) arrested them and held them overnight. Then they questioned Peter about how they had healed this man.

He said (vv 9-10), “If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” Peter then concluded that salvation could also only occur through Jesus.

The Reality Argument

Now, if Peter’s statement was just the ranting of a religious zealot, the Sanhedrin could have dismissed him; but since the man who had been healed was standing by and watching the proceedings, they didn’t know what to do. So, they held a private council. (Acts 3:16-17)

“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” Of course Peter and John refused to do such a thing. Luke says, “After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.”

Testimony counts

Three things: 1) What have you seen God do in your life that you cannot help but speak of it? Don’t give in to social pressure, don’t hesitate because you might feel too pushy. Talk freely about what God has done for you. Your perspective is legitimate testimony about who God is, and how He has impacted your life. Testify!

2) Giving financially is good thing; but don’t ever let silver and gold take the place of personal ministry. When you let God work through you, it will bless others, and it will bless you. And to contradict Jerry Maguire, it has nothing to do with money. Show me the LOVE and you can show me the WAY.

He’s Hard to Discount or Dismiss

3) There is no other way to salvation other than Jesus. He either is the real deal or He isn’t. Let that sink in for a minute. The world around you will try to bend that truth, water it down, and replace it with possibilities that seem more inclusive and less restrictive. In our current climate of cultural and intellectual relativism, we are being told that whatever you feel or believe is ok, as long as it works for you. I think that’s a great philosophy as long as you can ignore the person and work of Jesus Christ; but if he was real, and if what he taught was true, there is no other way.

which way

The world will offer substitute salvation through doing good, following a charismatic or powerful leader, attaining Nirvana, obeying the law, or achieving spiritual enlightenment. All of those approaches have some merit, but none of them provide salvation. They are cheap imitations of the real thing. Am I being narrow-minded by rejecting those other beliefs? Yes.

The Need For Narrow-Mindedness

If you were honest, you’d admit that sometimes you HAVE to be narrow. You can’t just ignore traffic laws and remain safe while driving. Yes, the laws restrict you from racing through red lights or driving the wrong way onto the freeway, but they are designed to keep everyone safer on the road. It is only by giving up your freedom to drive however you want to that you can drive safely. Go the wrong way down a one-way entrance ramp, and you can get yourself killed! One way is safer.

If you were dying from a tumor that required a delicate and life-threatening operation, would you prefer a surgeon who said, “Oh, there are lots of ways we can treat your symptoms, and we can perform a number of medical procedures on you that will be good for you. They all provide help, and really they all end up at the same place.”

Or do you want a surgeon who says, “We have located the problem and I am going to perform surgery to remove it. Now, we have to exclude all of these other treatments because, while they might provide some benefit, we have to address this life-threatening disease in a radical way.” Being narrow-minded is a good thing when there is adequate proof to exclude other alternatives.

Evaluate the Evidence

4) The Sanhedrin had proof standing right before their very eyes, but were blinded by their own assumptions and positions of power. Don’t be that guy. These other alternatives have various ways they sell their solutions, but only Christianity has Jesus, Grace, and the Son of God’s substitutional sacrifice on our behalf. If someone can come up with something better than Jesus, I’ll follow it. But the more I know him, the more I know he was right when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” One Jesus. One way.

A Personal Account

I was the guy who sat and begged
With shriveled, useless twisted legs,
Hoping passers-by would see
And throw a coin or two at me...
But Peter stopped amidst the crowd
And turned to me, and said real loud,
With words that boomed out big and bold:
"I have no silver coin, nor gold,
And nothing from the world of men,
But this: Rise up and walk again!

The power of God has been revealed;
In the name of Jesus Christ, be healed!"
And thus this fisherman proclaimed, 
That I, who had from birth been lame,
Can stand before you and avow
That I am proudly walking now!
The leaders told them once or twice 
To stop proclaiming Jesus Christ,
Because it caused them an affront.
But they would not; I hope they don't!
And As for me, I know I won't.

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

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

Where Everybody Wants to Go

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody really knows what it’s going to be like. If you do the math, only one person has ever been qualified to talk about what it will be like because he came from 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:

What It’s Really Like

“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)

So, Where is Heaven, Anyway?

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.

The Only Eye Witness

Consider this: of all the people who ever lived, Jesus alone is qualified to make distinctions about heaven. In all of history, 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. And 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?

When Does it Start?

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

Your Journey Has Already Started

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.

Invest Wisely

Heaven Starts Here

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.”

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