When You Lift Up Your Eyes, What Do You REALLY See?

“I will lift up mine eyes to the hills — From whence cometh my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1, NKJV) There is actually quite a bit going on in this one simple verse, so it’s worth breaking down. Let’s take a look.

First, David is an observant man. Like many of us when we are out in nature, we behold the magnitude and majesty of our surroundings and feel strongly convicted that there is something out there greater than we are. In this case, David is so taken with the beauty around him that he is lifting his eyes UP towards the Creator. Think for a moment of things you have seen by lifting up your eyes.

lift eyes

Imagine Reality

You have seen the wind blowing through a canopy of leaves in a kaleidoscope of glittering green as you lay in the shade… Perhaps you have imagined shapes in the clouds as they shifted and passed overhead! You saw them forming nebulous white cotton-candy sculptures that floated across the heavens. You have gazed into a sky so blue it went on forever, or you have watched approaching thunderclouds with dread and apprehension.

Lift your eyes… You have seen the miraculous palette of a sunset as its colors splashed across the horizon, full of shades so rich and so subtle that you almost couldn’t even process them…There are pastel shades of peach and gold, deepening in the twilight as the earth miraculously turns on its axis away from the sun; and there are times that same sun peeks out from behind grey clouds, turning their edges silver as beams of light poke through small windows in the clouds to bathe the earth with magical radiance…

lift eyes

Would You Look at That?

You have watched a bird in flight, marveling with envy at such effortless freedom…You have looked at hills and mountains, impressed with their character and grandeur. Marveling at the scale, you have felt insignificant beside them, and have been awed and inspired by their majesty. You have looked deep into the eternal darkness of the night sky, watching the moon and stars in their courses, moved by the infinity of it all, captured by the deep twinkling lights which sent the very beams you are watching hundreds or even thousands of years ago…

When you lift up your eyes, you see the universe in its awesome magnitude, and perhaps you recognize that such a vast, diverse, and beautiful creation had a vast, diverse and beautiful Creator. David lifted his eyes to the amazing and intricate design in the hills and beyond, and fell in love with the Designer.

Up and In

Secondly, this Creator did amazing work with “up” and “the hills”. He also did some pretty nifty stuff with “around” and “in”. From horizon to horizon, from deep space to deep oceans, from vast mountains to microscopic life, the Lord who made heaven and earth deserves our respect and awe.

Everywhere you look, it’s pretty hard not to be impressed with God’s handiwork and curious about His character. David was very personally involved with Him, drew inspiration from Him, and found help in Him. If you stop and think about it just for a second, it really makes a lot of sense. Perhaps if there IS a Creator, He can offer help to those whom he Created.

David had great passion about his Creator. He prayed to the Lord, wrote and sang songs about Him, and even consulted him about important decisions. When he was lonely or troubled, he sought solace and comfort from the One whom he knew was stronger, greater, and wiser than he was. David was pretty smart. I guess he realized that if the Lord God made heaven and earth, He could help those who looked to Him for help. Say! When you  lift up YOUR eyes, what do YOU see?

Lift Us

Lord, who made the heavens and the earth,
Who blesses us with Thy eternal worth,
Surrounds us with Thy everlasting glory
And teaches us the never-ending story:
Enable us to lift our eyes and see
This world the way your will was meant to be.
When dreams are crushed, and life is filled with “why’s,
And, under circumstance, ambition dies,
Enlarge our faith by lifting up our eyes.

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 Names Matter? Would You Call a Rose a Lemon?

Names are pretty interesting. People today are giving their babies all kinds of exotic and special names… One current online list of suggested baby names includes Zeus, Adecyn (really? Is anyone EVER going to spell that correctly?), Kodiak, Merrigan, Primo, and Lorcan. I think that perhaps unusual names are given in the hope that the child will be deemed unique and special, and I get that. There might even be cases of someone trying to live up to a name, or standing out because of their name. But I would think that depending on character to make the names works better than depending on the names to make the character…

Chicken or the Egg?

The Bible feels that way, too. Consider this: “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, A refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” (Psalm 9:9-11, NIV) This contains the promise that those who know the name of God will put their trust in Him, and those who seek Him will find him. (I do know for a fact that it’s also possible to know his name and NOT put trust in him; there are a lot of people out there who seem know God’s name, because they use it a LOT, but that’s probably a different blog sometime…)

Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, but names matter too. Romeo and Juliet were still tied to the Montagues and Capulets, no matter how much they liked each other. And, what we call someone often indicates how we feel about them. Married couples often use terms of endearment like “Sweetheart”, and I have heard of a couple of toddlers who called their dad “Honey”, because that’s how Mom usually addressed them.

Many Facets of the Diamond

While you are thinking about names, stop to consider the names by which we know the Lord. There are lots of them: “I AM”. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Holy God. The Alpha and the Omega. The Living God. The LORD. The Creator of all things. Our Shield and Defender. Emmanuel (God with Us). Wonderful Counselor. Everlasting Father. The Holy Spirit. Comforter. Almighty God. Jesus. King of Kings. Lord of Lords. This partial list comes from Biblical writers who were inspired to describe God’s position, character, and personality through His name. David (a man who knew about trouble and needing refuge) says that if you know God’s name, you will put your trust in Him.

Reasons Not To

If that’s the case, why is it that so many people out there have not put their trust in God? Lots of reasons, but here are a few:

1) People expect a trouble-free life, and are disappointed in God when that doesn’t happen. Every rose has its thorns.

names

When we experience bad things in this life, it can be easy to blame God for pain and suffering. However, Jesus said “In this world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) David also knew that a refuge is not the absence of trouble, but rather a safe place within the troubles that beset us. In a world where trouble is coming and suffering is bound to happen, trusting the God who is called Shield, Defender, and Comforter makes sense.

Closer Than You Think

2) People assume God is too distant or Majestic to know. Many are still looking “out there” in the cosmos for God, not realizing that He lived among us, shared our sorrows, and is here with us. God’s names speak of relationship, of intimacy, and of connection. He is the God of knowing and being known. How well do you know Him? How acquainted are you with the characteristics reflected in His name? Have you talked to him lately?

3) Many are unwilling to accept God in His proper place. David calls him the LORD. He is the mighty king. He is our Father. If we try to create God on our own terms, relegate him to genie status, or limit His authority in our lives, then we do not know Him properly. Only when we submit our will to His do we begin to discover the many facets of His nature, and the attributes that make Him who He is. Have you submitted your will to His?

Introduce Yourself

4) A final reason why people don’t know God personally: they haven’t been properly introduced. Unfortunately, there are a lot people or things out there ascribed to God’s character that have nothing to do with Him at all. (Think: Westboro Baptist) Do you remember who introduced you to God? Can you think about places you have seen Him and felt His presence? Have you passionately pursued a relationship with your Father? It’s an awesome thing to do. And while you’re at it, remember to introduce some other folks to the God who loves you. Once they know God’s name, they will be glad they do. There might be trouble coming.

NAMES THAT MATTER: GOD

Creator, sustainer, the ancient of days
The Spirit, the shepherd, the Truth and the way;
Mighty, Eternal, All-knowing, all-wise,
Maker of all in the seas and the skies;
Star-breather, speaker of glorious light,
Hanging the stars in the vastness of night…
Redeemer, defender, the unblemished lamb–
The healer, the bridegroom, the only “I AM”;
Powerful potentate, Spirit of Truth,
Lover of Abraham, Isaac, and Ruth;
Counselor, Comforter, Almighty King,
Caring, Creative, the Dove on the wing…

Advocate, Righteous, the One who is higher—
The Judge, the avenger, the refining fire;
Father, forgiver, the Word become man;
Light of the World who created the plan…
Holy of holies, the Greatest and least,
Divider of sins from the West to the East;
Loving and intimate, faithful and true,
Giving each day bread and mercy anew;
Holy elector, the God over all—
Protector of sparrows and men when they fall—
Author of History, Elohim, LORD:
Captain, Commander, the bright flaming sword;
Author and finisher, Lover and Friend:
The Alpha-Omega, beginning and End…

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

Infinite Dreams Deserve Results From the Infinite God

Robert Browning said, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Human dreams are unlimited. They are infinite, if you will. Have you ever wondered why, of all the animals, only man has the capacity for infinite dreams?

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he prays about the possibility of connecting finite man to an infinite God. If you stop to consider what that might involve, it will open up new realms of thought and possibility in your world. The resulting potential causes him to run clean out of superlatives! “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…” (Ephesians 3:22, NKJV) Wow. Read that again. Paul says that God is able “to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

infinite glory

Not Big Enough

Stop and think about that one for a moment. Are you a dreamer? Do you dream BIG? Even if you do, Paul says it may not be big enough. If you question his judgment, or think maybe he was a bit off, then check out 2 Corinthians 12:4, where he describes himself as a man who, either in a vision or in reality, was “caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell…” His statements seem almost giddy, or an expression of infinite wonder by a visionary who had entered a dream-world of fantasy. We might expect that from Ezekiel or John, but it’s a little surprising coming from Paul.

From Logical Legality to Happy Hyperbole

In most of his epistle writing, Paul is more likely to offer a legal brief than a hyperbolic exaggeration. His letters abound with brilliance in terms of connecting the Old Testament Scriptures to the person of Jesus Christ, and his language is usually organized and logical. If he ever waxes eloquent, it is usually connected to God’s glory, which he somewhat sheepishly admits to the Corinthians that he saw firsthand.

So when Paul gives advice about an infinite God, we should consider the source. (After all, he had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees; trained under Gamaliel; a missionary who was “not ashamed of the gospel”; and the man who was caught up into the third heaven and had experienced glimpses of God that very few mortals can imagine.) If Paul says that we need to recalibrate our earthly expectations regarding what God has in store for us, maybe we should pay attention.

Too Little? Too Late?

Our problem, he says, is not that we bother God by asking for too much; it’s that we limit ourselves by asking for too LITTLE. Jesus reminded us of that same thing in Matthew 7:11: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Paul says that God’s lowest starting point may just be exceedingly above our highest asking point. His smallest gift may be bigger than our biggest dream…. perhaps an infinite God offers more possibilities than we are aware of. As finite linear thinkers, we struggle with understanding God’s resources. We rarely imagine Him in all His infinite glory. Paul says we should venture out as far on the horizon of imagination as we can go; then go FARTHER. If you are willing to embrace that challenge, then Dream big. Pray big! God will take it from there.

Infinite Possibilities

Try to stretch your highest dreams as far as they can go;
Stretch them out until they pass all boundaries that you know.
Let God take them every one and sprinkle them with love,
And they’ll expand exceedingly abundantly above
The fondest wish and deepest dream that you’ve been thinking of.
Be infinite, and take your dreams to Jesus face to face:
His lowest starting point’s above your highest asking place.

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

“A Word to the Wise”: Out Of Thousands of Words You’ll See Today, THESE MATTER

Read every word of this quote, and see if it sounds sane, or crazy. “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.'” (John 14:6, NIV) This short statement is amazingly full, and it’s worth challenging. It’s also worth considering.

Depth Not Length

First of all, consider the first two words: Jesus SAID. The spoken word is incredibly important in the Bible, even from its earliest statements on. Genesis 1:3 says, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” Armed with nothing more than His Word, God created the heavens and the earth. The first chapter of John informs us that Jesus himself WAS the Word of God made flesh, which is validated in part by this: Armed with nothing more than his words, Jesus Christ changed history.

word

Quotable Quotes

Think about some of the things he said, and consider the impact of his words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:33) What are the odds of the sayings of any random rabbi or religious guru lasting over 2,000 years when they were uttered before the printing press, digital recording, or mass media? What Jesus said is eternal, and still provides guidance for millions around the world.

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (John 6:63) “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6 :68) “Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” (John 8:51) Listening to and obeying what Jesus said (the spoken Word) gives life that is different not only in quantity but in quality. Followers of Jesus participate in eternal life right here on earth. It changes not just how long they live, but how they live as well.

More Than Just Words

But wait, there’s more! “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7) “He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28) The Word provides blessing, and foundation for living. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

The Words of Jesus are not only foundational but they provide wisdom, and encourage us to live by higher standards. He challenged not only the religious and social institutions of his day but of ALL religious and social structures of all time.  “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) The Word provides redemption from the penalty of sin, and a way to escape death and judgment. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

Pay Attention

The Word, which is the truth, offers us not only redemption, but also sanctification. It is an actual means to personal growth and behavioral change. And lest you dismiss all of this about the words of Jesus and take it lightly, consider this: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26) Consider what he said. Pay attention to his Word. Cross over from death to life. Be blessed!

Whose Words?

Two thousand years ago, before recorders or TV,
Before the printing press became a new discovery,
The mystery of history depended upon memory,
And men who put things on a page to save them for another age…
Of all the pages that have been read,
Of all the things that men have said,
This claim withstands time’s harshest test,
And stands alone, above the rest:
“Heaven and earth will pass away,
And everything that men may say, But my words never will.”
He spoke two thousand years ago,
And history proves that this is so: His word is living still.
Think about it: What are the odds? Chances are, these words are God’s

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
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

Culture Shock? You May Be Experiencing it Right NOW

There is a conflict going on all around you, and you may not have even noticed. “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV) If you’ve ever lived in another country where English is not spoken you may have gone through culture shock. Culture shock is NOT being shocked by stuff we see in another culture– it’s the emotional impact of assimilating into a foreign society.

Culture is related (obviously) to cult, which makes sense if you think about it. In any local environment, we all listen to the same news, wear the same fashions, and somewhat slavishly follow the same celebrities and customs. When we travel to another country and are plunked down into a different language and set of customs, something starts to happen…

Culture Shock

After a brief honeymoon period where everything is exciting and new, you begin to experience frustration and alienation. You can be particularly frustrated over your inability to express yourself and to have meaningful dialog with those around you.

Culture shock is like hitting an identity wall because you feel stunted and dense. You can’t explain some of the most elemental things you feel or think. It’s hard for you to share your opinions, your humor, or your feelings as effectively as you are used to doing. Your self-worth is challenged because almost all of the things you value about yourself are locked inside, hidden away unexpressed. Peter called believers sojourners and pilgrims on this earth (1 Peter 2:11), because we are aliens in a foreign land.

The Great Divide

Jesus said “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit”, and because of that irreconcilable tension, Christians are forced to live as spiritual beings in a culture driven by flesh and the values of the world. The world adores celebrities, the kind of people who project themselves out there by any means available, who say “Don’t you know who I am?”

You receive literally thousands of messages a day celebrating the shallow and the temporary, calling your attention away from things that are actually important. But Jesus called his followers to be sanctified, to be “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves”, and to somehow live “IN the world without being OF the world”.

In or OF?

And at this we fail. Early and often. We compromise. In churches we withdraw into holy huddles. Some church-goers reduce the amazing Christian life wherein we are forgiven and reborn to a bunch of lame “do’s” and “don’ts”. We justify ourselves, we rationalize our mistakes, and we criticize all those OTHER sinners. Believers struggle at articulating what we really feel about being a follower of Christ in a world that doesn’t always care about that.

Have you ever had spiritual culture shock? Have you felt like a hypocrite? Found yourself frustrated over being unable to express love the way you know Jesus wants you to? Ever used the usual excuses: “I’m not a speaker/evangelist/professional? I don’t like being up front, that’s not my gift, I’d rather work behind the scenes, or I’m really nobody special, God will use gifted folks for that kind of stuff…”?

culture

Who’s Who?

Ever felt like the love of Christ within you is an amazing treasure locked inside of you, but you’re just not sure how to express it? Then there is GREAT NEWS! God never intended for YOU to be accountable for that. In fact, Paul says the opposite is true. God has placed His amazing love within you so that people see it and recognize that it’s not yours, but HIS. We are only “earthen vessels”, but Paul says there is more to us than that!

The TMZ world celebrates looks, money, achievement, power, and external things. It rewards those who push their way to the front of the culture. It is designed to make us all feel like we are missing something. Paul says that it is not the obvious outer stuff that makes us amazing. It is the hidden inner treasure.

Whose Are You?

While we place tremendous value in what we can SEE, the Lord apparently says there is also great value in what is NOT seen. There is a spiritual dimension to us that enables the very Spirit of God to uplift us, inspire us, and motivate us to be different than the world. It is not so much a matter of who we are. It is more a matter of WHOSE we are…

IYKYK

You don’t have to tweet a lot, or drive a fancy car;
And You don’t have to get tattoos or try to be bizarre;
You don’t have to play guitar, or have your name on a candy bar,
Or get too far in politics, or be a senator or a czar!
You don’t have to be too rich, or be a movie star;
You don’t have to get drunk, and impress friends at the bar;
It’s not celebrity, my friends, that actually takes you far:
It’s not just who knows you that counts, but more in WHOSE you ARE.

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

Is Merriment All There is to Life? What Difference Does it Make?

Why are we here? Despite all of our technological advances, this is still a question every generation has to answer. And, honestly, each generation’s span on earth is apparently too short to figure it out. Is the answer, “Let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die!”? Are we put on earth for merriment, or for meaning? What are we supposed to get out of life, anyway? The Bible says a couple of things about it, so consider this:

“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord”. (Psalm 118:17, NIV) David actually says a lot in this short comment from the Psalms about the celebration of life. To me, it echoes Christ’s statement in John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and have it abundantly”. To start from the end and go backwards, David proclaims that he is alive to “declare the works of the Lord”. He looks to a Being greater than himself to find a purpose greater than himself.

Like David, your life has a purpose greater than what you see. If you play the game, “Six Degrees of Separation” where you know somebody who knows somebody else who knows the President or Kevin Bacon, you realize how interconnected and small the world is, and just how large your life is. If you think about it, it touches corners of the globe where you have never been, and all kinds of people you have never seen. Because of that, your life has a purpose much greater than simply living for yourself. And yet, simply living for themselves is what many people do.

The Mystery of History

As Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life” says, we are here for God’s pleasure, not just our own. That’s why it is called His-story, and not My-story! Do you ever stop to realize that you are casual and short-sighted about life, even though you only get one chance at it? Life is not a dress rehearsal! The first part of this verse says, “I shall not die but live”, reminding us that our life will not end, and has a purpose far greater than its earthly span. I think we forget sometimes that life is far greater than an earthly sojourn—it is an eternal adventure.

merriment

C S Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

Are you serious about eternity? Do you enjoy merriment of the merriest kind?

How Long Do We Have?

As eternal beings, we have the opportunity to reflect the character and works of our creator. Do you think most people live as if their actions today mattered forever? Do you? Would your world be a better place if you interacted with others as though your conversation was an eternal transaction? As C. S. Lewis points out, it adds weight to things, even to our merriment. I’m not against parties (I love to party!), but I am not too impressed with purely frivolous parties. I mean, we all partied like it was 1999, but I’m not sure it added anything meaningful to our existence. But a party with people you actually love, celebrating together– why, that’s eternal.

Here, the Psalmist not only speaks of the length of his life, he also proclaims its purpose: to “declare the works of the Lord.” What if you lived today with that in mind? Would anything change? Has God done any work in you, around you, or through you that deserves declaration? Since you are no mere mortal, live as if you matter. Live as if GOD matters. And have some merriment of the merriest kind.

Purpose

Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die!
But do you ever look around, or pause to wonder why?
Why are we put here on earth, and what’s the reason for our birth,
And what could be the purpose that imparts to us eternal worth?
It’s really no great mystery, the way to make some History
Is living for God’s pleasure. That’s the only thing to measure.

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

Hard Hearts Are Not Caused by Your Arteries

When you work with your hands, your skin can get so toughened that it forms callouses. You know, that rough outer layer that is coarse and tough. As a result, your skin becomes harder and less sensitive. The writer of Hebrews suggests the same thing can happen to our hearts.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14, NIV)

Having faith in Jesus and being his follower does not make anyone perfect. Even after becoming Christians, it is possible to turn away from the living God and to be subject to a sinful, unbelieving heart. Anyone who has experienced genuine saving faith can never lose their salvation; however, it is possible to turn away from walking with God and to go our own direction. As Christians, we do it all the time.

Baby Steps…

Here’s a familiar list for those of us who sin: We dabble in sin, we even do things over and over because we repeat favorite sins, we rationalize the impact of sin, and we do things “just this once” or “just a little bit”. Maybe it’s fun, maybe it feels good, or maybe it’s what we have always done; but our sinful nature will never truly give in to our Spiritual nature. We continue to be selfish, to commit “little” sins, even after we vow to follow Jesus.

All the while our hearts grow a little more calloused and our sinful nature hangs around, being opportunistic. Like Jason from the Halloween movies, it keeps rising up to try to inflict death and destruction. I’ll grant that not every sin is progressive, but when we dabble in sin, our hearts become open to other sins. (Baby steps, baby steps…we tell a little lie, but have to explain it with a bigger lie, and so it goes.) When it comes to sin, can you predict which one will lead to others?

hard hearts

The Imperfect Hypocrite

The presence of our carnal nature insures that Christians will never be perfect in this life. The biggest mistakes I have ever made, I have made as a Christian. Repeat that: the biggest mistakes I have ever made, I have made as a Christian. I know, right? But this passage isn’t just talking about mistakes, it is describing selfish repetition of sin without repentance… It refers to daily stuff that weaves its way into our hearts and minds and won’t let go.

Sin can be the covetousness inspired by Pinterest, the lure of porn, the hateful thoughts about some of those idiots out there, or even the smug self-righteousness of feeling more spiritual than others. Those things and more are woven into our lives every day, and if you think about it, the world actually offers us a continual bombardment of sin pelting our hearts with little lures or subtle temptations.

As a result, our hearts can be hardened to sin, and we end up in places we never thought we’d go. We become calloused to sin, or (like the frog in the pot of tepid water on its way to boiling) comfortable with it a little at a time, taking small steps deeper into darkness… Generally, we don’t go straight from church to the evil empire, but sin has a cumulative effect, moving us away from the Truth one step at a time. How do we keep from believing those lies and taking those steps?

What Friends are For

One of the answers is as close as your best Christian friend. The writer of Hebrews tells us to “encourage one another daily.” Who is it that encourages you? Who do you encourage? Someone you know is struggling with something in their life, and could use some kind words. Maybe they’ve wandered into sin, or accepted some of the enemy’s lies about their true value. Encourage them. You may just keep them from ending up with calloused hearts.

Sinful Hearts, Sinful Thoughts

Sin bombards us every day as we are trying to make our way–
It sneaks up, breaks up, speaks up! Offers temptation, carnal relations,
Uses multi-media to offer sensations, holding the carrot of gratifications;
Sin calls us in a step at a time:
You’re thinking of sin while you’re reading this rhyme!
Watch that Pinterest, could be a sin test,
Calling you to look at something of interest,
When you know you love it so that it can make you covet, though.
You’d never admit that it made you kinda lit,
But your heart gets hit, and you sin a little bit…

That’s how it starts to harden your hearts,
All those little malice’s building up callouses,
Whether that sin is New York or Dallas’s.
Fight against sin. Don’t let it win,
I’m telling you again don’t even let it in.
Encourage one another to do what’s right,
Gotta help a brother continue in the fight!
Give a little love with the message that you send,
And it might help someone get through to the end.
It’s not fiction, it may cause friction,
But take ahold of Christ and keep your conviction.
There. I said it. So don’t you forget it;
Sin will try to win, but don’t. You. Let it.

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

Could You Use a Double Portion of Passion?

Vincent Van Gogh said, “I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” The Britannica Dictionary ( https://www.britannica.com/dictionary/passion ) defines passion as “a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something”. Passion is something all of us experience from time to time, and it can be everything from a strong emotion to a driving force in our lives. Consider its impact on the prophets Elijah and Elisha:

Elijah was perhaps the most dynamic prophet in Israel. He was a seasoned veteran, a prophet who had confronted the idolatry of Baal and defied the evil Queen Jezebel. His ministry was marked by dramatic power and passion, whether he was calling holy fire down upon Mt Carmel or striding into Ahab’s court armed only with the word of the Lord. Elisha was his protégé, a younger man who was doing his internship with, arguably, the greatest prophet in Israel’s history. As Elijah’s time on earth drew to a close, he asked Elisha a question. (And, when you stop and think about it, perhaps he was asking ALL OF US a question as well…)

“When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” (2 Kings 2:9-10, NIV).

Visible Passion

Elijah was a powerful man of God who prophesied during the evil reign of Ahab and Jezebel (around the Ninth Century, BC). Elisha was his protégé and heir apparent. As he followed and served under Elijah’s ministry, he saw amazing things. Elisha had seen his mentor rain fire upon the prophets of Baal and challenge a corrupt kingdom. Elijah’s passion for the Lord literally drove him into precarious situations, and he represented God in the midst of one of the most corrupt monarchies in Hebrew history.

passion

Elisha saw miracles and confrontations, but he also saw Elijah’s heart. He saw him when he was exhausted and vulnerable, subject to the pressures of being God’s prophet. When they knew that Elijah’s time on earth was nearing an end, Elijah asked his student what he could do for him. Now, inheritance is a funny thing. I have seen families divided over who gets how much, or who didn’t get what. It almost always revolves around material things or possessions, but people often have strong feelings about what they feel should be given to them when someone passes. I’m sure Elijah didn’t have much in the way of material possessions, but Elisha could have focused on his staff, or his sandal, or maybe that piece of land down from Mt Carmel. In this case, though, without a second thought, Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. It was an unusual request, but one that deserves a closer look.

A Difficult Request

I think it speaks volumes to us, and here’s why: 1) Elijah conducted himself in such a way that his follower wanted to emulate the spirit and passion with which he lived. That’s a pretty good legacy. Who is watching YOU, and what will you pass on to them?

2) Elisha demonstrated wisdom in asking not for advice, or material things, but for spirit. He wanted to inherit, not Elijah’s possessions, but his passion and his power. The stuff we leave behind is not important, but the spirit we leave behind will resonate far more in God’s economy.

3) Apparently, in order to inherit Elijah’s spirit, Elijah had to be with him and see him depart. You can imagine that he stayed close no matter what kind of pace the rugged Elijah set, or what kind of danger he might face. In fact, Elijah told Elisha three times to leave him, and Elisha refused. He was stubborn and persistent as he pursued God’s blessing. Are YOU?

4) If somebody got a double portion of YOUR spirit, how much would that benefit them? 5) Someone, today, whether you like it or not, is following you. What do they see? As you near the end of your time on earth, will they find your lifestyle so compelling that they ask to have it replicated in themselves?

Finally, 6) who do you know that exhibits passion and Spiritual wisdom? It might be worth your time to discover how they got to be that way. Be passionate. Pursue. Persist.

Passion Worth Pursuing

Life is important. It’s not about fashion,
It’s not about bank accounts you put your cash in,
But it’s about seeking God’s favor with passion.
Elisha was learning; Elijah was leading,
And knew that their moments together were fleeting,
So he asked Elisha, “Before I must go,
What thing would you ask me that you’d like to know?
Elisha said, “There is one thing I would ask:
No matter my role and no matter my task,
I need to climb up to your greatness- or near it,
So please make me full of your passion and spirit!
And please, if you can, and it’s not too much trouble,
I need lots of help, so please make that a double.”

So, clearly, Elisha was very inspired
And he made that request from a man he admired!
But my question is this: Friend, in all that you do,
Whose passion would you like invested in YOU?
Consider your future. Consider your task,
And who has the spirit for which you would ask?
Spend time with your friends who are loving and wise,
And you’ll find that their attitude helps you to rise!
And while you are at it, consider this, too:
Who’d ask for the spirit that they see in YOU?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800

Action Comes From Faith; Faith Always Equals Action

Newton’s law of motion says that for whenever an object exerts force on another object, the second object exerts an equal and opposite reaction upon the first. (https://www1.grc.nasa.gov/beginners-guide-to-aeronautics/newtons-laws-of-motion/ ) Perhaps you never thought of it, but there is also a spiritual law of motion: for every particle of faith, there is a corresponding action. One cannot exist without the other. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8, NIV)

Is This a Faith Movie or an Action Movie?

The story of Abraham is central to the story of the Bible. It is also, coincidentally, central to your story and mine. We don’t know much about Abram before he encountered God; he was [presumably] a competent citizen of Ur, and he was descended from Shem. What we DO know is that is that he settled with his father Terah in Haran, and that his wife Sarai was barren. (Because that seems so close to a rhyme, I couldn’t make myself write it any other way.) In Genesis 12:1, it says, “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household, and go to the land I will show you.” The amazing thing is that Abram heard and immediately obeyed God, and went out to start a new life at age 75.

action and faith

He had faith in what God promised, and it motivated him to do what God instructed. I think that one of the consistent hallmarks of faith is obedience. If you believe that God has given you something to do, then you do it. The next logical step is that obedience always results in DOING something!

Dead or Alive?

True faith is never passive, because it obeys; and obedience always results in ACTION. Let me repeat that: true faith ALWAYS results in ACTION. This is basically what James says about faith when he connects it to works; he never says that works produce faith, but that faith always produces works: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (James 2:17-18, NIV)

A faithful life is a life of obedience that leads to adventure! Abram’s life and story illustrated that a man of 75 could follow God’s call to new places, new horizons, and new adventures! So, what does the call of a Chaldean nomad from the pages of ancient history have to do with us?

Action Demonstrates Faith

There is a direct connection between the way the God of relationships worked with Abram and the way He still works with us. Every single one of us is called to go out, not knowing our destination or the surety of the outcome. A quick glance through Matthew serves to remind us that Jesus said “Follow me” in 4:19, 8:22, 9:9, 10:38, 16:24, and 19:21. You really can’t explore the Bible very much at all without being confronted by a call from the Lord of the universe, a call that requires you to do something.

God asks every single one of us to leave the earthly things which make us feel secure and to follow where He calls us to go. We have several options: 1) we can refuse to hear that call; 2) we can ignore the call; 3) we have the option to disobey and go our own way; or 4) we can place all of our trust in the Lord’s leadership and travel in obedience with the God of action and adventure.

Based on his decision to obey, Abram’s name ended up of the roll call of the heroes of the faith. If you are wondering, God is still calling, and that list is still being written. Have faith. Obey. Take action.

Doing Faith

Abram, from the land of Ur, was settled down in Haran.
His life was good, and he did what he should,
Though Sarai–his wife– was quite barren.
But then, there was that conversation
When God told him, “Leave your location!
Obey my command, and go find a new land,
And I’ll make your small family a nation.”
“Why, Lord?” He could ask. “This impossible task
Is surely beyond comprehension.
But, since it is YOU, what you’ve asked me to DO
Is now something that has my attention.”
Well, Abram believed this command he received;
And, though he could have stayed, he went out and obeyed!
He changed his whole life, took his goods and his wife
And achieved satisfaction (his life got traction) because he took action.
If you believe God, then get to it,
Since faith isn’t faith ’til you DO it.

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

Are Christians Supposed to Be Judges, or Ambassadors?

Governments appoint ambassadors to talk to other nations on their behalf. They represent our interests and concerns on the world stage, and even though most of them are appointed based on political favors, I hope at least some of them are given their posts based on competency. After all, they may need to help avert a serious schism between nations, or even a war now and then. We would hope that ambassadors are well-suited to the important role they have to play.

But, come to think of it, I guess all of us are ambassadors in one way or another. According to Miriam-Webster, Ambassadors are “authorized envoys or representatives of a government, or unofficial representatives, such as ambassadors of goodwill.” You may not have been appointed by the government, but you are probably a representative of your family, for instance. You may be an ambassador at work. As representatives of something larger than ourselves, what we do reflects on whatever or whoever that is. If you are a Christian, according to Paul, you have received an appointment. You are reflecting on Christ himself. I guess, to me, that’s where things get interesting.

An International Assignment

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.” (I Corinthians 6:20, NIV). Wow, it’s kinda scary to think that God is using US as his ambassadors to make his appeal to the world.

Remember that when God sent the Angel to Cornelius in Acts 10, the Angel told him to get in touch with Peter. He would tell him what to do. Peter told him about “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ” in Acts 10:36. Cornelius and his whole household believed and were baptized. So why didn’t the Angel just deliver the Gospel to Cornelius? BECAUSE ANGELS CAN’T do evangelism! Only we humans are empowered to share the gospel.

We are Christ’s only ambassadors on the earth. He told the disciples that he was going away, but that he would come again for us. In the meantime, since he is not physically here, we have been appointed to represent him. It is our role to reflect Christ in a fallen world, to be “Jesus with skin on” wherever we are. WE are supposed to provide salt to the corruptible and light in the darkness.

Are You a Disciple or a Christian?

If you’ll recall, in the early days of the Church there were disciples who followed Jesus, and they acted so much like him that folks began calling people who followed Jesus “little Christs”, or Christians. Acts 11:26 says the word Christian did not come into vogue for at least couple of years after Jesus had departed: “And when he (Barnabas) had found him (Saul), he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”

People were called Christians because they seemed to be a literal representation of Jesus himself. Every Christian is therefore a representative of Christ. I have always wondered how Jesus would act if he was among us. Would he be Church-Lady judgmental? Would Jesus keep a sharp eye out for other people’s sins, and would he be shocked at our culture’s selfishness and licentiousness? How would he treat others? Maybe he’d be quick to judge and nit-pick?

ambassadors

Ambassadors for Who?

Or, would Jesus be a cool guy to hang out with, dispensing wisdom with perhaps a touch of good-natured humor? Would he be loving but intense, with flashes of transfigured glory, and would we see his healing and miracles? Would he be having engaging conversations with friends, intriguing them with the gospel? (Kind of like Jesus in “The Chosen”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tZ7cg4D_z8 )

There’s no doubt in my mind that if Jesus were among us, people would be amazed and surprised by Him… They would be curious about him, stimulated to deepen their love for God as well as others around them. Well, according to this verse, he IS among us, and his presence is evident, making its appeal through ambassadors. Those ambassadors are us.

We are now the representatives of Christ on this earth, the lens through which all unbelievers see him. Our actions and statements determine whether the world sees Christians as a bunch of petty, judgmental tight-wads, or as generous, fun-loving friends… No pressure, ya’ll, but how do you think we’re doing?

Representatives

Ambassadors can negotiate a treaty or a deal;
They represent their sponsor with authority that’s real.
Folks watch them because they are the ones who have been sent,
And people make conclusions about Who they represent.
Do people see your God as petty, mean, or temperamental?
Do they conclude that He is disappointed and judgmental?
If there are false impressions about what your God would do,
Remember: God’s ambassador on earth to them is YOU.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

When a Brave Man Met the Guy With a Terrible Reputation

Saul of Tarsus was a Jewish zealot who was involved in trying to stamp out the new Christian movement using violence and intimidation. After Saul had a vision about Jesus while traveling to Damascus, he was dramatically converted to The Way, but his reputation as a Christian-killer still intimidated everyone. That’s not too surprising, since he had recently been active killing Christians and persecuting the church… Followers of Jesus avoided him with good reason. Was Saul just pretending to be a Christian so he could go undercover and infiltrate the inner circle? Had he actually become a believer? Was he still dangerous? No one really knew…

reputation

Conversion Conundrum

“And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 10:26-7, KJV)  The man with the worst reputation among believers was shunned by the church, conversion or no. Was he still violent? Would he kill again?

Let’s make just a couple of observations: if we have been doing wrong, then even if we repent and change, our past actions have consequences. Saul, the self-described “Pharisee of the Pharisees”, had been out there persecuting and killing Christians. He had gained a reputation before his conversion, and the reputation did not go away just because he said things were different now. It took some time, and he had to demonstrate that his life had really changed.

Still Looking for the Perfect Church?

People in church are often hesitant to associate with people who are not. There is a subtle brand of righteous insulation that takes place, and this was certainly the case with Saul! There are some church-goers who believe that if righteous Christians hang out with sinners, they might themselves be tainted with sin. That sort of logic creates a cultural divide between Christians and non-believers, and it smacks of some sort of presumed spiritual superiority for believers which doesn’t actually exist (It might be instructive to remember that the church would be empty if only perfect people got to join…)

As Saul discovered, having a change of heart doesn’t change the past. If you’ve ever wronged a loved one, and then asked for forgiveness, don’t be surprised if they are skeptical about your new attitude. It may be that you’ll have to show them that things really have changed. Saul was an outright enemy to believers, so when he told people about how he encountered Jesus on the Road to Damascus, his conversion didn’t seem possible to most folks. It’s not really surprising that when he tried to join the church, he was ostracized and rejected.

And besides, he had not yet written that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation” in Ephesians 2:8, so nobody had memorized that verse yet.

A Reputation Lingers

Can you imagine how different the world would be if Saul had never been accepted by the church? If he had walked away, bitter and resentful? Imagine the consequences! Yet as Saul stood on the outside looking in, even when everyone was afraid of him and avoiding him, there was one man who looked beyond his fearsome reputation.

Luke says this: “But Barnabas…” In the midst of paralyzing fear, it only takes one courageous person to get things moving the right direction. Saul had been guilty of horrendous things BUT Barnabas looked beyond them. This man Saul was not the kind of guy you’d want to sit next to at the covered dish supper, BUT Barnabas invited him… Saul had a terrible reputation and a checkered past, BUT Barnabas took him and brought him. Saul was not accepted into the church, BUT Barnabas brought him. Barnabas somehow saw beyond Saul’s past, and shepherded him into God’s fearful family.

Without Barnabas, who knows? Perhaps Saul would never have become Paul. Perhaps an embittered and frustrated Saul might have slunk off, rejected and hurt, and gone back to persecuting Christians. What person outside of your church family is being excluded or marginalized? Who are you loving and bringing into the kingdom?

Saul to Paul by Way of Barnabas

Greeting someone new to church may seem a little small,
Unless the guest has had a wanted poster on the wall,
For persecuting Christians– yeah, a guy by the name of Saul,
Who watched as they stoned Stephen, and was feared by one and all.

But Barnabas reached out to him, and not in trepidation,
Undaunted by Saul’s former life or current reputation.
He didn’t cater to the enemy’s intimidation,
And brought Saul right into the Apostolic delegation.
The rest is history. Saul changed his life and changed his name,
And due to Barnabas, the world has never been the same.
Paul became a missionary, saved from sin and shame,
And said, “For me to live is Christ; for me to die is gain!”
The next time someone comes to church who doesn’t quite fit in,
No matter what they look like, and no matter where they’ve been,
Remember Barnabas and Paul, and all that happened after all,
And realize that greeting someone is not small at 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
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

A Different Kingdom Would Result in a Different World

There are many political systems and rulers in this world. One list shows that there are still 43 monarchies ( https://www.infoplease.com/world/social-statistics/kingdoms-and-monarchs-world ), although many of them are merely ceremonial or cultural in function. But kings and other rulers are instrumental in defining what goes on in their countries. If you look at the shape our world is in, what with poverty, wars, corruption, genocide, nuclear weapons, high taxes, government corruption, etc., you could ask, like Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?” Perhaps a different kind of kingdom would result in a different world…

The Bible says it is so. “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bond-woman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bond-woman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” (Galatians 4:22-23, 28-29 NASB)

Which Promise?

According to the Bible, Abraham had a son (Isaac) born to fulfill a spiritual purpose according to the promise of God, and a son born according to the flesh (Ishmael). Isaac was a miracle, born out of time to a 99-year-old man whose 90-year-old wife was also well past the age of child-bearing. (There are some dots to connect here, so please stay with me!)

Ishmael was the result of Abraham’s own effort to jump-start the promise by impregnating his servant girl. Ishmael, the son born according to the flesh, later bullied Isaac, and there was conflict between them and their offspring that persists to this day. This dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit is a common Biblical theme, and it applies to us individually just like it applied to Abraham’s sons.

Flesh or Spirit

In John three, Jesus told Nicodemus that everyone is born of the flesh but that you must also be born of the Spirit. He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” This conversation was popularized during the Carter administration when the phrase “born again Christian” was used to describe Jimmy Carter and other evangelical Christians.

When writing the introduction to his gospel, John said that “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” ( John 1:12-13) Nicodemus was confused by Jesus’ reference to the spiritual side of life, just like Pontius Pilate was later when he questioned Jesus. But, it’s something that affects every Christian.

kingdom of God

Different Kingdom, Different Values

If you are a follower of Jesus, John says you are a child of God who has been adopted into His family. You are also part of a spiritual Kingdom with new potential and new possibilities. Christians hope for a redeemed and perfect world, achieved not through evolution or progress or science or technology, but through the Spirit of God. It is God’s Spirit that will bathe the world in love, that will be present in heaven, and will power the kind of kingdom where “the lion will lay down with the lamb”. It won’t be built on any kind of earthly power, but on the Graceful presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

Paul says here in Galatians that everyone born of the Spirit is an heir of the promises to Abraham. In Romans 7 and 8, Paul describes the natural conflict that exists between man’s fleshly nature and God’s Spirit. Romans 8:5 says, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

Spiritual Differential

One of the things that makes Christianity unique is its reliance upon the Spirit of God as opposed to the works of man. Hindus believe in cause and effect; Karma teaches that what goes around, comes around. Islam proscribes keeping the law (efforts of the flesh) to be acceptable to God. (Legalistic “Christians” do the same thing, by the way.) Religions all start with man and his efforts to be like God, or to be acceptable to Him.

But, are man’s efforts adequate? Will they ever be? Anyone who tries to achieve righteousness in the flesh will always be at odds with those who accept grace. The kingdom of the flesh will always be opposed to the spirit. Based on the human logic of getting what you deserve, grace will never seem fair to those who try work their way into heaven…

Jesus’ kingdom was spiritual, not physical. It confused Pilate, and it has confused lots of folks ever since. It seems logical that we should work our way to God, but He has confounded that logic. Two takeaways: 1) it might be a good thing to depend upon God’s spirit, rather than your own effort; and 2) don’t expect a cessation in persecution anytime soon. It’s been going on for 3000 years, and as Paul said in Galatians, “so it is now also”.

Different

Abraham was a shepherd man
Without much wealth and without a plan,
But God told him to start afresh,
To walk in faith, but not in flesh.
So Abram started, not by sight,
To walk with God both day and night,
Beginning a spiritual family that actually changed history,
And somehow the genealogy was opened up to you and me…

Sometime later in history, two men discussed a mystery:
Nicodemus–a Pharisee–went out at night and tried to see
If he and Jesus could agree on how God’s plan was meant to be.
Jesus said, “Nick, the problem is sin.
To live, you must be born again!
And Nicodemus sat in his room,
and said, “I can’t go back in the womb!”
Jesus said, “not that kind of birth!
I’m speaking of heaven, and not of earth!
As a teacher, you should be smart–or near it–
So understand this: Be born in the Spirit.
Only by being born again
Can you free yourself from the power of sin.
(Like Pilate, Nick couldn’t see the worth
Of a spiritual kingdom that’s not of this earth.)

What Jesus told Nicodemus to do
Is still correct and still holds true,
And is still the best option for me and you:
Like Abraham, just start anew, like Jesus told Nicodemus to do,
Not of this world, and not of men, just this: You must be born again.
Spiritual birth makes all things new
If that is something you’re willing to do. I’ve done it, so I know it’s true. If you want to do it, that’s up to 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