Pain Is No Fun; But Is it Possible We Can’t Grow Without It?

Pain is a bad thing, and certainly isn’t something we enjoy or want to experience. But, is it always bad? What can it possibly be good for? Jesus offers us some insight:

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

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

Pain Might Have a Purpose

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

pain

Think Back

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

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

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

PAIN: What is it Good For?

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

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

We Say the Best Things in Life are Free. So Why Do We Spend so Much on Mere STUFF?

We are a nation of consumers. We buy and spend like no other nation on earth. Even Christmas in America is really about economics, isn’t it? And if you’re like me, you are watching the economic news with at least some degree of interest. Are prices still going up? Does it matter if Congress raises the debt ceiling? We all say the best things in life are FREE, but as consumers we don’t really live like it, do we?

Isaiah had something to say about that: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:1-3a, NIV) When Isaiah mentioned “the richest of fare” I’m sure his listeners could picture a sumptuous banquet table. I’m also pretty sure it didn’t sit well with them…

free

A Strange Message for Times of Turmoil

Isaiah preached in Judah (the southern Kingdom) at a time when he witnessed the invasion of Israel by Assyria. He also observed a civil war going on between Judah, and Israel, who allied herself with Syria and Damascus. He then saw the Assyrian conquest of Syria and nearby Samaria, and he observed Israel’s ultimate defeat when they were carried away into captivity.

In short, he lived in violent times filled with war and political unrest. I don’t know if you have ever been in a war zone, but they are not great places to live. Everyday life is disrupted, and refugees displaced by battles and marauding soldiers put an added economic burden on everyone else. In an agrarian society, crops are destroyed or stolen, and the cycle of farming gets interrupted. Trade also diminishes, so sources of food become more scarce than usual.

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

That means that people who heard Isaiah preach either lived by their wits hand-to-mouth, or worked especially hard to protect whatever assets they had in order to survive. So how well do you think Isaiah’s sermon was received by his audience? “Come, you who have no money: come, buy and eat! Buy milk and wine without money and without cost.” Uh, Say what?

Isaiah was delivering a message that had to be confusing and perplexing to those who heard it. Picture the crowd as they listened: some of them were homeless, displaced by the violence and carelessness of the world. Some were poor and needy. “Where is this free wine and milk, Isaiah? Why do you torture us with images of rich fare, when we barely have a crust of bread?”

Other listeners were more fortunate, still untouched by war or perhaps stronger and able to fend for themselves. They would be more arrogant, scoffing at Isaiah’s sermon: “There is no such thing as a free lunch, Isaiah! I have worked hard for what I have, and have gotten it without any magic help from you or your God. I do not need your promises of satisfaction and rich fare, I am busy taking care of my own.”

The More things Change…

What fascinates me about this scenario is that some things never change. The reactions of those listening to Isaiah preach about God’s deliverance then, were exactly the same as the way people react to the gospel today. Some people will say, “God couldn’t possibly love me, look how hard my life has been. Don’t bother me with a spiritual solution when my world is upside down.” Or, “I asked God to bless me but He ignored me.” “Where is this free food, this richest of fare?”

Some people reject God because he doesn’t come to them on their terms, but rather insists on His own. Those who are self-sufficient might say, “Why do I need God? I have worked hard and can take care of myself. Don’t try to sell me on free food and rich fare that money cannot buy. There’s no such thing.”

The Best Things in Life Are Free

The gospel is confusing and perplexing because it is free. You can’t earn it, and you can’t buy it. It is “wine and milk without money and without cost”. It promises satisfaction for free, and offers “the richest of fare” to all who accept it. “Come unto me, all of you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”(Matthew 11:28) “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “For by Grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is “the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

In a world full of materialism, greed, distractions, and conflict, God still offers the richest fare for free. Don’t let politics or circumstances keep you from seeing that Isaiah’s message was true then, and it still is. Listen, and live.

Isaiah’s Warning

The thing about the Gospel that is hard for us to see
Is even though it cost so much, God gives it to us free.
The world may lust for costly jewels, and men are killed for gold,
But values in God’s kingdom are not trifles bought and sold…
Isaiah called to everyone with hunger and with thirst
To listen to a word from God and put His teaching first!

He uttered exhortation to the congregation there,
And promised that his words would lead them to the richest fare.
And everyone who comes to God, the greatest to the least
Is welcome to the table at the Savior’s wedding feast.
The invitation beckons you: what answer will you give?
Isaiah says, “Give ear, and come to me, that you may live!”

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

If You Get A Call From God, Answer the Phone!

A Call for Drastic Change

Have you ever gotten “that call”? The one which required an answer from you that could change your whole future? I once received a phone call about a job offer in Chicago, which I decided not to take. Moving to Chicago from Texas would have been a major change that affected my entire family. I often thought, in later years, that the simple “no” answer I gave to the caller literally affected everything about where our family’s life journey would take us.

Perhaps Abraham felt the same way: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should receive after for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” (Hebrews 11:8 KJV)

call from God
Falling Dominoes

I wonder if Abram had ever really dreamed of leaving Ur? He was a family man who may have had roots and obligations in his community. As a nomadic herdsman, he may not have had a big house or deep community connections, but answering God’s call represented a big change for him. Even if you only have a few possessions, we all know it’s a pain in the neck to move. And did Abram really WANT to move? Was God’s call the fulfillment of his dreams, or an interruption to his status quo? I wonder what the people in his household thought, and whether anybody complained. Were all of them as sold on God’s call as Abram was?

Genesis 12:5 says “He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan.” It doesn’t say whether they were enthusiastic or happy about it. But they all answered the call and went with Abram to an unknown promised land. Abram was seventy-five years old and he received a call from God, and he believed it was legitimate enough to bet the house on it.

Faith Can Be Reliable Even If It’s Blind

There are a couple of things about Abram’s call and response that stand out to me. The well-spring of faith is not in being successful, or even in knowing the direction; it is in hearing the call, and knowing who is calling. Since your faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed, it really helps to have faith in something or someone who is reliable. You can have all the faith in the world that a chair with two broken legs will hold you up, but when you sit down you will still crash to the floor. Abram put his faith in a reliable God, and we are still reading his story thousands of years later.

Secondly, Abram was obedient, and he followed God without knowing where he would end up. Are you obedient to God? (Which begs the question, are you having enough dialog with Him so that you know what He wants you to do?) Choosing to follow God requires commitment, as Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Faith is never passive, and it always results in obedience. Abram didn’t say, “I’ll follow God if He gives me a sign, or a clear direction.” He just packed up and set out, not really knowing where he was going. If God had called him to stay right where he was, I am sure he would have done that, too—but He gave up his presumptions and assumptions and did what God wanted him to do.

Answering a Call is More Than Just Answering

There’s a subtle twist to that as well. Have you ever said, “I’m available!”? I’ll do what God wants (as long as it fits my plans, as long as He uses me the way I always hoped He would…) I will follow God’s call (if it involves doing what I want, going somewhere I have always dreamed of going, or using my gifts the way I always wanted…) I will definitely follow God (as long as He keeps me in my comfort zone). God didn’t guarantee that to Abram, and He doesn’t guarantee that to us. But he does guarantee Himself, which ultimately should be a better promise, don’t you think?

The Call

Picture this: from out of the blue,
A call from God just comes to you,
And tells you that it’s time to roam–
To take your family, leave your home,
And everything you’ve ever known,
And move away to somewhere new,
Just because God told you to!
Well, Abraham got up and went–
He took his wife, he took his tent–
Not questioning why he was sent,
Believing that God’s promise would
Result in something very good.
The call, you see, was Abram’s test,
So he left Ur and all the rest:
And somehow all the world was blessed
Because he gave the Lord his best.
So if you get a call from God when you are all alone,
Remember Abraham’s results, and please, pick up the phone!

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 Bonfire of Vanity: Advice From the Wisest Man Who Ever Lived

Tom Wolfe (who wrote, “The Bonfire of the Vanities”) said, “The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.” Another person who understood vanity was (an older and somewhat jaded) King Solomon. After living a life of wealth and achievement, and after marrying hundreds of wives and keeping dozens of concubines, he wrote this: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, NIV)

The book of Ecclesiastes is the most pessimistic book in the Bible. It was written by King Solomon, who had seen it all and done it all. He experienced all that life had to offer and had grown jaded and a bit cynical. In chapter one he began with “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (verse two) He says “all things are wearisome” in verse eight, “there is nothing new under the sun” in verse nine, and draws this conclusion in verse fourteen: “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”

vanity Madonna

A Promising Start

Solomon reached these conclusions at the end of a long life during which he had the means (and the power) to do pretty much whatever he wanted. When he was a young man about to assume the throne of Israel, 2 Chronicles 1:7 says that “God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon asked God not for wealth or power, but for wisdom; pleased with his choice, God gave him wisdom and all of those other things as well. (Kind of a preview of Matthew 6:33 in real life.) As a result, Solomon lived a long life populated with fame and fortune.

“King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:23-24) The visiting Queen of Sheba told him, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.” (1 Kings 10:6-8)

Instead of Vanity, Fear…

People magazine or TMZ would have covered the goings-on in Solomon’s court, and I imagine there was no vanity he didn’t have the opportunity to see or do. He built the biggest temple, lived in the most opulent palace, and married the hottest women on the planet. So why is all that important, and what does it have to do with us? I would think that the observations of one of the wisest and most experienced men in all of history would be worth consideration.

After everything he had seen and done, Solomon arrived at the conclusions he listed in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, which essentially tells us two important things: 1) Fear and obey God. Solomon tells us that having a healthy respect for your Creator makes sense, no matter how rich and famous you are. He also gives a shout out to obedience, which is always the natural result of respect. It’s not difficult to submit to the authority of someone worthy of respect. Solomon, a wise man, believed it made sense to obey God, which leads to his second point:

Don’t Forget

2) Remember who you are accountable to. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” It’s not about your reputation or your public persona or the few good deeds you’ve done. We are accountable to God for every deed, every thought, and every hidden thing.

One of the wisest and richest kings in history concluded that God’s judgment matters. Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment.” (Matthew 12:36). Paul (Romans 14:12) said that “each of us shall give an account of himself to God.” If Solomon, Jesus and Paul think we should get ready for judgment before God, perhaps it would be a wise thing to do. Are you ready?

Solomon’s Judgment

The wisest and the richest king, who had the best of everything–
The purest gold, the finest wines–a thousand wives and concubines!
He wisely judged the rights and wrongs!
He frolicked in the Song of Songs!
There was no truth he could not teach,
Nor pleasure that he could not reach…
The Queen of Sheba sang his praise,
And stayed with him for many days,
Impressed with Solomon and his ways…
Of all men on the planet he, with all his hospitality
Was foremost of humanity, but out of all he got to see,
The cynical reality was this: that all was vanity.
The king then gave this reprimand:
“Fear God, and keep the Lord’s command,
Since He alone will be the One
To judge the secret things you’ve done!
It’s nothing but insanity
To chase the worldly vanity.
Beware the world’s ingredients;
Fear God, and be obedient.

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

Pray As If Your Relationship With God Depends on It

When you pray, do you sometimes mail it in? Just throw up the quick request and fall asleep? When it comes to praying, do you ever wonder if it matters, or if it is even necessary? Then here’s some food for thought…

The Lifeline

“Jesus said, “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father”, and “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30; 14:9) You might suppose that, as the Son of God, Jesus had an automatic connection with the Father; you might think that of anyone who ever lived, Jesus could have sustained a pretty good spiritual life without a lot of effort on prayer… But not so.

He stayed connected to God in such a way that his friends noticed it and remarked upon it. What’s more, he connected to God in the same way each of us has the opportunity to stay connected: he prayed. He talked to his Father, and it was an integral part of how he did what he did. Our prayer life is a spiritual lifeline, a way for us to keep a direct line open to the Lord. If you want to understand God and stay connected to Him, take a closer look at a few of the passages about Jesus’ prayers. Maybe you’ll find a clue!

pray all night

This Happened a LOT

“So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:41-42 NASB)

“But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16)

“After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray.” (Mark 6:46)

“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23 NASB)

“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” (Mark 1:35 NASB)

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12 NASB)

Some God Advice

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” (Matthew 6:9, NIV)

Consider that the Son of God, the Messiah, the most spiritual man who ever lived, prayed in public; prayed alone, prayed early; prayed into the evening; and prayed all night.
So… How’s your prayer life these days?

The Secret of Powerful Prayer

Praying sometimes feels like such a bother,
It sounds pretentious, or it sounds so trite–
So different than just talking to our Father
When he would tuck us into bed at night.

You’d think that Jesus wouldn’t have to pray,
Since He was God–the way, the truth, the Light!
But he prayed often: every single day,
Early, late, and deep into the night!

He prayed with passion, and he prayed with trust;
Jesus prayed with such an intimate tone…
He prayed for others. (Wow, he prayed for US!)
He prayed in public, and he prayed alone…

And Jesus taught his followers how to care,
Giving us the words that changed the game,
Providing his example of a prayer:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Thy name!
Bring on Thy kingdom. May your will be done!
Remind us of Thy gifts, and whence they came;
Protect us, Father, from the evil one.
Remind us daily, Father, of your story:
For Thine is the Kingdom, power and glory…”

It’s called “The Lord’s prayer”. Surely you have seen it,
And maybe you’ve recited it once or twice;
But have you really prayed as if you mean it?
If not, then here’s a little prayer advice:
If God seems far away, or just seems hid,
Try this: go off and pray like Jesus did.

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

Evil Days Call for Wise Living… Would You Say You Live Wisely?

If you didn’t know any better, you could say we live in evil days. It all started back in 2020, with the appearance of Covid and all of its restrictions. 2021 was full of bad news and dire predictions, and 2022 was a mixed bag, with inflation and recession making the news on top of continued pandemic fears. In 2023 there were mass shootings, the war in Ukraine and zombie viruses. As we enter 2024 we have Hamas and Houthi attacks, threats of World War 3, Iran getting close to having nuclear weapons, and the growing distortion of truth using deep-fakes and AI.

It seems that each year comes with its own evil, so here’s some advice as we get ready for latest: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15-20 NIV)

That Was Then; This is Now

Before Paul says we should always be thankful, he tells us to live wisely because the days are evil. We are starting a brand New Year, but are we really starting with a clean slate? In a day characterized by wars and political strife, dishonest leadership, licentious sexual practices, and rampant sexual abuse by men in government, Paul certainly understood evil days. Christians and gladiators were killed in the Colosseum for entertainment; men celebrated homosexuality and even kept young boys as concubines, and racial and social discrimination were rampant everywhere. Evil was so common it didn’t even make front-page headlines in the pagan Roman-occupied world. (Wait, what? Did all that sound familiar? Did you think this paragraph was from TODAY’S headlines??)

As for the other part of his statement, are you living wisely? Would you look at your life and say that you make pretty wise choices? That question is really a little more difficult than it seems. Where do find your wisdom? If there was a Book of Wisdom, would you read it? How much wisdom are you exposed to every day? What type of wisdom are you counting on when you have to make choices? (Remember, Eve ate the apple partly because she saw that it imparted wisdom…there are some things the world counts as wise that really aren’t.

Cross Purposes

Paul draws that distinction about the world’s view of the cross in 1 Corinthians 1:18-20 when he quotes Isaiah 29:14, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”). In the Biblical definition, true wisdom only comes from God—and if it isn’t godly, it isn’t good…

Do you know what Proverbs says about wisdom? What Jesus taught? What James said? Do you subjugate your temporary needs for long-term results? Do you seek first what God wants, or what YOU want? There is a lot to consider. Here in Ephesians, Paul also says we should understand what the Lord’s will is. How does one gain understanding of THAT? In Romans 12:2 he offers a clue when he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Tested and Approved

God’s will won’t be found in the world’s values. It resides in spiritual insights that only come from the renewal of your mind. Tell me, what will you be doing in 2024 to renew your mind with wisdom? I’ll finish this thought by asking two questions: First, do you think the days still qualify as evil?

devil evil
evil legalism kills

Put another way, are men in 2024 still as selfish, evil, and corrupt as they were when Paul wrote those words in the first century AD? (If you consider the hatred and lack of integrity on BOTH sides of American politics, Russia’s war against Ukraine, the rise of Radical Islam as a murderous pseudo-religious state, the racism that still exists across our planet, and the genocide CURRENTLY TAKING PLACE in Somalia, Burundi, Iraq, Myanmar, Sudan, and Nigeria, the answer is fairly obvious).

With that in mind, the second question is: Do you understand what the Lord’s will is for you? Chances are, if the answer is yes to the first question, it’s even more important to be able to answer the second one.

Hindsight is 2020 in 2024

The days were evil, way back when, and the world was full of evil men
Who violated public trust and loved to exercise their lust.
He didn’t put it into rhyme, but Paul said to redeem the time,
To live in wisdom every day, prepared for what would come your way.
Today, the calendar has moved but men have really not improved!
So… Are you ready? Are you wise? Can you see evil in disguise?
Can you see things through Wisdom’s eyes?
We live in a fallen world that’s evil still.
Be wise, and live within the Father’s 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

Treasure Isn’t Necessarily What You Can Measure, but It is the Heart of the Matter

Events this past week have been about treasure of one kind or another. You may have bought flowers for your Valentine or spent money on a restaurant or gift. One estimate says that $29.5 BILLION is spent on Valentine’s each year in the US.

And of course, billions of dollars were invested in football teams, players and coaches to try to get to the Super Bowl. Billions more are wagered on the game each year. And don’t forget, the players who made it to the big game each receive a paycheck for ONE game that’s more than most people make in a year. https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/nfl/how-much-will-the-winners-and-losers-of-super-bowl-lviii-get-paid/ar-BB1i7YS9?ocid=socialshare&pc=LCTS&cvid=75f01bd6297b420bb6b53a274551ddb1&ei=14 ) In a nation where money is one of the primary ways we keep score, what do you treasure? And how do you keep it safe? “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, like a high wall in his own imagination.” (Proverbs 18:10-11 NASB)

As humans, we rely upon physical things to provide us pleasure or protection. We often take comfort or seek solace in material things. We imagine ourselves to be secure in our own devices. If you think about it, what is your strong tower? What gives you security? Wealth, especially, is considered the answer to all ills in our society. If only I was rich, everything would be great… Then my life would be awesome.

Material Value

Perhaps because he was familiar with the fact that many rich people still have emotional or moral issues, or maybe because he knew what has real value in life, Jesus did not place much stock in material things. He never owned a home. He never negotiated a contract. After he began his public ministry, he never held a job or opened a savings account. Of himself he said in Luke 9:58, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

treasure heart

We, on the other hand, are often more like Tevya in “Fiddler on the Roof”, who fantasized about what life would be like if only he were rich (“Lord who made the lion and the lamb; you decreed I should be as I am. Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?”).  As he trudged wearily along, he prayed: “Lord, I realize that it is no sin to be poor. But it’s no great honor, either.” Like all of us, he longed for the comfort and security of financial abundance.

You Can’t Take It With You

A rich man may feel secure because of his wealth, but Proverbs says that kind of security really only exists in his imagination. As Robert Frost said (in “Provide, Provide”), “No memory of having starred atones for later disregard, or keeps the end from being hard…” Everyone will face the end, and no one will get any help from their stuff. When we stand before God, all of the money in the world will not justify us or redeem us.

The story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:22-23 illustrated the vast difference between trusting God and depending on wealth. Jesus challenged him to come be a disciple, but he had other priorities. “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Different Kingdoms, Different Treasure

He often contrasted God’s kingdom versus man’s, and when he spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, he said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

Not many will sell everything we have and give it away; but we can all ask ourselves, Will my purse wear out? What do I value the most? Be careful where you store your treasure. Be careful where you seek refuge.

Measure of treasure

Life for most means keeping score,
Depending on what you value more–
A bank account, the cash you’ve made,
Or heavenly gain that will not fade.
It all depends on how you measure
What you think is really treasure.
If your pockets are full, but your heart is not,
Then take a minute and have this thought:
Security and wealth reside, not in your stuff–but deep inside,
Where your hopes and dreams and thoughts abide…
When you stand before God, will you have your stuff?
Refining fire will burn away the fluff:
Just pray that what you have will be enough.

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

The Equation That Changes Everything

As we enjoy the glow of Valentine’s Day, let’s reflect on love and math. There is an equation about love that John uses to describe the nature of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. It is simple but surprising. The equation is this:

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (I John 4:16, NIV) John claims that God is love. This makes sense from a Biblical view, and it aligns with what Jesus taught—that love is a distinctive which identifies those who follow God. You know how an equation works, right? X = Y means that everything on one side of the equation equals the other side EXACTLY. They are interchangeable because they are equal.

equation

It All Adds Up, Somehow

And “God is Love” is not the only equation in the New Testament. Consider this: we are designed to be complete only in relationships, and relationships are only complete when they run on love. The equation is, two people become one flesh. Husband equals wife. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one”. The equation is, Jesus equals the Father.

When John says, “God is love”, he is saying that love is God’s makeup—it is the essence of His personality, his character, and his being. If you think about it, we know about and acknowledge several things about God’s character. God is holy. He is a Righteous Judge. He is the source of all forgiveness and grace. But John’s equation sets the baseline for who God is. What He does is motivated by love and is an expression of love. God cannot commit a purely selfish act.

Love, Backwards and Forwards

When you flip that statement around (which you can always do when you juxtapose two equal objects with a verb of being, and it will still be true), it says, “Love is God.” John is saying that not only is God characterized by love, but that EVERYTHING loving is from God. Whatever love you encounter in this world comes from God—there is nothing loving apart from him or possible without him. We experience love in many forms, and probably every one of those forms is valid, as is anything that we perceive as love.

We experience a mother’s love, there is love in friendships, and there is the love we have for puppies and little children. There is deep, abiding love, romantic, mushy love, and there is even sexual love between a husband and wife (yes, God created sex, and in way more than fifty shades!). There are all manner of other kinds of love we feel or encounter or touch in this life.

But here’s the deal: None of them would exist without God. Some of them may seem to us to be disconnected from God, but if you look closely I think you’ll start to see in them a glimmer of God’s presence, or a fleeting glimpse of his character. And the more you look, the more you’ll see that they couldn’t exist without Him, that there is no real love apart from God, because God is love, and love is God. Good thing to think about during the month that contains Valentine’s Day.

A Different Equation: One Plus One Equals One

To my lovely wife: you’re the love of my life!
To my family and friends, may our love never end!
It is more than a fad or a transient trend.
Just remember this stuff, when the going gets tough:
Love is God; God is love, it all comes from above;
It’s the nature of God, and when push comes to shove,
It is God’s DNA, and it’s what He’s made of!
So, everything loving you happen to see’s
A reminder that God lives in you, and in me:
Love’s what He gives us, and calls us to be!
Just in case I haven’t said it enough,
What you say: Love is God. What it means: God is love.

Go love somebody, and go feel loved today. In other words, be godly. Then thank God that you just saw Him where you weren’t looking before!

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

Fearless Love Will Help You Dance Like Nobody’s Watching!

Would it be good for you to be fearless? The Apostle John thought so, and I know he went through a number of dangerous situations. All of us probably have moments when we’d love to be fearless (such as when you ask someone to be your Valentine!), although there are certainly times when it might not be such a good idea…

fearless

John said this: “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.…” (1 John 4:17-19, NIV)

Talk About Love…

On this day we tend to think a lot about love. There are a lot of notions about love, aren’t there? There is love of things (I love my car/house/video game), love of appetite (I love chocolate/beer/steak), love of animals, love of others (friends/family), romantic love, selfless love, summer love, endless love. Songs reflect that diversity with titles like “Love hurts”, “Love is a Battlefield”, “Love is a Wonderful Thing”, “Bleeding Love”, and “Love is All you Need”.

Love gets intertwined with all kinds of things in media and culture, so we allow it to have many definitions, most of which are not love at all. Sometime we can clarify what something means by stating its opposite, and most would probably say that the opposite of love is hate. But here in these verses, John infers that the opposite of love is not hate but FEAR. I don’t know that I ever think of it as the opposite of fear.

What does John mean by that? Perhaps that, unlike the transient, earthly love we so often experience, true love is dependable. True love gives absolute confidence. Why would John have juxtaposed love with fear? For one thing, he watched Jesus up close for several years, and if you think of it, none of the Gospels ever says, “Jesus was afraid”. John noted Jesus’ courage and understood its source.

Peerless Love

In John 13:1 one he makes the observation that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them unto the END.” To quote a praise song, John observed first hand that “your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me”. He says that love casts out fear, and the one who fears is not perfected (matured) in love. We can test that in a way by saying it in reverse: fear casts out love; but those who embrace love are fearless.

fearless dance

Tell, me, are you fearless? What are you most afraid of? Being hurt or rejected? Being marginalized? John says God’s love won’t do that. He reminds us that there is an intimacy with Christ that we carry through this world, that we are somehow united with him as we live our lives… I kinda think John’s point is that since God’s love protects us in something as big as the Day of Judgment, all the rest of our concerns are really nothing to be afraid of by comparison. You don’t need to control things to be secure; you just need to realize what love means in your life. Look up and be glad about how much God loves you today. Then, take a deep breath, ignore those little insecurities, and be “dance like nobody’s watching” fearless!

Opposites Attack

Love for some is just a sport, perhaps a game of chance;
Love can be chemistry that sparks a new romance,
With someone that you like a lot, the spark is real, the kiss is hot,
You both decide to take a shot and vow to give it all you’ve got!
But even love with such high hopes can end with a broken heart,
With bitterness that lovers feel when they are split apart.
If we describe the kind of love that goes out on a date,
Most of us would say the opposite of love is hate.

But I had never thought of love the way it’s written here:
John says that the polar opposite of love is FEAR.
Our earthly love can turn to hate, reflecting its impurity;
He says God’s love is something we can all embrace with surety,
The Father’s perfect love can give us freedom and security.
If you embrace the fearless love that God has given you,
How would your life be different then? And what would you go do?
Consider that. Consider that His love will cast out fear,
And you can dance like no one’s watching. Yep, you read it here.

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

The Bridegroom is The Happiest Guy at Every Wedding

After the Super Bowl, and before Valentine’s Day, let’s connect the dots between Jesus and the greatest performance ever, and the time early in his ministry when he talked to John’s disciples about a wedding. This new Rabbi who presented himself to be baptized by John at the Jordan River was different. He had a different way of doing business than both his ascetic cousin and the religious elite from Jerusalem. In the TV series, The Chosen, Peter protests Matthew’s call by saying, “But that’s different.” Jesus answers him by saying, “Get used to different.” Some of John the Baptist’s followers were concerned that Jesus and his disciples partied a little too much. His answer caught them off guard: he described himself not as a Rabbi, but as a bridegroom:

“Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17 NIV)

Why Wineskins?

When John’s disciples questioned Jesus why his disciples did not fast, Jesus used a couple of very different references to describe growth and change. The wineskin verse has always puzzled me a bit, but it occurred to me that it really fits with New Year’s resolutions. It refers to growth and expanding to new horizons, and Jesus describes those things in ways that everyone listening would understand.

First of all, Jesus talks about celebrating the groom at a wedding feast. He points out that 1) he is the bridegroom at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven—which makes us the bride—and 2) we should live in the present, unburdened by fear of what might happen in the future. We should party with the bridegroom at the feast while we have the chance. The eternal Son of God always encourages to be present to be in the moment.

A Subtle Exchange

In a subtler context he is also reminding his audience about commitment and change. When we get married, it is a new commitment, and it involves a new way of behaving. It represents leaving an old life behind as a single person and starting a new one as a couple. When you get married, it doesn’t improve your lot as a single person; you actually exchange your old single life for MARRIED life!

wedding bridegroom

When you get married, you can’t keep living the way you did when you were alone. You have to share, to adapt, and to live differently than you did before. Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom and calls us to participate in a new reality, to celebrate our relationship with him while there is still time. He then enlarges upon his teaching about growth by reminding his listeners that new wine (which expands as it ages) must be put into new wineskins, which have the elasticity to expand with it.

Not a River in Egypt

His immediate context points out that the old, legalistic way of relating to God has become a new dynamic, and he calls his followers to relationship rather than religion. He teaches that it is not by doing new things with our old selves that we change; but it is by embracing new selves that we can act and feel differently. That’s why he tells his disciples in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

We can’t improve the flesh but we can REPLACE it. In his book, “If I Perish, I Perish”. Major Ian Thomas says that we can’t attain spirituality by dressing up our old nature and hoping that he reforms. You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig. Our flesh will ALWAYS be sinful and will ALWAYS long to return to its selfish ways. He cites Israel as an example for us, and points out that God didn’t leave the Israelites in Egypt, hoping that they would evolve into more devout followers. He says “God never intended to improve their lot under Pharaoh but to exchange their land.”

Like He did with Israel, God calls us to a new way of life. They couldn’t patch the old wineskins, but had to get brand new ones. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV). Resolutions to change the outer man won’t help us if we don’t exchange the inner one. If you want to change, make one resolution this year: In 2024, I am going to celebrate with the bridegroom every day!

Exchanging Vows

The bridegroom’s face is beaming with pride,
As all heads turn to see the lovely bride;
They will be exchanging vows and rings,
And changing the future, whatever it brings…
Gone is the independent single life;
From this day forth, they are man and wife.
This life will put them through stormy weather,
But come what may, they will deal with it together.
This is what they will strive to do,
As together, they make something new–
And one stronger life is forged from two.

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

Gratitude: Do You Expect Some? Well, Do You GIVE Some?

Why do some people show gratitude, while others don’t? We’ve probably all been thankful for something, and we’ve probably all experienced a lack of thankfulness, even when it was merited. There’s no formula for appropriate gratitude, but A.A. Milne was pretty close when he said, “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” Perhaps this story about thankfulness can help us as well.

“As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood in the distance and cried out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them he said, “Go, and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:12-16, NIV)

A Surprising Story

gratitude

Ten lepers, who were outcast and marginalized men who could not mix with healthy people, were out on the outskirts of a village. They asked Jesus for mercy, and he gave them instructions that would both heal them and prepare them for reentry into everyday life. Once the priests saw they were free from leprosy, they could once again mingle with friends and family, hug their kids, and have a chance to live normal lives.

“Doctor” Luke points out that only the unclean and socially unacceptable Samaritan gave credit to God for his healing. The nine other formerly leprous men went on their way, probably too excited about going back to society to stop and say thank you. It may be that they felt entitled somehow, finally getting what they deserved after years of presumable injustice. It certainly is surprising that there wasn’t more gratitude expressed, but people can be a little self-absorbed…

So What Do We Make of This?

Two things here: Not everyone who meets Jesus is grateful, even when they experience healing because of Him. Sometimes we get so busy living our lives or even going to church that we forget how much we have to be grateful for. (How about this: DON’T FORGET! Regardless of where we are in life, it is good to have an attitude of gratitude!)

Secondly, some of the people you help along the way will not thank you for it. Jesus healed all ten, even though he was aware of their heart attitudes before he acted. Gratitude doesn’t always manifest itself the way we think it should, but remember: we shouldn’t do good just so that someone says, “Thank you”.

Our motivation for helping others is often wrong. We do good things in order to receive recognition, or to feel good about ourselves. Paul said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Why?

Like Paul, we should perform acts of kindness for the Lord’s sake, not for men’s approval. As Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “‘truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” In the Sermon on the Mount, he taught that our devotion to God should not be a matter of public pride, but something best kept between Him and us. Matthew 6:4, 6 and 18 all point to the same outcome: “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Acts of kindness should be done for our Father with an expectation of gratitude, or regard for human response. Go out and commit some today.

Be Grateful

People are amazing. Sometimes, helping them exposes
That some will offer thanks, while others just turn up their noses…
Some will smile with thankfulness that bubbles up inside,
While others turn aside, from their entitlement, or pride–
No thank-you cards are tried, and gratitude is just denied!
I pray that I may never be the one with such an attitude–
For health, for all I see, Lord, help me show you gratitude!

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 Greatest Performance In the Biggest Game of All Time

A great performance is always pretty impressive. If you are an old-school NFL fan like me, you remember the AFL New York Jets upsetting the mighty NFL Baltimore Colts back in January 1969. Both teams were champions in their respective Leagues, but only one could win the Super Bowl. The AFL team had never won before, and most folks figured the NFL champion Colts would easily defeat the New York Jets. Jets quarterback Joe Namath sent shock-waves through the sports world when he boldly predicted victory for his team. (Joe Namath’s Super Bowl III Guarantee: Legends of the Super Bowl | NFL NOW (youtube.com)) It seemed brash at the time, but the Jets went out and proved him right. Broadway Joe had a big game on the big day.

performance

Men work hard to make it in the NFL. There is an elite group of billionaire owners and millionaire athletes who compete fiercely as they try to find every edge that might help them win. In addition to the game itself, before they play the Super Bowl, the NFL gives out its annual awards. They extoll the accomplishments of players both on and off the field. Each team nominates a player for the Walter Payton man of the year award. It is good to see some of the athletes giving back to the community. (It helps offset the stories of political protests, arrests, drug use, and domestic violence.)

Gladiators

With its inherent dangers and the high risk of injury, the NFL has become our modern equivalent of the gladiators in ancient Rome. Players literally put their bodies on the line to try to win championships. America was reminded of the life-threatening nature of the game when Darryl Stingley was paralyzed from a neck injury, or when Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a game (and prayer was suddenly ok again in football!) But, toughness in the NFL (and in many professional sports) means that men will play through pain and injury to achieve glory. Fans look upon them as heroes for staying on the field of play even when they are put through tremendous physical stress.

I was trying to imagine what those players headed to the Super Bowl were doing and thinking, making the final preparations for their huge moment in the spotlight, when they would be putting their training, their skills, and their determination on the line for team and personal glory. Would they be fine-tuning their technique, confident that they have prepared physically in every way? Perhaps they would be visualizing success, or meditating on their assignments… Would they succumb to outside influences, or be distracted from their goal by all of the hype?

Perfect Preparation Empowers Perfect Performance

What kind of performance would they give on the biggest stage of their careers? I was reflecting on the adulation and status we confer on such men, in some cases rightfully so. They are men who work hard, are committed to a goal, who embrace team virtues, and who put themselves at risk to attain glory. People are so fanatical about their teams that we call them “fans”. You’ve seen them. They dress up and carry signs. They follow and support their athletes with passion and emotion. (Ok, they are a little bit crazy…)

I know there are still Cowboys’ fans who still are STILL mad that Jackie Smith dropped a wide open touchdown pass against Pittsburgh in 1979! (He was so frustrated by his missed opportunity that he kicked his legs out as he lay on his back in the end zone.)

performance

Based on the effort and the risk and the high stakes involved, it seems natural to us that the men who make such preparations and take such risks should be considered heroic. Their performance certainly has a lot riding on it.

The Highest Stakes

Then it occurred to me: there was once a man who also faced the biggest day of his career, who was committed to a goal, and who put himself completely at risk to not just attain glory but to reflect it and give it away. The night before he had to compete in perhaps the toughest contest of all time, and certainly the biggest game, he was preparing as well. Perhaps we need to re-calibrate our perspective on what it means to be a hero.

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38, NIV)

The Most Pressure

Jesus knew what was coming, and he knew the price he was about to pay. I’ve often thought that the fact Jesus knew he would be resurrected from death did not diminish the pain and agony that was coming. He knew he faced the devastation of being separated from the Father. And I don’t want to sound like I doubt God’s power or plan, but I’ve always thought that BEFORE the cross, God had never experienced death, so that there had to be some sense of risk involved… what if it didn’t work? What if something went wrong?

While Jesus wrestled with the weight of what he was about to do, and prepared for the suffering he knew was coming, he thought of YOU. He said: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20, 21, NIV)

Two things. If you are willing to be fanatical about an athlete who gave his greatest performance in the biggest game, then think about Jesus. Become a fan. He thought about you. Second, take a moment to reflect upon the fact that he prayed for you: Be worthy of that prayer! You, too, are playing in a high-risk game, and it has nothing to do with football.

The Ultimate Game

Every year the League allows its teams
The chance to play upon the field of dreams;
They work all year to win the coveted prize,
To show their skills before a billion eyes…
The pundits say that history is made;
But isn’t it really just a sport that’s played
Between two groups of men who play a game?
The big things in this world will be the same,
With war, corruptions, hunger, lies and fear–
And they will play this game again next year…

There was, however, once the fiercest test,
When one competitor had to be his best.
The heat was on, but he was cool as ice,
When it was on the line, he paid the price
And showed mankind the ultimate sacrifice.
One athlete made a difference on this earth:
Our calendar revolves around his birth,
And he competed right until the end.
I’m proud to call him Savior, Lord, and friend.
He sometimes called himself the Son of Man:
He won the ultimate game, and I’m a fan.

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