Birthday Celebrations Don’t Have to Be Singular! Have TWO!

There was once a man who got to celebrate his Birthday! Twice!

“There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:1-3, NIV)

The Original “Nick at Night”

Nicodemus was a member of the ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. This group of up to 71 men, comprised of Scribes, Pharisees and Elders, became increasingly antagonistic towards Jesus as he conducted his public ministry. That’s probably why Nicodemus had to visit “at night”. He couldn’t risk censure by such a powerful group of co-workers, and was not yet sure where he stood. But he was impressed enough with Jesus’ work to acknowledge that God’s hand was upon Him, and honest enough to seek the truth.

When Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, it was puzzling to the Jewish leader, and he asked how such a thing could be. Jesus explained that it was a spiritual thing; you cannot see the Kingdom of God unless you have had a spiritual birthday to go with your physical one. He told him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit”, and he encouraged Nicodemus to pursue the type of new life that was only available through God’s spirit.

Birthdays…

Last month I got to celebrate my birthday on May 9, and, since I was BORN on Mother’s Day, every so often it falls on Mother’s Day!. (At our house, we kinda like to celebrate birthdays all week long, and there’s even a card you can buy on Amazon that actually encourages that!) But it always causes me to reflect on my birthday, which then causes me to reflect on my OTHER birthday!
https://www.amazon.com/Happy-Birthday-Week-Book-thats/dp/1539326918

birthday

My actual birth day was apparently pretty difficult. My momma always told me I was lucky to make it. I was very premature, an RH baby, and apparently had a couple of medical issues that were touch and go. She used to tell me that the doctors told her I wasn’t going to live, but the Lord saved me for a reason. I’ve always been reminded of her belief about this time each year. I have to admit there are times when I’ve wondered if it was true…

My 3 kids would tell you there are at least THREE great reasons that God saved me as an infant, and to be honest, I’d have a hard time thinking of anything better or more important than having helped to bring them into the world. I got to be in the delivery room with Nancy and hold each one of them moments after they arrived on THEIR birthday!

Twice the Celebration!

But as meaningful as my birth story has been for me, and as meaningful as their birth events were, I am even more grateful for the fact that all of them have all experienced another birthday, the kind Jesus discussed with Nicodemus. I was “born again” the summer of 1968 at YMCA camp Flaming Arrow near Kerrville, Texas, when I came to realize that Jesus was more than just an amazing Rabbi. I read what he said to Nicodemus and decided to follow him, thereby gaining another birthday.

That’s the birthday that happens as a result of seeing who Jesus is, and trusting in what He did for us on the cross. That’s the birth that granted spiritual life, participation in God’s word, and adoption into God’s family. And as fun as it is to have a party on our original birthday, I think the celebration that awaits us because of our second birthday will be beyond our wildest expectations! So during my birthday WEEK (or YOUR birthday week!), my wish is that YOU would consider this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. And pick yourself up a second set of cake and candles!

THE BIRTHDAY WEEK CARD

I was getting you a birthday card,
Which really wasn’t very hard,
But I saw this, and so I said,
“It’s good for the heart and good for the head!
So this is what I got, instead…
Read it every day. You’ll find
It will bless your heart and help your mind.
Once again, the time is near to celebrate another year!

This year the baker had to make more room for candles on your cake,
And friends and family couldn’t wait to wish you well, and celebrate!
But getting wiser can be hard, so this is more than just a card:
There is wisdom, if you look, within the pages of this book.
Spend some time with God each day, and you will grow a different way:
Intellectually stimulated, personally motivated, spiritually activated,
Ego properly deflated, you will wonder why you waited!
Read a page each day this week, and if you listen, God will Speak!

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

Greater Works than These Will You Do: Jesus Said What?!

We just finished working our way through the entire Bible, ending with John’s Revelation. Before we move away from John’s writing, there is something in his Gospel that speaks to us today. Jesus makes an astounding assertion in John, and I guess you could say it’s essentially about you and me. He says that those who follow him will do greater works than he did:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12, NKJV) This is a pretty astounding claim. John had previously said that Jesus did “whatever the Father does” (John 5:19) and Mark 7:37 says that he did “all things well”. Yet, here Jesus promises that whoever believes in him will do even greater works.

No Small Claim

Say WHAT? What did Jesus mean when he said that? Does Jesus mean that all believers will go around healing the sick and raising the dead? Are we supposed to perform miracles and feed 5,000 with a few fish and some loaves? If we try to apply those standards to our Christian life, we could end up feeling inadequate and defeated. I’m not going to rule out the possibility of miracles, because I do believe God can do whatever He wills—and He can do it through whosoever He chooses.

Go read some more in the Book of Acts. Remember Acts 4:13, where the Pharisees were astounded at ignorant, unlearned men like Peter and John? In verse 16 they said, “What are we going to do with these men? Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it.” The word sign means “miracle”, and I would submit that they are still happening today. The world we live in is filled with darkness, selfishness and pride. It harbors injustice and murder, anger and violent revenge… So where are these miracles today?

Don’t miss the Little, Looking for the Big

Every heart changed by faith is a miracle. Every life devoted to love is a miracle. We are still in the age of miracles, and while God is still greater than time and space, I also believe He works in small, personal miracles as well. Human nature tends to focus on the “great things” as determined by our culture and our values. Jesus taught that most of those values have no real relevance in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So just how are we going to do greater works than Jesus did? I did want to take a stab at what these “greater works” could possibly be, because Jesus said that if you believe in him, you have amazing potential. He says that the Holy Spirit will empower us to do things that he himself did not do.

greater work

There are opportunities we have as followers in which Jesus did not (or did not choose to) participate. Consider: When you present the gospel to a non-believer, it is a Greater work. When that person decides to follow Christ—it is a Greater work. If you join in harmony with fellow believers as the Church—it is a Greater work. When you raise a child in a Christian home—it is a Greater work. When you help the least of these in His name, then, yep you have done it again.

Perhaps the smallest and least recognized act of service you do on earth will plant seeds that lead to fields of fruitful grain in the Kingdom… Open your heart to the Spirit. Believe. Be humbler. Be greater.

Greater Works

Jesus said, "I do the things My Father asks me to;
But if you follow me, then there are greater things you'll do.
Your actions, whether large and small, are miracles all the same--
The things you do in love, or do because you bear my name--
Random acts of service, and the things which no one sees
Are greater works in heaven. When you serve the least of these,
You are doing greater works; and you are serving me.

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

King of Kings: We Shouldn’t Bow Down to Anyone Else

Nice Job!

(This is Day 70 or so of Reading through the Bible) In case you haven’t noticed, back in February we started in Genesis and have proceeded almost daily through every book in the Bible, the book about the King of kings. (We covered some stuff between the Testaments, so we took more than 66 days to cover all 66 books). Today the passage is from John’s Revelation, so if you’ve been reading along for the last 2 1/2 months, you have now read your way through the entire Bible! (If you haven’t, you can always go back and “binge read” on a rainy day…)

John’s Amazing Book

In the opening statement of his book of Revelations, John says, “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 1:4-6, NIV)

Many people think the book of Revelation is mainly about the end times, and what’s going to happen in the future. While John did see visions about what is to come, what sometimes gets lost among speculation about the future is that John’s visions were really not about us, our curiosity, or our fate relative to the tribulation… They were about who Jesus is. They are about the Word made flesh, the promised Messiah, the King of Kings.

king of kings

The Real Message

The apocalypse is not just about the end of history, it’s about His Story. Read through the book and you’ll know a whole lot more about Jesus, his mission, and his nature. Do you see him as he really is? If he really is King of kings and lord of lords, are you giving him the respect he deserves?

You can ignore him if you like; in fact you have both the will and the right to make that decision. But what if Jesus of Nazareth is who John envisioned him to be? John saw him not just as a suffering servant who came to be the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind (as his Gospel clearly portrayed), but as a victorious king returning in triumph to rule over everything.

The life of Jesus has already impacted history and changed the world, so there’s at least a chance that John’s (some would say) crazy vision was right. If even PART of it was accurate, then Jesus is worth investigating. Read the list below, taken from the Book of Revelation. Then, YOU decide…

Quite a list

1:5 Jesus is the faithful witness, firstborn from the dead, ruler of the kings; he paid for our freedom.

1:13 He is “One like a Son of Man” (compare Dan 7:13–14)

1:13–15 Jesus is the King, priest, warrior, God

1:16 He will wield universal, cosmic power

1:17 Jesus is the first and the last, (compare 22:13)

1:18 Jesus has the keys to death and Hades (cf. ‘key of David’, 3:7), He is the living one

Chapters 2 and 3 He knows the church intimately, and holds their reward or judgment in his hand

More than History

5:5 Jesus alone has all authority for judgment,

5:5-6 He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah; He is the Lamb who is worthy

5:6 He is God (in the center of the throne). With all power (7 horns) and all spiritual insight (7 eyes).

5:8 He receives the prayers of the saints

5:11-14 He is worshiped as God

6:16-17 He is frightening in his retribution!

7:17 He is the Shepherd who leads us to living water

12:5 He will rule with an iron scepter

19:11-16 Jesus returns as a victorious and powerful warrior. His name is ‘word of God’

19:16 He is the ‘king of kings and lord of lords’

21:22-23 Jesus and God are the temple and the light of the New Jerusalem.

22:13 He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End.

He’s worth your time, He’s worth your attention, and He’s worth your worship.

King or Not?

John's Revelation spells it out:
About this King there is no doubt!
The King of Kings, the End of Days,
The one deserving of our praise!
The Lamb who was slain, the chosen one,
The Son of Man, and God's own Son;
The King of Kings, the Lord of all
Who rules all kingdoms, large and small;
He's the Good Shepherd, warrior priest--
The Bridegroom at the wedding feast,
At once the Greatest and the Least...
The Holy One, the closest friend,
He is the beginning and the end
The one by Whom all things consist,
The ruler no one will resist.

The Alpha and Omega who
Was there when everything was new:
If the Revelation's true,
Then it will impact me, and you.
Jesus will someday come again
To rule His Kingdom without end.
For now, there is a choice for men:
To be his foe, or be his friend.
I think I'd rather choose him now,
For someday, every knee will bow
And all will kneel with one accord
To honor Him as Sovereign Lord.

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

Contend! Don’t Just Say: “I Coulda Been a Contender.”

In the movie “On the Waterfront”, Marlon Brando’s character laments that he didn’t contend as well as he should have. As he reflects regretfully about the way his life turned out, his words deliver body blows. “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender.”

contend

In Jude’s letter, he urges us not to make the same mistake: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 1:3, NIV)

Fight the Good Fight

Jude identifies himself as “the brother of James”. That is very unusual for a Hebrew writer, who normally would have referred to a father or patriarch instead. He also separates himself from the Apostles (v 17), so in all likelihood this is Jude (a form of Judah, who was sometimes called Judas), the brother of Jesus. (Jesus had 4 younger brothers born to Mary and Joseph according to Matthew 13:55—James, Joseph, Simon and Jude). Interestingly, neither James nor Jude identified themselves as Jesus’ brothers directly, probably out of humility or a desire to avoid being given special consideration as members of Joseph and Mary’s household.

Jude encourages us to “contend for the faith”. Contend comes from the Greek word, ἐπαγωνίζομαι,(epagonizomai) which means to struggle with; to argue earnestly, debate. The agon (agon) was an assembly location where people watched athletic contests. Paul uses a form of it to refer to “fighting the good fight.” In either case, it can refer to several things, and it would seem fitting that if you are called upon to contend:

Common Sense to Contend

1) Do some training. You should prepare. You wouldn’t go into an athletic contest without training, or a debate without mastering your subject. And yet many people who call themselves Christians do little or no training in order to understand and defend their faith. How’s YOUR training going?

2) It implies belief and passion, since competition requires commitment and effort. Athletes who compete at the highest levels all started as a kid from somewhere, but gained a belief in themselves that encouraged them to pursue their talents with passion.

3) It assumes competition. We live in a world that doesn’t automatically accept the claims of Jesus Christ, and is in fact increasingly hostile to it. While we are told to contend with gentleness and respect, we are encouraged to be able to give answers to those who oppose us. How ready are you to answer questions about your faith?

If you want to know more about how to do that, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel and Tim Keller’s books are great resources. In the meantime, get out there and contend today! Fight for your faith! You don’t want to reach the end of your life, and look back with regret to say “I coulda been a contender!”

Don’t Quit

Jude had friends and family who died a martyr’s death,
Who proudly shared their faith until they drew their final breath.
No one knows exactly what may lie around the bend,
But each of us can make a choice of how we reach our end.
Faith is not some made-up thing we play with to pretend;
Take hold of yours and join the fight: Believe! Engage! Contend!

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

Famous People May Not Always Be Famous for the Right Reasons

Here in America, we think being famous is cool. We watch TMZ or read People Magazine to keep up with all the “stars”. We get all gaga if we meet Lady Gaga or somebody else that’s famous, and if we were honest, a lot of us would love to BE famous. Andy Warhol said over FORTY years ago, “In the future, everyone is going to be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” In Third John, we get some good advice about how being famous is going to count in the grand scheme of things: What if Your 15 Minutes of Fame Fizzled?

famous

“It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth… I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.” (3 John 1:3-4; 9)

Being Well-Known Depends on What You Are Known FOR

John wrote this letter to Gaius, a friend who had shown hospitality to John’s messengers on a previous trip. In it, he makes a couple of guys famous for completely different reasons. It is a contrast in two ways of doing business in the church. There is the warm, hospitable way that Gaius had demonstrated. His way apparently involved being faithful to the truth and loving others, even strangers (v 6). Gaius’ faithfulness and love earned him good reports and the appreciation of the church, and since we are reading about him today, I guess you could say it made him famous.

Diotrephes (Die-ah-truh-fees), on the other hand, was a local church leader who for some reason refused John’s messengers and refused John’s message. He did not allow John’s message to be read, and even kicked some church members out for welcoming other, different believers to church. Diotrephes (“who loves to be first”) may have been driven by jealousy; he may have wanted to maintain control; he may have even thought that, as a man called by God to lead, his own opinion was paramount and should not be contaminated by John’s message or his people.

So, What Are the Right Reasons for Being Famous?

Whatever his reasons, Diotrephes had ONE shot at being mentioned in Scripture, and instead of being called out as a hero of the faith, or even as a faithful man, he is mentioned for being evil. He became famous for all the wrong reasons.

Here are two things about that: first, I hope your church is inclusive, friendly, loving, and truthful, and run by servant leaders who follow the truth. The most common complaint I hear about Christians is that we are too judgmental, too snooty, or too righteous. Here’s some friendly advice: STOP IT! Let’s be known for being too generous or too loving

And second: If you had one shot to be mentioned in the Lord’s book, what would Scripture say about you? When successive generations read your snippet in the Second book of Acts, how will the writer characterize YOU? Will they describe someone “who loves to be first”, or someone who lives in love and walks in truth? Well, that book is being written. It’s not too late for you to influence your paragraph. Write one that matters. Write one that loves. Be famous for all the right reasons.

Two Famous Guys

Diotrephes just loved to be first;
But John called him out for being the worst.
The Bible recorded Diotrephes name,
But linked him with selfishness, power, and shame.
It’s lame that he wasted his one shot at fame
By playing his own little personal game…
He didn’t like John or deliver his letter;
And only did worse when he could have done better!

He wasn’t too godly, and those are the facts;
But tell me, when they write the NEW Book of Acts,
That records all the works that we Christians will do,
What will your paragraph say about YOU?
I hope we aren’t mentioned for things that will shame us:
There’s more than one way to approach being famous.

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

Obedience, John Says, Equals Love; So What Does Love Equal?

In his second epistle, the Apostle John wrote a sweet letter to one of his oldest friends, and it’s someone who might surprise you. In it, he had some fascinating advice to give her about love and obedience, and it might even connect some dots in Scripture for a story you may know.

“It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (2 John 1:4-6)

obedience

A Surprising Connection?

Interesting note on this, one of the shortest books of the Bible; John writes to a dear friend, and he addresses her as kyria (which is translated generally as “lady”). The Chaldean word for Martha is the feminine of “moro” or “more”, meaning “lord,” or “master.” This is the same root as maran in the well-known phrase Maran-atha, “The Lord cometh”. The Greek equivalent for MARTHA is Kyria, the feminine form of kurios, or “Lord”, so some scholars believe that John may have been writing to Martha, sister to Mary and Lazarus.

If that’s the case, John might just be reminding her of the time she was bustling around the house and became frustrated because Mary was just sitting with Jesus, soaking it all in. To me,it’s nice to consider that years after she was gently rebuked by Jesus for being too busy, Martha’s children were obedient and walking in the truth, and that these old friends had stayed connected. John reiterates what Jesus said in the upper room: Love one another.

John knew something about love. After all, he spent three-plus years with the Master who taught he and his friends a whole new definition of the word. It changed his heart and it changed how he saw the world. John  was so appreciative of those lessons that when he wrote his Gospel he never referred to himself in the first person, but always as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” (John 13:23, 20:2).

An interesting Equation

He also recalls exactly how Jesus said we should do that in John 14:21: “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

According to Jesus (as quoted by the disciple whom Jesus loved!), the equation looks like this: Love = obedience. Love = recognizing the authority of the Lord and then submitting to it. (Perhaps the way Martha and kyria offer a play on words reinforces John’s point. Loving Jesus is more than being busy for him, it is about being His .)

We all sing the song, “Jesus loves me”, and of course we know that’s true; but would you say that you LOVE Jesus? Here’s a circular summary of that verse about having commandments and keeping them: How many of Jesus’ commands do you HAVE (possess, know)? First, read the stuff Jesus said to do. All of it, not just the best-known quotes. We’ve all done that, haven’t we?

Second, to express your love for him, be OBEDIENT to his commands. Third, feel the love from the Father, and then you will learn more about who Jesus is because He will show more of himself to you. He showed us what true love looks like. Now, with your new knowledge and awareness of Christ, Love Jesus by loving others. LOVE. LEARN. BE OBEDIENT. LOVE. Repeat.

Love Equals What?

Jesus told his followers, “It’s plain enough to see
That he who keeps my commandment is he who loveth me.
To keep them, you must HAVE them. So remember what I say,
And exercise obedience to me every single day.”
It’s not about the works you do, or what the law requires:
It’s more about the way you love, and what His love inspires.
The law will beat you down, but love will always lift you higher.

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

Love the Father, Not the World. Exactly What Does That Mean?

In his first letter, John talks about where we live, and where God lives. In it, he offers us a juxtaposition of the Father versus the world, and describes two kingdoms with radically different agendas. Have you ever stopped to think about what John really means? If there is a heavenly father, how is he different from the world? Are His values different from the world’s values? And what exactly does “the world” refer to?

(As you answer these questions, take a moment to congratulate yourself for reaching Day 70 of Reading through the Bible; just a few books to go and you will have read passages from Genesis to Revelation!)

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16, NIV) The conflict between what the world has to offer against God’s promises has been going on since Esau traded his birthright for a pot of stew. (Well, actually you could go back to the Garden of Eden, when Eve traded being God’s subject for independence. She wanted to experience the world in the worst way, and she succeeded!)

John sees a dramatic contrast between the Father and the world: they have different values, priorities, and characteristics. Perhaps we should take a closer look.

father love

The world, in John’s eyes, was made up of carnal appetites, earthly ambitions, and temporal values. It is a place where human nature pursues its lusts, and where men vie for wealth and power. The world is, candidly, a place where humans are concerned primarily with self-fulfillment. It’s what we see around us every day.

Contrasting Domains

On the other hand , John contrasts the world and its agenda with the Father. What are the Father’s characteristics? In his Gospel and in his letters, John spells them out. God is love. He is truth. The Father is goodness. He is life. The Father’s domain includes faith and redemption, hope and transformation… It is about servant leadership and new birth.

The world, on the other hand, is characterized by self: it includes all greedy desires, lust, appetite, pride, and self-sufficiency. The world caters to the flesh and the temporary. It is about building yourself up, and salving your insecurities with temporary fixes. As a result, the world is about grasping, power-hungry leaders, and even ordinary people who can be cruel and selfish. In short, it is about death.

John warns us not to love the world, but we do anyway: we abandon grace for gratification and accept lust in place of love. Have you ever stopped to realize that the world mimics the Father? For every good thing the Father offers, the world offers a counterfeit replacement that is either a watered-down version of the real thing or the opposite of it.

Conflicting Agendas

The Father offers humility; the world offers pride. The Father offers peace; the world offers thrills; the Father offers Truth. The world gives us relativism with its spin, half-truths, and outright lies…with the Father, it’s all about HIM; in the world, it’s all about ME. God’s kingdom is based on unusual logic, where you have to accept another’s will to be free, give to gain, die to live, and serve to lead.

The world is based on selfish logic, where freedom means doing whatever you want, people worship shallow possessions or money (it’s all about the Benjamins in the Lifestyles of the rich and famous), they look out for number One (“nice guys finish last”), and leaders covet and capture power using sophisticated deceit. It was John who informed us that “the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Now he’s telling us there is a simple choice to make: love the Word, or love the World. John says you can’t love both.

Tell me, what choice have you made? Look at your priorities, your time, your inner thoughts, your desires… what do you love? John says, “the world passes away, and the lust of it: but he that does the will of God abides forever.”

Love, Instead

The world is full of fun and flesh, and thrills that are forever fresh:
The biggest house, the latest styles, the nicest car, the biggest smiles…
The orbit of the world, you see, revolves around the planet “Me”–
Where consequence brings no regret, and I should take what I can get!
Eat and drink today! Get High! Because tomorrow we may die!
The Father says, “Love me instead.” Don’t give the world your heart or head;
Love me, my child; remember this: the world is never all there is.

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

In the grand scheme of things, what happens to us? Do we get to choose our fate, or not? Is where we spend eternity something that just happens to us, or something we actually have a choice about? Peter says this:
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9, NIV)

choose wisely

Put Things in Perspective

Peter quotes Psalm 90:4 here to remind us that a day with the Lord is like a thousand years… (So if you’ve heard that phrase and wondered where it came from, there you go!) The perspective of a thousand-year day reminds me of the man who learned that a million dollars was but a penny to God, and a thousand years was but a day. He asked the Lord, “Father, will you give me a penny?” The Lord said yes. Overjoyed, the man asked, “Father, when can I have it?” The Lord said, “Just wait a day.”

Peter contrasts God’s eternal nature with our finite one. It’s hard to wrap our brains around the difference because we are so used to endings. This short passage highlights two important things: God’s timing is by definition different from our timing, and God’s agenda may be different than we assume.

Why Would God Allow Us to Choose?

As an eternal God, His desire is truly for all men to live with Him for all eternity. This might explain why the day of the Lord (which Peter felt could happen at any time) is still yet to come. God is patient, and every passing year allows a new set of people with birthdays to come to Him in repentance. I understand people objecting to that notion, feeling that a loving God would surely choose all men to be saved all the time. He could indeed do that, but He’d have to take away our choice. If He gave us no choice, we wouldn’t have freedom, and He wouldn’t be loving.

Second, Peter says God tarries in executing judgment because His desire is that all men would have an opportunity to choose grace. I don’t think this verse means that all men will be ultimately saved (universalism); but it DOES mean that Christ died for all men, and all have the opportunity to repent. It’s hard to believe, but not everybody chooses repentance, and not everybody wants God. C S Lewis says, of the person who declines to choose God: “He has his wish—to live wholly in the self and to make the best of what he finds there. And what he finds there is hell.”

Your Choice

Many people follow their own will, or depend on a finite perspective to accept or reject God when God’s will for us is infinitely better than our own… Man’s will often chooses temporary gratification over long-term benefits. God’s will always sees the bigger picture and provides the opportunity for the greatest benefit. “Instead he is patient, not wanting anyone to perish…” In the grand scheme of things, when it comes to eternity, you really DO have a choice. Perhaps you should consider your options carefully.

Peter says that God desires all folks to find repentance;
He wants all men to choose His love, and not sin’s deadly sentence.
When you think of eternity and all there is to lose,
Make sure you think of what God says right here before you choose.
Peter offers sage advice; in fact, he says it nicely:
God’s steadfast, loving patience offers you a choice. Choose wisely.

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

Over the past few months I have heard more conversation about the end of the world than I had probably heard in the last several years. I guess when a global pandemic is part of your daily news, you think about things like that. The Apostle Peter had also lived through some dramatic current events, and he felt strongly that the end was near back in 60 AD or so.

His epistle gave some advice that made good sense for someone who heard the Olivet Discourse firsthand. He said that we should take life a little more seriously if the end is at hand. When you think of it, his advice still makes good sense two thousand years later. If the end IS near, then shouldn’t it affect what we do today? Or is it just something to make light of?

end near

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins… Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7-8, 10-11 NIV).

Was he Wrong or Right?

Since we’re still here, we could criticize Peter for being a little premature in his prediction about when the end of the world would occur. (Although from a personal standpoint, his words ACTUALLY DO apply to everyone, since every day the end of this world is nearer for each of us than we think, even if we live to a ripe old age…)

But Peter’s advice make good sense. He encourages all of us to live differently because time is short. His true focus is not WHEN it would happen, but HOW its eminent possibility should make us act. Tell me, do you act any differently at all because the end of the world could happen at any time? No? Well, let’s ask that question another way: If you knew today was your last day, would it change the way you look at it? Would it change the way you live it?

Peter says that because the end of all things is near, it should give us a different sense of urgency and a different way of thinking and acting: We should PRAY, intentionally and intelligently. We should LOVE each other deeply because (wow, how true is this?) love covers a multitude of sins. What else does that? Can you think of any of your sins that have been covered by love? What does that mean?

Theologically speaking, our sins carried the death penalty, but have been “removed as far as the east is from the west”. Though our sins be as scarlet, they have been made white as snow; they “are remembered no more…”

Personally speaking, love enables us to forgive and to find acceptance in spite of our flaws. We all do wrong. Only love helps us rise above. Peter spoke from experience, didn’t he? His arrogance didn’t prevent him from betraying his best friend. He was crushed by his cowardice and ashamed of his failure. But, love brought him back.

So, What’s the End Game?

How then should we live? Peter says that we should be faithful stewards of grace, serving others and spreading the love; the same love, in fact, that had been spread upon him. Are you covered? Are you serving? Since there may not be much time left, make sure you spend it wisely. Basically Peter says, “Make sure you live, serve, and love as if God himself were doing it through you.” Because who knows? Perhaps He is…

The End Game

Peter made it very clear: He said the end of the world was near,
And we should live in such a way that if our world would end today
We wouldn’t have some lame excuse for gifts neglected or misused.
Peter said that we should pray, and act with faithfulness today,
Without regret or doubt or shame, if our tomorrow never came.
If you have a gift, then give it! Take your life: rejoice, and live it!
Take the things you say and do as if God did those things through you.
Live as if the end is near. Do it now. And do 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
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Sticks and stones… When Your Tongue Becomes a Weapon

You may remember a poem by Carl Sandburg in which he said your tongue can get you into trouble. Well, actually he once wrote:  “Look out how you use proud words. When you let proud words go it is not easy to call them back. They wear long boots, hard boots, they walk off proud; they can’t hear you calling — Look out how you use proud words.” Good advice from an American poet, largely unheeded by folks in American life today.

As children, we were taught to say, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me!” Funny, then, that most of the injuries I remember from childhood came from something somebody said. Hmm… In the Bible, the Book of James also says you should watch your tongue because it is such volatile and powerful force in our lives. When you think about how much impact words can have, that’s certainly true. But is it our tongue that’s at fault, or something else?

tongue

Small Object, Big Results

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:3-6, NIV)

Apparently swearing or using profane language was pretty common in New Testament times. There were also liars and charlatans who used language to fool people or to mislead them. Funny, but not much has changed since. People still operate that way today. The means of corrupt communication has been multiplied a hundred fold, but lies and language are still hurt everyone. And they are still the gateway to evil.

Inside Out

Every day you hear half-truths, advertising promises, spin, and outright lies, and your mind is continually bombarded with corrupt communication. And yet Jesus said that it’s not the stuff we hear that really gets to us: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

One of the things that makes language so significant is that it is a reflection of our hearts. If curse words or vulgarity roll easily off a man’s tongue, what does that say about his heart? If a man can use God’s name as an expletive, what does it say he feels about God?

I think James is basically telling us two things: 1) be careful what you listen to. If communication is corrupt, then it can only add the wrong kind of abundance to your heart. And 2) be careful what you say. Words take on a life of their own, and I have learned several times the hard way that the impact can be far greater than the intent. How we say something is also almost as important as WHAT we say.

The Tongue Wags Both Ways

Proverbs 25:11 says “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” It would seem that we have the ability to confer wealth through mere words, and to offer incorruptible beauty to someone by saying something to edify them. Consider therefore, carefully the things you have to say, and offer some free jewelry to the people you meet today. Carl Sandburg’s advice was good about what NOT to say; the Bible has great advice about what we OUGHT to say instead. Just sayin’…

tongue kindness

Mind Your Tongue

What we say can lift, or play, or even make somebody’s day,
But it can also spread some dirt, or criticize, or wound and hurt.
James says tongues can be a flame that burn with anger, pride or shame,
And cause disruption, pain and grief instead of loving, sweet relief.
Consider what you say to folks–the kind of words, the kind of jokes–
Don’t pile your words on what is broken; offer good words, fitly spoken.
The Bible says that you can start by putting treasure in your heart,
So Spread some joy with words today. That’s really all I have to say.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Provoke Somebody Daily, But at Least Do it the Right Way!

When we say, “Don’t provoke me”, it is usually another way of saying, “Don’t make me mad!” The dictionary says provoke means “stimulate or give rise to (a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one) in someone.” In this verse from Hebrews, the author offers us a different take on how to provoke one another. Instead of the word meaning antagonizing or harassing someone, he says we should think about this:

A New Way to Provoke

“And let us consider one another to provoke [each other] unto love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.“ (Hebrews 10:24-25, NKJV)

provoke for good

Why don’t we break this verse down and see if it provokes a reaction: “Let US consider one another…” The Christian walk is not supposed to be done in a vacuum. Almost everything about following Christ is designed to happen in community: when we start following Jesus we become children of God with new brothers and sisters; we are part of God’s family, and are the Body of Christ.

When Jesus described us as the light of the world, he didn’t say we are a candle set upon the hill; he said we are a CITY (a group of lights) set upon the hill—and he said we were set there for a purpose. “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your GOOD WORKS, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Provoke How, Exactly?

Are we Christians known as a group for doing good works? Or for other, lesser things? What good are YOU doing out there in the world? Paul’s letters resound with the significance of being prepared for “every good work”. He mentions it at least 10 times, and sees it as the natural result of praying, of fellowship, and of being in the Word. And here the writer of Hebrews says that believers are supposed to provoke one another to love and to good works. (He evidently uses “provoke” in a different way than it has been applied in many of our churches, unfortunately…)

So it probably means that we should ask ourselves two questions: 1) Who in my life motivates me to do good works? Do my friends and associates inspire me to do good? Are you surrounded with people who encourage you to be intentional about demonstrating the love of God?

And 2) Who am I provoking to do good works? Are you encouraging and exhorting your friends and family to do good? If you’re not, then the writer of Hebrews says that you are missing out. I exhort you, therefore, brothers and sisters, to go out there and do good today! You really have no excuse and you ought to sit down and think of something good you can go do. There! Consider yourself provoked.

Inverse Provocation

People can provoke you by the things they do and say;
In fact I bet someone provokes you every single day!
Well, here’s a thing you never thought for provocation:
It’s also very useful to provoke our inspiration!
Do some good; encourage others to do some good as well,
And if we do, good works will spread. How far? Why, who can tell?
So, go and push someone: If we provoke them like we should,
Instead of spreading evil, we may end up spreading good.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Philemon Had a Problem. It’s Just Like YOURS!

As we make our way through the last of Paul’s epistles, we encounter the curious case of Paul’s letter on behalf of Onesimus, a slave who ran away from his master, Philemon. According to Roman and cultural dictates, Philemon could have sat in judgment over Onesimus. The law and society was on his side. He had the right to be offended, and to extract the ultimate penalty. Instead, Paul encouraged him not to.

A Heart-felt Plea

“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.

I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.

He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow-man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (Philemon, Verses 8-17, NIV)

Turning Slavery on Its Head

This interesting and touching story reminds us that Paul lived in the real world. Apparently while he was in Rome, he encountered a runaway slave from Colossae named Onesimus (whose name translates as “profitable” or “helpful”) and led him to belief in Christ. After his conversion, Onesimus realized he was wrong for deserting and was willing to return to Colossae to go back to his master, Philemon.

Apparently Paul counseled him to do so even though Philemon could demand judgment–possibly even capital punishment–for his runaway slave. (Paul was asking Onesimus to take a big risk. But, as his new spiritual father he encouraged Onesimus to return to Colossae because he had become a changed man in Christ, and because Paul believed Philemon would now see him not as a slave, but as a fellow believer.)

Tough Choice

Even though he could face the death penalty for running away when he carried Paul’s letter back to Colossae, Onesimus was willing to risk Philemon’s wrath because Paul interceded for him. Martin Luther believed that this letter mirrored the one Christ wrote to the Father on OUR behalf: that we were all slaves facing the death penalty. In our fallen state, as “runaways”, if we stood before our Master without any help, we would face his wrath.

Philemon

Ok, so this is more than a story. While we have rightfully left the institution of slavery far behind, all of us have been touched by slavery. Forget Onesimus and Philemon! This is your life. What have you been enslaved to? How far away have you run? Are you willing to allow yourself to be adopted into the family? As an adopted family member, do you sometimes sit in judgment over those who are outside? And more than that, as an adopted child, does your gratitude for His mercy make you willing to serve the Father freely, not out of obligation but out of love?

Martin Luther pointed out that Christ made us sons and adopted us into the Father’s family. As a result, we could have the boldness to throw ourselves on his mercy and serve him again. It’s exactly what Paul encouraged Onesimus to do. What about you? Are you ready to take the chance to throw yourself on the mercy of the court? What will happen if you do? Go home, and see…

Philemon’s Choice

 
Every one of us had run away 
And faced the ultimate penalty, all alone;
The Judge had raised his gavel as if to say
"This trial is over, and the judgment's done."

But Jesus said that he would vouch for me, 
And stepped into the dock, and took my place:
The law required I pay my penalty;
But Jesus paid my price. And offered grace.

No matter where you've been, or why you've run,
Your pardon has been given from above!
The Master now accepts you as a son:
Come home to Him in gratitude and love.

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