Suffering Puts Us on a Slippery Slope: Don’t Slide Down!

Maybe there’s more to suffering than we realize; David, who knew something about suffering, seemed to feel that it might just have a purpose… “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3, NKJV)

What Did Bono Say About Suffering?

This Psalm of David provided the lyrics for U2’s song “40”, and it gives us hope when we are in the midst of hard times. Being patient while suffering is not my best thing, and God’s timing does not always seem to be aligned with my need for instant gratification. Perhaps there’s something to consider about that… If you really think about it, impatience is essentially a selfish thing; it comes from elevating one’s needs or wants above all else. I see it on the roads every day as someone runs a stop sign or races up to pass people and cut into a merge lane.

suffering merge

It happens at almost every intersection as the people in front of me are so busy on their phones that they don’t see the light turn green and move forward, costing those of us behind them a chance to make the light. Their selfishness aggravates my impatience, which I then share with others, creating a chain of selfishness that just goes on and on. I realize that I am using something relatively trivial (impatience in traffic) as an example of suffering, but it is something we can all relate to.

But Wait There’s More

There are far more horrible pits to fall into, and there are certainly many circumstances in life that call out for God’s help. Even as I write this, I know it can seem glib and insensitive: after all, I’m not the one suffering, and it’s easy to give “spiritual” advice about it. So please, dear reader, accept what comfort you can from what follows, and use faith to take suffering to another place. It worked for David, and he faced many difficulties in his life–whether it was arrogant brothers who belittled him, a King who tried to murder him, being exiled and alone, dealing with private sin and public failure, or losing a child…

Every day people have to face bad news at work, in their relationships, or with their health, and situations can feel hopeless. Living in a Covid world has touched almost everyone with difficulty and tragedy. Depression is far more common these days, and suicide is up dramatically in the United States since 2000. Social distancing and isolation only make things worse.

In Psalm 40, David is saying that when we are in danger, when we are isolated, when we are stressed or insecure, we can turn our problems over to the Lord. I know that sounds like a simplistic answer, but exercising faith in God offers a positive alternative to hopelessness.

Is There A Different Possibility?

We may not have a choice about circumstances, but David points out that we can choose our response to them. I don’t want this to sound insensitive, but suffering and hopelessness can be selfish acts. If we focus only on ourselves and our circumstances, we embrace the negative and dismiss the possibility of God. It may be that He has something redemptive that can come out of even terrible circumstances. Romans 8:28 says that “All things work together for good for them that love God, who are called according to His purpose.” If that’s true, then perhaps God offers alternatives when circumstances knock us down.

We can either slide into the pit of selfishness or call out to the Lord. His word says He will hear us and elevate us; He will provide firm footing and clear direction. It is easy to get bitter in this life. Culture is capricious and shallow; Politics are driven by selfish agendas; people will disappoint you; even your own body will someday fail you. David says that in the midst of troubles, God put a new song in his mouth. Perhaps you also have troubles. Life has thrown you a curve ball. You are in a miry, suffocating pit where there seems to be no way out. Instead of slipping, stand…

Another Possibility

The Living God is ready to put a new song upon your lips, one that will strengthen you and confound everyone around you. It may even be that our suffering is intended to create some greater good. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Always sing in the midst of trouble. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” When you find your song in the midst of troubles, not only will you discover a firm foundation in a life full of shifting values and events, but others “will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.”

Being patient during difficulties sometimes seems impossible. But if there is an eternal life, and if the disappointments in this life could help someone else (anyone else!) trust in the Lord and attain that everlasting life, then perhaps they are not only disappointments after all…

A New Song

My days were wrapped in silence, filled with anguish, mired in pain;
The sunrise turned to grey as all the sunshine turned to rain.
My life became an effort just to live another day;
I slipped into a pit, surrounded, stuck in miry clay.
So since I couldn’t help myself, I called upon the Lord.
I listened to His message, and I stood upon His word.
His comfort gave me hope, and His assurance made me strong;
His spirit filled my hopeless heart and gave to me a song.
And so amidst the miry clay, no matter what life brings,
I’ll lift my eyes up to the Lord, and trust. And hope. And sing.

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

Sand or Stone: Is YOUR Foundation Remarkable or Regrettable?

It may seem obvious that a foundation should be built on bedrock instead of sand, but in a culture where people have decided that truth is subjective, sand seems to be making a comeback as the foundation of choice. Here’s what Jesus said about it:

“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” [Uhh that’s really not directed at US, though, right?] “Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.” (Luke 6:46-48, NIV)

I don’t want to glide by verse 46. How many of us call Jesus “Lord”, and pray to the Lord, but don’t really DO the things the Lord asks us to do? If what Jesus said was true, apparently he expects our behavior to reflect his LORDSHIP. He doesn’t expect us to give him lip service; he expects us to know his teachings and live by them!

In some recent discussions about truth, a couple of folks have dismissed the Bible and told me that it is merely a myth containing some truth, but certainly not THE truth. If I go by what I read on social and mainstream media, this seems to be a common viewpoint. To much of the world, truth is relative to every individual, so it is getting harder to find common ground. In today’s world, whether it is politics or journalism or social media, truth is built on shifting sand.

What is truth?

If Truth is relative, it follows that right and wrong are also relative. “What’s true for you is not necessarily true for me.” “You have no authority to tell me what to do. Right and wrong only exist in our own minds!” “I am expressing my truth.” I understand where that thinking comes from, and it seems to have lots of momentum these days.

Because we have individual rights, our culture chafes under any authority. TV commercials tell you to break the rules, not to share, or to color outside the lines. We ignore what law enforcement officials tell us to do. Lying and changing your position used to be considered a deal-breaker when running for President. Today it is pretty much how politicians do business, and there is little public outcry or backlash. Constituencies follow them not because of what is right, but because of what they promise. We are now living in a society where truth is relative.

Open Doors

The problem is, Relativism opens all kinds of doors. If there is no absolute truth, then all laws become suspect. Yeah there’s a speed limit, but I’d rather drive as fast as I want to. I follow the advice of medical professionals to help slow the pandemic; I don’t wear a mask because I don’t want to. We should legalize weed because it’s no worse than alcohol, and lots of people do it. Criminals are called courageous for shooting at police. Even something as seemingly obvious as gender, we are told, is really just a matter of choice. Our moral values are now built on the shifting sand of public opinion.

sand not stone

Two Thoughts

But according to Jesus, there is a firm foundation to build upon. The teaching of Jesus set a different kind of standard for how we should be accountable and how we should treat one another. This passage highlights that there are two great dangers: One, don’t assume you know Jesus just because you go to church, or because you seem outwardly connected to him. He says we not only need to know what he said, but to live by it.

Second, he says that we should build our values and our goals upon what He taught. We should dig deep and stand firm. If you say you follow Jesus but don’t know everything he said, get busy. He claimed to be “The way, the truth, and the life.” If that statement is true, you owe it to yourself to re-read, revisit, and reapply.

If you don’t know what Jesus actually said, don’t dismiss him. Investigate his teaching for YOURSELF. At some point in your life, when the storms of difficulty break upon you, you will find yourself in need of a firm foundation. When that happens, all the shifting sand in the world won’t do you any good. Dig deep. Build. Stand.

Sand or Stone?

Jesus once described two homes, both built in different places;
Each of them was built upon extremely different bases.
One was built upon the rock, the strongest substance on the block,
And when disaster tried to knock it down it just withstood the shock!
The other, built on softer stuff, foundation made of sandy fluff,
Was never really strong enough and really wasn’t very tough.
The moral here is simple: if you want your house to stand,
Build your house upon the rock, and not on shifting sand.

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

Unlock Your Potential: What Would You Find?

The word “potential” means “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.” The Apostle Paul apparently thought that there was an amazing amount of potential out there:

“Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”. (Philippians 1:6, NIV)

A Love Letter From Paul

Paul’s wonderful prayer of thanksgiving for his friends in Philippi is a tribute to friendship and Christian community. Paul’s affection for and intimacy with the recipients is evident in every line. He says things like “I pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel”, “I have you in my heart”, and “I long for you with the affection of Christ Jesus”. These simple but passionate words of friendship abound with applications. Read 1:6 again and see what questions come into your mind. Here are a few to consider:

1) What gave Paul such confidence? Isn’t he writing this from prison? Apparently Paul was not too good at focusing on his circumstances… Perhaps he could have used his talents to write a play (maybe “Chains are the New Tunic”), or at least to write his appeal to Rome. Instead, he is bubbling over with confidence about potential; he’s excited about what God is doing in his friends. Are we perhaps more focused on circumstances than we are on the gospel? Would circumstances be less stressful if we put them in their proper place? What do you place the most confidence in?

potential

More to Family than Meets the Eye

2) God has begun a good work in Paul’s Philippian friends. Since Paul is writing to his fellow believers, we can truly connect the dots here and accept as fact that God begins a good work in everyone who shares “partnership in the gospel”. Paul regarded these people as his spiritual children, or as his spiritual brothers and sisters. Who do you regard as spiritual family? What is God doing among you?

If you are a Christian, what “good work” has He begun in you? If you are reading this, you have tons of unrealized potential. My parents used to tell me that all the time. As a kid, I got really tired of hearing about my potential. Apparently, buried underneath all the playfulness, immaturity, laziness, and nonchalance, my folks thought there were some useful characteristics trying to peek out.

A Different Definition?

Once when I messed up, I think I even tried to use it on the good side of the ledger. “Dad, I know my grades are bad but you yourself have said I have lots of potential.” My Dad’s response (probably not original but as always well-timed) was, “Son, potential is a French word that means, ‘you haven’t done anything yet’.” That may not be the Webster definition, but it enlarged my perspective about what how the word applied to me. Years later, I even heard Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells quote my Dad, so it MUST be true!

potential Parcells

What’s YOUR Definition?

What is YOUR potential? What good work has God begun in you? When God looks at you in your immature and unfinished state, who do you think He sees? I bet you’d be surprised at who God created you to be, at how awesome He thinks you are, and how joyful He is at your development. Would you live today any differently if you stopped to realize that God is DOING A GOOD WORK IN YOU?! He is. DO.

3) God’s good work will continue in you as long as you live (or until the day of Christ, for sure). If you haven’t thought about what God is doing in you, discover it. Stay aware of it. Put it on your bucket list. Whoever you are, whenever you read this, I have taken Paul’s lead and prayed a prayer for you this morning: “Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us as your children. You alone know our true potential. Work ON us. Work WITHIN us! Help us to be who You created us to be. Please do your good work in us, and continue it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

There. God was already working but it’s good to acknowledge and claim it in prayer. May His good work continue in you until it is complete!

Coming Soon..

What is there locked within your life that yet remains undone?
What thing would you accomplish if you could?
No matter who you are there is a work that God’s begun,
To use your full potential for His good.

So, let Him do his work. There are some folks who will be shocked
To see the things that you and God can do,
When you and all your glorious potential are unlocked,
And He continues His good work in you.

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

Persistence Pays Off: the Widow Who Wouldn’t Stop Praying

What’s the most important trait we need in order to succeed? Calvin Coolidge once said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Long before Coolidge said that, Jesus told a somewhat surprising parable about persistence involving a widow. Read it, and you’ll see that it confirms President Coolidge’s statement.

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (Luke 18:1-5, NIV)

persistence

The Persistent Widow

Luke shares a significantly under-utilized parable about persistence in prayer. Do your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling sometimes? Are you ever doubtful that God answers prayer? The judge in this parable is an independent arbiter of justice who doesn’t fear God or regard men’s opinions. In other words, he rules without prejudice, and he is not swayed by religion, politics, or human influence. And yet there is a widow who has brought a case before him persistently, continually reminding the judge that she is expecting an answer. She is a pest; and she refuses to give up.

The quote from Calvin Coolidge ends, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”. This may have been “Silent Cal’s” most eloquent statement, but I wonder if he (or any of us) really thought about applying this to our PRAYER lives?

How often is too often?

In this case, the widow’s persistence won the day because she never gave up. She received justice against her adversary because the judge grew tired of being pestered. And Jesus spoke this parable to illustrate “that men always ought to pray and not lose heart”. Say, when was the last time you petitioned God so relentlessly that He granted your request? When did you pray against all hope, begging God each morning, noon, and night? And how often do you persevere in prayer with all your heart? I know. Me neither.

James (the Lord’s brother) used Elijah as an example and said, “the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man makes a huge difference.” Perhaps he knew about Elijah; perhaps he had watched his older brother get up “a great while before day” to pray, or he watched him “continue all night in prayer”. The Apostle Paul said, “Pray without ceasing.” It seems that both the Lord and those close to him were advocates of continuous, persistent prayer…

Is Jesus really saying here that we have the ability to wear God down, and to inflict our will upon Him? Not likely. So why does he tell this parable? Perhaps the widow’s persistence is simply an indicator of faith, and is an outward show of her continuous inner belief. To tie it more explicitly to Jesus’ other teachings, perhaps it shows that she has the faith of a mustard seed, and is about to move the mountain. Jesus says we should wear God out by coming before him continually. I know I don’t do that very often. I bet you don’t either. Don’t lose heart. Pray. Pray with persistence.

Never Stop Being Persistent

If you want to move that mountain, here is the place to start:
Persevere in prayer, and go to God with all your heart.
The widow showed persistence, pleading every single day;
The haughty judge relented just to make her go away!
Have the faith to be persistent, begging to be blessed:
Bring your case before the Lord, and He will do the rest.

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

Paul says Revenge is a Dish You Should Serve… How?

If you read the news, you can’t help but see the baser elements of human nature played out in headlines. Giving and taking offense give way to wanting and taking revenge. We live in a culture that says it is ok to take revenge on those who wrong us. We have rap stars who get into spats, criticism of the President from the other side, and trolls on social media who attack virtually any point of view. Most people would say that it’s logical to take revenge, to strike back at someone who has wronged you. However, the Bible’s advice about revenge is absolutely counterintuitive:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21, NIV)

revenge

Here’s Some Advice: Be Abnormal

As Paul illustrates what love looks like, he paints on the canvas of human relationships, and he advises believers to be abnormal. Conventional wisdom might say that our self-worth enables us to move beyond revenge, but Paul suggests there is more to it than that. There are a few subtle points in this passage that are important.

A loving person, Paul says, does not exact revenge or repay evil for evil. As he encourages us all to live at peace with those around us, he agrees with what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? ” (Matthew 5:44, 46 NIV).

We are not to seek vengeance when we are wronged, and we can achieve justice by leaving things in God’s hands. Peace is impossible where people seek vengeance. Gandhi reiterated this when he said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. Paul encourages us to “leave room for God’s wrath”. This is a striking statement in the middle of a chapter about love, and one of the subtle points that are important in this passage. God’s wrath is a fierce and righteous thing. It is never capricious or frivolous, but always just and appropriate. We can depend on it. It addresses wrongs and ultimately (rightly) punishes those who harden their hearts.

The Real Justice League

In C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the great lion is portrayed as loving and kind. But the characters who know him are filled with respect, and even somewhat afraid of him. He is civil and majestic, but fearsome and dangerous. When they describe him they always say, “Oh he’s not a TAME lion”. God’s wrath is something pure, far above our petty motives and selfish ways. Romans 12 says we should allow HIM to administer perfect justice instead of attempting to straighten things out ourselves. SO what does that look like for you?

The temptation to take revenge comes in many situations. I drive a LOT in traffic (in my job, on vacation, traveling, whatever) and I am a fairly assertive driver on a road filled with timid, distracted, or just plain selfish people. Of course I myself am a GOOD driver. As a result I tend to be critical of other drivers, and even offer commentary on their lack of skill, concentration, and judgment. My entire family has noticed this through the years, and it is an area of my Christian walk where I have often been less than loving.

The Drive for Revenge

As I have gotten older, I’ve made some progress with my attitude behind the wheel, and have at least become a bit less outwardly demonstrative toward the (bad) distracted drivers around me (which means: I don’t purposely cut them off, make unnecessary hand signals, or give them dirty looks. I still, however have facial expressions and plenty of spoken advice for them…). So, while I’ve made progress I still haven’t really lived in peace while driving. Based on Paul’s advice, I am trying to apply Romans 12 to my driving, so I can exemplify a different attitude in the car. (Some days good, some days still not so good…)

I’m not sure that letting someone merge when it’s not their turn will “heap burning coals” upon them, but I could at least offer good in response to evil and trust God to provide justice. Driving is really just a small part of our lives, and there are many other ways we could leave justice in God’s hands and allow HIM to take care of revenge: leaving that catty response unsaid, or NOT talking about someone behind their back, or showing grace on social media when someone is so obviously wrong…

But I’m sure you can think of your OWN application of Romans 12. What keeps you from living at peace with others? What frustrates you about your enemies? Next time you bump into one of those things, show some love instead of frustration. Get out there and overcome evil with good. God says He will take care of the rest.

Revenge Advice

When someone's actions hurt your feelings,
Insult you and send you reeling,
Listen to Paul's astute advice:
Don't take vengeance, just be nice!
You don't have to pull your sword;
Give your anger to the Lord,
And try to find a better way.
Remember He had this to say:
"Vengeance is mine, I will repay".
When someone cuts you off today,
Be abnormal: stop, and pray.

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

What Are You Doing Here on Earth, For Heaven’s Sake?

I bet at some point in your life someone asked you, “Just What on earth do you think you’re doing?” That question usually refers to a specific action, but I wanted to challenge you to reframe that into a much more cosmic question. In the grand scheme of things, what are you doing here on earth? Although our current culture focuses a great deal on how we feel, remember this: Life is not about feeling, it is about DOING.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12: 12-16, NIV)

Paul started this “love chapter” by exhorting us to be living sacrifices, and to follow Christ’s selfless example. In verses 9-11 he talks about the need for sincere love. Here in verses 12-16 he says that DOING love is more important than FEELING love…

He acknowledges that love is a great motivator, and I bet your own personal experience would bear that out. (Think about some of the things you have done because of love—whether foolish things to pursue romantic love, or acts of service inspired by unselfish love… We have all found ourselves doing something differently at some point because of love’s motivational pull.)

The Foolish and the Sublime

Here are two very different examples: The summer I was 15, I was on the aquatics staff at YMCA Camp Flaming Arrow in Kerrville, Texas. Hoping to meet girls on our day off, I put “HI THERE” with adhesive tape on my chest for about a week. You know, that way at Ingram Dam where everyone gathered to swim, I could just point to my chest instead of making introductions…

When I removed the tape, my tan lines said HI THERE all by themselves for at least a couple of weeks. So it WORKED! (True story. Yeah it’s a dumb thing, but I was 15 and it did actually help break the ice with local girls a couple of times. It was, however, a little embarrassing on Parents’ Day at the end of the session, since I was on the aquatics staff and was in the pool working with kids with a chest that said, “HI THERE”…) True story.

  (NOT an actual photo)

doing

A few years later, I was on staff at the Navigators’ Eagle Lake Boys’ Camp in Colorado Springs. At the end of the summer, I donated a big portion of my salary to the camp (which, my Dad pointed out, was supposed to be my spending money at college that fall; when he had to replace it, it actually meant that HE had given the money to Eagle Lake. Sorry, Daddy. My heart may have been in the right place, but the net result of my decision fell on you…)

Both of those actions were motivated by love in one form or another—one foolish, and one sublime—but both were done in hopes of having a different outcome than would have been achieved by standing pat. The point is, what are you doing differently today because of love? What outcome are you hoping for?

Paul says here that love will help us overcome adverse circumstances. The circumstances may not change, but Paul says that doing thinks in love creates new possibilities. It enables us to view the world differently: to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. I have to say I am ashamed at how often I am NOT patient in affliction or faithful in prayer. How about you?

Doing the Thing that Changes Everything

Love inspires generosity towards others, and it even helps us act differently towards those with whom we disagree. Do you bless those who persecute you, or do you curse them? If we are living sacrifices, Paul says, we will be empathetic and live in harmony with others. Burt Bacharach’s1965 pop song said, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love”… The Beatles said, “Love is all you need.” How true.

One of my best friends in college was a summer missionary in Zambia, Africa. During her term she saw villages ravaged by poverty and malnutrition, and it touched her deeply. When she came back home, she told the director of the Summer Missions program how disturbing it was, how uncomfortable it made her, and asked, “How can God love those little children?”

His answer was surprising: he said, “I hope you are never comfortable again, Kathy, because one of the ways God shares His love is through you.” Yes, God loves the world through his Son and through His Spirit; but as believers who are part of the body of Christ today, He is doing His work on this world through us. What are we doing in this world for heaven’s sake?

There is too much division in our world and in our culture, and not enough blessing; too much selfishness and not enough sacrifice. Paul said a living sacrifice is not stuck up or conceited, but spends time doing loving things, which creates a means for God’s love to reside on earth through us, to us. Be loving today. Make the same decision tomorrow.

Doing Life, Doing Love

Love is not emotion or the giddy way you feel;
It is more than feelings, (although feelings may be real);
Love is more than romance, or the love songs used for wooing:
Love is found in how you do the things that you are doing.
Do them well, and serve as if you worked for God above,
And fill your life with godliness by doing things with 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

Two Words You Never Hear Together Anymore: Passionate Fervor

In Romans 12 (the “other” love chapter) Paul describes love’s many facets, and he uses familiar words like sincerity, devotion, and honor. He also uses uncommon terms, like fervor, which is not a word that’s much in vogue today… (The dictionary says it means having passion, or intense heat.) When was the last time you talked about having FERVOR? It happens at sporting events, maybe, or rock concerts, but there aren’t many cultural equivalents I can think of. I’ve heard about a religious fervor where people get whipped up into a frenzy, but I’m pretty sure Paul is not talking about that here. When you look at the passage, he describes it as something else:

fervor

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:9-11 NIV) I’ve mentioned that in Romans 12, Paul has been painting a picture of love. It’s slightly different from his eloquent words in 1 Corinthians 13, and it expands and explores the boundaries of our definition.

More Than a Hug

He started by exhorting us to follow Christ’s example of sacrificial love, and continued by encouraging us to build each other up with whatever tools God has given us. Now he gets specific about love and starts to break it down for us with some detail. Be authentic (as Robin Williams’ Genie told Aladdin, “Beeee yourself!”).

Hate what is evil. Do you? I hate some of the big ugly evils, but I’m still pretty comfortable with some of my “little” secret evils… How about you? Any secret evils you need to hate?

Treat each other with respect and honor. Have you noticed any lack of respect and honor in our society today? When it comes to respect, do you extend it to others, or just expect it for yourself? If that door only swings your way, perhaps you are operating in pride instead of love.

How Do You Fervor?

And then my favorite and our topic today, “never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor”! Do you have fervor? Have you EVER had fervor for something? Are you passionate for Jesus? I know people worry about being pushy or overwhelming, but I don’t think that’s the kind of zeal Paul is talking about. This is the kind that seasons our thoughts and conversations, and encourages us to dream godly things.

What dreams do you have? Are your spiritual fires burning? Are you falling in love with God a little more each day? The natural result of emotional love is passion. So is the spiritual one. “Fervor” means “intense and passionate feeling”. Have some fervor about God. Be ferverous. (No that’s not a word, but say it out loud and it will be. I wanted you to think about it all day, ha!) Paul says that the natural result of spiritual fervor is service; as we grow more passionate about the Lord, we’ll be more inclined to serve him. I guess you could say that fervor makes you a server!

So what should we do with Romans 12? Get out there and serve! Be ferverous in your serverous.

Passionate Fervor

Paul takes some time to delve deep into love in Romans twelve:
Honor one another. Hate evil, but love your brother.
In all your dealings, make it clear that purest love is quite sincere.
If you live the way you should, you will cling to what is good,
And devoted love will guide you as it stokes the fire inside you.

It seems if you have fervor, you will love to be a server,
And devotion to the Lord will help us act with one accord.
If the gospel makes good sense, let your fervor be intense;
Let the way you truly feel invoke a passion that is real,
And try to let no others steal your joy or criticize your zeal.
In short: Be passionately ferverous in your walk and in your serverous!

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

You’ve Been Given Gifts! Receive them. Now Give them Away.

When you are given gifts, you usually get excited about opening them. You probably don’t think of giving them away. Paul, however, says that’s exactly what you should do:
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; and if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; and if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8, NIV)

given gifts

The Reason for Gifts

Gifts, says Paul, are given to each of us according to grace. Not the “tear open the wrapping paper” kind of gifts, and not necessarily the “this is your gift, for only you to enjoy” kind of gifts, but the “I am giving this to you so that you can give it to others” kind of gift. Our flesh loves to celebrate giftedness itself, and we make much of talented musicians and athletes; Grace loves to make gifts useful by humbling them in service to others.

Right after Paul says that we are all part of the body of Christ, and we all belong to each other, he exhorts us to utilize what we have been given on behalf of others.
He presents this as an “if-then” kind of process, which really has two steps. First, determine what your gift is. Paul declares that we all have different gifts, given to us spiritually “according to the grace given to each of us.”

There are gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4, and they are all focused on “others”, not on “Me”. In context, he is saying that these gifts are bestowed on each believer as part of the body of Christ in order to serve the other members of the body. And here in Romans Paul basically says, “If you have been given a gift, then use it.”

How Should You Use What You Have?

So ask yourself the question: what have I been gifted with? A spiritual gift is not necessarily a talent (although it could be related), and not necessarily something you are accomplished at; it is really more a quality that other believers see in you even when you don’t always see it in yourself. If you aren’t sure, pray about it, and then ask some fellow believers close to you what they feel your gift(s) might be. You might be surprised by the answers you get.

Secondly, whatever gift you have been given, USE IT. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.“ Being motivated by grace puts a whole different spin on receiving a gift: Open it. Use it. Give it away.

A Gift Given Should Be A Gift, Given

God’s given something to everyone
To enrich our lives, to create some fun.
These gifts aren’t meant to be just enjoyed,
But are given to us to be re-employed!
When you can do something and others it lifts,
You’ve probably discovered your spiritual gifts.
As we open them up we should give them to others,
To build and encourage our sisters and brothers.
If Paul was still preaching among us, today,
He’d look at our gifts and here’s what he’d say:
Your gifts are not gifts ’til they’re given away!

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 Good Body May Involve More than How You Look on the Beach

It’s still that time of year when people are conscious of their “beach body” readiness, and are still trying to work out and eat right to get in shape. But. while you’re getting ready for the beach, take a minute and think about ANOTHER kind of body:

”For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:3-5, NIV)

body of Christ

Self-Improved or Self-Absorbed?

There is a lot to consider in this passage in Romans. It refers to a sacrifice that stays alive, and a body that is more than a body…And it tells us not to think too highly of ourselves. Do you know anybody who thinks more highly of themselves than they ought to? Are they fun to be around? When someone is self-absorbed, that’s really the opposite of love, isn’t it?

Here in the (other) love chapter, Paul declares that the result of love is not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but it is a life seasoned with humility and honest reflection. A life of faith does not abandon rational self-evaluation. On the contrary, it encourages us to look at ourselves honestly, and to see ourselves the way God sees us.

Seeing Yourself Through a Different Lens

On one hand, that’s a bit intimidating. God sees my inward failings, my secret sins, my selfishness, and my insecurity. If I think of myself the way God does, then I should probably be frustrated over my limitations and sad about all my failures, right? Wrong!
Because if I truly look at myself through the lens of Grace, then I can see my redeemed self the way God sees me, unblemished and full of potential, ready to be made into who He created me to be!

I have been given a place in the family, and a role as part of the body of Christ. No one is born in a vacuum; every one of us is designed for relationship, to be part of a bigger team. If I am willing to take MY story and subjugate it to HIS story, then I will find meaning and fulfillment in my role. Further, Paul says that in the body of Christ we ALL have different roles, and that “each member belongs to all the others.”

Anyone who has ever participated in a team activity knows how this works: you make the extra pass (Ted Lasso), take on extra duty to support a teammate, make the key block, lay down the sacrifice bunt. Or in the non-sports world you might take a meal over to someone during stressful times, watch the kids, contribute your creativity to someone else’s presentation… Perhaps it’s not just your body, but also your body of work that matters.

A Different Kind of Body

There’s an old saying that it’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit. I’ve been privileged to be on that kind of team several times in my life, and it is absolutely true. If you are not seeing the results in your life that you’d like to see, ask yourself two questions: What team(s) are you on? And, Who do you belong to? Maybe it’s time to work on a DIFFERENT kind of body…

People work out every day to maximize their looks,
Striving to achieve a nice physique that really cooks.
While you flex or stop to see the beach’s latest hottie,
Don’t forget you also have another kind of body.
If you find your role with other people who believe,
And no one is concerned with any credit that’s received,
You’ll be amazed at how it works, and what you can achieve!
You’ll do almost anything with this body, if you let it.
You’re part of the body of Christ, so do not let yourself forget it.
God will bless if no one cares about who gets the credit!

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

Sacrifice: A Mystery That Turns Murderers Into Missionaries

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

While it may be that 1 Corinthians 13 is the most-quoted chapter about love, Romans 12 deserves far more attention for being a pretty good “love chapter” on its own. The last few verses offer some explicit applications about what love in action looks like, but the whole chapter is really a pretty good working definition of love. It is a love based on sacrifice rather than superiority.

sacrifice transforms


In John 15:13, Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Go back to all the things that were said and written about love before Jesus. You will find a number of different words for love. There are many descriptions and definitions, and certainly lots ways it was expressed. It’s always been one of the central elements of human nature. But amazingly, Jesus Christ redefined love and set its standard in a very singular way that has stood above all others for over 2,000 years.

Who WAS that guy? Where did He come from? Why haven’t there been other teachers the caliber of Jesus of Nazareth? You have to admit, he was different.

What made the Difference?

In Romans 12, Paul begins with Christ’s definition. (And does anybody besides me ever wonder where Saul, a persecutor of the believers in the fledgling church, “a Pharisee of the Pharisees”, achieved such harmony with and knowledge of the teachings of Christ?) He didn’t encounter Jesus at all until well after the resurrection and ascension!

Something fascinating: If you read Paul’s work closely, it reflects the Gospels and the teachings of Jesus incredibly well. Now, the early portions of the gospels were probably only just starting to be in circulation when Paul wrote his letters. He didn’t have copies of Mark or John! Yet he writes about the New Covenant and covers intimate details known only to Jesus or his disciples. Where did Paul get Jesus’ teachings?

His conversion and subsequent education about Jesus have to be one of the amazing biographical stories of all time! In Galatians 1:11-12 he says, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”

Paul then explains that he spent three years in seclusion with Jesus in the desert, learning from Christ himself. Paul wrote about love and interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures in ways that reflected the Jesus we see in the Gospels, even though he had never followed the Messiah during his lifetime… Think about that!

What is a Living Sacrifice, Anyway?

And so here Paul begins Romans 12 with an earnest plea for us to lay down our lives as a living sacrifice. He challenges us to repeat the action of the one who gave us that definition and set that standard. Since Jesus did that for us, Paul maintains that it is only reasonable for us to give ourselves back to him in return.

Love responds to love, and love begets more love. As a result, Paul says, we will be different than the world, transformed and renewed, and will walk around as living proof of God’s will… The J. B. Phillips translation says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within”. It infers that we are all being molded, one way or another. We can conform to the world, or we can conform to God.

The world says, “Whatever you do is really ok; what’s right for me may not be right for you; get what you can; if you don’t like it, change it, hey, life is short…”
God says, “Love. Be redeemed by love, present yourselves back to me in love, be transformed by love, and remember that it’s not so much about your will as it is about MINE.

If you trust me, you will discover that I have your best interests at heart, and I will perfect you in ways you never imagined. Others will look at you and say, ‘that must be kinda what God looks like’.” Have you offered God your life lately? Ever wonder what He could do with it if you really gave it to Him?

Living

This passage does much more than teaches; Romans twelve says Paul beseeches:
Sacrifice yourself and live; give everything you have to give,
And Paul says you will surely find a brand new heart and transformed mind.
Don’t follow the world. Don’t be that dude. Allow your mind to be renewed,
So you will live a life that proves that God transforms. And loves. And moves.

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 Substance of Hope, Or How Faith Changed the World

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV).

The Substance of Faith

The writer of Hebrews says that faith is the substance of things hoped for. If you dissect the syllables and break that down, substance comes from sub (under) and stance (from stand), or that which stands under a thing. Knowing what stands under a thing will often help our understanding OF a thing. Looking closer, the Greek word used for substance is hypostasis, which referred to the underlying state or condition of a thing. It was also a legal term used in real estate transactions because it indicated that there was an underlying legal document (the title-deed) that provided proof of ownership and possession.

Faith is basically our deed of trust, giving us ownership of hope, and a reasonable expectation that God will do what He promised to do. The things which we CAN see are a down payment towards the things we CAN’T see. Creation points us towards faith and proves God’s reliability, because it demonstrates that all visible things were made by the One who is not visible.

God does what He does. You can believe or not believe. You can choose to ignore the evidence He placed about himself into creation—the vastness of the universe, the delicate balance of the earth hung in orbit, the intricacy of a cell, the seasons, a flower, and the canvas of the sky every day—or you can allow it to stimulate faith.

substance

If you follow God by faith, the writer of Hebrews says, it will change your life. The elders obtained a good testimony by their faith, and Hebrews 11 goes on to discuss the stories of those who believed, and changed not only their own lives but human history as well… Faith is a big deal, ya’ll, but here’s the thing: God will never MAKE you believe.

Which Side of the Conundrum are You On?

It’s an interesting intellectual conundrum, but God did not make himself provable because He has given us a choice. An empirical God (one with substance that could be proven physically) would remove our will from the equation; we’d have no choice but to accept Him and worship Him. So the loving God preserved our choice by withholding PROOF and giving us EVIDENCE. That way we can decide how we feel about Him.

Everyone can be skeptical about a God who painted portions of His self-portrait into a chosen people, an Exodus, the Pentateuch, a shepherd-king, the Psalms, the prophets, history (His Story), His Son, the Word, and into relationships throughout every generation… You can dismiss the people of faith as irrational, and you can live your entire life ignoring God. Mankind doesn’t have to seek God or engage Him in any way. You don’t ever have to have faith in God…

It’s Really YOUR Choice

So, if you decide that faith in God is not for you, there are things you will never understand about God. You won’t understand the paradoxes that exist between His kingdom and ours: serve to lead; be humble to be great; love your enemies; die to live… You will never know about the substance of His character, His generosity, His wisdom, or His love. You won’t discover the presence of a loving Father who provides comfort to those who mourn, peace to those who worry, and a home to those who wander. And, oh yeah, your world will never change; it will never stretch beyond the boundaries of what you see or know empirically.

But if you search for God, He promises that there is something in it for YOU. Hebrews 11:6 gives makes this awesome claim: “whoever comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”

But Does Faith Work?

Looking back through history, faith has changed the world time and again. Abraham left home to start a new nation because he believed God; Moses became one of the great leaders of all time by faith. The early church emerged with radical impact because of faith. Faith in the resurrection changed the hearts of men,and those men changed the world. The Roman Empire was built by men of action, but faith outlasted it and toppled it. This world is full of men and governments seeking the means to impose their will on other men; God’s kingdom, based on faith, will outlast them all.

Wherever you come from, wherever you’ve been, whatever you believe or think, ask yourself this question: what is the substance of the things you hope for? Hebrews says if you seek God in faith, He will be pleased and He will respond to you. Seek in faith today. Be rewarded forever.

The Evidence of What We’ve Yet to See

Faith is what we hope for based on what we cannot see–
Like holding grapes, anticipating wine.
We see the universe and wonder how it came to be,
Inferring a Designer from design.
God is not empirical, or a theorem you can prove,
His substance is much more than what is taught;
He says that faith will find Him, and the mountain can be moved,
But it’s your choice to live by faith, or not.
You can live by intellect, observe God and critique Him;
Or You can get to know Him, if by faith you truly seek Him.

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

Who is the REAL Prodigal? (Hint: It’s NOT the Son)

The story of the Prodigal son is fascinating for many reasons. It resonates with many of us in the way it describes the impatience and impetuousness of youth. Young adults still grow restless or rebellious and leave home. People with money still acquire shallow friends who leave them when the money runs out. A fool and his money are still soon parted. Parents still have to deal with disrespect and sibling rivalry. When you fail on your own and hit rock bottom, you still think about going home.

prodigal
The Prodigal Son 1888 John Macallan Swan 1847-1910 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01569

There are universal themes in this parable that are still alive and fresh. We find it easy to identify with these themes, but like Jesus’ audience, we are surprised by the Father’s reactions: “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:23-24, NIV)

A Surprising Twist

Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” does an amazing job bringing this parable home to each of us. By definition a prodigal is someone who “spends money or resources freely and recklessly”; or is “wastefully extravagant”. The younger son has always been known to us as “the prodigal son” because he wasted his money on extravagant living, but the real story Jesus told was about two sons, one who was lost and then found, and one who did his duty but secretly resented it.

Both sons were disrespectful and rebellious to their Father. Both sons were dysfunctional about family, wrapped up way more in the reality of me rather than the possibility of us. Is your family ever that way? Have YOU ever been that way?

As the story ends, only the younger brother found restoration, while the older brother is left waiting stubbornly in the courtyard, refusing to go in to the party. What happened next? Did the older brother ever escape self-righteousness to find love and peace? What are the outcomes, and what is this story really trying to tell me?

There are unanswered questions, and to me the most interesting one is, “Who is really the prodigal in this parable?” The one who shows true extravagance and lavish spending in this story is the FATHER. He spends his resources on both sons, willing to part with his entire estate to sustain one and to reclaim the other. Jesus opens our eyes to see not the Prodigal son, but his own Father: the Prodigal God. There is more to this story than rebellious kids.

Lessons From The Prodigal Son

As he educates us about who the Father really is, Jesus teaches that 1) God is always scanning the horizon, looking for his lost children to come home; 2) the Father wants to restore his rebellious children to the family; 3) When someone has hit rock bottom, but repents and turns upward to God, He greets them not in judgment but in compassion with a hug and a kiss.

4) The Father goes all prodigal on the celebration: He brings out the best robe, his family ring, new sandals, and kills the fatted calf. He not only throws a lavish party for us but he also dresses us up with His finest stuff so that we won’t feel out of place. He clothes us in HIS righteousness and adopts us into HIS family! 5) His home is a place of joy, where it is ok to make merry and celebrate. (And it’s ok to invite other sinners to the party!)

The Father is the Prodigal God who rejoices in finding what is lost, restoring what was broken, and being extravagant with his children. If you’ve been hanging out somewhere else, it really is ok to go home. If you are standing in judgment over your fellow man, you can let it go. Repent. Today. Your Father is waiting for you.

The Real Prodigal

A prodigal is extravagant, someone who likes to live
By spending without limit, giving all they have to give!
There was the prodigal son, who went and squandered all he had;
He spent the precious money he’d been given by his dad.
The prodigal father held a party, killed the fatted calf:
“My son is home!” The servants saw him run, and heard him laugh!
The son came home alone and spent, his walk slowed to a plod,
Humbled by his failures, beaten by the miles he’d trod;
His father’s celebration may have seemed a little odd,
But he had learned of grace by worshipping the Prodigal God.

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