The Reluctant Brothers Who Didn’t Believe

As we’ve been talking about eyewitnesses around the life of Jesus, there is a small group that bears consideration. Think about his own brothers. They saw him every day growing up, and knew him well. The few glimpses we get of them suggest that they had concerns about their eldest brother. Mark 3:21 says that as Jesus’ ministry began to draw crowds, “[his family] went to take charge of him, for they said, he is out of his mind.” We know that the Pharisees expressed this opinion later on, since John in 10:20 they say “he is demon possessed and raving mad”, but it might seem surprising that his own brothers raised concerns about Jesus’ mental stability.

Brothers Familiarity

Since our knowledge about Jesus’ childhood is limited to a couple of short glimpses, I would offer a couple of opinions about why his brothers might have felt that way. First, we know from Luke’s gospel that twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind in the Temple. When he interacted with the teachers, his exasperated parents were “astonished” at his display of wisdom (2:48). They “did not understand” that he had to be in his father’s house ( verse 50). This suggests that Jesus did not fully display his spiritual and intellectual gifts at home as a child, and lived as a fairly normal boy in a normal family.

Did Jesus Have Siblings?

There has been some degree of ecclesiastical debate about Jesus’ family. The Roman Catholic church believes that Mary remained a virgin for life. This is at odds with Scripture. Mark 6:3 specifically mentions his brothers “James, Joseph, Jude, and Simon”, as well as his sisters. Some believe that these were perhaps older children Joseph had from a previous marriage. Others theorize they were cousins of Jesus that Mary was raising. (Those assumptions are never explicitly stated in Scripture, however.)

While these positions allow for Mary to remain a virgin, nowhere in Scripture does it proclaim Mary to be such. In fact, Matthew 1:28 suggests otherwise, saying that Joseph “had no union with her until she gave birth” to Jesus. I’d also point out that Gospel writers had several Aramaic words for brother they could have used. But, several times they used adelphos, which refers to a brother out of the same womb. (It also meant born to the same parents). I mean no disrespect to Mary’s reputation, but it seems clear that Mary and Joseph had other children, and that Jesus grew up in a good-sized family.

Skeptics Close to Home

In any case, Jesus certainly displayed patience as he prepared for his mission (note his several references to “my hour is not yet come”). I have always thought that his baptism at the Jordan signified a change in the way Jesus displayed his anointing. It is very likely that even his brothers were therefore somewhat surprised by his sudden (awesome) display of wisdom and spiritual gifts when he began his ministry.

That’s probably why John 7 records this : “Now the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For even His brothers did not believe in Him.”

Early in his ministry, it seems pretty clear that Jesus’ family struggled with what to think about his preaching and his display of miraculous power, although as John pointed out, Mary had great confidence in her son’s ability to do something amazing at the wedding in Cana of Galilee…

But Jesus’ brothers, who tried to take him home from the gathering crowds, and also pushed him to go to the feast of Tabernacles, didn’t know what to think about him. Matthew 13:57 quotes Jesus as saying that a prophet is “without honor in his own house.” Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt, but it’s also quite probable that, having seen Jesus every day living a somewhat normal life, his brothers had established a baseline opinion about him that was just hard for them to expand.

So, Why Mention It?

So, why do I mention his unbelieving brothers, and what do they have to do with what you might think about Jesus? It’s because they didn’t stay unbelieving. Acts 1:14 says that after the crucifixion, the disciples waited in the upper room along with “Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” We know that his oldest brother James went on to be a respected leader in the Jerusalem church and wrote the epistle bearing his name. In Jude’s letter (written by the younger brother of Jesus), Jude identifies himself not as an apostle, but as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude v 1).

 jesus' brothers did not believe

Even though they struggled at first with their eldest brother’s identity, at least two of Jesus’ brothers became strong believers as well as leaders in the early church. After the resurrection, they joined the growing throng of people who verified that Jesus was who he said he was. Jude said, “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you eternal life” (verse 21).

James characterized himself as a “believer in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1). If you’ve ever been skeptical about Jesus, consider the reaction of those who witnessed him in person, including his own brothers. Hear their testimony before you decide. James 5:9 says, “the judge is standing at the door”. Don’t reach a verdict before you have listened to all of the evidence.

The Brothers

They say familiarity can cloud a person’s view,
Obscuring what they see because of what they thought they knew.
Jesus’ brothers had concerns that he was going crazy,
Because they were so close to him, it made their vision hazy.
I’m sure they were concerned about the family’s reputation
When crowds began to follow him, and caused so much sensation!

But after their initial doubt had caused them such concern,
Apparently they realized how much they had to learn;
Both wound up following Jesus as they worked with one accord,
And served the early church with zeal. They even called him ‘Lord’!

If you still doubt who Jesus is, then read their words, and get this:
You wouldn’t judge a trial without assessing every witness.
His brothers may have started out as doubters who were rude,
But what they had to say about him can’t be misconstrued:
The letters offer testimony made by James, and Jude.
They both saw what they saw, and then they wrote it down because
They both believed that Jesus Christ was who he said he was.

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
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A Scandalous Invitation That Shocked a Whole Nation

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

The Gospel of Mark recorded a scandalous invitation which must have shocked everyone who heard about it: “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.” (Mark 2:14 ASV) The call of Levi, son of Alphaeus, is certainly something to consider as we think about eyewitnesses and testimony about Jesus.

On the surface this verse doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but there are several things that make it noteworthy. First, look at Levi the son of Alphaeus. He is known to us as Matthew, who was probably the brother of another apostle, James the son of Alphaeus (who was known as James “the less” to differentiate him from James the son of Zebedee). He was identified as a publican or tax collector, and was sitting in the toll booth extracting fees from his fellow Israelites when Jesus called him. “The Chosen” portrays Matthew’s call in a way that illustrates just how radical it was. ( https://youtu.be/9fCrm008EJE )

Not the most popular career choice

Matthew was not the kind of guy who would have received an invitation to any of the church socials at the local synagogue… Nobody in Jewish society liked the guys sitting in the tax booths! Because they worked for the Romans, tax collectors were among the most despised of all Hebrews. In Luke 18, when Jesus compares the self-righteousness of a Pharisee’s prayer to the lowest sort of man imaginable, he picks someone who all of his Jewish listeners would have agreed was the worst kind of human: a tax collector.

scandalous invitation

That’s exactly how a good Jewish citizen would have thought of Levi, sitting there in the toll booth collecting taxes—and yet that’s who Jesus called and gave an invitation to follow him. By calling Matthew, he demonstrated that his followers don’t have to be perfect; in fact they can be FAR LESS than perfect…

Who’s the Sinner Here?

So Jesus called this tax collector to be a disciple. Now, Matthew made good money and had a lot of friends; they just weren’t the kind of folks acceptable in the local churches. It would have been considered scandalous for them to show up at the Temple. So, when Matthew throws a party for Jesus (Matthew 9), the Pharisees are quick to condemn Jesus for hanging out with “tax collectors and sinners”. In their eyes those people were one and the same.

The calling of Matthew tells us that there is often more to someone than meets the eye, that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge, and that Jesus did not call his followers based on status, position, or religiosity. He calls anyone and everyone who will repent and follow him. His startling recruitment of a lowly publican sent shock waves through the Jewish world; it also ultimately gave us the book of Matthew, a historic work of epic proportions.

What IS “the good life”?

The second noteworthy thing in this verse has to do with Matthew and his response to Jesus’ invitation. As a tax collector, he was probably wealthy. He lived in a nice house, and apart from the social ostracism he endured, probably had a pretty nice life from a material point of view. The latest fashion, lots of parties and plenty of friends. He had running water, a patio with a view, a nice car, a 70” HDTV, and a good sound system. (Ok I am probably stretching a little here). Most likely, Matthew had money.

But in leaving his job to follow Jesus (a relative newcomer who was really not connected with the powers that be in Jerusalem), Matthew took a big risk. It meant that he had to leave his wealth and security to answer Jesus’ call.

Now think about this: This was BEFORE everything about Jesus had been revealed, before everyone knew who Jesus really was, and Levi (Matthew) the tax collector just up and left his job to go with him… He didn’t yet have proof about Jesus being the Son of God, but he saw potential, and he responded immediately to the invitation.

What if Jesus asked you today to leave your high paying job and your future and your place in society to follow him? How would you react? Do you see potential? What if Jesus gave YOU the invitation: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me”? (Matthew 16:24)

Guess what? He already has…

Scandalous

The Jewish world was shocked to find
That Jesus must have lost his mind,
Or deviated from the truth by calling Matthew from his booth!
Why, such a man was less than scum!
A traitorous, tax-collecting bum
Who helped the Romans get their tax. Why, such a man deserved the axe!
Yet Matthew went and shocked them all
By stepping out to Jesus’ call,
And leaving all his worldly wealth to go pursue his spiritual health.

He threw a party for his friends
To join a world that never ends!
But Matthew followed Christ. And look! We have his really awesome book
That helps us understand and see:
“Take up your cross and follow me.”
Jesus called Matthew on the way;
He’s calling you and me, today.
When he calls you: what will you say?

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

There was once a zealous man named Saul (from Tarsus) who hounded the young and growing Christian church at every turn. As far as we know, he never saw Jesus prior to the crucifixion, and was not an eyewitness or follower while Jesus was alive. In fact, Saul of Tarsus persecuted and attacked the followers of the Way, and accused those who preached Jesus’ resurrection of blasphemy. His career as Pharisee was taking off because he was ruthless in his judgement and relentless in his pursuit. But somehow, something changed for Saul: this same man had an experience that transformed him and changed his life completely.

What Happened?

We know him now as the Apostle Paul, the same man who said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” How could a Pharisee of such unparalleled zeal make such a change? How could an enemy of the Church become one of its staunchest defenders? What changed him from Saul the persecutor into Paul, the Apostle? History tells us that something happened to change his life and change his name. Apparently the power lay in the Gospel, which Paul defined so well in his first letter to Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. The he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as to one abnormally born.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV)

Quite a Resume

Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew scholar, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous rabbi of that era. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (Paul referred to himself as formerly “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, but a short time after that encountered Jesus in a very real vision while traveling to Damascus. (By definition an Apostle had to have seen Jesus, and although it didn’t happen before Jesus was crucified, this was Paul’s encounter. It changed him forever.)

Saul apostle

He embraced the reality of the resurrection and began to follow Christ with the same zeal he had previously applied to persecuting the church. He spent three years in Arabia communing with and learning somehow from Christ himself, and then taught in Damascus, strengthening the church. The Apostle Paul became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist for Christ the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the world.

So Why Focus on a Pharisee Who Converted?

You can doubt a lot of things about Christianity, but you really can’t argue with the historical impact of Paul. If you haven’t read his letters, they are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. He said in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Saul apostle Paul

Saul’s testimony still counts as an eyewitness because he was transformed after an encounter with the risen Lord. He went from being an enemy of those who followed Jesus to a follower himself. When he encountered Jesus, he began to connect the dots, and the rest is history.

It’s really the same for all of us—a lot of things aren’t clear until we encounter Jesus. But once we put him in the proper place, there are so many things that suddenly make sense. I hope they do for you!

Unashamed

Saul abhorred the gospel, and he hated those who knew it;
If there was any way that he could stop them, he would do it.
He encountered Jesus as he traveled to Damascus;
Witnesses said, “Yes it really happened there. Just ask us!”
That was not the only testimony to that day;
Saul was transformed into Paul, and then had this to say:

“I am not ashamed at all! The Gospel gives me power,
And I am going to preach it every minute, every hour.
I will go in grace to those who used to fear and hate me,
And preach God’s endless love, from which no power can separate me!
I’ll gladly preach of healing where I used to cause such pain,
For me, for Paul to live is Christ! For me to die is gain.

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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Some Disciples Connected the Dots on the Road to Emmaus: Have YOU?

Shortly after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, some disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus with a Rabbi who obviously knew the Old Testament pretty well… They didn’t seem to know this Rabbi, but he was bold enough to be somewhat sharp with them: “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27 NIV)

road

A Turn of Events

After the death of Jesus, several disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus, discussing the recent events. They were downcast because their hopes that Jesus might have been the Messiah had been shattered by the crucifixion. Gamaliel said as much to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5. Would-be messiah figures and self-proclaimed deliverers apparently came along fairly often in occupied Judea. This downcast group of travelers seemed ready to accept the bad news and move along.

This whole Messiah thing had not turned out the way they expected– no victory over Rome, no Messianic kingdom… The strange Rabbi joined their conversation along the way. (He happened to be Jesus, but they did not recognize him.) He used the Prophets and the Scriptures to give them a more comprehensive view of the Messiah’s purpose and mission. Luke doesn’t tell us exactly what he said, but apparently it opened their eyes to some new possibilities about life and truth.

What the Scriptures Said

Perhaps he quoted Isaiah 53 and talked about the suffering servant. Maybe he directed them to Zechariah 12:10. (“They will look on him whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son”). He might have referred to Psalm 22 and its graphic depiction of a crucifixion. He could have quoted Isaiah 40:3 to remind them that John’s mission was to prepare the way of the Lord…

Walking along the road, Jesus pointed out that the Old Testament was full of references to him and his work. It was something the disciples had not noticed and did not understand. The disciples had to see the larger context. They needed to lay aside their own preconceived notions about Jesus to see who he really was. As John Wooden said, “It’s what you learn after you already know it all that counts.”

Question: what preconceived notions do you have about Jesus that keep you from seeing who he really is? How well do you know what the prophets and the Old Testament Scriptures said about him?

If the Bible is a tapestry, then the Old Testament contains dozens of threads woven into its fabric of law, genealogy, history, poetry, and prophecy that point to a coming Messiah, and which find fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. The disciples on the road to Emmaus knew the Scriptures, but until they compared them to the person of Jesus, they failed to connect the dots. Upon realizing the connection, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us when he talked with us on the road, and opened the Scriptures to us?”

If God Speaks and No One is Listening, Can They Still Hear Him?

As Hebrews 1:1 points out, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” It was ABOUT His Son that the Old Testament foretold. It is THROUGH His Son that God speaks today. What road are you on? Are you listening? And don’t just listen; while you are at it, connect the dots.

The Mysterious Traveling Companion

The road was long and weary; the disciples wondered why
Their hopes of liberty, along with Jesus, had to die…
A Rabbi joined their group and said, “This is no mystery!
The Scriptures all foretold exactly how this came to be!”
From Moses through the Prophets, he expounded as they walked,
Revealing truth about Messiah’s mission as they talked.
At dinner, they reflected on the things that he had said,
And he revealed himself to them as they were breaking bread.
They hadn’t known this stranger was their Master, undercover,
And realized the Scriptures now held much they could discover!
When he was gone, they went to tell their brothers what to do,
And how their hearts were burning as he told them what he knew.
You can hear the Scriptures too, and listen lots and lots;
But hear the word of God through Jesus: then, connect the dots.

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
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Consider the Marvelous Men: YOU Can Be Marvelous, Too!

Wanna Be Marvelous? It doesn’t always have to happen by the world’s standards, but it can happen nonetheless… Luke wrote about a couple of guys who prove that point: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 KJV)

marvelous

Have you ever been marveled at? In our culture, we think people are “marvelous” for all kinds of reasons, and most of those reasons are shallow and temporary. You wouldn’t think that a couple of grubby fishermen would be marvelous, but it happened…

Unlikely Candidates

Peter and John were fishermen by trade, and held no advanced theological degrees or education. By all rights they should have returned to Galilee after Jesus’ crucifixion and gone back to their vocation, finding good spots and hauling up nets full of fish. Yet within days of the crucifixion, they were in the religious and cultural center of Judea, way out of their depth both politically and socially. You might say that if they didn’t Just “fall off of no turnip truck”, it was because they rode it all the way into town!

They didn’t belong in the Temple anymore than a rube from the country belongs on the red carpet at the Academy Awards. Yet, in Jerusalem, they boldly proclaimed the gospel without fear or hesitation! Peter preached a sermon that rocked the Temple. Thousands of people responded to their message that Jesus was the Son of God.

The Sanhedrin, who were the religious leaders and seminary graduates, was alarmed by their success and took counsel about how to stop this surprising movement. Luke says that these learned religious power brokers marveled at the powerful preaching from “unlearned and ignorant men”. They thought Peter and John were, yes, marvelous.

marvelous

What made Peter and John so amazing? Their speech was rough and they spoke with Galilean accents that identified them as hicks from the sticks. What made them “marvelous” to the learned Rabbis of the day, who surely looked down upon these two raw preachers with an air of superiority and surprise? Peter and John hadn’t been to seminary, and they weren’t clergymen or trained experts in evangelism. They weren’t even Junior College graduates. They were unlearned and ignorant, yet they were changing the world. Their common denominator is one that YOU also share. Wanna be marvelous? Spend time with Jesus.

Marvelous Men

Peter and John had never been to college,
Yet they astounded people with their knowledge.
No seminary, no advanced degrees,
But they contended with the Pharisees.
The only thing about them folks could tell
Was that their Rabbi taught them really well;
They had no other formal education,
And fishing was their background and vocation,
But they were marvelous. As ignorant men,
Uneducated by the standards then,
They may have seemed to be a bit too rough,
But they had been with Jesus. That’s enough.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Testimonies Matter: Get the Whole Truth and Nothing But

In a court of law, we make decisions based on evidence and eyewitnesses. In fact, there are trials going on in America right now that will influence our elections and our democracy, so consider the power of testimonies. They matter. Last Year, there was an ongoing revival at Asbury College that was characterized by singing, praying, and yes, testimonies.

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

A Wide Selection to Choose From

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

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

testimonies

Can You Handle the Truth?

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

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

Testimonies: If the Only Thing Constant is Change

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

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

It’s The Difference-Maker

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

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

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

The Real Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pain Might Have a Purpose

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

pain

Think Back

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

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

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

PAIN: What is it Good For?

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

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

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

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

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

free

A Strange Message for Times of Turmoil

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

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

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

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

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

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

The More things Change…

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

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

The Best Things in Life Are Free

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

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

Isaiah’s Warning

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

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

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

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

A Call for Drastic Change

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

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

call from God
Falling Dominoes

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

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

Faith Can Be Reliable Even If It’s Blind

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

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

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

Answering a Call is More Than Just Answering

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

The Call

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

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

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

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

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

vanity Madonna

A Promising Start

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

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

Instead of Vanity, Fear…

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

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

Don’t Forget

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

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

Solomon’s Judgment

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

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

Pray As If Your Relationship With God Depends on It

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

The Lifeline

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

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

pray all night

This Happened a LOT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some God Advice

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

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

The Secret of Powerful Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That Was Then; This is Now

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

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

Cross Purposes

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

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

Tested and Approved

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

devil evil
evil legalism kills

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

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

Hindsight is 2020 in 2024

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

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