Being Thankful can Run Full Circle: Be Thanks Full as well!

Really, EVERY Day is Thanksgiving

There’s a difference between “Thankful” and “Thank-full-ness”… Today is a great day to reflect on what you are thankful for, but it is even more than that.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1 NIV) You’ll notice that this verse from the Psalms is exactly like the verse from Chronicles in yesterday’s devotion. Being thankful for God’s goodness was a regular part of worshipping Him.

thankful

The Bible is full of reasons to be thankful, and David King of Israel expressed it simply but eloquently in his songs of praise to God.  2 Chronicles 5:13 says, “The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang: “He is good; his love endures forever.”

David used this verse over and over in the Psalms when singing praises, when he was leading worship, and to commemorate important events. (It also appears in Psalm 106, 107, 118, and 136.) Being thankful for God’s goodness and love was a major part of his life, and a major theme in his praises. He probably hummed this song while shaving or when he was walking to work in the morning.

The Holiday that Shouldn’t End

During the Thanksgiving holiday week, we’ve probably taken a break to give thanks, and after today, our lives will get back to normal (well, as normal as today’s circumstances allow…). There is shopping to do and there are Christmas decorations to put out. Black Friday has become a wildly commercial U-turn after Thanksgiving, but I’m hoping that perhaps this year we will tap the brakes on being in crowded stores and fighting other shoppers for parking spaces at 6:00 am. Based on the ads I’ve seen, retailers are scaling WAY back on Black Friday deals, so maybe there’s more reason to focus on other things…

But TODAY, as we turkey and time together, and as homes experience the joy and busy-ness of family gatherings, remember this: EVERY day is Thanksgiving Day. Even though no one will probably ask you for another year, “What are you thankful for?” it’s still a good question to ask. (Much better than “what’s in your wallet?”—don’t you think?).

Keep Celebrating

Be a little bit thankful every day. God gives us much to be thankful for because it emanates from His character. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father! He actually delights in giving to His children more than we do!

Jesus said in Matthew 7:11 “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Perhaps as you read that, you are thinking about all the gifts you have been given, and you are indeed grateful for all of your blessings.

thankful

A Twist on Being Thankful

If that’s so, then here’s a little twist to think about as you reflect on what you are thankful for: What are other people thankful for about YOU? Are they thankful for your generosity, your patience, or your joy? Have you given someone ELSE a reason to give thanks this week? Be not only thankful; be thanked-full as well. Happy thankfulness-giving, everybody!

Thankfulness is Not Just Something You Have

One special day each year we pause and offer up our thanks
For all the blessings that we have, both in and out of banks.
We’re thankful for the blessings and the love that we’ve received,
And grateful for the grace bestowed on all who have believed.
And while your saying ‘thank you’ is the proper thing to do,
I wonder, is there someone saying, “Thank You, God!” for 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

Testimonies Matter: the Whole Truth and Nothing But

Half or Whole?

Whether you know it or not, you are surrounded by testimonies. 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; 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

Good Is the Enemy of Great: The Man Who Liked His Stuff

A Hard Choice

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:17-21, NIV)

good vs great

Common Observations

There are several subtle things about Mark’s portrayal of this man’s encounter with Jesus that make it my favorite. Each of the three synoptic gospels offers the same story but include slightly different details. (Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels, which means they were “seen with the same eyes”). Scholars agree that they used common source material, or were perhaps aware of whichever gospel was written first (most think it was probably Mark) and borrowed from it to reach their own intended audience.

In this story, all agree that this good man had great wealth. He approached Jesus sincerely asking about what he needed to inherit eternal life, and yet he went away disappointed. Matthew 19:20 notes that the man was young; Luke 18:18 identifies him as a ruler. Only by combining these details are we informed that this is the story of “the rich young ruler,” perhaps one of the best known stories about Jesus during his ministry.

The Details That Tell the Story

A few observations taken from Mark’s account: 1) The man ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees. There was a sense of urgency about his quest, and he exhibited humility in front of Jesus. Is there anything in your life that should prompt the same type of approach? Should you have a sense of urgency about taking a question to the Master, or hearing his response? Should you humble yourself before him?

2) He called Jesus good, and Jesus challenged him to evaluate where goodness came from, reminding him that God alone is good and that accepting his compliment was tantamount to accepting equal status with the Almighty. All goodness springs from the character of God, and while Jesus did not deny the truth of the man’s declaration, he did point out exactly WHY he could be considered good.

Horizontal Versus Vertical

3) Jesus lists the “horizontal” commandments—the ones dealing with other men—and omits ONE. It’s interesting, because the one he omits is “Thou shalt not covet”, which happens to be precisely where this man’s heart issue lies. When the man answers, he is portrayed as honest and sincere, but perhaps he noticed what Christ omitted and could see what was coming next… It is said that good is the worst enemy of best. It is when we can justify settling for what we already have that we lose motivation to do better. Do we sometimes settle for how things are when greater possibilities are just beyond us? This young man had a chance to be great. He settled for possessions instead.

This man appeared to be successful, and his actions seem to indicate a spiritual hunger, an attempt to please God. But appearances can be deceiving, and he had a flaw that was about to be recorded for all time. Before you feel too smug about this ruler’s weakness, what commandment do you think Jesus might have omitted if he was talking to YOU?

Would it have been coveting, or murder, or adultery, or lying, or committing fraud, or disrespecting your parents? No matter how moral we act, and no matter how good we have been, there is always a place or two where we are vulnerable. There are always a couple of secret sins we are willing to put ahead of God on our priority list. What is your weakness? What do you love more than God?

That Look

4) “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Jesus didn’t look at him in judgment, and he didn’t look down his nose at him in self-righteous condemnation, but he offered him a heartfelt invitation in sincere love. That’s a telling part of the story because it applied to Jesus then, and it applies to him today. In the midst of our sin, Jesus looks at us exactly the same way.

Wealth Versus Wealth

5) When Jesus invited the man to follow him, Mark says, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” If you are an American Christian, you are at least close to being in the same position. Compared to the rest of the world, you have great wealth. According to the New York Times, “the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.” Each of us who is fortunate enough to have the kind of stuff we take for granted in this country should ask ourselves, truly, do I love God more than I love my stuff?

In the rich young ruler’s case, “he went away sad because he had great wealth.” For him, the good life was his primary obstacle to the great life. Don’t be that guy. Think carefully about what you have and what you COULD have; and go away happy instead of sad.

That First Step, Though…

All possessions, all your stuff
Will never ever be enough
To fill the place inside of you
That asks “Oh Lord, what must I do?”
Jesus looks into your eyes,
And pauses before he replies:
“There’s only one thing that you lack,
One thing that you are holding back;
If you will give that thing to me,
My child, then I will set you free.”

You hear the love in Jesus’ voice.
You realize you have a choice
To measure treasure differently–
On earth, or in eternity.
For just a moment, time stands still;
It’s time to exercise your will:
What choices will you make today?
How will you feel when you walk away?
It’s time to speak. 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
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

Consider This: The Best Arguments Have No Words…

“For consider him [Jesus] that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Hebrews 12:3 KJV) The uniqueness of Jesus is often overlooked, believe it or not. His parables and teachings have a timeless quality, and have been woven into the common wisdom of many of the world’s cultures.

Most people credit Jesus with being a prophet or a great teacher, apparently without knowing anything else about him. But when you truly consider what he said and taught about God’s love, he is unique among all the rabbis, teachers, and wise men who ever lived. The writer of Hebrews touches upon it here.

Only two Groups

Two things about him stand out in this verse. First, there are only two groups mentioned here: 1) sinners; and 2) Jesus. He is not listed with the sinners, but he is in a different category, listed as the one who endured their contradictions against himself. He stands apart from sin, the man who broke no law. Consider our leadership today and even those who lived in all past generations. Can you think of another public figure from history that meets this criteria? Who even comes close?

It’s not just the writer of Hebrews who makes this assertion. Jesus’ best friend, John, makes it too! So did the men who followed him: Peter, Matthew, Mark and Luke. So did a Jewish zealot named Saul, who began his career by persecuting Jesus’ followers. The fact that everyone close to Jesus claimed that he was sinless is pretty unique, and sets Jesus apart from, well… everyone.

consider leaders

A Ludicrous Claim?

Would my wife or any of my close friends claim I was sinless? (Quit laughing!) How about yours? Would they say YOU are sinless? (Ha! Who’s laughing now?) And yet men who were around Jesus every day for years comment upon his behavior in ways that haven’t applied to any other man or woman. In fact, they COULDN’T apply. But consider this: In 1 Peter 2:22 Peter says of Jesus, “He committed no sin”.

John says  “In him [Jesus] was no sin.” (1 John 3:5)

Paul, who originally persecuted followers of Jesus as heretics, says this about him in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “He knew no sin.”

Even the man who sentenced him to death (Pontius Pilate) said, “I find no fault in Him”. The fact that eyewitnesses, friends and even enemies claim he was sinless make Jesus very unique indeed.

consider Christ

Consider This

Second, there is power in his being an example. The writer of Hebrews says, “Consider him.” The motivational power of a good example is huge in life, and it’s natural that we think about Jesus’ life and find encouragement when times are tough, “lest we be wearied and faint in our minds”. Are you stressed? Can the world be rude and uncaring at times? Don’t you hate driving with all of those careless, distracted, selfish people on the road? Then, “Consider him”.

Consider the man who blessed the children, healed the sick and caused the lame to walk. Think about him, who spoke wisdom and taught us that we should love one another. Consider him who bore the cross to Calvary, “lest you be wearied and faint in your mind”. Does anybody dispute that if you meditate and reflect upon the example and teachings of Jesus Christ, it will make you a better person? Who in this world can disparage his life and teachings, or the example that he set? After all, he gave his very life so that we might live.

Follow His Example; BE an Example

But don’t forget that being an example creates a legacy and a standard for followers to live up to. Jesus said, “As I have loved you, you should also love one another.” He used himself as an example of how to love! And then he told us to do it ourselves! Not only did he present himself as our example, he challenged us to BE one as well. So here’s the question: What are you doing that’s exemplary? And who might be watching you, encouraged by your persistence, your habits, and your attitude? Consider them, too.

Consider Him

The greatest sermon ever heard
Had no alliteration;
You didn’t hear a single word
Of grand pontification.
There weren’t three points, a poem, a prayer–
Perhaps some teaching here and there,
But this: a life of love to share,
A cross that He alone could bear,
A servant’s heart beyond compare
Who counted the cost, who saved the lost,
Who stills the storms for the tempest-tossed,
And lived without a sin or vice to be a perfect sacrifice;
He gave himself so we could be secured:
Consider Christ, and all that He endured…

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

Which Way is Right? Don’t all Paths Lead to the Same Place?

What’s Right?

In college I had a bumper sticker that was an index finger pointing upwards that said, “One Way”. Today, many people would dispute that claim as preposterous! Is there only one way to heaven? Do Christians have any right to be exclusive about heaven? The Bible says this: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, KJV) This is a singular statement that was made to explain a radical event.

one way

Actions Speak Louder

In Acts 3 Peter and John healed a beggar who had been lame from birth, telling him in words that have been memorialized in a well-known children’s song, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” The Sanhedrin (whom Peter addressed as the “rulers of the people and elders of Israel”) arrested them and held them overnight. Then they questioned Peter about how they had healed this man.

He said (vv 9-10), “If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” Peter then concluded that salvation could also only occur through Jesus.

The Reality Argument

Now, if Peter’s statement was just the ranting of a religious zealot, the Sanhedrin could have dismissed him; but since the man who had been healed was standing by and watching the proceedings, they didn’t know what to do. So, they held a private council. (Acts 3:16-17)

“What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” Of course Peter and John refused to do such a thing. Luke says, “After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.”

Testimony counts

Three things: 1) What have you seen God do in your life that you cannot help but speak of it? Don’t give in to social pressure, don’t hesitate because you might feel too pushy. Talk freely about what God has done for you. Your perspective is legitimate testimony about who God is, and how He has impacted your life. Testify!

2) Giving financially is good thing; but don’t ever let silver and gold take the place of personal ministry. When you let God work through you, it will bless others, and it will bless you. And to contradict Jerry Maguire, it has nothing to do with money. Show me the LOVE and you can show me the WAY.

He’s Hard to Discount or Dismiss

3) There is no other way to salvation other than Jesus. He either is the real deal or He isn’t. Let that sink in for a minute. The world around you will try to bend that truth, water it down, and replace it with possibilities that seem more inclusive and less restrictive. In our current climate of cultural and intellectual relativism, we are being told that whatever you feel or believe is ok, as long as it works for you. I think that’s a great philosophy as long as you can ignore the person and work of Jesus Christ; but if he was real, and if what he taught was true, there is no other way.

which way

The world will offer substitute salvation through doing good, following a charismatic or powerful leader, attaining Nirvana, obeying the law, or achieving spiritual enlightenment. All of those approaches have some merit, but none of them provide salvation. They are cheap imitations of the real thing. Am I being narrow-minded by rejecting those other beliefs? Yes.

The Need For Narrow-Mindedness

If you were honest, you’d admit that sometimes you HAVE to be narrow. You can’t just ignore traffic laws and remain safe while driving. Yes, the laws restrict you from racing through red lights or driving the wrong way onto the freeway, but they are designed to keep everyone safer on the road. It is only by giving up your freedom to drive however you want to that you can drive safely. Go the wrong way down a one-way entrance ramp, and you can get yourself killed! One way is safer.

If you were dying from a tumor that required a delicate and life-threatening operation, would you prefer a surgeon who said, “Oh, there are lots of ways we can treat your symptoms, and we can perform a number of medical procedures on you that will be good for you. They all provide help, and really they all end up at the same place.”

Or do you want a surgeon who says, “We have located the problem and I am going to perform surgery to remove it. Now, we have to exclude all of these other treatments because, while they might provide some benefit, we have to address this life-threatening disease in a radical way.” Being narrow-minded is a good thing when there is adequate proof to exclude other alternatives.

Evaluate the Evidence

4) The Sanhedrin had proof standing right before their very eyes, but were blinded by their own assumptions and positions of power. Don’t be that guy. These other alternatives have various ways they sell their solutions, but only Christianity has Jesus, Grace, and the Son of God’s substitutional sacrifice on our behalf. If someone can come up with something better than Jesus, I’ll follow it. But the more I know him, the more I know he was right when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” One Jesus. One way.

A Personal Account

I was the guy who sat and begged
With shriveled, useless twisted legs,
Hoping passers-by would see
And throw a coin or two at me...
But Peter stopped amidst the crowd
And turned to me, and said real loud,
With words that boomed out big and bold:
"I have no silver coin, nor gold,
And nothing from the world of men,
But this: Rise up and walk again!

The power of God has been revealed;
In the name of Jesus Christ, be healed!"
And thus this fisherman proclaimed, 
That I, who had from birth been lame,
Can stand before you and avow
That I am proudly walking now!
The leaders told them once or twice 
To stop proclaiming Jesus Christ,
Because it caused them an affront.
But they would not; I hope they don't!
And As for me, I know I won't.

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

Do You Want to Know What Heaven is Really Like? Then Read This

Where Everybody Wants to Go

Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody really knows what it’s going to be like. If you do the math, only one person has ever been qualified to talk about what it will be like because he came from there. His teachings abound with references to heaven, and they are not about harps, angels, and streets of gold. In fact, most of them–like this one–should make us scratch our heads and think:

What It’s Really Like

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.” (Matthew 25:14-19 NKJV)

So, Where is Heaven, Anyway?

What on earth did Jesus mean about heaven?
In these verses, as He often does in the book of Matthew, Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven. It was a major theme in his preaching (see the Beatitudes, and read through his parables), and is certainly highlighted in Matthew, where Jesus used the phrase more than 50 times. Some scholars think that “heaven” is actually interchangeable with “God”, but that Jewish sensitivity to using God’s name prevented Jesus from using it unnecessarily. Since Jesus did occasionally use the phrase “kingdom of God”, I think when he says the Kingdom of Heaven, he is pointing us to something specific.

The Only Eye Witness

Consider this: of all the people who ever lived, Jesus alone is qualified to make distinctions about heaven. In all of history, He’s the ONLY man who ever lived who had been there BEFORE he came to earth. His Father lived there, and even while on earth, Jesus spent time with him every day. And when Jesus tells us about the kingdom of heaven, he is talking about a real place with a real King, and he is reminding us that we are subjects in that kingdom. So, what does that mean?

In this somewhat unusual story, Jesus describes how subjects of the king are given talents and expected to invest them wisely. Wait, what?! Does that mean heaven is all about investments, banking, and ROI? What will it be like to live in God’s kingdom? What observations can we make from this passage?

When Does it Start?

First, it appears that our citizenship in heaven begins here and now. Second, there is accountability in the kingdom; and third, all of the citizens of heaven are given assets to be accountable FOR. As you reflect on your daily activities, what resources have you been given? Would you say that you are bearing fruit? Are you creating a profitable return?

heaven investment

Your Journey Has Already Started

In terms of heaven, how do we apply this story? I think a good way to start is to understand the benefits and responsibilities of living in the Kingdom. Retell this story to yourself by putting God in the place of the man who was traveling, and your own name in place of the servants. “The kingdom of heaven is like the Lord, who called ____________ (YOUR NAME HERE) and gave talents to you, according to your ability. After a long time, God came and settled your account.”

So, what talent(s) do you think the king given has given you? And what have you done with them? Have they been used profitably? Being a good subject means that you can’t hide your talents. What are you doing with them? Someday you will settle accounts with the one who gave them to you: invest them wisely.

Invest Wisely

Heaven Starts Here

Thoughts of heaven may inspire a throne that burns with Holy Fire,
Or angels sitting on a cloud and singing songs of praise real loud.
But Jesus knew of heaven’s ways–
He’s the Alpha-Omega, the Ancient of days–
He spoke of a king that none could denounce,
Who will look at our books and will settle accounts.
He will show us our talents and tell us our story,
Asking if we used our gifts for His glory;
And we will be utterly chastened to find
That we wasted our talents and gifts, and our time…

He’s the King we are serving, we don’t have to wait
‘Til we’re standing in front of the heavenly gate!
The Kingdom of Heaven begins here, today:
Don’t take all your talents and hide them away,
But put them to work for the King and his Son;
When He settles accounts, He will tell you, “Well done.”

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 World Changes Fast, But Remember This: Grace Doesn’t

Rapid Change

Stop and think for a moment about all the changes you’ve seen just in the last couple of years… From Covid 19 to natural disasters, the last several months have contributed to already dizzying change. Or, back up and take an even longer view of the changes that have happened in the last fifty years, to when the world had no cell phones or personal computers. Everything changes so rapidly it is hard to keep up!

Well, the Bible has a take on change: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10, NIV)

You Think it’s Fast Now, Just Wait…

The world is changing all around us at a pace unequalled in human history. Each generation likes to talk about “the good old days”, when things were simpler and life was less stressful and less complex. But no generation has ever witnessed the changes and the rate of change that we have experienced over the last 50 years, which shows no sign of slowing down; if anything, it seems to be accelerating.

changes happen fast

The flow of information has accelerated exponentially, and you are exposed to more messages (both good and bad, true and false) in a WEEK than the average person 50 years ago received in a lifetime. Today there are over 100 billion Google searches every month. In 2006, there were only 2.7 billion. In 1992 there were a million internet devices. Today there are more than FIFTEEN billion (and growing). To put it in Isaiah’s words, changes are “shaking the mountains”.

More Than the Amount That You Can Count

Opinions, discoveries, and facts are flying at us at a rate faster than we have the ability to process. The amount of new technical data is said to be doubling every two years, which means that a 4 year technical college student will find that what she learned her freshman year is out of date by the time she is a junior. The amount of new information generated in 2015 alone (and this is ancient history by now) surpassed the total amount of annual new information generated (combined) over the last FIVE THOUSAND years.

changes phone

Change for the Better?

We are a generation immersed in changes, forced to do things in new ways while leaving traditional values behind. One in five couples who gets married in America today met on the internet. Gender is now considered a choice. The average employee will have held 10 jobs by the time they are 38. Our world has been shaken by continuous, rapid change. Social gatherings consist of people getting together to sit separately and look at their phones. Electronic connection has overtaken the personal touch in our world, and it makes you wonder if the best things in life are still free.

The Comfort of Constancy

Isaiah says that there is a constant in the midst of a changing world. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.” Love and peace are still the two things everybody wants, and the two things sometimes hardest to find. Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” While the mountains are shaken and the hills are removed, God’s unfailing love surrounds and supports us. “The Lord”, Isaiah says, “has compassion on you.” God’s love offers us peace in the midst of turmoil and consistency in the midst of change.

Today’s message is simple and it is clear: The world changes. Grace doesn’t.

Unchanging

In cities, or on the open range
The only constant thing is change.
People, Data, growth, disaster
Fly around us ever faster,
Causing things to rearrange:
But don’t worry, that will change.
You can’t run, and you can’t hide,
No matter what you’ve done, or tried
The changes come at us so fast
It seems like nothing good will last!
Blast these changes! So infernal,
Is there nothing that’s eternal?
In a world of speed and sham,
There’s always him: the Great I AM.
Change will fly through time and space,
Moving at a faster pace,
And mountain tops will be replaced,
But this abides: Amazing Grace.

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 Law Versus Grace: And The Apologist, Accepted

The Reason for the Law

According to the dictionary, an apologist is “one who defends or supports something, such as a religion.” Saul of Tarsus zealously pursued righteousness through keeping the law until he fully discovered God’s reason for law and purpose for grace… “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21, NKJV)

A Self-Righteous Man

Saul, a Pharisee from Tarsus, was a man striving to do the right thing. Saul obeyed the statutes to the letter, and he prosecuted blasphemers to its fullest extent. He was a brilliant, passionate man who feared God and wanted to do what pleased Him. He was confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), and had perhaps one of the most significant conversions to Christianity in history.

law conversion

A Dramatic Turnaround

His sight was taken from him for three days, and I am sure he came to grips with his own spiritual blindness as he waited for God to tell him what to do next. As a powerful Pharisee, he originally saw the law as a means to earn God’s favor. But as a sightless pilgrim, he grasped the concept of grace, and he came to understand that the law’s purpose was not to save, but only to condemn.

law condemns

In Romans 3:20 he said “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” In Romans 4:15 he said “the law brings wrath.” Religion that is built upon law will always fail for two reasons:

  1. First, the law exists only to demonstrate that men will fall short of its standards and face the wrath of a righteous God; and

2) Second, all men (not just some) will fall short of its standards.

Zealous FOR, then Zealous Against

The Apostle Paul (as Saul is known to us) knew that the law hates sinners, and he called himself the “chief of sinners”. Paul and all of us sinners were doomed under the law’s rigid standards. When Saul encountered Jesus, he stood before Christ not as a righteous Pharisee or even as a good man, but as a sinner. So it is with all of us. Often one of the biggest obstacles we have in discovering God is our own sense of righteousness.

Don’t ever let doing good take the place of discovering Grace. Paul says that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. He had experience as a righteous Pharisee and as a piteous sinner, and he discovered that grace could change a life forever. If, like me, you are a sinner who has done wicked and dishonest things, who has failed the legal requirements in so many respects, that is amazingly good news! Whatever your sins, whatever you have done to break the law, Grace is greater.

The Convert

Saul of Tarsus, on that night,
When you were blinded by the light,
What did you see? What did you find
That changed your heart and changed your mind?
What caused your ruthless heart to thaw,
To see the hopelessness of law?
Was it the look on Jesus’ face
That turned you towards amazing grace?
Was it in blindness that you found
That Grace could more than sin abound?
Where legalism failed to heal,
Your righteousness from Grace was real!
When you were blinded, you could see
God’s love in perfect clarity,
And wrote so that the mystery
Of Grace–that fell on you—could fall on me.

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

Worship Might Just Be Better Than a Trip to Walley World

Thankful Praise

How often do you experience the thrill of true worship? In the Psalms there were references to anticipation, joy, and gratitude: “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endures to all generations.” (Psalms 100:4-5 KJV)

The 100th Psalm was probably part of the liturgy in the temple at Jerusalem, something familiar to all who worshipped there. Also, as people made their pilgrimage from surrounding towns to worship in Jerusalem, they sang or chanted Psalms 119-133, which are called the “Song of Ascents” or “Songs of Steps” because they were walking uphill towards the Holy city, anticipating the things they would experience there.
Today, those kinds of behavior–road trips, music, and joyous anticipation are reserved more for athletic events, or maybe the Griswold’s excitement about going to Walley World…

worship walley world

More Than Even a Spectator Sport

To make a true comparison, picture how excited sports fans or families planning their Disney World extravaganza can get. Well, the pilgrims’ anticipation sung about here in the Psalms would have been even greater than the Griswold’s! If you have ever looked forward to a vacation, or planned a journey, then you know they were thinking about things they would see, points of interest, good things to eat, and new experiences. But there was an added dimension as well: these pilgrims were also thinking about worship.

They were going to the temple to worship Almighty God, and experience the hustle and bustle of the temple courts, the sights and sounds of sacrifice, the songs of other pilgrims, and the mystery and pageantry of the Levites performing their office. For those pilgrims, it was memorable, perhaps the experience of a lifetime. That is why they could say that they entered the gates with thanksgiving, and came into God’s courts with praise!

True Communion

They would affirm in that worship everything they believed, and they would experience a depth of communion with the Lord that would stay with them in their daily lives from that moment on. Can you think of any worship experience that has done that for you? Are there moments of reverence or communion that sit as touchstones in your heart, reminders of what true worship is?

In most temple services, they would sing this Psalm, a hymn of thanksgiving. As they sang about being thankful, they were reminded of God’s goodness. They would bless his name. They would recall His mercy, and they would reflect upon His truth. I bet in days following, perhaps on the trip home, they would hum this song and remember all that God had done for them…

Raise Your Expectations

How often do we just go to church, ho-hum, without any anticipation or expectations? Have you ever thought about actually getting ready for your next worship experience? What are you thankful for today? Are you basking in the Lord’s mercy? Does His truth mean something to you? What song is in your heart? “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endures to all generations.” That included the pilgrims. It includes OUR generation as well. Take a moment now and anticipate your next opportunity to worship, and give thanks! Enter into His courts with praise!

A Glad Song

Enter His courts with gladness; come into His house with praise!
Worship the Lord with all your heart and walk in all of His ways.
Sing to the Lord a new song; shout, and lift your voice!
Exalt the Lord and His Holy name, and let your heart rejoice!
His mercy is everlasting; His word is alive and true;
The Lord of hosts has come to redeem all things and make them new!
Worship the Lord with gladness, and enter His gates with praise:
Humble yourself before the Lord, and follow Him all of your days.

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

Doing Good: The Best Way to Silence all of Your Critics

A Surprisingly Simple Definition of God’s Will

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good * you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (I Peter 2:15, NKJV) I think sometimes that Christianity is losing the debate out there… Our world seems to be changing around us, and when Christians try to stand for conservative values and sensible morality, they are dismissed as oppressive or old-fashioned, held up to ridicule, and even arrested.

Opposites Don’t Attract

Our culture believes that killing a fetus is ok, that it is reasonable to change genders, and that authority should be challenged. Truth is subjective, innuendo is reported as fact, and the resulting confusion creates a nation filled with polar opposites. Social media is filled with debates where it is obvious that one side will not convince the other, and harsh words fly back and forth without affecting anyone who holds the opposing point of view (Except perhaps to make them more angry and more entrenched in their unreasonable position.)

Dialog has ceased in favor of diatribe; interaction has deteriorated into insults and invective. Personal attacks seem to be common whether the subject is abortion, gay marriage, politics, or race. Ironically, Christians are cast as haters when they follow the Messiah who taught about love. Maybe you’ve been drawn into a Facebook or Twitter argument, and were surprised at the passion and hatred that was thrown your way. Did it change your mind about anything? Probably not.

Debates Aren’t Working Anymore

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that no one has ever been forcibly argued into the Kingdom of God. It is a volunteer organization. Anyone can join, and everyone has a choice. If you think about it, wouldn’t everybody want to join a group whose main values are grace, love, and peace? So, why are churches shrinking? Why are so many people turned off by organized religion? Why is the vocal minority expanding, claiming huge chunks of Kingdom territory for its own, and why are millennial’s leaving the church? Could it be that “ignorant men” are winning the debate because the people the Church is trying to reach are not being overwhelmed by goodness?

doing good

So, What Then?

It is not a Christian’s mission to be moral or righteous; God gives us righteousness by faith. Peter says that God’s will is for us to do good things. Could it be that too many Christians are concerned with BEING good instead of DOING good? It could open up an existential debate. Descartes and Kant said, “To do is to be”. Socrates and Nietzsche said, “To be is to do.” Does what we believe show who we are, or does who we are show what we believe?

Jesus knew that what we do is a reflection of who we are, and so he said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” (Matthew 12:35) He agreed with the great modern philosopher Frank Sinatra, who said “Do-Be-do-Be-do.”

do good

The Best Argument

A quote I remember from college is what Peter Lord said: “What you REALLY believe shows in your life every day. All the rest is just Christian talk.” Another platitude was, “Folks don’t care how much you KNOW, until they know how much you CARE.” Making an astute observation about human behavior, Mark Twain said, “Always do the right thing. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest”. As a vocal critic of hypocrisy in the church, he knew that even religion didn’t necessarily guarantee right actions.

The point is, we Christians will not silence ignorance by our crafty arguments or by being “holier-than-thou”. Peter says we will share our faith with those who disagree most effectively by doing good to others. And if you think, “Well, I do lots of good things, so I’m covered”, then consider the twist James puts on it: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) Voltaire echoed that verse when he said, “Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.” Have you done good things? Good! Is there more we can do? Absolutely. Let’s get out there and argue with our good works. Change the debate and change the world.

Doing Your Argument Well

When other people see your life, assume that this is true:
They do not listen to your words, but to the things you DO.
The world is full of ignorant men who argue night and day;
The church will never reach them merely by the things we SAY.
St Frances preached perhaps the greatest sermon ever heard:
“I preach Christ always; but, when necessary I use words.”
Less debate, less judgment and less hate should be unfurled:
Change debate to love, and then go out and change the world.

*(And to all your grammarians out there, yes I know that technically it should be “do well” or “do good [things]”, and not “do good”, so just assume that where I have said, “do good” I am actually inferring the correct form. I was conforming with the King James version in writing this.)

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

Redemption: What Did it Actually Cost? Are You Worth It?

Redemption? Me?

The definition of redemption is “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” If you hocked an electric guitar or a watch to a pawn shop in exchange for a loan, then you can’t have it or use it anymore until you REDEEM it by paying back the loan. In the cosmic scheme of things, we have been kidnapped by sin and held for ransom, and we are in need of redemption. The Bible puts it like this:

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:7-10, NIV)

Bought Back

If you read these verses, this is a pretty good list. Paul says not only are we redeemed and forgiven, but that God has lavished grace upon us and revealed to us the mystery of his will. Those are all amazing things to think about, and all of them are connected to Christ’s sacrifice for us. Paul maintains that it is through the death of Jesus that we are forgiven, given grace, and brought into God’s family under Christ’s leadership. Stop and think for a minute about the first thing on the list, redemption. As Christians, we have been redeemed, and I bet we haven’t spent five minutes thinking about how important that is.

There are two things about redemption that stand out to me. The definition of redemption is “the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment, or clearing a debt.” If you traded your wedding ring or smart phone to a pawn shop in exchange for a loan, then you can’t have it or use it anymore until you REDEEM it by paying back the loan. In ancient times, prisoners taken in war would be held captive until someone paid a price for them and bought them back from slavery. They had to be REDEEMED by someone who loved them enough to buy them back.

Cosmic Redemption

The whole process is linked to something (or someone) being held as collateral for a price. In your case, YOU were taken hostage by Death, and only God cared enough to redeem you from Death’s captivity by paying its price. Sin and the Fall forced everyone in this world into captivity to Death; only by being redeemed can we escape Death’s penalty and experience a different quantity and quality of life. Being released from Death is awesome, but there is a second and more subtle result of redemption.

redemption
16 Aug 1957 — 8/16/1957-Levittown, Long Island, NY- Loaded down with premiums, a happy mother and daughter leave the King Korn Redemption Center (at 2841, Hempstead Turnpike) in Levittown, Long Island, NY, after exchanging their trading stamps for a variety of goods. Stamp savers can walk out of these stores with anything from baseballs to electric broilers. The firm has found that the average family fills one stamps-saver book of 1500 stamps a month. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Redeemed for What?

When I was little, my mom would get S & H Green stamps at the grocery store and paste them in a book. When she had enough books, we’d go to the redemption center, which was like a store full of things that you could buy with your stamps. There were things like toasters, lamps, and hair-dryers you could get for a few books of stamps; and there were washing machines, refrigerators and furniture for LOTS of books. But the merchandise would sit there, unclaimed and unused until someone wanted it and redeemed it.

Those toasters never toasted, the washers never washed, and the merchandise never fulfilled its purpose as long as it remained unredeemed. It sat there in the store just waiting for someone to claim it, take it home and use it. You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? WE were like that. We had been put on the shelf by death, set aside as unwanted and unclaimed. But God loved us enough to pay the price for us! He redeemed us! So here’s the question: now that you’ve been redeemed, have you been put to use? Are you glad that someone paid for you?

redemption Private Ryan

Justifying the Cost

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan” a platoon is sent across war-torn France to find the last survivor from among the four Ryan brothers who were killed serving in World War II. The War Department had a policy that was designed to keep a family from losing its last surviving son, so men were dispatched to located him and extract him from the field of battle. Ultimately he is found and rescued, but there is a great cost.

Later on, long after the war he visits the Normandy grave of the team leader who helped to save his own life, and reflects on D-Day and the horrible things men experienced in combat (things he himself went through). Team Leader John H. Miller was played by Tom Hanks, and most of his team was killed finding and saving Private James Francis Ryan.

There is a pivotal moment near the end of the film between Miller and Ryan. As he lay wounded amidst the ruins of battle, Miller wearily looks around at the sacrifices made on Ryan’s behalf, looks him in the eye and exhorts him to “Earn this!” Those are Miller’s last words, and they stay with James Francis Ryan the rest of his life.

Lasting Impact

The movie begins and ends at a cemetery in Normandy, where the older James Francis Ryan visits Miller’s grave as Ryan’s wife, children and grandchildren look on. In a very touching scene, while his family waits in the background, Ryan speaks to the grave, and affirms that he has tried to live up to Miller’s exhortation. In tears, he asks his somewhat confused wife, who has come up beside him, “Have I lived a good life? Have I been a good man?” He seeks affirmation that he was worthy of the sacrifice made for him.

Perhaps that is something all of us should do as we pray from time to time. Since Christ redeemed us, we don’t have to EARN it, but we can express it: “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) We can’t work our way into redemption, but perhaps, having been redeemed, we should remember the price, and strive to be WORTHY of it.

Redemption

Back when I was little, and my mom would save some stamps,
She’d take them down to S & H for toasters, or for lamps.
We’d go to the Redemption Store, where there was lots of stuff,
And you could buy a couch with stamps if you had saved enough!

Saving Private Ryan tells about the brutal cost
That’s paid to find John Francis Ryan, whose brothers had been lost;
The team who finds him has to fight their way through hell on earth,
And they exhort him to remember what his life is worth,
Reminding him of efforts made for him–that lives were lost–
Exhorting him to live his life remembering the cost…

If you’ve ever been redeemed, whatever you may do,
Do you ever count the cost of what God did for you?
If you ever think of Christ, it might just make you weep
To know redemption might be free, but it was never cheap…

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

Amazing Promises You Should Know. Promises You Should Claim!

A Bold Statement

“And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” (2 Peter 1:4, NIV)

promises

How long has it been since you explored the promises of God? According to BibleInfo.com, someone has counted 3573 promises in the Bible. Bible Gateway.com lists 127 uses of the word promise in the NKJV. How many of them do you know? How many have you claimed?

Which Promises Apply to Us?

According to Peter, God has given us “great and precious” promises that enable us to share in his divine nature. What promises do you think Peter had in mind when he wrote this? Was he thinking of God’s promises to Noah, Abram, Moses, and David? As Christians, those promises extend to us, and God’s covenant with them is also His new covenant with us. Are you familiar with the terms and promises of the covenant? They are part of God’s precious promises to YOU.

Why Would Peter Say That?

Peter would have been familiar with the law and the prophets; and he would have certainly been familiar with the teachings of Jesus. (You remember, Peter’s best friend, Rabbi, mentor, hero, redeemer…) Maybe he was thinking of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Certainly Peter had promises in mind as he wrote this letter.

He may have been thinking of Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Or, Peter may have been reflecting on Pentecost and thinking of what Jesus said in John 16:7: “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” God has made many promises…

Peace? Have You Seen the Headlines?

Obviously, those precious promises applied to Peter. He you stopped to think that they also apply to YOU? Do you know them? Have you claimed them? Perhaps he thought of God’s ability to provide peace in a violent world: Isaiah 26:3 says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is fixed upon Thee; because he trusts in Thee.” Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27). Are you peaceful? Do you believe God’s promises enough to find peace when circumstances dictate otherwise?

One Man’s Story

God’s word offers more than promises about peace; it offers ways to deal with success and failure. Peter, who was a passionate and impetuous man, experienced extreme highs and lows in his relationship with Jesus. In the same chapter when Jesus promised him the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16), Jesus also rebuked him as worldly, calling him “Satan”.

Peter was willing to take up a sword to defend Jesus and yet denied him on the same night. Peter the leader became Peter the loser; and Peter the disciple became Peter the denier. After he refused to identify with his Lord, the three synoptic gospels record that Peter “wept bitterly”–not the kind of response you’d expect from a man who was tuned in to God’s promises…

The Fisherman, Restored

John recorded the way Peter was restored by Jesus by the Sea of Galilee (John 21), but he also took note of what Jesus said in verses 18-19: “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.”

Peter the Overcomer

Circumstances were not always going to be easy for Peter, but I bet he claimed God’s great and precious promises to the very end, and I bet he thought of something else written by his good friend John, the most important promise of all:
“And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life.” (1 John 2:25, NKJV) It’s a pretty good promise, and John says it belongs not just to Peter, but to us! Know it. Claim it.

A Fisherman’s Tale

Peter made the brashest boast, then failed the man he loved the most;
There in the courtyard, he denied his friend and had to run and hide,
A broken man who could not keep his promise, and it made him weep.
But later Peter was restored to service by the Risen Lord:
So Peter preached at Pentecost to thousands who had once been lost!

Despite his prior, bitter tears, he led the church for many years,
As proof of God’s amazing grace, redeemed again from his disgrace.
Full of power, grace and glory, this is God’s redemptive story;
That we should all be witnesses to great and precious promises,
That lift us far from our mistakes. God’s promises are all it takes.

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