Citizenship Quiz: As A Legal Alien, What are Your Rights?

There is a lot of talk about citizenship these days. We tend to focus on political citizenship, and it’s certainly a hot topic, but there is another kind of citizenship that has no barriers and doesn’t require any walls: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20, NKJV) Even though we live on this earth, we are just passing through. Paul reminds us that the physical world, and even our physical bodies, are temporary dwelling places. As a Roman, Paul placed great importance on his citizenship.

citizenship

Roman Citizenship

He boldly claimed rights as a Roman citizen when he was involved in conflicts. The Apostle Paul was well-versed in what protection he had under Roman law. In the polyglot world of different cultures and religions, Roman citizenship was the gold standard of political protection. He often used his standing in the Empire to his legal or practical advantage, and people reacted with respect when he invoked the name of Rome.

In Philippi he demanded that the magistrates come to validate his release from jail. When he was detained in Ephesus, the city clerk quelled a riot that threatened violence. And in Jerusalem his status as a Roman once again saved him from an angry mob. Yet as much as he valued being Roman, his political status in the Roman world meant nothing compared to his true citizenship in heaven. (If people took American citizenship as seriously as Paul took being a Roman, we would all we would all be far more thankful about enjoying the rights we have in the United States!)

What does Citizenship Involve in the Long Run?

But the Bible takes a longer view of citizenship. Peter says that we are merely “sojourners and pilgrims” here (1 Peter 2:11). James is more to the point: “Why, you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14, NIV) Comparing our short number of years here on earth to the reality of the years we will spend in eternity is an intimidating exercise.

Perhaps you have seen Francis Chan’s very powerful illustration of our life’s timeline as a long, long piece of rope, where our earthly sojourn is shown as some tape wrapped a mere couple of inches around the end he holds, and our eternal life is represented by the rest of the rope. It stretches on and on, off the stage and out the door. It’s a very visible object lesson our an earthly life span compared to an eternal one.

We are not here on earth very long. Stop to imagine for a moment how long eternity is, and picture yourself in it. Think of the possibilities of growth and learning, about the opportunity to build everlasting relationships that grow in every way but never grow stale. Think about being part of a kingdom where the King is amazingly loving and incredibly wise! You’ll have citizenship in a kingdom where you are not only God’s subject but his heir. You’ll have rights and privileges you never dreamed of! While our flesh is corruptible, and our bodies live in a carnal world where everything dies, our spirit is already residing in heaven, taking baby steps into immortality.

Good Citizenship

Do you really live as if your citizenship is in heaven? As a citizen of heaven, what are your rights? What are your obligations? Where is your allegiance? These are questions that all good citizens should be asking. If you don’t know the answers, maybe it’s time to spend a little more time on your heavenly social studies.

The Quiz

What if you had rights and privileges that you could use,
And permanent legal standing that no judge could dare refuse?
What if you had citizenship with all the perks it brings,
And got to be a subject for a wise and gracious king?
Would you exercise the right to live in such a place?
Would you be obedient to the lenient law of grace?
You should. And furthermore, I’d go tell all my friends and buddies
That there’s still time to brush up on their heavenly social studies.

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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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Dive into the Raging River of Grace, and Start Swimming!

The dictionary says grace is “simple elegance or refinement of movement: She moved through the water with grace.” But I think there’s more to it. We all know that grace is unmerited favor, a free gift extended out of generosity. Perhaps that creates a sense of elegance and well-being… But Paul says something very surprising about grace in the Book of Titus. If you think Grace is a passive state of peaceful tranquility, think again! Just read this, recalibrate, and dive into the raging river of Grace.

A Different Defnition

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people who are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)

Grace offers salvation to all people, and Paul says that a person touched by grace should live a different kind of life. He says that graces “teaches” us to live a godly life. The Greek word he uses for “teach” here is stronger than the usual academic term. It (paideuo) is usually used to describe training a child, which indicates a long-term daily commitment to teaching, to admonishment, and to chastisement when necessary. Here’s where it gets interesting: that form of grace is also used sometimes to describe the punishment of criminals. (It was the word Pilate used in Luke 23:16, recommending that Jesus be scourged).

The Whip of Grace?

What?! Grace as a beating? I never think of Grace that way! Grace is a gift! It’s free! However, try to see Paul’s thinking here. The grace of God is more than an easy free gift we get to open: it is a motivator, a life-changing agent that influences our passions, our behavior, and everything in our daily lives. Believers don’t dip into the pool of grace and then lounge by the side, getting a tan; as minnows, we dive into the river of Grace and are swept along, always moving forward, learning to swim, navigating difficult currents, and calling others to dive in with us.

river swim

We are cleansed from wickedness and immersed in gratitude. We are not saved to bask in our own self-righteousness, but to live a life fully amazed and motivated by God’s gift. Grace teaches us rejoice in thanksgiving and become “eager to do good.” The current in the river of grace sweeps us into new territory and helps us experience new life! It may not always be comfortable, but it might be exhilarating! It might chastise us; it might change us; and grace just might challenge us.

I would bet that if all Christians accepted not only the gift of grace, but also the chastisement of grace, there would be more good being done in this world. And we’d have more swimmers.

The River of Grace

Sin is known to all of us, and pays its deadly wages;
The Bible speaks of saving grace for us within its pages…
But here’s a thought that’s not been offered often through the ages:
Grace is not a gift, but it’s a river as it rages!
Grace can cut through hearts of stone,
It changes lives with grace alone–
Its power through the years has shown
That it redirects and teaches every pilgrim that it reaches,
And it carries us through rapids to the sandy, peaceful beaches.

Grace provides a current of chastisement to direct us;
It can offer discipline to teach us and protect us.
If you doubt eternal life, and where you want to go,
The depths of grace provide a landing-place that you should know:
Dive in to the raging river of grace, and let His mercy flow!

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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Reality Check: You May Be Far More Powerful than You Think

Paul’s brilliant treatise connecting the Hebrew Law with the work of Jesus is both logical and challenging. Even though he stood on a firm foundation of faith, Paul did not separate his brain from his beliefs. In fact, he presented the reality of the Gospel in ways that have clarified it for billions of people. But as intellectually powerful as it is, the logic was not really the thing Paul fixed upon. In fact, he grew downright passionate about something else:

No Power On this List is Big Enough

“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.” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV) Wow! What a statement!

I don’t know about YOU, but I’ve been let down by humans lots of times. As strong as love’s bonds may be, they sometimes fail. And sometimes they fail miserably. What if there was a perfect love that never let us down, and never let us go?

separate reality

Here, in his letter about sin, the law, and faith, the Apostle Paul puts a stake in the ground about the reality of God’s love. He is convinced. Nothing in all of creation can separate us from it! It’s a magnificent statement from an amazing book; if you read that list, it covers pretty much everything in existence that could possibly keep us from being surrounded, protected, and rescued by God’s love in Christ Jesus.

The Most Powerful Thing

There’s one thing he leaves off this list, however. In reality, it’s the one power on earth that will allow you to be separate from God’s love, and in fact it’s the ONLY thing I know of that can do it: it’s YOU. Your WILL is able to separate you from God’s love. While Angels and Demons can’t do it, YOU can. Just decide you don’t want him. Decide he’s not there for you. Decide that God’s love has no place in your life, and you can be totally separate from God. It may seem odd, because God is love and He’ll never take His love away from you–but he will allow you to take yourself away from it.

reality

C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

As I see it, you can be independent and do your own thing all you want to; or you can feel convinced about the inseparable love of God and respond accordingly. It’s totally up to you. Just don’t complain later when you feel unloved. It’s what you, in all your power, chose to do.

A Choice Above All Powers

Not the future, nor the past,
Nor any power that can last;
Not witches who could cast a spell,
Or demons from the pit of hell,
Nor angels’ voices as they sing,
Or any earthly lord or king,
Or any mere created thing–
Nor height or depth, nor width or breadth,
Not even the power of life or death!
No fatal flaw or ancient curse,
Not one thing in this universe,
Not things below us or above,
Can separate us from God’s love!
The only way that you can lose
Is if that is the way you choose.
You want God’s love? Expect it.
And if not, just reject it.

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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Somehow, Saul the Persecutor Became Paul the Apostle. Why?

There was once a zealous man named Saul (from Tarsus) who hounded the young and growing Christian church at every turn. He 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 vision while traveling to Damascus. (By definition an Apostle had to have seen Jesus, and 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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Danger Held No Fear For Him: But Should We Really Follow Paul’s Example?

The apostle Paul went to great lengths to spread Christ’s message, and he willingly faced all kinds of danger. He apparently took Jesus quite literally when the Master called Paul to follow Him. Maybe he was so zealous because he had tried to wipe out this new movement about following Jesus; maybe he was just a passionate guy. But he served Christ with all of his heart, regardless of personal discomfort or danger.

Foolishness Observed

In spite of that, he was criticized by others, picked at by wanna-be church leaders, and stabbed in the back by jealous contemporaries. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he addressed some of the folks who boasted about all they had done, casting aspersions that Paul was not as committed as people said he was. Since they had called him a fool, he said in 2 Corinthians 11:16: “Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting…”

He went on to remind them of his qualifications:
“Are they servants of Christ? (You must think I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more; I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.

danger

Paul Understood Danger

I have been in danger from rivers, from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; and I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked…” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, NIV)

This was Paul’s response to critics who tried to disparage his ministry. As you look at it, just make a note of each of the dangers, risks, hardships, and life-threatening situations he endured to share the Gospel. It’s quite a resume. Five beatings of thirty-nine lashes. Three beatings with rods. One very personal encounter with angry stones. Three shipwrecks. And those are just the highlights! He doesn’t even get to his imprisonments and martyrdom…

Total Commitment

To Paul, following Christ was an “all in” proposition. (After all, he was the one who said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”) You really should read that list again to let it sink in. Now say Philippians 1:21 again and personalize it: “for ME, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Most of us see commitment far too casually. We are like the chicken who suggests to the pig that we should give the farmer a ham and egg breakfast. The pig puts things in perspective: “Look, that’s a great idea, but it has some consequences. For you, it’s INVOLVEMENT. But for me, its TOTAL COMMITMENT.” Paul was totally committed.

In today’s world, we get bent out of shape if the sermon goes 20 minutes over, and people (on average) spend about NINE minutes a day being involved in their spiritual lives (including church!). Yep, about an hour a week. When I look at Paul’s list, I am struck by both the hardship he was willing to endure and the passion he brought to sharing the message of the gospel. To Paul, things like hunger and thirst were just minor inconveniences compared to the glory of telling the good news. Kinda makes you feel a little bad about saying you don’t have time to be a greeter, doesn’t it?

I, Paul

I have lived a joyful life! I’ve learned to be content.
Just think of all I saw, and all the places that I went!
I went to Macedonia, and traveled far from home;
We sailed upon the open sea! I got to go to Rome!
Yes there have been some hardships that occurred along the way,
Like when our ship went down, and I went swimming for a day.
And yes I was arrested, and got whipped a time or five–
And that time I was stoned, I’m still amazed I stayed alive!

But even though I’ve had some inconvenience and some pain:
I know for me to Live is Christ, for me to die is gain!
But looking back now, I can say I’ve served Him from the start:
And I would challenge you, my friend, to serve with all your heart.
When you are looking back on life, with all the good and bad,
I hope that you can say with me, “I gave it all I had!”

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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Critics Don’t Count, but Those Who Dare to Strive Matter

Paul gives critics the same answer that God does…read this and see if you agree:
“For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing. Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present. ” (2 Corinthians 10:10-11, NIV).

critics

Paul apparently had critics when he was alive; he still has them today. Women’s rights advocates and even Christian egalitarians criticize his view of women. Our culture sees him as outdated and out of touch. In a world where we are supposed to tolerate everything, his strong stance about many issues seems harsh and unyielding. Critics abound in every culture and every forum.

How Important are Critics?

But as Teddy Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; and who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Roosevelt himself faced many critics, and he knew from personal experience that endeavor and perseverance were always more substantial than armchair criticism. Critics are often bold in the shadows of social media, but not so much when face-to-face. Today’s academics and armchair theologians are critical of Paul’s writings, which perhaps can be expected from a world that reacts against strong doctrinal stances. But it’s not just current culture that is critical of Paul– even when he was alive, he heard murmurs about his style and ability.

critics

His critics said he wasn’t a good preacher, that he was not as impressive in person as he was in his letters. People said, “Yeah he sounds pretty tough in the things he wrote, but he’s not around, so don’t let him intimidate you.”

Funny, people say the same thing about God today. His book seems pretty impressive, but where is He when I want to see him? God has plenty of critics in our culture. He really doesn’t seem to be visible, so why should I worry about His judgement? Make him appear, show me some evidence! What?! God doesn’t want me to just enjoy myself? Who is HE to order me around?

Surely a loving God won’t judge sinful, independent men as harshly as the Bible says He will. No doubt we can do whatever we want, and God won’t mind “that” much. Surely He is like the nice parts of the Bible and not the parts that talk about eternal separation and the lake of fire… I wonder if God would give them the same answer that Paul did: “What I am in my Book when you do not see me, I will be in my actions when you see me.” Something to think about.

For All You Critics Out There

It’s easy just to criticize, to throw some shade, to offer lies,
To try to throw someone off track, to sneak around and take the tack
Of offering innuendos and some snide remarks behind their back…
Paul’s critics said, “He seems to be an authority, but he’s absentee,
And you should really not believe in someone that you cannot see.”
Paul said he would soon return, and all his critics then would learn
That if they thought him less than strong,
Their judgment could not be more wrong,
And when he finally appeared, he would be stronger than they feared!

Hmmm… much like all of those who said,
“God is not here, He must be dead.”
I’d recommend they take a look at what is written in His Book,
And feel its depth, and read its length-
Just hear it talk about His strength!
Have faith in Who you cannot see,
For God is not an absentee,
And all within His Book will be fulfilled for all eternity.
If He were writing this today, I think, like Paul, that He might say,
“What I’ve written, although absent, I will be when I am present.”
There are those who criticize, but someday, you’ll look in His eyes,
And see the Truth, and realize that faith in Him is pretty wise…

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
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Importance May not be what You think: The Important Man Who Discovered Something More Important

A funny thing regarding importance happened to a man of importance on the Way to Damascus. In his own words…

“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)

importance

The “Faultless” Man Who Wasn’t

Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew scholar, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a famous rabbi of that era. Saul was a career Pharisee who spent his formative years studying the Hebrew Scriptures, teaching and spreading the message of Judaism. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (Paul referred to his old self as “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was mentioned as the official consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, a man feared by followers of the Way because of his aggressive self-righteousness.

Shortly after he endorsed Stephen’s execution, however, he encountered Jesus in a vision while traveling to Damascus. There may have been more to it, but Acts 9 records the encounter this way. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

An Eyewitness With New Vision

His vision caused him to reconsider everything. He became stricken with grief about murdering innocent people, and began to follow Jesus. It was certainly a dramatic conversion that sent shock-waves through the early church. He embraced the reality of the resurrection. As a result, he began to follow Christ with the same zeal he previously applied to persecuting believers of the Way. He became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the earth.

At the time he wrote this passage to the Corinthians, most of the witnesses he referred to were still alive. They could still verify that what he said about Christ was true. Had his statements been false, he would have been branded as a lunatic, or worse. The Christian movement would have died along with the generation who invented it. Instead, believers with changed lives held resolutely to the Gospel in spite of suffering persecution and even martyrdom.

A World-Changing Event

That’s what Paul did, along with thousands of other believers. If you haven’t read his letters, they can be life-changing. They are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. Read his Epistles, and you will be impressed with his logic, his knowledge, and the inspiration behind his work. He gave an impressive testimony about who Jesus was and what his teaching meant.

His testimony still counts as eyewitness because in the real world he was an enemy of those who followed Jesus until he encountered Jesus himself, and then he began to connect the dots. 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. Once you have received the things of first importance, give them first importance.

Conversion

Tell me, do you think it strange that everything in life can change?
On roads where countless men have trod, can one lone man encounter God?
Can a Scholar change his mind? Can the sighted see, though blind?
Will a zealot cease to kill and change his heart, and change his will?
Somehow in the darkest night a blinded man can find his sight,
Can see that love–not law–is right, and move from darkness into light.

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
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The Mighty Works that Don’t Work; the Foolishness that Does

Would you consider yourself a righteous person? I think most of us like to think we are pretty good (as opposed to being cruel or “bad”), but do we really strive to be righteous? That idea in itself conjures up some questions: how would one go about achieving such a thing? Do you attain righteousness by what you do? Is a person justified by what they do or by how well they live? The Bible says this: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.” (Romans 1:17, NIV)

A Christian Conundrum

One of the biggest conundrums about being a Christian is the idea of justification by faith. Wait, what?! We can’t work our way into heaven? It seems counter-intuitive to most people that salvation comes from faith, and cannot be gained by doing good works. For legalistic and self-righteous man it is an astounding thing, one of the hardest concepts to grasp, and one of the most difficult things to accept. We just can’t believe that righteousness can be given apart from the good works we do.

The major religions of the world are based upon effort and reward. “IF I’m good enough, God will accept me.” Religion depends upon people earning their way into God’s favor, (or perhaps achieving enlightenment), but those things are not consistent with the Biblical view of God. The Bible teaches that God requires righteousness (since He can’t abide sin), and since man is unable to earn it with works, God gives it to man for free. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The Burden of Works

The people who work for God’s favor will always resent those who accept it as a gift. Religion based on works instead of grace becomes a full-time job, a never-ending task in which men strive for a perfection they cannot attain. Self-righteous pilgrims often become bound to the grind and cannot find Grace…

works

That’s why the Pharisees could not see who Jesus was (they didn’t believe in Him). Satan fell because of it (He believed in himself rather than God). It’s why the Roman Catholic Church condemned Martin Luther to death for nailing this statement to the door as one of his 95 Theses in Wittenberg. They couldn’t imagine that sin’s penalty had been paid apart from their system of penances and indulgences. Self-centered man cannot accept the fact that God would give him that which costs everything for nothing. It defies human logic.

The Counter-intuitive Gospel

That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the Gospel is not works, or righteousness out of duty or even obligation; it is not about striving or attaining perfection. It is about God giving the perfect gift to us imperfect men; and it is about our pursuing righteousness out of gratitude rather than obligation.

Faith begets righteousness, not the other way around. You can’t work your way to grace, but grace can lead you to do good works. Accept God’s free gift. Astound yourself with the overflowing measure of grace. Stop trying to work for righteousness, and let righteousness work in you. Think about the cost of it all, and shed a grateful tear. Then remember the foolishness of it all, and smile. Embrace the foolish power of God…

Foolishness that Works

The Righteous Lord cannot abide our fallen, sinful state;
Our works don’t make us righteous, even if we’re good, or great!
Because we want to work our way to holiness–or near it–
The message of the cross is foolishness to most who hear it;
It proclaims that works don’t work, no matter how hard we chase:
The just shall live by faith, and sinners must be saved by grace.
Stop hoping, then, in mere good works to give your soul a lift,
And open the Father’s foolish, graceful, unbelievable gift.

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 Different Kind of Kingdom for a Different Kind of World

More Than One Option

There are many different kinds of rulers in the world, and their influence affects the nations and provinces they govern. If you look at the shape our world is in, what with poverty, wars, corruption, genocide, nuclear weapons, taxes, etc., you could ask, like Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?” Perhaps a different kind of Kingdom would result in a different kind of world…

Which Promise?

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bond-woman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bond-woman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.” (Galatians 4:22-23, 28-29 NASB)

According to the Bible, Abraham had a son (Isaac) born to fulfill a spiritual purpose according to the promise of God, and a son born according to the flesh (Ishmael). Isaac was a miracle, born out of time to a 99-year-old man whose 90-year-old wife was also well past the age of child-bearing; Ishmael was the result of Abraham’s own effort to jump-start the promise by impregnating his servant girl. Ishmael, the son born according to the flesh, later bullied Isaac, and there was conflict between them and their offspring that persists to this day. This dichotomy between the flesh and the spirit is a common Biblical theme, and it applies to us individually just like it applied to Abraham’s sons.

Flesh or Spirit

In John three, Jesus told Nicodemus that everyone is born of the flesh but that you must also be born of the Spirit. He said, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” This conversation was popularized during the Carter administration when the phrase “born again Christian” was used to describe Jimmy Carter and other evangelical Christians. When writing the introduction to his gospel, John said that “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (1:12-13)

kingdom of God

Different Kingdom, Different Values

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a child of God who has been adopted into His family. You are also part of a spiritual Kingdom with new potential and new possibilities. Christians hope for a redeemed and perfect world, achieved not through evolution or progress or science or technology, but through the Spirit of God. It is God’s Spirit that will bathe the world in love, that will be present in heaven, and will power the kind of kingdom where “the lion will lay down with the lamb”. It won’t be built on any kind of earthly power, but on the Graceful presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

Paul says here in Galatians that everyone born of the Spirit is a child of the promises to Abraham. In Romans 7 and 8, Paul describes the natural conflict that exists between man’s fleshly nature and God’s Spirit. Romans 8:5 says, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

Spiritual Differential

One of the things that makes Christianity unique is its reliance upon the Spirit of God as opposed to the works of man. Hindus believe in cause and effect; Karma teaches that what goes around, comes around. Islam proscribes keeping the law (efforts of the flesh) to be acceptable to God. Anyone who tries to achieve righteousness in the flesh will always be at odds with those who accept grace. The kingdom of the flesh will always be opposed to the spirit. Based on the human logic of getting what you deserve, grace will never seem fair to those who work according to the flesh…

Jesus’ kingdom was spiritual, not physical. It confused Pilate, and it has confused lots of folks ever since. It seems logical that we should work our way to God, but He has confounded that logic. Two takeaways: 1) it might be a good thing to depend upon God’s spirit, rather than your own effort; and 2) don’t expect a cessation in persecution anytime soon. It’s been going on for 3000 years, and as Paul said in Galatians, “so it is now also”.

Different

Abraham was a shepherd man
Without much wealth and without a plan,
But God told him to start afresh,
To walk in faith, but not in flesh.
So Abram started, not by sight,
To walk with God both day and night,
Beginning a spiritual family that actually changed history,
And somehow the genealogy was opened up to you and me…

Sometime later in history, two men discussed a mystery:
Nicodemus–a Pharisee–went out at night and tried to see
If he and Jesus could agree on how God’s plan was meant to be.
Jesus said,
“Nick, the problem is sin.
To live, you must be born again!
And Nicodemus sat in his room,
and said, “I can’t go back in the womb!”
Jesus said, “not that kind of birth!
I’m speaking of heaven, and not of earth!
As a teacher, you should be smart–or near it–
So understand this: Be born in the Spirit.
Only by being born again
Can you free yourself from the power of sin.
(Like Pilate, Nick couldn’t see the worth
Of a spiritual kingdom that’s not of this earth.)

What Jesus told Nicodemus to do
Is still correct and still holds true,
And is still the best option for me and you:
Like Abraham, just start anew, like Jesus told Nicodemus to do,
Not of this world, and not of men, just this: You must be born again.
Spiritual birth makes all things new
If that is something you’re willing to do. I’ve done it, so I know it’s true. If you want to do it, that’s up to 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

Knowledge Puffs Up, So Here’s What You Really Ought to Know:

Counter-intuitive

For a man who knew a lot, the Apostle Paul had some interesting advice about knowledge. “And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” (1 Corinthians 8:2 KJV) A long time ago I chose this as my life verse, thinking that having an arbitrarily closed mind is not really a Christian attribute, that knowledge in itself has limited value, and that life should be a constant opportunity to learn.

Socrates may have contributed to Paul’s logic when he taught that “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” It is sometimes challenging to try to stay intellectually open as a Christian when there are certain bedrock truths that are non-negotiable, and the idea of being dogmatic is probably seen as a negative by most folks in our culture. But being dogmatic is not necessarily a bad thing. Without bedrock, there is nothing to build upon. Perhaps it is the WAY some people are dogmatic that can be objectionable.

knowledge puffs

Less is the Key to More

Paul was right when he said that “knowledge puffs one up” and contributes to pride and self-aggrandizement. It is only by allowing for our own possible ignorance that we access the opportunity for wisdom. If we are puffed up with knowledge, we will become less open to new knowledge… You can’t put more treasure into a buried chest; a full Xmas stocking holds no more gifts; a sprung trap captures no more game; you can’t put ten pounds of… Well, you get the idea.

A Different Key

And really, if you look a little deeper, the point of our spiritual lives is not knowledge, but love. The verse right after this one says, “But if any man loves God, the same is known of him.” Paul knew that it is not knowledge but LOVE that transforms us. What fun would a friendship or a marriage be if we limited our relationship to only rational thought and knowledge, without any emotional connection? And yet we often treat God that way. It is not knowledge that completes us, but love. Paul reminded us about that in 1 Corinthians 13:13, when he said, “these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

A Deeper Secret

As humans our very nature is not based on knowledge, but on loving relationships that actualize us and enable us to be who we were created to be. I don’t follow the rules just because I know them, but I follow them because I care about breaking them. Timothy Keller connects the dots like this: “The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you.”

knowledge worship

How much have you been moved by God lately? You may be reading your Bible, and you may be increasing your knowledge, but when is that last time you were so moved by God that you fell in love with Him all over again? If you are in love with God, your worship will transform you and people will notice. And isn’t it a much cooler thing for someone to say, “Wow, that person really loves God!” rather than, “Wow, that person really thinks he’s smart!” Love God. Be known for it.

Knowing More

Go to College, get more knowledge; it will help you win debates.
Just beware and be aware that ego sometimes self-inflates.
Find your mind some worldly wisdom, it will make you self-assured;
But realize you’ll be surprised at some things wisdom has not cured.
You can’t earn and you can’t learn this truth no matter where you go:
Just Love God. That’s all you need to live, and all you need to know.

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 Nothing to Do With 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 him 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 author of Hebrews who makes this assertion; Jesus’ best friend, John, makes it too! So did Peter, Matthew, Mark and Luke. So did a Jewish zealot named Saul. 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

Law Versus Grace: 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