The Reluctant Brothers Who Didn’t Believe

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

Brothers Familiarity

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

Did Jesus Have Siblings?

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

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

Skeptics Close to Home

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

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

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

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

So, Why Mention It?

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

 jesus' brothers did not believe

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

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

The Brothers

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

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

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

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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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A Scandalous Invitation That Shocked a Whole Nation

Guess who’s coming to dinner?

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

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

Not the most popular career choice

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

scandalous invitation

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

Who’s the Sinner Here?

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

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

What IS “the good life”?

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

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

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

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

Guess what? He already has…

Scandalous

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

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

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Some Disciples Connected the Dots on the Road to Emmaus: Have YOU?

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

road

A Turn of Events

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

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

What the Scriptures Said

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mysterious Traveling Companion

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

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
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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Consider the Marvelous Men: YOU Can Be Marvelous, Too!

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

marvelous

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

Unlikely Candidates

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

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

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

marvelous

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

Marvelous Men

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

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

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

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

A Wide Selection to Choose From

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

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

testimonies

Can You Handle the Truth?

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

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

Testimonies: If the Only Thing Constant is Change

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

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

It’s The Difference-Maker

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

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

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

The Real Thing

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

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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Pain Is No Fun; But Is it Possible We Can’t Grow Without It?

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

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

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

Pain Might Have a Purpose

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

pain

Think Back

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

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

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

PAIN: What is it Good For?

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

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

Pray As If Your Relationship With God Depends on It

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

The Lifeline

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

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

pray all night

This Happened a LOT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some God Advice

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

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

The Secret of Powerful Prayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Equation That Changes Everything

As we enjoy the glow of Valentine’s Day, let’s reflect on love and math. There is an equation about love that John uses to describe the nature of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. It is simple but surprising. The equation is this:

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” (I John 4:16, NIV) John claims that God is love. This makes sense from a Biblical view, and it aligns with what Jesus taught—that love is a distinctive which identifies those who follow God. You know how an equation works, right? X = Y means that everything on one side of the equation equals the other side EXACTLY. They are interchangeable because they are equal.

equation

It All Adds Up, Somehow

And “God is Love” is not the only equation in the New Testament. Consider this: we are designed to be complete only in relationships, and relationships are only complete when they run on love. The equation is, two people become one flesh. Husband equals wife. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one”. The equation is, Jesus equals the Father.

When John says, “God is love”, he is saying that love is God’s makeup—it is the essence of His personality, his character, and his being. If you think about it, we know about and acknowledge several things about God’s character. God is holy. He is a Righteous Judge. He is the source of all forgiveness and grace. But John’s equation sets the baseline for who God is. What He does is motivated by love and is an expression of love. God cannot commit a purely selfish act.

Love, Backwards and Forwards

When you flip that statement around (which you can always do when you juxtapose two equal objects with a verb of being, and it will still be true), it says, “Love is God.” John is saying that not only is God characterized by love, but that EVERYTHING loving is from God. Whatever love you encounter in this world comes from God—there is nothing loving apart from him or possible without him. We experience love in many forms, and probably every one of those forms is valid, as is anything that we perceive as love.

We experience a mother’s love, there is love in friendships, and there is the love we have for puppies and little children. There is deep, abiding love, romantic, mushy love, and there is even sexual love between a husband and wife (yes, God created sex, and in way more than fifty shades!). There are all manner of other kinds of love we feel or encounter or touch in this life.

But here’s the deal: None of them would exist without God. Some of them may seem to us to be disconnected from God, but if you look closely I think you’ll start to see in them a glimmer of God’s presence, or a fleeting glimpse of his character. And the more you look, the more you’ll see that they couldn’t exist without Him, that there is no real love apart from God, because God is love, and love is God. Good thing to think about during the month that contains Valentine’s Day.

A Different Equation: One Plus One Equals One

To my lovely wife: you’re the love of my life!
To my family and friends, may our love never end!
It is more than a fad or a transient trend.
Just remember this stuff, when the going gets tough:
Love is God; God is love, it all comes from above;
It’s the nature of God, and when push comes to shove,
It is God’s DNA, and it’s what He’s made of!
So, everything loving you happen to see’s
A reminder that God lives in you, and in me:
Love’s what He gives us, and calls us to be!
Just in case I haven’t said it enough,
What you say: Love is God. What it means: God is love.

Go love somebody, and go feel loved today. In other words, be godly. Then thank God that you just saw Him where you weren’t looking before!

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Fearless Love Will Help You Dance Like Nobody’s Watching!

Would it be good for you to be fearless? The Apostle John thought so, and I know he went through a number of dangerous situations. All of us probably have moments when we’d love to be fearless (such as when you ask someone to be your Valentine!), although there are certainly times when it might not be such a good idea…

fearless

John said this: “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.…” (1 John 4:17-19, NIV)

Talk About Love…

On this day we tend to think a lot about love. There are a lot of notions about love, aren’t there? There is love of things (I love my car/house/video game), love of appetite (I love chocolate/beer/steak), love of animals, love of others (friends/family), romantic love, selfless love, summer love, endless love. Songs reflect that diversity with titles like “Love hurts”, “Love is a Battlefield”, “Love is a Wonderful Thing”, “Bleeding Love”, and “Love is All you Need”.

Love gets intertwined with all kinds of things in media and culture, so we allow it to have many definitions, most of which are not love at all. Sometime we can clarify what something means by stating its opposite, and most would probably say that the opposite of love is hate. But here in these verses, John infers that the opposite of love is not hate but FEAR. I don’t know that I ever think of it as the opposite of fear.

What does John mean by that? Perhaps that, unlike the transient, earthly love we so often experience, true love is dependable. True love gives absolute confidence. Why would John have juxtaposed love with fear? For one thing, he watched Jesus up close for several years, and if you think of it, none of the Gospels ever says, “Jesus was afraid”. John noted Jesus’ courage and understood its source.

Peerless Love

In John 13:1 one he makes the observation that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them unto the END.” To quote a praise song, John observed first hand that “your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me”. He says that love casts out fear, and the one who fears is not perfected (matured) in love. We can test that in a way by saying it in reverse: fear casts out love; but those who embrace love are fearless.

fearless dance

Tell, me, are you fearless? What are you most afraid of? Being hurt or rejected? Being marginalized? John says God’s love won’t do that. He reminds us that there is an intimacy with Christ that we carry through this world, that we are somehow united with him as we live our lives… I kinda think John’s point is that since God’s love protects us in something as big as the Day of Judgment, all the rest of our concerns are really nothing to be afraid of by comparison. You don’t need to control things to be secure; you just need to realize what love means in your life. Look up and be glad about how much God loves you today. Then, take a deep breath, ignore those little insecurities, and be “dance like nobody’s watching” fearless!

Opposites Attack

Love for some is just a sport, perhaps a game of chance;
Love can be chemistry that sparks a new romance,
With someone that you like a lot, the spark is real, the kiss is hot,
You both decide to take a shot and vow to give it all you’ve got!
But even love with such high hopes can end with a broken heart,
With bitterness that lovers feel when they are split apart.
If we describe the kind of love that goes out on a date,
Most of us would say the opposite of love is hate.

But I had never thought of love the way it’s written here:
John says that the polar opposite of love is FEAR.
Our earthly love can turn to hate, reflecting its impurity;
He says God’s love is something we can all embrace with surety,
The Father’s perfect love can give us freedom and security.
If you embrace the fearless love that God has given you,
How would your life be different then? And what would you go do?
Consider that. Consider that His love will cast out fear,
And you can dance like no one’s watching. Yep, you read it here.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Bridegroom is The Happiest Guy at Every Wedding

After the Super Bowl, and before Valentine’s Day, let’s connect the dots between Jesus and the greatest performance ever, and the time early in his ministry when he talked to John’s disciples about a wedding. This new Rabbi who presented himself to be baptized by John at the Jordan River was different. He had a different way of doing business than both his ascetic cousin and the religious elite from Jerusalem. In the TV series, The Chosen, Peter protests Matthew’s call by saying, “But that’s different.” Jesus answers him by saying, “Get used to different.” Some of John the Baptist’s followers were concerned that Jesus and his disciples partied a little too much. His answer caught them off guard: he described himself not as a Rabbi, but as a bridegroom:

“Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast. “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:14-17 NIV)

Why Wineskins?

When John’s disciples questioned Jesus why his disciples did not fast, Jesus used a couple of very different references to describe growth and change. The wineskin verse has always puzzled me a bit, but it occurred to me that it really fits with New Year’s resolutions. It refers to growth and expanding to new horizons, and Jesus describes those things in ways that everyone listening would understand.

First of all, Jesus talks about celebrating the groom at a wedding feast. He points out that 1) he is the bridegroom at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven—which makes us the bride—and 2) we should live in the present, unburdened by fear of what might happen in the future. We should party with the bridegroom at the feast while we have the chance. The eternal Son of God always encourages to be present to be in the moment.

A Subtle Exchange

In a subtler context he is also reminding his audience about commitment and change. When we get married, it is a new commitment, and it involves a new way of behaving. It represents leaving an old life behind as a single person and starting a new one as a couple. When you get married, it doesn’t improve your lot as a single person; you actually exchange your old single life for MARRIED life!

wedding bridegroom

When you get married, you can’t keep living the way you did when you were alone. You have to share, to adapt, and to live differently than you did before. Jesus compares himself to a bridegroom and calls us to participate in a new reality, to celebrate our relationship with him while there is still time. He then enlarges upon his teaching about growth by reminding his listeners that new wine (which expands as it ages) must be put into new wineskins, which have the elasticity to expand with it.

Not a River in Egypt

His immediate context points out that the old, legalistic way of relating to God has become a new dynamic, and he calls his followers to relationship rather than religion. He teaches that it is not by doing new things with our old selves that we change; but it is by embracing new selves that we can act and feel differently. That’s why he tells his disciples in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

We can’t improve the flesh but we can REPLACE it. In his book, “If I Perish, I Perish”. Major Ian Thomas says that we can’t attain spirituality by dressing up our old nature and hoping that he reforms. You can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig. Our flesh will ALWAYS be sinful and will ALWAYS long to return to its selfish ways. He cites Israel as an example for us, and points out that God didn’t leave the Israelites in Egypt, hoping that they would evolve into more devout followers. He says “God never intended to improve their lot under Pharaoh but to exchange their land.”

Like He did with Israel, God calls us to a new way of life. They couldn’t patch the old wineskins, but had to get brand new ones. That’s what Paul meant when he said, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV). Resolutions to change the outer man won’t help us if we don’t exchange the inner one. If you want to change, make one resolution this year: In 2024, I am going to celebrate with the bridegroom every day!

Exchanging Vows

The bridegroom’s face is beaming with pride,
As all heads turn to see the lovely bride;
They will be exchanging vows and rings,
And changing the future, whatever it brings…
Gone is the independent single life;
From this day forth, they are man and wife.
This life will put them through stormy weather,
But come what may, they will deal with it together.
This is what they will strive to do,
As together, they make something new–
And one stronger life is forged from two.

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

Gratitude: Do You Expect Some? Well, Do You GIVE Some?

Why do some people show gratitude, while others don’t? We’ve probably all been thankful for something, and we’ve probably all experienced a lack of thankfulness, even when it was merited. There’s no formula for appropriate gratitude, but A.A. Milne was pretty close when he said, “Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” Perhaps this story about thankfulness can help us as well.

“As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood in the distance and cried out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them he said, “Go, and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.” (Luke 17:12-16, NIV)

A Surprising Story

gratitude

Ten lepers, who were outcast and marginalized men who could not mix with healthy people, were out on the outskirts of a village. They asked Jesus for mercy, and he gave them instructions that would both heal them and prepare them for reentry into everyday life. Once the priests saw they were free from leprosy, they could once again mingle with friends and family, hug their kids, and have a chance to live normal lives.

“Doctor” Luke points out that only the unclean and socially unacceptable Samaritan gave credit to God for his healing. The nine other formerly leprous men went on their way, probably too excited about going back to society to stop and say thank you. It may be that they felt entitled somehow, finally getting what they deserved after years of presumable injustice. It certainly is surprising that there wasn’t more gratitude expressed, but people can be a little self-absorbed…

So What Do We Make of This?

Two things here: Not everyone who meets Jesus is grateful, even when they experience healing because of Him. Sometimes we get so busy living our lives or even going to church that we forget how much we have to be grateful for. (How about this: DON’T FORGET! Regardless of where we are in life, it is good to have an attitude of gratitude!)

Secondly, some of the people you help along the way will not thank you for it. Jesus healed all ten, even though he was aware of their heart attitudes before he acted. Gratitude doesn’t always manifest itself the way we think it should, but remember: we shouldn’t do good just so that someone says, “Thank you”.

Our motivation for helping others is often wrong. We do good things in order to receive recognition, or to feel good about ourselves. Paul said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Why?

Like Paul, we should perform acts of kindness for the Lord’s sake, not for men’s approval. As Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “‘truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” In the Sermon on the Mount, he taught that our devotion to God should not be a matter of public pride, but something best kept between Him and us. Matthew 6:4, 6 and 18 all point to the same outcome: “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Acts of kindness should be done for our Father with an expectation of gratitude, or regard for human response. Go out and commit some today.

Be Grateful

People are amazing. Sometimes, helping them exposes
That some will offer thanks, while others just turn up their noses…
Some will smile with thankfulness that bubbles up inside,
While others turn aside, from their entitlement, or pride–
No thank-you cards are tried, and gratitude is just denied!
I pray that I may never be the one with such an attitude–
For health, for all I see, Lord, help me show you gratitude!

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 Greatest Performance In the Biggest Game of All Time

A great performance is always pretty impressive. If you are an old-school NFL fan like me, you remember the AFL New York Jets upsetting the mighty NFL Baltimore Colts back in January 1969. Both teams were champions in their respective Leagues, but only one could win the Super Bowl. The AFL team had never won before, and most folks figured the NFL champion Colts would easily defeat the New York Jets. Jets quarterback Joe Namath sent shock-waves through the sports world when he boldly predicted victory for his team. (Joe Namath’s Super Bowl III Guarantee: Legends of the Super Bowl | NFL NOW (youtube.com)) It seemed brash at the time, but the Jets went out and proved him right. Broadway Joe had a big game on the big day.

performance

Men work hard to make it in the NFL. There is an elite group of billionaire owners and millionaire athletes who compete fiercely as they try to find every edge that might help them win. In addition to the game itself, before they play the Super Bowl, the NFL gives out its annual awards. They extoll the accomplishments of players both on and off the field. Each team nominates a player for the Walter Payton man of the year award. It is good to see some of the athletes giving back to the community. (It helps offset the stories of political protests, arrests, drug use, and domestic violence.)

Gladiators

With its inherent dangers and the high risk of injury, the NFL has become our modern equivalent of the gladiators in ancient Rome. Players literally put their bodies on the line to try to win championships. America was reminded of the life-threatening nature of the game when Darryl Stingley was paralyzed from a neck injury, or when Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a game (and prayer was suddenly ok again in football!) But, toughness in the NFL (and in many professional sports) means that men will play through pain and injury to achieve glory. Fans look upon them as heroes for staying on the field of play even when they are put through tremendous physical stress.

I was trying to imagine what those players headed to the Super Bowl were doing and thinking, making the final preparations for their huge moment in the spotlight, when they would be putting their training, their skills, and their determination on the line for team and personal glory. Would they be fine-tuning their technique, confident that they have prepared physically in every way? Perhaps they would be visualizing success, or meditating on their assignments… Would they succumb to outside influences, or be distracted from their goal by all of the hype?

Perfect Preparation Empowers Perfect Performance

What kind of performance would they give on the biggest stage of their careers? I was reflecting on the adulation and status we confer on such men, in some cases rightfully so. They are men who work hard, are committed to a goal, who embrace team virtues, and who put themselves at risk to attain glory. People are so fanatical about their teams that we call them “fans”. You’ve seen them. They dress up and carry signs. They follow and support their athletes with passion and emotion. (Ok, they are a little bit crazy…)

I know there are still Cowboys’ fans who still are STILL mad that Jackie Smith dropped a wide open touchdown pass against Pittsburgh in 1979! (He was so frustrated by his missed opportunity that he kicked his legs out as he lay on his back in the end zone.)

performance

Based on the effort and the risk and the high stakes involved, it seems natural to us that the men who make such preparations and take such risks should be considered heroic. Their performance certainly has a lot riding on it.

The Highest Stakes

Then it occurred to me: there was once a man who also faced the biggest day of his career, who was committed to a goal, and who put himself completely at risk to not just attain glory but to reflect it and give it away. The night before he had to compete in perhaps the toughest contest of all time, and certainly the biggest game, he was preparing as well. Perhaps we need to re-calibrate our perspective on what it means to be a hero.

“Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38, NIV)

The Most Pressure

Jesus knew what was coming, and he knew the price he was about to pay. I’ve often thought that the fact Jesus knew he would be resurrected from death did not diminish the pain and agony that was coming. He knew he faced the devastation of being separated from the Father. And I don’t want to sound like I doubt God’s power or plan, but I’ve always thought that BEFORE the cross, God had never experienced death, so that there had to be some sense of risk involved… what if it didn’t work? What if something went wrong?

While Jesus wrestled with the weight of what he was about to do, and prepared for the suffering he knew was coming, he thought of YOU. He said: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20, 21, NIV)

Two things. If you are willing to be fanatical about an athlete who gave his greatest performance in the biggest game, then think about Jesus. Become a fan. He thought about you. Second, take a moment to reflect upon the fact that he prayed for you: Be worthy of that prayer! You, too, are playing in a high-risk game, and it has nothing to do with football.

The Ultimate Game

Every year the League allows its teams
The chance to play upon the field of dreams;
They work all year to win the coveted prize,
To show their skills before a billion eyes…
The pundits say that history is made;
But isn’t it really just a sport that’s played
Between two groups of men who play a game?
The big things in this world will be the same,
With war, corruptions, hunger, lies and fear–
And they will play this game again next year…

There was, however, once the fiercest test,
When one competitor had to be his best.
The heat was on, but he was cool as ice,
When it was on the line, he paid the price
And showed mankind the ultimate sacrifice.
One athlete made a difference on this earth:
Our calendar revolves around his birth,
And he competed right until the end.
I’m proud to call him Savior, Lord, and friend.
He sometimes called himself the Son of Man:
He won the ultimate game, and I’m a fan.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread