Covenant Keeping is Serious; Don’t Make One You Don’t Mean

In the old days, when people made covenants they would sometimes sacrifice an animal and walk between the two halves of its carcass to signify how important the agreement was. The act implied, “May this happen to us if we break this covenant.” It was a graphic reminder of the importance of their vow to one another, and it indicated that covenants should be taken seriously. The Prophet Jeremiah probably had this life-and-death image in his mind when he gave this revelation about God’s future plans for Israel.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

covenant

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, NIV)

The Pattern of Covenants

In the Biblical narrative, God has consistently reached out to mankind by offering covenants. In the Old Testament He made one with Adam, with Noah, Abraham and his offspring, Moses, and David. In these covenants He declared his intention to bless all of mankind, and He engaged in an intimate relationship with His people. The Old Testament is filled with Covenants.

Lest you think of covenants as an old, dusty practice that went out of style in the Christian era, consider this: In the New Testament, Jesus continued the covenantal practice with his disciples. “After the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) Even if you follow Jesus and major in New Testament, you are a covenant follower, too.

The Bible consistently affirms the principle of the covenant by comparing our relationship with God to a marriage. Even though God offered himself as a husband, his spouse (Israel) repeatedly (and consistently) broke their marriage vows and went off on their own, pursuing false gods and worthless idols. How could they DO such a thing? God delivered them from slavery and death, yet they cast him aside to chase other delights?? Today, we assume that’s all in the past, because WE don’t have graven images or little shrines in our houses where we blatantly worship other gods.

The Problem With Idols

But before you feel too smug, stop right there! There are idols in your life, other things that sometimes take God’s place in your priorities or in your heart. We are possessive about the wrong things. You may covet a better home or car. Someone might worship money or security. You may present yourself to the altar of self-righteousness. You could be depending on chemicals to make yourself feel better, or comfort food, or pornography, or Pinterest. (yeah, I said it, Pinterest could be an idol)

In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis made this point when he said, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If the Lord loves you as a bridegroom loves His bride, beware lest you abandon your marriage vows for something so fleeting or temporary. He takes covenants seriously. The good news is that the Lord has promised to make us children of the new covenant, and He will write His law in our minds and in our hearts. And He is possessive in the RIGHT way. As the newlywed Husband who is smitten with his bride, God wants us to covet Him just as much as He covets us. We will be HIS, and He will be OURS. Covet that. Covenant that.

Your Covenant

A covenant is serious stuff, defining where and how
Two parties will agree to act; it is a solemn vow.
In ancient times, agreements would be sealed by sacrifice;
Before they broke a covenant, both parties would think twice.
Agreements based on life itself had mortal consequences,
So if you broke the terms, you’d taken leave of all your senses!
Have you ever stopped to think, in all you say and do,
That Jesus gave his life to make a covenant with 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
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

Contend! Don’t Just Say: “I Coulda Been a Contender.”

In the movie “On the Waterfront”, Marlon Brando’s character laments that he didn’t contend as well as he should have. As he reflects regretfully about the way his life turned out, his words deliver body blows. “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender.”

contend

In Jude’s letter, he urges us not to make the same mistake: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” (Jude 1:3, NIV)

Fight the Good Fight

Jude identifies himself as “the brother of James”. That is very unusual for a Hebrew writer, who normally would have referred to a father or patriarch instead. He also separates himself from the Apostles (v 17), so in all likelihood this is Jude (a form of Judah, who was sometimes called Judas), the brother of Jesus. (Jesus had 4 younger brothers born to Mary and Joseph according to Matthew 13:55—James, Joseph, Simon and Jude). Interestingly, neither James nor Jude identified themselves as Jesus’ brothers directly, probably out of humility or a desire to avoid being given special consideration as members of Joseph and Mary’s household.

Jude encourages us to “contend for the faith”. Contend comes from the Greek word, ἐπαγωνίζομαι,(epagonizomai) which means to struggle with; to argue earnestly, debate. The agon (agon) was an assembly location where people watched athletic contests. Paul uses a form of it to refer to “fighting the good fight.” In either case, it can refer to several things, and it would seem fitting that if you are called upon to contend:

Common Sense to Contend

1) Do some training. You should prepare. You wouldn’t go into an athletic contest without training, or a debate without mastering your subject. And yet many people who call themselves Christians do little or no training in order to understand and defend their faith. How’s YOUR training going?

2) It implies belief and passion, since competition requires commitment and effort. Athletes who compete at the highest levels all started as a kid from somewhere, but gained a belief in themselves that encouraged them to pursue their talents with passion.

3) It assumes competition. We live in a world that doesn’t automatically accept the claims of Jesus Christ, and is in fact increasingly hostile to it. While we are told to contend with gentleness and respect, we are encouraged to be able to give answers to those who oppose us. How ready are you to answer questions about your faith?

If you want to know more about how to do that, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel and Tim Keller’s books are great resources. In the meantime, get out there and contend today! Fight for your faith! You don’t want to reach the end of your life, and look back with regret to say “I coulda been a contender!”

Don’t Quit

Jude had friends and family who died a martyr’s death,
Who proudly shared their faith until they drew their final breath.
No one knows exactly what may lie around the bend,
But each of us can make a choice of how we reach our end.
Faith is not some made-up thing we play with to pretend;
Take hold of yours and join the fight: Believe! Engage! Contend!

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

Encouragement is What You Choose When You Are Tempted by Dis

You know about people who gripe, right? They always complain because they are disgusted or disappointed with something. Social Media is full of them, unhappy people who aren’t really happy unless they are making someone else unhappy! They discuss negative things or offer disparaging comments. Unhappy people diss things. They like to dispute more than they like to contribute. There’s a BIG Difference between “en” and “dis”, when it comes to courage. Think about the difference between “Encouragement” and “Discouragement”…

(And by the way, if you are following along, it’s Day 60 of our Reading through the Bible, bringing us to Second Thessalonians…)

A Good Word

“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17, NIV)

Some days it’s just good to hear encouragement. So many things happen in life that wear us down or cause distress that we might just need an encouraging word… Some of those things are merely mechanical. Perhaps you’ve had one of those weeks where your car breaks down, your refrigerator goes out, your flight gets cancelled, or your phone breaks. Days like that are irritating and annoying. And it’s not just these “little” things that tear us down, but on top of that we are beset with bad news, health issues, loneliness, and emotional distress. Life has so many ways to discourage us…

The Difference Between “Dis” and “En”

It was true in the first century and it is true now. If we focus on the negative, we can get caught up in discouragement. But don’t do “dis”: Do “en”. Think about the difference those prefixes can make. “Dis” can turn enchantment into Disenchantment. Courage can be made into Discouragement. But, it can also become Encouragement!

There are lots of ways to distribute encouragement. You can speak an encouraging word, offer a smile, or give a hug. In the days of the great sailing ships, mariners would often tattoo words of encouragement onto their knuckles to remind them what to do. But however you deliver the message, use the positive prefix to offer positive feelings.

encouragement

Chuck Swindoll encourages us to encourage someone else, and then to take it to another level! He said, “When we encourage others we spur them on, we stimulate and affirm them.” He also said, “Appreciate what someone does, but also affirm who he is. Affirmation goes deeper.” Along those same lines, the Apostle Paul says, “Stand firm” and “hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you“.

Do you know teachings that build you up and give you hope? (I know where you can find some!) The New Testament promises that God (who “loved us by his grace” and gave us “eternal encouragement and good hope”) will Himself encourage our hearts and strengthen us in every good word and deed.

An Encouraging Word

Have you ever felt strengthened by God? Have you ever felt encouraged by his presence? God’s encouragement is no small thing. It’s eternal, which always trumps temporary, and you don’t have to earn it because it is freely given to us. What’s more, when we embrace it, it will show up in our actions and our words. So wherever you are, be ENCOURAGED today. Act ENCOURAGING. Speak an ENCOURAGING word. I think you’ll find those are all related.

Take A Little Encouragement

Here's a word that I hope will last:
Be strong! Stand firm! Hold on; hold fast!
Be encouraged today if things go wrong,
Find hope in God! Rise up! Be strong!
When life is hard and goes amiss,
And the world for 'couragement' offers "dis",
Remember the man who set his face
To go to the cross to take our place
And pay the price for amazing grace!
He took my place, where I might have been,
So I've said it before, and I'll say it again:
Because of his courage, I'm all "en"!

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

Treasure in Jars of Clay: Why Would Anybody Do That?

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10, NIV)

Half-time Speech

Have you ever felt hard pressed, or perplexed, or struck down by circumstances? Sometimes it seems that life just turns against us. Circumstances knock you down, and you almost feel like giving up. I knew a coach whose speech to the team about a tough day or moment was always the same: “Men, life is hard. No one ever said it’d be easy. Sometimes you get knocked on your keister. But you’ve got to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in there. It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up!”

(That’s me, front row center, # 77 in your program, but #1 in your hearts: Cambridge Colts, 1964 or 5) Our coach may not have been quoting Paul, but he certainly reinforced the idea of hanging tough when life knocked you down.

treasure

More Inside Than Outside

Of course this was good advice for young football players about handling hard knocks, but Paul’s response takes somewhat higher aim. First of all, Paul says that we are full of treasure, that the immeasurable richness of God’s glory has been put into jars of clay.
Is that amazing or what? Our bodies are temporary. They can and will fail, but the very richness of God’s Spirit has been put within bodies that grow old and decline. The mortal has been invested with immortality. The corrupt, Paul says, has been made incorruptible.

We are far more than what we look like on the outside. Our Creator formed our physical bodies, yes, but He also created our spirit. Our physical bodies seem fragile, but we are spiritually strong. We may seem temporary, but God is eternal. And somehow, the fragile physical body houses the strong, eternal spirit. It seems inconceivable to us that the Lord would place incorruptible immortality into frail human bodies.

It seems an unlikely place to hide treasure, doesn’t it? The secular world hides its treasure in bank accounts and money markets, and puts its gold in Ft. Knox. I guess that’s because men are scheming right now about how to steal what somebody else has. In a spiritual economy, however, Paul says God puts His treasure into weak, temporary structures. Our bodies will perish, but our souls are another story. There is more to our value than money, and more to God’s economy than Ft. Knox.

Treasure Where You Least Expect It

We are merely jars of clay on the outside, but since God has placed his treasure in us, we have been gifted with a new reality and new possibilities. As God’s creation, we are endowed with spiritual possibilities that transcend carnal limitations. We have spiritual potential that is not limited to what our bodies can achieve. The only way to appropriate those possibilities, Paul says, is to “carry around in our body the death of Jesus”. By claiming kinship with his death, we gain access to his resurrection, and that perspective changes everything.

Looking back on Easter, the death of Christ became the springboard to life. The darkest hour exploded in glorious light! No matter what happens to us, we are not abandoned and we do not need to despair. As Christ showed the world on Easter, the jar of clay can be broken; but when that happens it opens the door to release God’s treasure and show his all-surpassing power. Christ’s death was indeed brutal and painful, but it wasn’t final.

It may just be that God’s treasure is not meant to be hoarded, but to be given away. The power of His resurrection lives on in us, and we will never be crushed, abandoned, or destroyed. Next time something bad happens, take comfort in that. Then dust yourself off and get back in there.

Hidden Treasure

Think on this brief thought today:
We may exist in jars of clay,
And tragedies may come our way,
But few can see our inner measure,
Hiding place of God’s great treasure.
Spiritual possibility transcends this earth’s reality:
Our vessels house eternity. We are much more than you can see.
When by God’s Spirit jars of clay are sealed,
The resurrection’s power is revealed.

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