Sara's Musings

Home » Posts tagged 'Christianity'

Tag Archives: Christianity

Calendar

April 2017
S M T W T F S
« Mar    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

Click pic for 2015 post on "The Presidents Club"

The Surest Defense Against Evil

Click pic for "The Surest Defense Against Evil"

The Triumph of Grace

Click pic for "The Triumph of Grace"

Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

Click pic for "Contemplating God's Sovereignty"

How Should We Then Live?

Click pic for "How Should We Then Live?

Not a Timid Christianity

Click pic for "Not a Timid Christianity"

Finishing the Race

Click pic for "Finishing the Race"

Because the Time is Near

Click pic for "Because the Time is Near"

Revelation Song (YouTube)

Click pic for "Revelation Song" sung by Phillips, Craig & Dean

Where The Wind Blows

Click pic for "Where The Wind Blows"

Doing Great Things

Click pic for "Doing Great Things"

Recognizing a False Prophet

Click pic for "Recognizing a False Prophet"

The Power of Forgiveness

Click pic for "The Power of Forgiveness"

Created for Relationships

Click pic for "Created for Relationships"

The Only Way I Know

Click pic for "The Only Way I Know"

Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

Click pic for "Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine"

Our True Home Address

Click pic for "Our True Home Address

‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

Click pic for "'Tis the Season . . . for LOVE"

The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

Click pic for "The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil"

Cherry Picking 101

Click pic for "Cherry Picking 101"

Love Sweet Love

Click pic for "Love Sweet Love"

So Goes The Culture

Click pic for "So Goes The Culture"

Idols of the Heart

Click pic for "Idols of the Heart"

Divisions Are Not Always Bad

Click pic for "Divisions Are Not Always Bad"

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Click pic for "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ"

Doing the Right Thing

Who doesn’t know Google? In fact, who doesn’t use Google on a regular basis? And as a matter of fact, I couldn’t do what I do on my blog posts without Google. Even my email address is a Gmail (Google) address.

I love Google. . . .

Yesterday I found a book titled, How Google Works (2014), by Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and Executive Chairman of Alphabet Inc., and Jonathan Rosenberg, former Senior Vice President of Products at Google and current advisor to Alphabet Inc. CEO Larry Page, on the bargain book table at Barnes and Noble, and I couldn’t resist buying it (and for under $4.00, too). Now before it gets too confusing, Alphabet Inc. is “an American multinational conglomerate founded on October 2, 2015, by the two founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, with Page serving as CEO and Brin as President. It is the parent company of Google and several other companies previously owned by them. The company is based in Mountain View, California, at Googleplex. The reorganization of Google into Alphabet was completed on October 2, 2015.” (Quote source here.)

The motto of Google’s corporate code of conduct has been Don’t be evil since it was “first introduced around 2000. Following Google’s corporate restructuring under the conglomerate Alphabet Inc. in October 2015, the motto was replaced in the Alphabet corporate code of conduct by the phrase ‘Do the right thing’; however, the Google code of conduct is still prefaced by the phrase ‘Don’t be evil’.” (Quote source here.)

I find it interesting that the original motto was stated as “Don’t be evil” instead of “Don’t do evil” (a discussion on how it came to be “Don’t be evil” is available at this link). “Be” seems to indicates something that we are, and “do” seems to indicate something we do or have done. In a 2010 devotion titled, The Difference between Doing and Being,” Dr. Charles Swindoll, senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church, author, educator, and radio host and teacher at Insight for Living, states:

Doing is usually connected with a vocation or career, how we make a living. Being is much deeper. It relates to character, who we are, and how we make a life. Doing is tied in closely with activity, accomplishments, and tangible things—like salary, prestige, involvements, roles, and trophies. Being, on the other hand, has more to do with intangibles, the kind of people we become down inside, much of which can’t be measured by objective yardsticks and impressive awards. But of the two, being will ultimately outdistance doing every time. It may take half a lifetime to perfect . . . but hands down, it’s far more valuable. And lasting. And inspiring. (Quote source here.)

“. . . of the two, being will ultimately outdistance doing every time” regardless of how long it takes to perfect. Being is intrinsic; whereas doing is external. So, the switch from “Don’t be evil” (the Google motto) to “Do the right thing” (the Alphabet Inc. motto), is in the right order. What we are (as in “be”) determines what we do (whether vocational or in actions), and in order to “do the right thing,” it is determined by who we are deep down inside of us.

In the “Introduction” to How Google Works,” there is a discussion about a seasoned CEO who invested a lot of time helping out a young executive at a different company in Silicon Valley. The seasoned CEO was asked why he invested so much time in the young executive, and he stated, “This is the way Silicon Valley works. We’re here to help you” (p. 22). The following two paragraphs come after this discussion:

Steve Jobs, the late founder and CEO of Apple, who often provided his neighbor Larry Page with advice, had a more colorful way of expressing this same spirit. Our friend Leslie Berlin, the Silicon Valley historian, was researching a biography on Intel co-founder Bob Noyce, and asked Steve during and interview why he had spent so much time with Noyce early in his career. “It’s like what Schopenhauer said about the conjurer,” Steve replied. He retrieved a book of essays by 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and read her a passage from one with the chipper title of “On the Sufferings of the World”: “He who lives to see two or three generations is like a man who sits some time in the conjurer’s booth at a fair, and witnesses the performance twice or thrice in succession. The tricks were meant to be seen only once, and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive, their effect is gone.” (Quote from Arthur Schopenhauer, “Essays and Aphorisms,” Penguin, 1970.)

We [the two authors of “How Google Works”] both came to Google as seasoned business executives who were pretty confident in our intellects and abilities. But over the humbling course of a decade, we came to see the wisdom in John Wooden‘s observation that “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” We had a front-row seat as we helped our founders and colleagues create a magnificent company–you might say that we saw the conjurers at work–and used it to relearn everything we thought we knew about management. Today we see all sorts of companies and organizations, big and small, from all industries and all over the world, come to Silicon Valley to see if they can soak up the insights and energy that make it such a special place. People are eager for change, and that’s what this book is about: In the spirit of our forefathers here in Silicon Valley, we’d like to share some of the conjurers’ secrets and translate them into lessons that anyone can use. (Quote source, “How Google Works,” pp. 21-23).

“The humbling course of a decade”. . . . we all have those moments (or perhaps as long as a decade) that humble us and let us know that we don’t “know it all” after all. And we all have a tendency to think we know it all, too (and age doesn’t matter–the young do it just as much as the old do it). And when it comes to “doing the right thing” we are often subjective as to what, exactly, is the right thing to do.

In a blog post titled, Why Doing the Right Thing is Always the Right Thing,” by Dan Waldschmidt, business strategist, former CEO, speaker, and ultra-runner, he states:

It is not always easy to do the right thing. At times it can be hard to know what the right thing even is.

Bad personal experiences and stressful work environments make long-term thinking and personal morals a challenge to execute consistently. Or even at all.

Life comes at you fast.

So fast that it’s natural to react to life experiences by making the choice that is least painful at the moment. By choosing to relieve temporary uncomfortableness with a decision to get you out of trouble for the moment.

But most of the time, the fast decision is the wrong decision. The easy decision is the wrong decision. The decision that fixes “right now” is the wrong decision.

The fact that you feel forced into the decision makes the odds of you making the right decision even harder.

You’re not thinking straight.

Your view of the world is screwed up.

It’s biased in a big way. Your mind and body is screaming at you to do whatever it takes to relieve the pressure and pain that is squeezing down on you at the moment.

So it’s important to remember how important making the right decision really is.

The truth is that what your life becomes is a direct result of all the stressed-out, painful short-term decisions you make each and every day. Each decision contributes to the results that you will realize one day. You are creating your future.

If you make the wrong decisions consistently — even small ones — you will end up with results that are embarrassing and expose you to be the fraud that you really were all along.

If you consistently take the “easy way” and pursue shortcuts in the hope of “getting rich quick”, then you’ll find yourself in a future where you continue to be poor — mentally and financially.

If you blame others for your mistakes and refuse to take correction or learn from bad decisions that you have made in the past, then the results of your life will only be misery and arrogance.

You will become the person you decide to be.

Which is why doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. Because doing the wrong thing molds you into the type of person that you don’t want to be. And it doesn’t lead to the results and lifestyle that you want for yourself.

For a few short moments, making the wrong decision feels incredibly right. But that’s a guilty pleasure you will come to regret in the not-too-distant future.

Do the right thing.

It’s tough at time. But a lot easier than living in a world of misery and pain you’ve created with poor choices and short-sighted decisions.

It’s easier to just do the right thing. (Quote source here.)

Short-sighted decisions miss the bigger picture of life, and our warped perception of “reality” at the moment might cause us to do something with detrimental long term consequences. In a chapter titled, “Never Again Trust Someone or Something Flawless,” in his book, Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again (2014), Dr. Henry Cloud, leadership expert, psychologist, and best-selling author, states:

Woody Allen said, “I hate reality, but it’s still the best place to get a good steak.” Said another way, “Real people may disappoint me, but they are the only ones you can have a relationship with.” Why is that? It all goes back to the Bible.

The book of Genesis says that God created a perfect world. It was ideal. The Garden of Eden was “paradise.”

But then, sin, or “missing the mark,” entered into the world. Humankind turned against God and his right way of doing things. Ever since then, the world has been an imperfect place with imperfect people. Those who accept this reality can find great goodness and satisfaction in this life; those who don’t are always thinking the paradise, or perfection, is out there somewhere–in a person, a job, a city, or a situation. So when a seemingly perfect person or situation presents itself to them, they fall for it. Suckers for an immature fantasy of life as Disneyland.

The problem is that the Bible tells us a reality: paradise, or perfection, in this world is gone forever. We can never go back (Genesis 3:24). Now, our only alternative–other than denial–is to embrace living life in an imperfect world, as imperfect people, with imperfect others. If we can accept that, our eyes are open to the imperfections in ourselves and others, and that gives us a keen vision for the real goodness as well.

But naive people are caught up in the fantasy that Eden is still available, and because of that, they are open to great seduction by people and situations that look too good to be true, and in fact are. They are nightmares.

Our culture has tabloids with stars who look as if their lives are ideal. They find the perfect mate–their “soul mate”–whom they have always been looking for. They live in perfect houses. They have perfect lives. People spend all their money and time trying to be like them–getting liposuction and buying clothes to emulate these remnants of Eden.

But go to the supermarket the next month and the same stars have just split with their perfect “soul mates” and the tabloid headline reads, “The Breakup: What Really Happened?” Or, they lose their perfect mansions to a drug addiction, or outrageous behavior destroys everything that looked so good.

Don’t buy into the Hollywood version of perfection or even the church version. Many times Christian groups can appear as if they have it all together as well–as if their spiritual lives hold no struggle or pain or defeat. That is not the story of the Bible. God is real, not a fantasy, and he invites us into a real spiritual life and a real life on this earth. The good news is that if we will embrace the “real” instead of the “ideal,” we can often find experiences of heaven on earth.

So be on the lookout for good and real, not perfect and ideal. Look for people and situations that have great goodness but are also aware of their imperfections and are working on them. If you do that, you will find rich, fulfilling people, situations, employees, employers, friends, churches, and the like. There is real goodness in this world. But if we are looking for perfect, we will have to go to another world altogether. And that is a fantasy.

If you are dating, look for a person who is aware of his or her issues and struggles, as well as all the things you are attracted to. If you are looking for a church, find one that has a community of fellow strugglers along the journey of life. If you are looking for a circle of friends, find one where the people are real, not trying to look perfect or ideal. Look for people who are humble and able to laugh at themselves–those who are aware of themselves and are not troubled by their own kookiness. And by the way–strive to be that kind of person yourself.

Repent from the pursuit of “perfection.” Whether trying to be perfect or looking for it elsewhere, repent. Once you do, you’ll “never go back.” (Quote source: “Never Go Back,” pp. 107-109.)

The lines between right and wrong are often totally blurred in our culture today. And our justification for doing bad stuff for momentary pleasure or to others “just because” is endless, but there is always a price that will eventually be paid. And James 4 puts it right out there for us to see:

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
        but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

Warning against Judging Others

Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

Warning about Self-Confidence

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. (James 4 NLT)

In most situations we usually know what the right thing is to do even if it is very difficult. Do it anyway. . . .

Don’t be evil . . .

And do . . .

The right thing . . . .

YouTube Video: “Doing What’s Right Song” Fun for Kids (and a reminder for adults):

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Our Own Emmaus Road

There is a well known story tucked away in the Gospels about a couple of disciples of Jesus Christ who didn’t realize they were talking with Jesus on a road they were traveling to get to Emmaus, which was about seven miles away from where the crucifixion of Jesus had very recently taken place. It was the morning of the resurrection, but very few knew about it (or believed it was possible) at that point. The story is recorded in Luke 24:1-12:

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Apparently, the eleven disciples [Judas Iscariot, the twelfth disciple, has already hanged himself after betraying Jesus] did not initially believe the women and thought they were talking nonsense. Only Peter got up and ran to the tomb to see if what they said was really true, and when he saw that it was true, he wondered what had actually happened.

That very same morning two of Jesus’ disciples were traveling on the road to Emmaus when Jesus came up to them and began talking with them, but they did not recognize him as he had just been crucified and they witnessed his death. Here’s that story immediately following the passage quoted above in Luke 24:13-35:

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

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.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Jesus said I AM the Resurrection and the Life John 11v25

As noted on GotQuestions.org regarding their experience:

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus gave a lesson on the prophecies of the Old Testament which were fulfilled in His death and resurrection. What a lesson that would have been! The Author of the Book explains His work, making connections from Scripture to the events they had recently experienced.

The disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ lesson was one of deep conviction of the truth of what He was teaching. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked?” they ask each other (verse 32). Their physical eyes were blinded to the identity of Jesus, but their eyes of faith were being opened as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them.

Following this account, Jesus appears to His other disciples, removing all doubt that He was alive. Jesus had promised that He would show Himself to those who love Him (John 14:21), and this is exactly what He does on the road to Emmaus.

The story of the disciples on the Emmaus Road is important for many reasons. It provides an emphasis on the Old Testament prophecies related to Jesus, evidence regarding an additional appearance of Jesus, and a connection regarding the many eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. Luke 24 is often seen as a model of the journey that Jesus makes with many of us today, as He opens our eyes, points us to the Word, and reveals Himself along life’s walk as the resurrected Savior and Lord. (Quote source here.)

“Jesus had promised that He would show Himself to those who love Him (John 14:21), and this is exactly what He does on the road to Emmaus.” Faith sees what the eyes cannot see. In this life, we all walk down our own road to Emmaus, and we all make our own decisions about who Jesus Christ is and who He claims to be. We either reject Him, or believe in Him. And while that may sound a bit too “cut and dried,” it’s the truth.

Unfortunately, there are many obstacles put in our way that send us on various detours, and unbelief is at the core. It is, indeed, the greatest obstacle that has to be overcome. We can show a form of pseudo faith by showing up at church on a regular basis (and there is nothing wrong with attending church), learning to speak the Christian “lingo,” and thinking we’ve got our “ducks in a row”; however, when it comes the rest of the week we pretty much live however we want to live until next Sunday morning rolls back around. And that’s not faith.

That is not to discount that many people claim to believe in Jesus Christ as many millions have believed in Him down through the centuries and many millions do today, too; however, there is a caveat to believing in Jesus Christ (or rather, the type of belief one has in Jesus Christ). As stated in James 2:19-20:

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

In context, that passage in James states the following (James 2:14-26):

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

The “actions” (or “works”) originate from within us, and are not done with the intent to have others see how “good” we are or to gain some type of approval from others (or, as the case may be if we are trying to impress God–as well as others–with our good deeds). For example, being genuinely kind to strangers is a type of action that comes from faith, from the heart, from the core of what and who we believe in (whether it is ourselves or God). Being nice on the surface while seething inside or pretending to be nice with ulterior motives has nothing to do with faith. In fact, it is the opposite. Faith does not look out for itself, first and foremost. It looks to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. In fact, after the Hall of Faith chapter found in Hebrews 11 (a review of this chapter will shine a very bright light on our own definition of “good works”), Hebrews 12:1-4 state:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith [see Hebrews 11], let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

It is Jesus who initiates and perfects our faith. So as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on this Easter Sunday, perhaps it is the perfect time for us to do some reflecting and resurrecting of our own faith and what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We can look good and act great on the outside and fool a whole lot of people, but God knows our heart, and He is not fooled. A religious game is easy to play, but it has nothing to do with a genuine heart of faith.

As 1 John 5:1-4 reminds us:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.

Faith is the victory . . .

That overcomes . . . 

The world . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Easter Song (1974)” by The 2nd Chapter of Acts:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

The Significance of The Last Supper

The Last Supper is one of the most significant events that took place during the last week in the life of Jesus Christ. It was also Jesus’ last meal that he shared with his twelve disciples just hours before his arrest and crucifixion. It is commemorated by Christians around the world on Maundy Thursday which is the fifth day of Passion Week (also known as Holy Week) and “the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples” (source here).

The Last Supper is recorded in the Gospels in Matthew 26:17–30, Mark 14:12–26, and Luke 22:7–30, and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples just prior to this “last supper” is found in John 13:1-17. The significance of the Jesus washing his disciples feet cannot be underestimated. GotQuestions.org gives us the significance of this act:

Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1–17) occurred in the upper room, just prior to the Last Supper and has significance in three ways. For Jesus, it was the display of His humility and His servanthood. For the disciples, the washing of their feet was in direct contrast to their heart attitudes at that time. For us, washing feet is symbolic of our role in the body of Christ.

Walking in sandals on the filthy roads of Israel in the first century made it imperative that feet be washed before a communal meal, especially since people reclined at a low table and feet were very much in evidence. When Jesus rose from the table and began to wash the feet of the disciples (John 13:4), He was doing the work of the lowliest of servants. The disciples must have been stunned at this act of humility and condescension, that Christ, their Lord and master, should wash the feet of His disciples, when it was their proper work to have washed His. But when Jesus came to earth the first time, He came not as King and Conqueror, but as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. As He revealed in Matthew 20:28, He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The humility expressed by His act with towel and basin foreshadowed His ultimate act of humility and love on the cross.

Jesus’ attitude of servanthood was in direct contrast to that of the disciples, who had recently been arguing among themselves as to which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Since there was no servant present to wash their feet, it would never have occurred to them to wash one another’s feet. When the Lord Himself stooped to this lowly task, they were stunned into silence. To his credit, though, Peter was profoundly uncomfortable with the Lord washing his feet, and, never being at a loss for words, Peter protested, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Then Jesus said something that must have further shocked Peter: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8), prompting Peter, whose love for the Savior was genuine, to request a complete washing. Then Jesus explained the true meaning of being washed by Him. Peter had experienced the cleansing of salvation and did not need to be washed again in the spiritual sense. Salvation is a one-time act of justification by faith, but the lifelong process of sanctification is one of washing from the stain of sin we experience as we walk through the world. Peter and the disciples—all except Judas, who never belonged to Christ—needed only this temporal cleansing.

This truth is just one of several from this incident that Christians can apply to their own lives. First, when we come to Christ for the washing of our sins, we can be sure that is permanent and complete. No act can cleanse us further from our sin, as our sin has been exchanged for the perfect righteousness of Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). But we do need continual cleansing from the effects of living in the flesh in a sin-cursed world. The continual washing of sanctification is done by the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, through the “washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26), given to us to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

Further, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He told them (and us), “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). As His followers, we are to emulate Him, serving one another in lowliness of heart and mind, seeking to build one another up in humility and love. When we seek the preeminence, we displease the Lord who promised that true greatness in His kingdom is attained by those with a servant’s heart (Mark 9:35; 10:44). When we have that servant’s heart, the Lord promised, we will be greatly blessed (John 13:17). (Quote source here.)

During the Last Supper while they were eating, Jesus stated to his disciples that one of them would betray him and this news saddened them, making them wonder about themselves and their loyalty to him. The disciple who betrayed him was Judas Iscariot. As to why Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (see previous blog post titled, Thirty Pieces of Silver,” GotQuestions.org states the following:

While we cannot be absolutely certain why Judas betrayed Jesus, some things are certain. First, although Judas was chosen to be one of the Twelve (John 6:64), all scriptural evidence points to the fact that he never believed Jesus to be God. He even may not have been convinced that Jesus was the Messiah (as Judas understood it). Unlike the other disciples that called Jesus “Lord,” Judas never used this title for Jesus and instead called him “Rabbi,” which acknowledged Jesus as nothing more than a teacher. While other disciples at times made great professions of faith and loyalty (John 6:68; 11:16), Judas never did so and appears to have remained silent. This lack of faith in Jesus is the foundation for all other considerations listed below. The same holds true for us. If we fail to recognize Jesus as God incarnate, and therefore the only One who can provide forgiveness for our sins—and the eternal salvation that comes with it—we will be subject to numerous other problems that stem from a wrong view of God.

Second, Judas not only lacked faith in Christ, but he also had little or no personal relationship with Jesus. When the synoptic gospels list the Twelve, they are always listed in the same general order with slight variations (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16). The general order is believed to indicate the relative closeness of their personal relationship with Jesus. Despite the variations, Peter and the brothers James and John are always listed first, which is consistent with their relationships with Jesus. Judas is always listed last, which may indicate his relative lack of a personal relationship with Christ. Additionally, the only documented dialogue between Jesus and Judas involves Judas being rebuked by Jesus after his greed-motivated remark to Mary (John 12:1-8), Judas’ denial of his betrayal (Matthew 26:25), and the betrayal itself (Luke 22:48).

Third, Judas was consumed with greed to the point of betraying the trust of not only Jesus, but also his fellow disciples, as we see in John 12:5-6. Judas may have desired to follow Jesus simply because he saw the great following and believed he could profit from collections taken for the group. The fact that Judas was in charge of the moneybag for the group would indicate his interest in money (John 13:29). (Quote source here.)

GotQuestions.org also states the significance of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus:

Being in Jesus’ “inner circle,” Judas had a closer relationship to Jesus than most people during His ministry. Judas betrayed the Lord to the Jewish authorities. The pre-arranged signal was that the person Judas kissed was to be arrested and taken away (Mark 14:44). In this way the Son of Man [Jesus] was betrayed with a kiss (Luke 22:48).

In the culture of first-century Israel, a kiss was not always a romantic expression of love; rather, a kiss on the cheek was a common greeting, a sign of deep respect, honor, and brotherly love (see Luke 7:45; Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). For a student who had great respect for his teacher, a kiss fell well within the healthy expression of honor.

What really stands out in the mode of Judas’s betrayal is that Judas used such an intimate expression of love and respect to betray Jesus. Judas’s actions were hypocritical in the extreme—his actions said, “I respect and honor you,” at the exact time he was betraying Jesus to be murdered. Judas’s actions illustrate Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Often, foes disguise themselves as friends. Evil often wears a mask to conceal its true purpose. . . .

When Jesus was betrayed by a kiss, He identified with the troubles of David, who wrote, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers” (Psalm 55:12–14). Job’s emotional pain also foreshadowed Jesus’ sorrow: “Those I love have turned against me” (Job 19:19).

Once Judas gave the kiss, the deed was done. Jesus was betrayed into the government’s hands to be crucified. Judas was “seized with remorse” (Matthew 27:3) over what he’d done. He gave the money back to the temple authorities and hanged himself out of guilt (verse 5). (Quote source here.)

It was also during the Last Supper that the service of Communion (also known as the Lord’s Supper) was established. GotQuestions.com states:

The Last Supper brought the Old Testament observance of the Passover feast to its fulfillment. Passover was an especially holy event for the Jewish people in that it commemorated the time when God spared them from the plague of physical death and brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 11:1—13:16). During the Last Supper with His apostles, Jesus took two symbols associated with Passover and imbued them with fresh meaning as a way to remember His sacrifice, which saves us from spiritual death and delivers us from spiritual bondage: “After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:17–20).

Jesus’ words during the Last Supper about the unleavened bread and the cup echo what He had said after He fed the 5,000: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:35, 51, 54–55). Salvation comes through Christ and the sacrifice of His physical body on the cross. . . .

The Last Supper today is remembered during the Lord’s Supper, or communion (1 Corinthians 11:23–33). The Bible teaches that Jesus’ death was typified in the offering of the Passover sacrifice (John 1:29). John notes that Jesus’ death resembles the Passover sacrifice in that His bones were not broken (John 19:36; cf. Exodus 12:46). And Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, including the feasts of the Lord (Matthew 5:17). . . .

The Last Supper was rooted in the Old Covenant even as it heralded the New. Jeremiah 31:31 promised a New Covenant between God and Israel, in which God said, “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” (Jeremiah 31:33). Jesus made a direct reference to this New Covenant during the Last Supper: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). A new dispensation was on the horizon. In God’s grace, the New Covenant applies to more than Israel; everyone who has faith in Christ will be saved (see Ephesians 2:12–14).

The Last Supper was a significant event and proclaimed a turning point in God’s plan for the world. In comparing the crucifixion of Jesus to the feast of Passover, we can readily see the redemptive nature of Christ’s death. As symbolized by the original Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament, Christ’s death atones for the sins of His people; His blood rescues us from death and saves us from slavery. Today, the Lord’s Supper is when believers reflect upon Christ’s perfect sacrifice and know that, through our faith in receiving Him, we will be with Him forever (Luke 22:18; Revelation 3:20). (Quote source here.)

From the Last Supper Jesus gave us three important things to remember and live by: (1) faithfulness (in the example of Judas’ betrayal); (2) taking the role of a servant and not expecting to be served (by washing the feet of his disciples); and remembering his death that atones for the sins of his people forever (by celebrating communion in remembrance of what he did for us). And may the Last Supper inspire us to live by faith . . .

In Jesus Christ . . .

And to serve others . . .

And not ourselves . . . .

YouTube Video: “Remembrance” by Matt Maher:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Perhaps one of the saddest and most telling stories to come from the last week of Jesus’ life was his betrayal by one of his own disciples, who was not only the treasurer for the group (and a dishonest treasurer at that), but he also witnessed Jesus’ miracles and healings, and he heard Jesus’ parables and his teachings. In fact, he followed Jesus along with the other eleven disciples during Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. And in the end, this disciple sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16):

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus. ~Matthew 26:14-16 NLT

Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, and a New York Times bestselling author, notes the following about Judas Iscariot in his book, All In: You Are One Decision Away From A Totally Different Life (2013):

He [Judas Iscariot] couldn’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar. He didn’t just sell out by betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Judas never bought in. And it’s evidenced by his lack of integrity from the get-go.

He was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. ~John 14:6

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment mistake. He betrayed Jesus each and every time he pilfered the money pot. And while most of us can’t imagine pickpocket Jesus, we shortchange Him in a thousand different ways. We rob God of the glory He demands and deserves by not living up to our full, God-given potential.

No matter how we slice it, sin leaves us with the short end of the stick. Sin always over-promises and under-deliver, while righteousness pays dividends for eternity. Yet we sell out . . . now instead of holding out for . . . later.

Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew.
Samson sold his secret for a one-night stand.
Judas sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver.

What were they thinking? And the answer is, they weren’t. Nothing is more illogical than sin. It’s the epitome of poor judgment. It’s temporary insanity with eternal consequences. And we have no alibi, save the cross of Jesus Christ.

It’s not worth it, and we know it.

Yet we do it.

We sell out for so little instead of going all in for so much. . . .

Thirty pieces of silver. That was Judas’s price point. Jewish readers would have recognized it as the exact amount to be paid if a slave was accidentally killed under Mosaic law. Judas sold his soul for the replacement value of a slave.

The silver coins were most likely sanctuary shekels, since he was paid off by the chief priests. And while some estimates range higher, each coin may have been worth as little as seventy-two cents! So in today’s currency, Judas betrayed Jesus for $21.60.

We know very little about Judas from Scripture, but theories abound. Some scholars suggest Judas was a weak-willed coward with a manipulative wife pulling the strings. Others believe Judas betrayed Jesus out of pure greed. And some suggest he had revolutionary aspirations. He wanted a political savior, and when Jesus didn’t meet his expectations, he went AWOL.

And we do the same thing, don’t we? When God doesn’t conform to our expectations, we’re tempted to betray what we believe in. Like Judas, we’re in it for what we can get out of it. So when God doesn’t grant our wishes like a divine genie in a bottle, we are tempted to turn our back on Him.

This is what separates the boys from the men. Our maybe I should say the sheep from the goats! How do you react when God doesn’t meet your expectations? If you truly accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, you’ll keep going on through hurricanes, hail, and hazardous conditions. If you have simply invited Him to follow you, you’ll bail out at the first sign of bad weather.

As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to psychoanalyze someone who lived thousands of years ago, but it’s safe to say Judas was spiritually schizophrenic. And so are we. Our lives are mixed with lies. We steal from the One we have supposedly surrendered our lives to. And we betray Him in our own unique ways.

There is a little Judas in all of us. And any of us are capable of betraying God if we allow the fear of people to erode the fear of God, selfish ambition to strong-arm godly ambition, or sinful desires to short-circuit God-ordained passions. (Quote source: “All In,” pp. 149-151).

Batterson makes a valid point when he states that there is a little Judas in all of us. A longer explanation of “the Judas in us” is found in an article titled, You’re Probably More Like Judas Than You Think,” by Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper, and published in Christianity Today. The two authors state the following:

We all want a Messiah whose plans mirror our own. But a true disciple surrenders to the Master’s will.

When Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Jesus, mouthed the Lord’s Prayer, especially when it came time to say “Your will be done,” perhaps he voiced this prayer with the tacit assumption that God’s will paralleled his own. We have probably all been guilty of that sin before.

But what happens when God’s will differs from my own? What happens when the fulfillment of the prayer, that is, the part when God’s will is accomplished, flies in the face of my will?

Judas may be the most intriguing of Jesus’s disciples. He is certainly the most elusive. Over the centuries, Christians have characterized him, some maliciously so, in any number of ways. He was a heartless miser, a power-hungry schemer, or a green-eyed apprentice overshadowed by a more talented master.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Perhaps we should more modestly characterize Judas as a man who initially latched onto the magnetic personality of Jesus but eventually became disillusioned as Jesus’s vision for the Messiahship began to contrast considerably with Judas’s vision. And when Jesus the Messiah failed to fulfill the obligations Judas had imposed on him, he craftily bailed out when there was still time.

There is good reason to believe that Judas was the most perceptive—”shrewd as a snake,” we might say—of Jesus’s disciples. He may have been the first one to recognize that Jesus’s intentions for the Messiahship embraced nothing pertaining to physical rebellion or military rule.

During their last week together in Jerusalem in celebration of the Jewish festival of Passover, on which occasion Jesus brought his ministry to crescendo, Jesus aggressively unpacked his teachings and did not mince words. As Jesus did so, he openly defied—in fact, condemned—the religious establishment to such an extent that he made his death inevitable. Jesus made enemies when he was in Jerusalem, and Judas, as astute as he was, knew it. It’s possible that some of Jesus’s other disciples also flirted with betraying their Master after their stint in Jerusalem. Within a few hours of Judas’s betrayal, in fact, practically all of Jesus’s disciples—even Peter—scattered like sheep without a shepherd.

When death is on the line, loyalty wavers. Unlike Judas, who knew exactly what was going on, the response of the other disciples evidenced their surprise at the betrayal, and their actions were clearly not premeditated. Peter wanted to fight, Mark ran away without his clothes, and John watched from a distance, while the others may have quietly left the scene.

We essentially have two options when God does not follow our plan for life: going our own way or readjusting our course. On the night when Jesus was arrested, Judas had previously made his decision to go his own way. That is to say, at some point in his apprenticeship to Jesus he rejected his Master and decided to cash out his chips while he still had a hand to play. . . .

As is well known, Judas left the Passover feast early Thursday evening. The other disciples were clueless about Judas’s duplicity. Only Jesus was aware of Judas’s impending betrayal. The public conversation between Jesus and Judas the night before at Simon the leper’s in Bethany went over everyone’s head, and the same thing happened at the Last Supper: “What you are going to do, do it quickly.”

At this point in the story, we should see the other option we have when God does not follow our plans: rethink our plans and adjust accordingly. Faithful disciples of Jesus put their plans at the feet of their Master.

We all have motives for the things we do. And Judas must have had a motive for his betrayal of Jesus. Although money may have been a contributing factor, it was not the primary reason. Judas may have been a pilferer, as the Gospel of John suggests, but the fact that he very shortly returned the “blood” money he initially received from the Jewish leaders indicates that greed was not the whole story.

Whatever motivated him, the Gospel accounts make it clear that Judas did not readjust his course. At best, Judas found Jesus genuinely perplexing and completely misunderstood how Jesus’s plans could be better than his own. At worst, Judas was so blinded by his plans and so desperate to secure a future for himself that he was willing to take part in a complex murder scheme. At the root of Judas’s betrayal was a belief in a particular kind of Messiah who would lead him to a prosperous future. He could not accept a suffering servant who bears the sins of others and lays his life down in order to conquer death. If we’re honest with ourselves, such things are not easily believed today, for that matter. Who wins through self-sacrifice? Who would want to trade in his or her own plans for a prosperous future and submit to a God-King’s new plan? Who says that the first shall be last and the last shall be first?

Judas couldn’t let go of his plans because he could not imagine any other way forward. . . .

Plans come between us and God slowly, almost imperceptibly sometimes. . . . Over the years I wanted to follow Jesus, but I always kept backup plans stashed away. I had goals I wanted to meet, assuming that I could keep them along with my relationship with Jesus. I was quite far from Peter’s statement, “Who do we have but you?” [Note: the article contains a section on Peter not included in this blog post.] If I was honest, I would have said, “Well, I sure would like you to be in my life, Jesus, but I also have some other great stuff that offers meaning and fulfillment. In fact, I’d like your help with some of those things.” Each time I let go of these plans or goals and allowed God to reshape them, I found that my original vision for the future wasn’t all that great after all.

A surrendered disciple can say to Jesus: I will live anywhere. I will travel anywhere. I will do any kind of work. The details don’t matter, as long as you are in my life.

Judas provides a stunning contrast between trusting in our own plans and a childlike faith that can hold loosely to goals and dreams for the future. His murderous plot isn’t something we can imagine doing. However, once we understand his commitment to Israel with specific political, religious, and personal outcomes in mind, we can at least understand why he struggled to follow Jesus. As we begin to notice the ways our prayers wander from “Thy will be done” to “My will be done,” we’ll find that Judas, if anything, provides one of the most important warnings against confusing our plans with God’s and one of the most visible contrasts with the childlike faith that helps disciples draw near to Jesus, even during the most trying moments of our lives. (Quote source here.)

This focus on “us” (as in “my will”) instead of Jesus and what He wants (as in “His will”) brings me to something I just read in a new book titled, The Gospel According to Paul (2017) by Dr. John MacArthur, who is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. In Chapter 5 titled, “The Great Exchange,” MacArthur writes:

Today’s evangelicals often speak about the gospel as if it were a means of discovering one’s own purpose, a message about how to have a happy and prosperous life, or a method of achieving success in one’s relationships or business. In the minds of many, the best starting point for sharing the gospel is an announcement that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

All those ways of presenting the gospel have become such common clichés among contemporary Christians that most people in the church today do not flinch when they hear the gospel framed in such language. They don’t notice how profoundly all those narratives deviate from the gospel Paul proclaimed and defended. A major problem with all of them is the way they turn the gospel into a message about “you”–your life, your purpose, your prosperity. You become the center and subject of the story.

Those are concepts that would have appalled and outraged Paul. One truth that should stand out boldly. . . is that the central figure in the gospel according to Paul is always “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The apostle takes great care never to let the narrative drift.

Here in our text (2 Cor. 5:18-21), Paul’s intention is to explain how “God . . . has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (v. 18). He mentions both Christ and God in every verse. In the span of those four verses, he mentions God by name at least once in every verse (fives times total). Three additional times he refers to God with pronouns (“Himself” twice and “He” once). He uses the Messianic title “Christ” four times. And in that final verse he refers to Christ twice with the pronoun “Him.” The entire passage is decidedly God-centered, not man-centered. That should be the case anytime we talk about the gospel. It’s first of all a message about God’s purpose in the work of Christ; the sinner’s own purpose in life is secondary. That, of course, is the point we started with in this chapter: the gospel is a declaration about the atoning work of Christ.

Nevertheless, we are by no means left entirely out of the picture. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ is the subject of this narrative; His people are the objects. All told, pronouns referring to redeemed people are used nine times in the passage. People from every tongue, tribe, and nation constitute “the world” whom Christ has reconciled to God.* Everything Christ did, He did on our behalf. 

Why? Not for our comfort or self-aggrandizement, but for His glory. So “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (v. 21). [*Note in book: Paul isn’t suggesting that every individual who ever lived will be reconciled to God. Both Jesus and Paul emphatically reject universalism (Matt. 7:21-23; Rom. 2:5-9) “The world” in this context refers to humanity as a race, regardless of gender, class, or ethnic distinctions (Gal. 3:28)]. (Quote source: The Gospel According to Paul,” pp. 89-90.)

Too often today our focus is on us and what we want, and just as Batterson stated when he said there’s a little Judas in all of us, we need to be aware of our tendency to go in that direction. Cyzewski and Cooper made a statement at the end of their article that is worth our consideration during this Passion Week leading up to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They stated, “As we begin to notice the ways our prayers wander from “Thy will be done” to “My will be done,” we’ll find that Judas, if anything, provides one of the most important warnings against confusing our plans with God’s, and one of the most visible contrasts with the childlike faith that helps disciples draw near to Jesus, even during the most trying moments of our lives.” It’s a good reminder . . . .

Not my will . . .

But Thy will . . .

Be done . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

God in the Flesh

The apostle Paul said that God’s handprint on the world is so strikingly obvious that people have no excuse for missing it:

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. ~Roman 1:20 NLT

The above quote is taken from page 68 in the book, God is Amazing: Everything Changes When You See God for Who He Really Is (2014), by Bruce Bickel, an attorney, author, and speaker; and Stan Jantz, an author, marketing consultant, and Executive Director of Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). The two authors continue with the following on pp. 120-123:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. ~John 1:14

For all the amazing aspects of God’s being, character, and personality–His infinite power, knowledge, wisdom, love, grace, and mercy–the most amazing of all just might be the Incarnation. It is staggering to think about a perfect God taking on imperfect human form, the infinite becoming finite, the immortal taking on mortality, the invisible God becoming visible through His Son, Jesus Christ.

God coming to earth in the form of a lowly human being is such a profound mystery, and so unexpected, that even today, two thousand years after it happened, people still struggle to understand how it was possible. Even followers of Christ often fail to grasp the significance of the Incarnation. Once a year they, along with the rest of the world, are reminded of this event when they celebrate Christmas, but the true implications of what the birth of Jesus means are generally lost amidst the pageantry, decorations, and gift giving. . . .

The incredible benefits of the Incarnation can be seen in what God accomplished by becoming human. As A.W. Tozer said so well, “God came to dwell with us in person so He could be united to us, only to ultimately dwell in us, so that even now, two millennia after Jesus left the earth, He is still present in each person who calls Him Lord and Savior.”

While He was on earth, Jesus lived out the mystery of the Incarnation by being both man and God. At no time in His thirty-plus years of earthly existence was Jesus never fully human and fully divine. He had a human body, a human mind, and human emotions.

The people who knew Him as He was growing up–including His own family–didn’t believe in Him. They certainly didn’t think He was God (see John 7:5). To them, He was just a carpenter’s son. Yet when Jesus began His public ministry, He defied the natural world by performing supernatural acts. He turned water into wine, fed thousands of people with a sack lunch, healed the sick, and raised the dead. Once, when Jesus calmed a raging storm just by speaking, His astonished followers were terrified because they realized they were in the presence of God (see Mark 4:41).

People today will often acknowledge that Jesus was a great teacher, a good man, and a fine example for us to follow. but to leave Him as just that is to tragically miss the whole point. That baby born in a manger was a frail human who grew in human wisdom and stature, but He was also almighty God, the Creator of the universe, the Lamb of God without blemish who came to seek and to save the lost. To leave Him in that manger and disregard the amazing implications of what His coming to earth means for all people for all time is to miss the very reason God became flesh. He did it for us. (Quote source, “God is Amazing,” pp. 120-123).

In a few days we will commemorate the last week (known as Passion Week) of Jesus’ life at the end of his three-year ministry which starts on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In between the two is the Jewish celebration of Passover (which lasts for eight days). The connection between the Old Testament Passover and the New Testament celebration of Easter is Jesus Christ, who became the Passover lamb. The following background on Passover is taken from GotQuestions.org:

Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is a Jewish festival celebrating the exodus from Egypt and the Israelites’ freedom from slavery to the Egyptians. The Feast of Passover, along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was the first of the festivals to be commanded by God for Israel to observe (see Exodus 12). Commemorations today involve a special meal called the Seder, featuring unleavened bread and other food items symbolic of various aspects of the exodus. . . .

The Book of Exodus tells of the origin of Passover. God promised His people to redeem them from the bondage of Pharaoh (Exodus 6:6). God sent Moses to the Egyptian king with the command that Pharaoh “let my people go” (Exodus 8:1). When Pharaoh refused, God brought ten plagues on the land of Egypt. The tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of all the firstborn in Egypt.

The night of the first Passover was the night of the tenth plague. On that fateful night, God told the Israelites to sacrifice a spotless lamb and mark their doorposts and lintels with its blood (Exodus 12:21–22). Then, when the Lord passed through the nation, He would “pass over” the households that showed the blood (verse 23). In a very real way, the blood of the lamb saved the Israelites from death, as it kept the destroyer from entering their homes. The Israelites were saved from the plague, and their firstborn children stayed alive. From then on, every firstborn son of the Israelites belonged to the Lord and had to be redeemed with a sacrifice (Exodus 13:1–2, 12; cf. Luke 2:22–24).

The children of Israel in Egypt followed God’s command and kept the first Passover. However, none of the Egyptians did so. All through Egypt, behind the unmarked, bloodless doorways of the Egyptians, the firstborn children died at midnight (Exodus 12:21–29). “There was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead” (verse 30). This dire judgment finally changed the Egyptian king’s heart, and he released the Israelite slaves (verses 31–32).

Along with the instruction to apply the Passover lamb’s blood to their doorposts and lintels, God instituted a commemorative meal: fire-roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread (Exodus 12:8). The Lord told the Israelites to “observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever” (Exodus 12:24, ESV), even when in a foreign land.

To this day, Jews all over the world celebrate the Passover in obedience to this command. Passover and the story of the exodus have great significance for Christians also, as Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, including the symbolism of the Passover (Matthew 5:17). Jesus is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7; Revelation 5:12). He was killed at Passover time, and the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Luke 22:7–8). By (spiritually) applying His blood to our lives by faith, we trust Christ to save us from death. The Israelites who, in faith, applied the blood of the Paschal lamb to their homes become a model for us. It was not the Israelites’ ancestry or good standing or amiable nature that saved them; it was only the blood of the lamb that made them exempt from death (see John 1:29 and Revelation 5:9–10). (Quote source here.)

GotQuestions.org continues with the following:

The New Testament establishes a relationship between this prototypical Passover lamb and the consummate Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7). The prophet John the Baptist recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and the apostle Peter links the lamb without defect (Exodus 12:5) with Christ, whom he calls a “lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). Jesus is qualified to be called One “without blemish” because His life was completely free from sin (Hebrews 4:15). In Revelation, John the apostle sees Jesus as “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). Jesus was crucified during the time that the Passover was observed (Mark 14:12).

The Bible says believers have symbolically applied the sacrificial blood of Christ to their hearts and thus have escaped eternal death (Hebrews 9:12, 14). Just as the Passover lamb’s applied blood caused the “destroyer” to pass over each household, Christ’s applied blood causes God’s judgment to pass over sinners and gives life to believers (Romans 6:23).

As the first Passover marked the Hebrews’ release from Egyptian slavery, so the death of Christ marks our release from the slavery of sin (Romans 8:2). As the first Passover was to be held in remembrance as an annual feast, so Christians are to memorialize the Lord’s death in communion until He returns (1 Corinthians 11:26).

The Old Testament Passover lamb, although a reality in that time, was a mere foreshadowing of the better and final Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. Through His sinless life and sacrificial death, Jesus became the only One capable of giving people a way to escape death and a sure hope of eternal life (1 Peter 1:20-21). (Quote source here).

Now let’s take a look at Passion Week and the events that take place between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. GotQuestions.org gives us the following overview of Passion Week:

Passion Week (also known as Holy Week) is the time from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday). Also included within Passion Week are Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Passion Week is so named because of the passion with which Jesus willingly went to the cross in order to pay for the sins of His people. Passion Week is described in Matthew chapters 21-27; Mark chapters 11-15; Luke chapters 19-23; and John chapters 12-19. Passion Week begins with the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday on the back of a colt as prophesied in Zechariah 9:9.

Passion Week contained several memorable events. Jesus cleansed the Temple for the second time (Luke 19:45-46), then disputed with the Pharisees regarding His authority. Then He gave His Olivet Discourse on the end times and taught many things, including the signs of His second coming. Jesus ate His Last Supper with His disciples in the upper room (Luke 22:7-38), then went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray as He waited for His hour to come. It was here that Jesus, having been betrayed by Judas, was arrested and taken to several sham trials before the chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and Herod (Luke 22:54-23:25).

Following the trials, Jesus was scourged at the hands of the Roman soldiers, then was forced to carry His own instrument of execution (the Cross) through the streets of Jerusalem along what is known as the Via Dolorosa (way of sorrows). Jesus was then crucified at Golgotha on the day before the Sabbath, was buried and remained in the tomb until Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, and then gloriously resurrected.

It is referred to as Passion Week because in that time, Jesus Christ truly revealed His passion for us in the suffering He willingly went through on our behalf. What should our attitude be during Passion Week? We should be passionate in our worship of Jesus and in our proclamation of His Gospel! As He suffered for us, so should we be willing to suffer for the cause of following Him and proclaiming the message of His death and resurrection. (Quote source here.)

So why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ so important? GotQuestions.org give us the answer to that question, too:

The resurrection of Jesus is important for several reasons. First, the resurrection witnesses to the immense power of God Himself. To believe in the resurrection is to believe in God. If God exists, and if He created the universe and has power over it, then He has power to raise the dead. If He does not have such power, He is not worthy of our faith and worship. Only He who created life can resurrect it after death, only He can reverse the hideousness that is death itself, and only He can remove the sting and gain the victory over the grave (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). In resurrecting Jesus from the grave, God reminds us of His absolute sovereignty over life and death.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is also important because it validates who Jesus claimed to be, namely, the Son of God and Messiah. According to Jesus, His resurrection was the “sign from heaven” that authenticated His ministry (Matthew 16:1–4) and the proof that He had authority over even the temple in Jerusalem (John 2:18–22). The resurrection of Jesus Christ, attested to by hundreds of eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3–8), provides irrefutable proof that He is the Savior of the world.

Another reason the resurrection of Jesus Christ is important is that it proves His sinless character and divine nature. The Scriptures said God’s “Holy One” would never see corruption (Psalm 16:10), and Jesus never saw corruption, even after He died (see Acts 13:32–37). It was on the basis of the resurrection of Christ that Paul preached, “Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin” (Acts 13:38–39).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only the supreme validation of His deity; it also validates the Old Testament prophecies that foretold of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection (see Acts 17:2–3). Christ’s resurrection also authenticated His own claims that He would be raised on the third day (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). If Jesus Christ is not resurrected, then we have no hope that we will be, either. In fact, apart from Christ’s resurrection, we have no Savior, no salvation, and no hope of eternal life. As Paul said, our faith would be “useless,” the gospel would be altogether powerless, and our sins would remain unforgiven (1 Corinthians 15:14–19).

Jesus said,I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), and in that statement claimed to be the source of both. There is no resurrection apart from Christ, no eternal life. Jesus does more than give life; He is life, and that’s why death has no power over Him. Jesus confers His life on those who trust in Him, so that we can share His triumph over death (1 John 5:11–12). We who believe in Jesus Christ will personally experience resurrection because, having the life Jesus gives, we have overcome death. It is impossible for death to win (1 Corinthians 15:53–57).

Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). In other words, Jesus led the way in life after death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is important as a testimony to the resurrection of human beings, which is a basic tenet of the Christian faith. Unlike other religions, Christianity possesses a Founder who transcends death and promises that His followers will do the same. Every other religion was founded by men or prophets whose end was the grave. As Christians, we know that God became man, died for our sins, and was resurrected the third day. The grave could not hold Him. He lives, and He sits today at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Hebrews 10:12). . . .

The importance of the resurrection of Christ has an impact on our service to the Lord now. Paul ends his discourse on resurrection with these words: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Because we know we will be resurrected to new life, we can endure persecution and danger for Christ’s sake (verses 30–32), just as our Lord did. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, thousands of Christian martyrs throughout history have willingly traded their earthly lives for everlasting life and the promise of resurrection.

The resurrection is the triumphant and glorious victory for every believer. Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). And He is coming again! The dead in Christ will be raised up, and those who are alive at His coming will be changed and receive new, glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ important? It proves who Jesus is. It demonstrates that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. It shows that God has the power to raise us from the dead. It guarantees that the bodies of those who believe in Christ will not remain dead but will be resurrected unto eternal life. (Quote source here.)

Bickel and Jantz state the following in the last chapter of their book, God is Amazing (pp. 218-219):

In the ultimate act of love, God allowed His perfect Son to be crucified for our transgressions. Being sinless Himself, His death was a qualifying sacrifice sufficient to pay the penalty for our transgressions. Christ’s death proved His love for us; His resurrection proved that He was God.

God extends His offer of salvation to all people. It is based completely on the sacrifice of Christ. There is no “performance” required on our part. It is just as amazing as it sounds: those who put their faith and trust in Christ are immediately restored to intimacy with the almighty God of the universe.

Like our salvation, our continuing relationship with Christ is not performance-based. Followers of Christ are not in jeopardy of being kicked out of God’s family when they mess up. Of course, true Christ-followers desire to live according to God’s principles, but this is a matter of voluntary submission and commitment motivated by responsive gratitude. Perfection is not required. it is not even expected. God’s love, grace, and forgiveness extend to His followers with His foreknowledge that we will screw up along the way.

At some time in the future, God will restore order at the completion of His plan. Evil will be conquered permanently, and Christ-followers–from the past and present–will reign with Him for eternity in a perfect creation.

It is an amazing scenario . . . . (Quote source, “God is Amazing,” pp. 218-219).

God’s offer through Jesus Christ is still open, and John 3:16 sums it up: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus Christ], that . . .

Whoever believes in Him . . .

Should not perish . . .

But have everlasting life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Because He Live (Amen)” by Matt Maher:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Be Bold For Change

I read a short article (actually, a devotion) on a blog last night and I said, “I must share it!” Not only is it short (most folks like short articles) but, as is the case with so many of my blog posts, it is written by someone who is famous and a lot more knowledgeable then I am, and he’s also a friend of mine. He was a pastor for 25 years, and he is a radio talk show host (among other things), and he’s written many books over the years, too. In fact, I’ve written about two of them previously on these two blog posts: Three Free Sins–Say What?” (published on August 5, 2012) on his book titled, Three Free Sins,” and True Colors (published on April 29, 2016) on his last book titled, Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart.” And, he’s currently working on a new book, too.

His name is Dr. Steve Brown (but don’t call him doctor; call him Steve), and if you know him or have listened to him talk in a myriad of venues including his radio program, you know that he has a very deep voice and a delightful sense of humor. He’s also honest to the bone. And, he is, without a doubt, one of a kind. Steve is a former pastor and professor emeritus, founder of Key Life Networka Bible teacher, and he is a frequent and much sought-after speaker at conferences and in other settings.

Steve writes a regular devotional on his KeyLife website, and I want to share the devotion that was just published on March 27, 2017 as it speaks to an issue that is so prevalent in our society and world today. It is titled, The Problem with Religion,” and here is what Steve has to say on the topic (quote source: KeyLife):

The Problem with Religion

Do you sometimes grow tired of religious people? Do you ever want to just grunt, scream and spit? I know I do.

Sometimes I just want to say something shocking. And once that’s done, I’ll think, “There, I did it and I’m glad!” I try to stifle those feelings because, of course, no real Christian would even think such things. That is what I thought until I read Christ’s words in Matthew 6:1-8 and 16-18.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. . . . And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

The fact is, you can always tell when someone is religious . . . but you can’t always tell when someone is a Christian. One of the most dangerous things we do in the church is to confuse sanctimony with saintliness. That is the problem Jesus addresses in Matthew 6.

So we need to be careful.

Watch Out For Religious Exhibitionism.

Someone has said that true religion is what you do when no one sees.

Jesus makes the point that if you don’t do it privately, for God’s sake, don’t do it publicly. If you don’t believe it in your heart, for God’s sake, don’t do it in your life. If it isn’t real to you when you’re by yourself, for God’s sake, don’t say it is real when you’re with others. Sometimes the more the outward piety, the less the inward reality. That is why you have to watch those who say and do religious things.

Are you sometimes intimidated by the religious folks who do so much religious stuff? They are always faithful, they memorize Scripture all the time, they talk only about God and they know the creeds backwards.

Watch Out For Religious Words.

There is a direct correlation between the reality you know and the number of words you have to use to communicate that reality to others. The more words, the less the reality.

You should have heard all the religious clichés that surrounded my father on his deathbed. In contrast, the doctor who led him to Christ was very brief and very clear. He said, “Mr. Brown, you have cancer and three months to live. We’re going to have a prayer and then I’m going to tell you something more important than what I just told you.” They prayed and then in a very simple way that doctor led my father to Christ.

It takes many words to keep a sinking religious ship afloat. Most of us have a problem with keeping quiet . . . I know I do.

Are you sometimes intimidated by those who know so much and make it sound so complex?

Watch Out For Religious Condemnation.

You can tell how guilty a person is by asking how guilty you feel in that person’s presence.

How surprising of God to sanctify the tears of the thief and judge the silent condemnation of the religious judge. How surprising of God, in the midst of proper worship, correct theology and strict Sabbath keeping, to simply leave the building.

Do you sometimes wonder if you’re the real thing because you get so much wrong and they point it out?

Watch Out For Religious Solemnity.

Sometimes I get tickled at the seriousness of the church. If there weren’t a God, I would understand. But last time I checked, God was still there and had not, as yet, gone into a panic.

When Jesus is present, there is joy, freedom and release. Under the watchful eye of a sovereign God, we can rejoice in the laughter of the redeemed.

Do you ever get the giggles in the wrong place, are criticized and then question your salvation?

I’ve got some good news for you.

Jesus says twice, “They have their reward.” When people tell me that I’m spiritual, it often worries me. I would rather receive my reward from God than from them.

I have a friend who says that the difference between believers and unbelievers is that Christians know the rules and how to play the game. Therefore we can fake it better.

In Luke 18 Jesus told a story about a Pharisee who knew the rules. He went to the temple to pray and looked down on the tax collector who was also praying. The Pharisee rejoiced before God that he was not like the tax collector.

The Pharisee told God that he was not like other men. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t an adulterer . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t a tax collector who stole money from God’s people . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he fasted twice a week . . . and he did. The Pharisee told God that he tithed all of his possessions . . . and he did.

The tax collector, on the other hand, barely looked up. Instead, he pled for desperately needed mercy . . . and received it.

The rest of the story? When the Pharisee left the temple, the religious folks told him how much they appreciated his help in building the temple. After all, he was a benefactor. The religious folks went on to admire him for his fasting, praying, purity and commitment. As a result, the Pharisee felt good about himself.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge him.

According to Jesus, that’s all he got.

Time To Draw Away

Read Luke 18:9-14 Romans 8

Are you intimidated by religious folk . . . so much so that you begin to doubt your salvation? Don’t let that happen. You belong to God. So rest and relax in his love, mercy and grace. It’s already yours. (Quote source: “The Problem with Religion” on KeyLife).

I titled this blog post, Be Bold for Change,” as we who are part of the Church (see definition at this link) need to be far less religious and far more loving. We need to be far less self-righteous and far more genuine about our concerns for others (as in all others). We need to be far less concerned about materialism and far more concerned about those in need. We need to be far less judgmental and far more understanding of others. And we need be far less concerned about our “legacy” and far more concerned with trusting God and not ourselves and our own resources.

If we want to know just how “religious” we are at any given moment, just think about someone we don’t like very much. That’s all it takes. The example of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Jesus’s story quoted above in the devotion says it all. As Steve wrote:

He [the Pharisee] went to the temple to pray and looked down on the tax collector who was also praying. The Pharisee rejoiced before God that he was not like the tax collector.

The Pharisee told God that he was not like other men. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t an adulterer . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t a tax collector who stole money from God’s people . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he fasted twice a week . . . and he did. The Pharisee told God that he tithed all of his possessions . . . and he did.

The tax collector, on the other hand, barely looked up. Instead, he pled for desperately needed mercy . . . and received it.

And we all do it, too . . . judge others (and ourselves) according to our own measuring stick. That is why Jesus made it so clear that we should not judge others (and he knew our proclivity to do just that very thing, too) in Matthew 7:1-5 when he stated:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The Pharisee paid no attention to “the plank in his own eye.” He thought he was righteous before God in the things that he did (or didn’t) do. He justified himself; whereas the tax collector humbled himself before God and acknowledged that he was a sinner, and asked for (and received) mercy. The difference between the two is huge.

It’s far too easy to play a religious game and miss the whole point of who Jesus really is. And it’s too easy to point fingers at others and mock or make fun of those we don’t know or understand–we do it all the time whether outwardly or in our thoughts (and God knows our thoughts even if others don’t). As Steve said about a friend he knew in the devotion above:

I have a friend who says that the difference between believers and unbelievers is that Christians know the rules and how to play the game. Therefore we can fake it better.

And we can fake it so well, too (or at least we think we fake it well). It’s often why some people leave the church and never come back. They can smell fake a mile away.

The answer? It’s found in Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly  with your God.

And that’s as simple as it gets . . . .

Act justly . . .

Love mercy . . .

And walk humbly . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Chasing Lions

I come from the world of academia. For over twenty years I worked in higher education at colleges and universities, large and small, public and private, secular and Christian, and all except one was nonprofit. My area of expertise is in Student Affairs, and I held professional staff positions ranging from Academic Advisor to Coordinator to Director. I also worked with a variety of students (primarily adult students and graduate students) as well as staff, faculty, and administrators; and I also fulfilled numerous other responsibilities.

Eight years ago I lost a job that sent me into the world of long-term unemployment. While undertaking a major job search, I found that the longer I went without finding another job, the more I needed to find some kind of creative outlet to keep the creative juices flowing, and that is when this blog was created back in July 2010. I was new to blogging back then, and I spent the first several months experimenting with it. I ended up deleting the posts I had written up through April 2011 as there was no common theme linking the individual posts together. However, three months later in July 2011, I fired my blog back up and this time it just took off. I mean it seriously took off and it has been going strong all this time. In fact, I’m close to a mile-marker as I will soon have 500 blog posts published on this blog at some point this year (this is blog post #481).

I have always been an avid reader, mostly of nonfiction. And as my readers know, I quote heavily from other authors, mostly famous authors, past and present, as I’ve never been one to think I needed to “reinvent the wheel” with my own words on a topic that others have expressed far more eloquently (and in many cases with more knowledge and experience) then I could do. I always give credit where credit is due, and the great thing about blog writing is one can instantly “link” to the author and source of the quotes and articles. Had I not been living in the age of the internet, none of this would have been possible.

I mention this bit of personal background as I am aware that there are many different “thoughts” on Christian living outside of the realm of the essentials of the Christian faith (the “essentials” are the core beliefs of Christianity). And I am aware that some of what I post may cause some disagreement. However, my intent has always been to bring up topics as they come to mind, and I often quote others more knowledgeable than myself when writing about them. More than anything, I want the posts to be challenging and/or informative as that comes from my academic background.

With that in mind, yesterday I received a 40% off coupon from LifeWay in my email, so I went looking for a book to use it on. With only one coupon, it was hard to narrow it down to the book I wanted to buy (I had several in mind when I arrived at the store). Mark Batterson‘s latest book, Catch the Lion: If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It’s Too Small,” (published in September 2016) is one of the books on my list, but I also realized it is sort of a “sequel” to his very first book that was published back in 2006 titled, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars.” While Catch the Lion stands on it’s own without having to read the previous book first, after much thought on which one to spend my coupon on, I decided to go with In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” which has been republished in August 2016 with some additional bonus material.

Mark Batterson is the lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, which also owns and operates the largest coffeehouse, Ebenezers Coffeehouse, on Capitol Hill. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Regent University and he is also a New York Times bestselling author. The title of the book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” as Batterson states in his opening paragraph in Chapter 1 titled, “Locking Eyes with Your Lion,” comes from 2 Samuel 23:20-21 (NIV):

Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down a huge Egyptian. Although the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear.

Batterson gives the reader a movie script picture of Benaiah with the lion in the pit that he killed on a snowy day (which I will leave in the book for readers to read). To sum it up, Benaiah does what none of us would do if we came face-to-face with a lion. We’d run . . . . as far away as we could get; but Benaiah didn’t run. Batterson states the following on pp. 16-18:

Right at the outset, let me share one of my core convictions: God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time. A sense of destiny is our birthright as followers of Christ. God is awfully good at getting us where He wants us to go. But there’s the catch: The right place often seems like the wrong place.

Can I understate the obvious?

Encountering a lion in the wild is typically a bad thing. A really bad thing! Finding yourself in a pit with a lion on a snowy day generally qualifies as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. That combination of circumstances usually spells one thing: death.

I don’t think anyone would have bet on Benaiah winning this fight–probably not even the riskiest of gamblers. He had to be at least a one-hundred-to-one underdog. And the snowy conditions on game day didn’t help his chances.

Scripture doesn’t give us a blow-by-blow description of what happened in that pit. All we know is that when the snow settled, the lion was dead and Benaiah was alive. . . .

Now fast-forward two verses and look at what happened in the next scene.

Second Samuel 23:23 says: “And [King] David put [Benaiah] in charge of his bodyguard.”

I can’t think of too many places I’d rather not be than in a pit with a lion on a snowy day. Can you? Getting stuck in a pit with a lion on a snowy day isn’t on anybody’s wish list. It’s a death wish. But you’ve got to admit something: “I killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day” looks pretty impressive on your résumé if you’re applying for a bodyguard position with the King of Israel! . . .

Most people would have seen the lion as a five-hundred-pound problem, but not Benaiah. For most people, finding yourself in a pit with a lion on a snowy day would qualify as bad luck. But can you see how God turned what could have been considered a bad break into a big break? Benaiah was chasing a position in David’s administration.

Here’s the point: God is in the résumé-building business. He is always using past experiences to prepare us for future opportunities. But those God-given opportunities often come disguised as man-eating lions. And how we react when we encounter those lions will determine our destiny. We can cower in fear and run away from our greatest challenges, or we can chase our God-ordained destiny by seizing the God-ordained opportunity. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” pp.16-18.)

And that is the basic premise of this book. As Batterson states on pp. 19-20:

There is an old aphorism: “No guts, no glory.” When we don’t have the guts to step out in faith and chase lions, then God is robbed of the glory that rightfully belongs to Him.

Is anybody else tired of reactive Christianity that is more known for what it’s against than what it’s for? We’ve become far too defensive. We’ve become far too passive. Lion chasers are proactive. They know that playing it safe is risky. Lion chasers are always on the lookout for God-ordained opportunities.

Maybe we’ve measured spiritual maturity the wrong way. Maybe following Christ isn’t supposed to be as safe or as civilized as we’ve been led to believe. Maybe Christ is more dangerous and uncivilized than our Sunday-school flannelgraphs portrayed. Maybe God is raising up a generation of lion chasers. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” pp.19-20.)

The book is filled with stories of “lion chasers” like a Georgetown lawyer who put his law practice on hold to shoot a documentary film about human trafficking in Uganda; and a tenured professor who gave up his chair to pursue a dot-com dream. There’s the man in an executive-level position at Microsoft with a six-figure salary and million-dollar stock options who gave it all up to plant a church; and a political neophyte who decided to run for Congress. Also, there’s a woman church member who lead a mission trip to Ethiopia despite her many fears, just to name a few of the many stories in this book. As Batterson states regarding these folks and others on page 20:

The lion chasers you’ll meet in this book are ordinary people. They put their pants on one leg at a time like everybody else. Most of them were scared to death when they bought the plane ticket or handed in their resignation. Weighing the pros and cons caused some ulcers along the way. And at times it felt like they were the ones cornered by the lion in the snowy pit.

I wish I could tell you that every lion chase ends with a lion skin hanging on the wall, but it doesn’t. The dot-com dreamer is successful beyond his wildest dreams, but the guy with the political aspirations lost the election. However, both of them are lion chasers in my book. What sets lion chasers apart isn’t the outcome. It’s the courage to chase God-sized dreams. Lion chasers don’t let their fears or doubts keep them from doing what God has called them to do. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” p. 20.)

Now let’s go back to the story about Benaiah (page 21):

Benaiah went on to have a brilliant military career. In fact, he climbed all the way up the chain of command to chief of Israel’s army. But it all started with what many would consider being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His genealogy of success can be traced all the way back to a life-or-death encounter with a man-eating lion. It was fight of flight. Benaiah was faced with a choice that would determine his destiny: run away or give chase.

Not much has changed in the past three thousand years. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” p. 21.)

One more quote from Chapter 5 titled, “Guaranteed Uncertainty,” and then you’ll have to get the book to read the rest! Regarding the story of Benaiah, Batterson states (pp. 83-86):

It is so easy to read about an incident that occurred three thousand years ago and fail to appreciate the element of surprise, because we know how the story ends. We read the story and think the outcome was inevitable. Psychologists call it “hindsight bias.” It is an exaggerated feeling of having been able to predict an event before it actually happened. We play the role of Monday-morning quarterback when we read Scripture. But to really appreciate the faith of Benaiah, you’ve got to feel what he felt before he killed the lion. . . .

There are a thousand variables, and they all add up to one thing: an uncertain outcome. It could have gone either way. Heads or tails.

I’m sure Benaiah had a sense of destiny. But that sense of destiny was coupled with a degree of uncertainty. Benaiah didn’t know if he’d win or lose, live or die. But he knew that God was with him.

Benaiah could have run away from the lion. And running away would have reduced uncertainty and increased security. But lion chasers are counterintuitive. They aren’t afraid of venturing off the map into terra incognita. The unknown doesn’t scare them. It beckons them like a long-lost love or childhood dream. In a sense, security scares lion chasers more than uncertainty. . . .

I know that different people have different callings. I know different people have different personalities. But I also know that embracing uncertainty is one dimension of faith. And regardless of your vocational calling or relationship status, you have to do something counterintuitive if you want to reach your God-given potential and fulfill your God-given destiny. Sometimes you have to run away from security and chase uncertainty.

Isn’t that what Jonathan did when he left the safety of the Israelite camp and climbed a cliff? The military stalemate was driving him crazy, so he decided to pick a fight with the Philistines. I love his modus operandi: “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf” (I Samuel 14:6).

Isn’t that what Abraham did when he left his family and his country to pursue the promise of God? In a day and age when the average person never traveled outside a thirty-mile radius of their birthplace, Abraham embraced uncertainty and ventured into terra incognita. “He went without knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8).

Isn’t that what Noah did when he built the Ark? Noah was a laughingstock for 120 years, but he embraced the uncertainty of a divine weather forecast. “Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded  him” (Genesis 6:22).

Lion chasers challenge the status quo. They climb cliffs, move to foreign countries, and build boats in the desert. Lion chasers are often considered crazy, but they are able to do these things because they aren’t afraid of uncertainty. They don’t need to know what is coming next because they know that God knows. They don’t need explanations for every disappointment because they know God has a plan. Lion chasers refuse to settle down because they want to experience every divine twist and turn that God has in store for them. (Quote source: “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” pp. 83-86.)

So how’s that for some encouragement if you are in need of it today? I’m glad I got this book first as it will make his latest offering (which is a continuation of In the Pit written ten years later) titled, Catch the Lion,” all the more enjoyable and meaningful, too. And who doesn’t like to read about inspiring people and their stories and the God who leads them onward!

I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus that I quoted in my last blog post found in Mark 11:22-24“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

Whether we are facing lions or mountains, there’s our answer. Have faith in God (and in His timing, too). . . .

And whatever we ask for . . .

Believing we have receive it . . .

It will be ours . . . . 

YouTube Video: “Feel It” by TobyMac ft. Mr. Talkbox:

Photo #1 credit here

Photo #2 credit here

Game On

In the movie, Bridge of Spies (2015), based on a true story that started in 1957 during the Cold War (1947-1991–the Cold War ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991), an American lawyer, James B. Donovan (played by Tom Hanks) is recruited to defend an arrested Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel (played by Mark Rylance) in court, and then helps the CIA facilitate an exchange of the spy for the Soviet captured American U2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers (played by Austin Stowell). Abel is convicted and sentenced to 30 years in a Federal prison (much to the chagrin of the general public who wanted him executed; however, Donovan stated to the judge that he might be of use in a prisoner exchange in the foreseeable future if one of our spies was caught by the Soviet Union).

While Abel is in prison, Donovan visits Abel and brings him a letter that Donovan received from a woman in East Germany pretending to be Abel’s wife (she sent the letter thanking Donovan for his kind treatment of Abel)–East Berlin and East Germany were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1945 at the end of WWII. Donovan asks Abel if he should respond, and Abel indicates yes, and states, “What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?” 

At this point, an American spy pilot (Powers) was recently shot down over Soviet territory and captured by the Soviets and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The letter Donovan received from the woman pretending to be Abel’s wife in East Germany turns out to be the beginning point of the him helping the CIA facilitate a prisoner exchange of Abel for Powers and another young American graduate student named Frederic Pryor (played by Will Rogers) who was recently captured and being held by the East Germans. However, at the time Donovan received the letter, neither Donovan nor Abel knew that it would eventually result in a prisoner exchange involving Abel. That’s when Abel responded with the following question:

“What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?”

While situations vary, it is hard to know what to do when one doesn’t know what the game is that is being played. On the surface it might look to be quite different from what is actually going on beneath the surface and behind the scene.

Often when we encounter situations we don’t fully understand, we like to think that we are “in charge” of our situation and that all it takes is the right amount of “positive thinking” to get the results we want or to get back on track. I’m not quite sure where “positive thinking” as a “cure all” got it’s start (actually, I think it got it’s start in 1952 with the publication of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale‘s book, The Power of Positive Thinking) but we have been fed a line of thinking for several decades now that says we are pretty much the captain of our own ship, and we can have or change anything we want if we just “think positively” enough and acquire the right connections in the process. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a positive mental attitude, we have too often elevated “positive thinking” on a throne of it’s own and as a panacea for all difficulties or diseases.

In answer to the question, “Is there any power in positive thinking?” GotQuestions.org answers it by stating:

One definition for “positive thinking” is “the act of reviewing thought processes in order to identify areas that need improvement, and then using the appropriate tools to change those thoughts in a positive, goal-oriented way.” Of course, thinking positively is not wrong. The problem associated with “positive thinking” is in believing that there is some kind of supernatural power in positive thinking. In this age of rampant false doctrine and watered-down theology, the power of positive thinking has stood out as one of the more popular errors. False doctrines are similar in that they are human ideas masquerading as the truth. One such human idea is the power of positive thinking.

The idea of the power of positive thinking was popularized by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in his book “The Power of Positive Thinking” (1952). According to Peale, people can change future outcomes and events by “thinking” them into existence. The power of positive thinking promotes self-confidence and faith in oneself; it leads naturally to a false belief in thelaw of attraction,” as Peale wrote, “When you expect the best, you release a magnetic force in your mind which by a law of attraction tends to bring the best to you.” Of course, there is nothing biblical about one’s mind emanating a “magnetic force” that pulls good things into one’s orbit. In fact, there is much unbiblical about such a notion.

In “The Power of Positive Thinking,” Peale used flawed religious concepts and subjective psychological theories to advance a false version of faith and hope. His theory is part of the “self-help” movement whereby a person tries to create his own reality with human effort, proper mental images, and willpower. But reality is truth, and the truth is found in the Bible. People cannot create their own reality by fantasizing or thinking it into existence. Peale’s theory is flawed because he did not base it on truth.

Proponents of the power of positive thinking claim their research supports the validity of the theory. However, the body of data is widely debated. Some of the findings suggest there is a positive correlation between a positive outlook and performance, but this is a far cry from positive thoughts ‘creating’ an outcome. The research suggests that people who have positive attitudes tend to have higher self-esteem and better experiences as compared to people who have pessimistic outlooks. On the other hand, there is no substantiated evidence to support the idea that thoughts can control outcomes. Positive thinking has no inherent power to change the future.

Every good gift is from God above (James 1:17), not from the power of positive thinking. The best gift of all is the indwelling Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). The Bible says that man cannot be “good” on his own (Isaiah 64:6). The only good in us comes from the righteousness of Jesus Christ applied to our account (Ephesians 2:1–5; Philippians 3:9). Once the Holy Spirit indwells us, He begins the process of sanctification, in which the transformative power of the Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus.

If we want to better ourselves and make positive changes, we need to have more than the power of positive thinking. True spirituality will always start and end with our relationship to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who is the key to changing one’s life, not our thoughts, and not our effort alone. As we actively yield to the Spirit, He will transform us. Rather than seek help from psycho-babble, pseudo-religious books, or a self-generated power of positive thinking, we should rely on what God has already given us through His Spirit: “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). (Quote source here.)

Often we confuse positive thinking with faith. Genuine faith believes in God for the outcome, not in positive thinking for the outcome. GotQuestions.org describes faith as follows:

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Perhaps no other component of the Christian life is more important than faith. We cannot purchase it, sell it or give it to our friends. So what is faith and what role does faith play in the Christian life? The dictionary defines faith as “belief in, devotion to, or trust in somebody or something, especially without logical proof.” It also defines faith as “belief in and devotion to God.” The Bible has much more to say about faith and how important it is. In fact, it is so important that, without faith, we have no place with God, and it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). According to the Bible, faith is belief in the one, true God without actually seeing Him.

Where does faith come from? Faith is not something we conjure up on our own, nor is it something we are born with, nor is faith a result of diligence in study or pursuit of the spiritual. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that faith is a gift from God, not because we deserve it, have earned it, or are worthy to have it. It is not from ourselves; it is from God. It is not obtained by our power or our free will. Faith is simply given to us by God, along with His grace and mercy, according to His holy plan and purpose, and because of that, He gets all the glory.

Why have faith? God designed a way to distinguish between those who belong to Him and those who don’t, and it is called faith. Very simply, we need faith to please God. God tells us that it pleases Him that we believe in Him even though we cannot see Him. A key part of Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” This is not to say that we have faith in God just to get something from Him. However, God loves to bless those who are obedient and faithful. We see a perfect example of this in Luke 7:50. Jesus is engaged in dialog with a sinful woman when He gives us a glimpse of why faith is so rewarding. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” The woman believed in Jesus Christ by faith, and He rewarded her for it. Finally, faith is what sustains us to the end, knowing that by faith we will be in heaven with God for all eternity. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Examples of faith. Hebrews Chapter 11 is known as the “faith chapter” because in it great deeds of faith are described. By faith Abel offered a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord (v. 4); by faith Noah prepared the ark in a time when rain was unknown (v. 7); by faith Abraham left his home and obeyed God’s command to go he knew not where, then willingly offered up his only son (vv. 8-10, 17); by faith Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt (vv. 23-29); by faith Rahab received the spies of Israel and saved her life (v. 31). Many more heroes of the faith are mentioned “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies” (vv. 33-34). Clearly, the existence of faith is demonstrated by action.

According to the Bible, faith is essential to Christianity. Without demonstrating faith and trust in God, we have no place with Him. We believe in God’s existence by faith. Most people have a vague, disjointed notion of who God is but lack the reverence necessary for His exalted position in their lives. These people lack the true faith needed to have an eternal relationship with the God who loves them. Our faith can falter at times, but because it is the gift of God, given to His children, He provides times of trial and testing in order to prove that our faith is real and to sharpen and strengthen it. This is why James tells us to consider it “pure joy” when we fall into trials, because the testing of our faith produces perseverance and matures us, providing the evidence that our faith is real (James 1:2-4). (Quote source here.)

So let’s go back to Abel’s original question,“What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?” Again, while situations vary, it is hard to know what to do when one doesn’t know what the game is (or, worst yet, when one doesn’t even know there is a game until it’s too late–I think back to when I lost that job eight years ago as an example in my own life). And history is replete with examples large scale and small of “man’s inhumanity to man.” I think of all the innocent victims who have died in wars, or closer to home, people who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. And I think of the millions around the world and here in America who live in poverty and can’t just “positively think” their way out of it. It goes beyond us and our own “thoughts” to include the motives and hidden agendas of all the “others” out there, too (the good, the bad, and the ugly). Only God sees the whole picture. We barely see even a tiny fraction of it. So . . . .

“What’s the next move when you don’t know what the game is?”

Proverbs 3:5-6 holds the answer:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight. . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig and Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Passing On Kindness

There’s a story in the Old Testament about a friendship that went beyond the grave. It is a story many of us are familiar with, but the lasting effects of that friendship might not be as well known. It is the friendship between David and Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul, the first King of Israel. The story is found in 1 Samuel 17-20, and opens with the story of David, as a teenage shepherd boy, slaying the Philistine giant known as Goliath. David’s popularity among the people after he slew Goliath created much jealousy in King Saul, who then tried to kill David over the next several years. In the midst of this situation is Jonathan, King Saul’s son, who became a very close friend with David.

In an article titled, Epics Friendships: David and Jonathan,” by Cecily Paterson, an author and editor, she gives us a brief description of the history of their friendship:

One of the most famous friendships of the Bible has to be that of David and Jonathan. When they met, David [a young shepherd boy] had been chosen by God to be the future king of the Israelites, but Jonathan’s father (Saul) who was the king at the time, wanted to kill David.

However, Jonathan took a real liking to David.  He made a promise to him, he loved him, he gave him presents and provided for him. He warned David about plots against him by his father, he spoke out for him to his father and he used his influence to keep him safe.

Friendship requires self-sacrifice.

It’s not surprising that Jonathan was the main player in the relationship at first, because as the son of the king, he was the one with the power in this relationship.

But it is a power that he used for the good of his friend – and at a cost to himself. Every time he kept David safe or promoted his interests, he was destroying his own chances of inheriting his father’s throne. Jonathan’s friendship with David was at the cost of his own career and reputation!

Friendship requires loyalty.

Jonathan was a friend with some pretty impressive qualities. His loyalty to David, and courage in the face of political pressure, and an angry, murderous father was unquestioned. He had the humility to say openly that he would never be king. He followed up his commitments, he was generous and he did it all ‘before the Lord’. He showed genuine affection, loyalty and openness. He was the friend everyone would love to have!

But David was not just a passive ‘taker’ in all of this either. As time went on their friendship grew so that by the end it was definitely a two-way relationship between equals.  When the pair had to part, the story says that David ‘wept the most’. At Jonathan’s death, David showed immense grief.

Friendship requires real commitment.

One of the particularly beautiful aspects of this friendship was the way David and Jonathan promised to do good to each other’s family and descendents. They knew that as technical rivals to the same throne, it was more than likely that their families and heirs could grow to hate each other and try to eliminate their opponents. They took steps to stop the cycle of rivalry and hate – and as time went on, it worked. . . .

Most of us today are unlikely to be in a situation where we become best friends with our greatest rivals, but we may stand to lose status, money, or power because of a friendship. Are we willing to put our friends first? (Quote source here.)

The story of King Saul’s jealousy of David starts from the time David slew Goliath (1 Samuel 17) when he was a teenager, and lasts until King Saul’s death by suicide in a battle that kills his sons, including Jonathan (see 1 Samuel 31). During those years from the time David was a teenager until he took the throne of Israel at the age of 30 (see 2 Samuel 5:4), King Saul had tried a number of times to kill David, and twice David had the chance to kill King Saul but he didn’t take it as David always viewed King Saul as “God’s anointed.” The entire story is found in 1 Samuel 17-31.

David laments the death of King Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:17-27, and David is anointed King over the tribe of Judah at which time a war breaks out between the House of David and the House of Saul (see 2 Samuel 2-4). In 2 Samuel 5 David becomes King over Israel and conquers Jerusalem and defeats the Philistines.

At this point I want to bring the story back to the friendship between David and Jonathan. As noted in the story above, “One of the particularly beautiful aspects of this friendship was the way David and Jonathan promised to do good to each other’s family and descendents. They knew that as technical rivals to the same throne, it was more than likely that their families and heirs could grow to hate each other and try to eliminate their opponents. They took steps to stop the cycle of rivalry and hate – and as time went on, it worked.” That story is found in 2 Samuel 9.

In 2 Samuel 9:1, King David asks, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” Kevin Gerald, founder and lead pastor of Champions Centre in Tacoma, Washington, has written about the kindness of King David that extends beyond the graves of both Jonathan and King Saul in his book titled, Good Things: Seeing Your Life Through the Lens of God’s Favor,” (2015). In Chapter 14 titled, “Favor Forward,” he writes (pp. 115-117):

There’s an illustration of this kind of above-and-beyond caring for others in the life of the great King David.

The thoughts of David, once only a lowly shepherd boy, were swimming in pools of remembrance. The story seemed almost too good to be true–where he was now compared to where he was then–staggering! Somehow a dynasty reserved only for those in the bloodline of royalty had opened up to include him. He knew the events that had led up to his becoming the king of Judah [and Israel], but he was still incredibly fascinated by how it had all happened.

Obviously, God’s favor was on his life.

Perhaps that’s what he was thinking about on this day when waves of gratitude overwhelmed him and he suddenly blurted out a question, which caused all of those around him to scurry in search of an answer. It was an unexpected, spontaneous question prompted in a moment of reflection, and no one in his immediate airspace knew the answer. So they went looking for someone who did, and it wasn’t long until a man named Ziba came to stand before the king. David asked him the same question: “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (2 Samuel 9:1).

We’ve all experienced some unsolicited kindness, when for some reason people wanted to show us kindness, to grace us with their favor–perhaps parents, mentors, teachers, coaches, relatives, neighbors, pastors, and friends who played significant role in helping us get to where we are today. They showed us favor we had not earned, and maybe now because we’ve lost touch with them, it’s impossible to thank them personally. Or maybe it’s just hard emotionally to express accurately the gratitude we feel.

So the greatest expression of gratitude we may have available to us now is to pay it forward–to pass on kindness to another person.

This is exactly the state of mind David was in as he remembered his friend Jonathan, the son of the previous king, Saul. Jonathan had been the heir apparent to the throne David now occupied. Their relationship had been cemented by an agreement to preserve and protect each other no matter what. This is what David was recalling that day when he asked his question. He was on a mission that no one in the palace could fully understand or comprehend.

I love the simplicity of David’s question. He did not ask, “Is there anyone who is deserving? Is there anyone who could help me in the business of the kingdom? Is there anyone with skills? Is there anyone who is qualified to lead our military?” No, he simply asked, “Is there anyone? Just anyone of the house of Saul?”

Ziba, the servant who had been summoned, knew about only one son of Jonathan–a young man who had suffered a severe fall that left him crippled for life. Ziba said, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet” (2 Samuel 9:3).

Why did Ziba add the information about the injured feet? Maybe he thought this deformity would eliminate that son as a candidate for the king’s kindness. Perhaps he thought the king would be embarrassed in some way by having a crippled man in his presence.

But the words were hardly out of Ziba’s mouth when King David quickly asked another question: “Where is he?”

“He is at the house of Makir son of Ammiel in Lo Debar,” Ziba answered (verse 4).

Lo Debar was a desolate place, known for its extreme poverty and barely survivable conditions. Now all the personal, unpleasant, and unappealing information that Ziba knew was out on the table. This son of Jonathan was definitely not the kind of person one would expect a king to be interested in. But David never showed an ounce of hesitation.

So King David had him brought from Lo Debar from the house of Makir son of Ammiel.

When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor.

David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“At your service,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table” (verses 5-7).

The difference a day can make! The marginalized, disenfranchised, socially excluded Mephibosheth had been lifted out of Lo Debar by the extravagant kindness of the king. Typically, when we consider kindness, we think of offering greetings and smiles, opening doors, buying someone coffee. But when David said he wanted to show someone kindness, he was thinking way outside our normal box. To David kindness meant much more than a small act. To him it was a complete game-changing, life-altering demonstration of favor that would impact the recipient’s life continually from that day forward. (Quote source, Good Things,” pp. 115-117).

From this story we get a clear picture that one act of kindness can sometimes lead to some incredible places and life changes. However, I don’t want us to get our normal concept of “being nice” (which is way too common today and requires nothing from us personally including any real compassion on our part) as being confused with or as a substitute for “being kind.” The two concepts are diametrically opposed.

Here’s a second story taken from Harvard Business Review titled,Why Is it So Hard to Be Nice?” (2010) by William C. (Bill) Taylor, a writer, speaker, cofounder and founding editor of Fast Companythat speaks to the issue of kindness from a business perspective:

Every so often, you have a small experience in business that teaches big lessons about what really separates winners from losers. I had one of those experiences a few weeks ago, and I think the story is worth telling, not because it is so exciting or dramatic, but because it is so true to how the world really works — and because it underscores how those of us who think about business often make things more complicated than they are.

So here’s the story…

Two weeks ago, my father turned 75. I wanted to give him a special gift to mark the milestone, and I got an idea. How does a red-blooded American male do something nice for his Dad? Why, he buys him a Cadillac, of course! So I called my father, whose 2001 Cadillac was showing its age, and gave him the news: You visit the showroom, pick the model, negotiate the price (that’s half the fun, right?) and I’ll take care of the rest.

He was thrilled. So he drove his old Cadillac to the dealer, test-drove the new models, chose the options he wanted, and started talking price. Towards the end of those discussions, he reminded the dealer that he’d received a $1,000 customer-loyalty discount in the mail, which he planned to apply to the car. This was on a Friday afternoon. Turns out, the dealer told him, the loyalty discount had expired — on Thursday, less than 24 hours before the visit. “But I assume you’ll honor it anyway,” my father said. “I’m a loyal Cadillac customer.” Sorry, the dealer told him, but the terms are the terms.

Needless to say, that reaction stalled the conversation. My father drove away, a little confused and very disappointed, and decided to look around more — not at other Cadillac dealers, but at other brands. The next Friday, he drove by a Buick dealership and decided to stop in. A Buick Lacrosse — which, it turns out, is a super-popular model right now — caught his eye, and he struck up a conversation with the dealer. He told the story of his expired loyalty certificate. The dealer checked the computer and confirmed that the certificate had indeed expired. “But no problem,” he said, “we’ll honor it. We’ll knock a thousand bucks off whatever price we agree to.”

Impressed, my father decided to take the Lacrosse for a ride. He liked the experience, but he told the dealer he wished he had stopped by earlier in the day, so he could drive it longer. “Then take the car with you for the weekend,” the dealer said. “Bring it back on Monday and we’ll go from there.”

It was a great plan, until Monday rolled around and my father found himself being rushed not to the dealer but to the hospital, with what turned out to be a medical problem that required surgery (he’s doing great now, thanks.) As he was lying in his hospital bed, thinking about whatever it is we think about in these moments, he realized that the Buick Lacrosse was sitting in his garage! So he called the dealer from the hospital and asked how he could get the car back. “Don’t worry about the car,” he said. “Just get better.” And the next morning, what should arrive at the hospital but a lovely bouquet of flowers and a nice note from the Buick dealer!

So here’s the first question: Which car do you think my father bought? If you said the Buick Lacrosse, you would be correct. Here’s the second question: Since that purchase, what do you think one my father’s favorite topics of conversation with friends, associates, and me has been? If you said, the incredible treatment he received from the Buick dealer, you would be correct again.

Now here’s the third question: Why is it so rare for businesspeople to behave like the Buick dealer, and so common for businesspeople to behave like the Cadillac dealer? It’s a mystery to me, but there’s nothing mysterious about the results of those contrasting behaviors. Success today is about so much more than just price, quality, reliability — pure economic value. It is about passion, emotion, identity — sharing your values.

Nobody is opposed to a good bottom-line deal — “cold beer at a reasonable price,” in the immortal words of Bruce Springsteen, who prefers his Cadillacs pink. But what we remember and what we prize are small gestures of connection and compassion that introduce a touch of humanity into the dollars-and-cents world in which we spend most of our time. Translation: The ROI on that bouquet of flowers and the thought behind them was pretty darn high.

Last spring, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos gave the Baccalaureate address to Princeton University’s Class of 2010. He told a little story of his own, about how a 10-year-old Jeff Bezos showed his grandparents how smart he was, in a way that upset his grandmother. His grandfather pulled young Jeff aside. “My grandfather looked at me,” the now-billionaire CEO recalled, “and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, ‘Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.’”

That sounds like a good takeaway from the story of my father’s new car. What is it about business that makes it so hard to be kind? And what kind of businesspeople have we become when small acts of kindness feel so rare? (Quote source here.)

As Jeff Bezos’ grandfather stated to him, “It’s harder to be kind than clever.” It’s also harder to be kind than nice. So why is it, as Bill Taylor stated at the end of his article, that “small acts of kindness feel so rare?” Is it because we just don’t care anymore? That can come with a pretty big price tag. “One act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted” ~Aesop.

And one act of kindness. . .

Can change. . .

The world. . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

I Shall Not Want

possessionsThe above picture looks like many of our basements, storage units, spare rooms, or garages, doesn’t it? We accumulate, but instead of getting rid of what we no longer need, we just find a place to store it for that “rainy day” that never seems to arrive. And our obsession with our possessions over the past several decades created a whole new industry: the storage center industry–which makes millions (maybe billions) off of us so we can keep all that stuff we will probably never use again since we, obviously, aren’t using it now.

Who of us living in America does not recognize the following words that open the 23rd Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The Lord, of course, is the God of the Bible. However, it seems as if our “wanter” has gotten a bit out of control. We might try to rationalize all that stuff we have by saying we “need” it; but the reality is that most of the time it is not a necessity of life–it is just stuff we “want,” so we buy it, and when we are done with it, we store it just in case we might need it again for that “rainy day.”

And our “wanter” isn’t just for physical possessions. Perhaps it is a job we want that someone else has, or someone’s husband or wife that is appealing to us, or something someone else has that we want, and we don’t much care how we get it. Or maybe we want fame, prestige, power, money . . . . Our list of “wants” is pretty much endless, isn’t it?

In a chapter titled “David–I Shall Not Want” in the book, 21 Seconds to Change Your World (2016), the author, Dr. Mark Rutland, addresses the primary difference between “want” and “need.”  Dr. Rutland is “a pastor, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author and columnist for Ministry Today magazine. He is president of both the National Institute of Christian Leadership and Global Servants, and he also serves on the preaching team at Jentezen Franklin’s Free Chapel Church. He is a frequent guest on The 700 Club, TBN, James Robison’s LIFE Today, Daystar, and 100 Huntley Street. His radio program is the number one Christian teaching broadcast in Atlanta.” (Quote source here). Dr Rutland is also the former president of two Christian universities from 1999-2013 (source here). Dr. Rutland states the following from his book (pp. 79-81):

There is a difference between want and need. Though it is translated “want,” in the first verse of Psalm 23, David is most probably dealing with the issue of “need.” St. Paul speaks to the same issue in Philippians 4:19: “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” The great apostle is reminding us that we can trust God to meet us at the point of our need. Some have refashioned this verse to mean that God will supply all they could ever want. That perverts the text and may lead to all kinds of error and excess.

One man even told me that God wanted him to leave his wife for his lover. He twisted two verses of Scripture in a most convenient way using Philippians 4:19 (above) and Psalm 37:4 to justify adultery, desertion, and remarriage. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight thyself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

“My wife is no longer the desire of my heart,” he said. “I need this woman. Not want, but need. God has put a desire for her in my heart and a need that He will meet.”

No amount of explanation or exposition on the real meaning of those two verses would dissuade him. He had the whole story and his own heart so twisted up that he was absolutely blinded to the truth. He intended to leave his wife for his lover and he eventually did, using Scripture to salve his conscience, that is, if he still had one.

It is not God’s perfect will for His children to languish in penurious deprivation. Poverty, hunger, and want in that sense are never the will of a loving and good God. He is a God of blessing. He enjoys blessing His children. Genesis 22:17 says, “In blessing I will bless thee.”

David’s declaration of faith [in Psalm 23] is therefore a good and pure statement of God’s dependability. David is simply finding another way of saying, “God will take care of me.”

But “I shall not want” in no way means I will never have to do without anything I want. I am made of earth, and that earth raises its ugly head every so often. I have, in my own life, wanted things, wrong things, things that could hurt me and others. I have proven to myself my seemingly inexhaustible capacity to lust for the baubles and pleasures of earth. There is something inside the earth of us that is bent toward a wrongful wanting. Putting that to death is not an event but a long and painful process. Which of us has not stumbled along the way? Why? Because we want stuff. David wanted stuff. Bathsheba, for example. She was not God’s will for David, nor was David God’s will for her. Their wanting was the cause of so much sin and suffering that the story is still a living cautionary tale after three thousand years. “I shall not want” cannot be construed to mean that God will give me everything my sinful heart could ever desire.

Furthermore, there are also things that are not, in themselves, bad for me, but the earth of me needs limitations. Have you ever walked through a store with your children and heard them tick off the items without which they simply could not live another day? There were times when my wife and I told our children no about things we could have afforded, things that were not even bad for them. We did this because it is not good for us to have everything we want immediately when we want it. Sometimes not having things, or not having them now, is good for us. A life without limits becomes a life without maturity, and that is never the will of God for me.

God is a good God. His will for me is good, and He does not will for me to live my life in grinding poverty. He does not will that my children suffer hunger. God is a God of abundance and mercy and generosity. He teaches me to live in contentment, but He does not oppress me with want. (Quote source: “21 Second to Change Your World,” pp. 79-81).

lord-is-my-shepherdHere is another take on “I shall not want,” from an online devotional titled, I Shall Not Want,” by Dr. James MacDonald, who is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel; leads the church planting ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship; and teaches the practical application of God’s Word on the Walk in the Word radio broadcast, and who is also a gifted author and speaker. Dr. MacDonald has included a “Journal” section and “Pray” section for consideration at the end of his devotion:

When David wrote in his famous psalm, “I shall not want,” it was the summary of the result of having the Lord as his shepherd. What does it mean not to want? First, it means we will not lack the basic needs of life—the big three: food, shelter, clothing. You don’t need to be anxious about those things. God promises over and over He will meet those needs in our lives.

Our initial response to this promise is often skepticism. “What about those who are hungry and homeless? There seem to be a lot of them. How does God meet their needs?” The answer comes to us in His Word, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way…” (2 Corinthians 9:11). When God supplies abundantly to us, He expects us to share with others. God uses His people to spread His blessings. You can probably think of occasions when God has helped others through you and when He has helped you through others.

And there is something deeper than the basic needs of life in the words, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Make note of this: I shall not want another shepherd. I shall not seek another Master. The expert care of my Master Jesus is all I desire. I am completely content with His management of my life. Though my life is not perfect, He has never failed me. While there have been disappointments and difficulties, He has always kept His promises. When I have sought Him, I have found in Him all I need. The Lord is my shepherd, and I don’t want another.

“I shall not want” is also a statement about self-control. Think about all the pain in life that is caused by wanting: “I want this,” and “I want to go there,” and “I want to experience that.” Too many of life’s hurts come from wanting what we do not have.

Here is a personal example: I have always wanted to be a fisherman. I can’t begin to tell you the aggravation and heartache that have come into my life from wanting this! Oh, the stories of trips I’ve gone on and promises that were made. “You’re going to catch so many fish, you will be amazed!” Instead, I discovered there’s a reason it’s called fishing and not catching. All I caught was frustration—from wanting.

But the longer I live with the Lord as my Shepherd, the more I experience the profound ways the truth “I shall not want” can radically alter every day. 

Loved one, no matter what the circumstance, you and I already have everything we really need in Christ. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Lay hold of this powerful truth in your life today.


Journal

  • Based on today’s reading, does “not wanting” mean a change in what you “need” or does it mean seeing your “needs” in the light of God’s wise provision?
  • What has taken on the character of “wants” in your life and needs to be surrendered to the Shepherd for His timing and supply?

Pray

Lord, forgive me for the times I let the optional and incidental things from this world become unhealthy wants and needs in my life. When I stop long enough to consider all You have done for me, those earthly priorities vanish before Your glory. Help me today to be still and know You are God, my Shepherd, in whom I have everything I need. Thank You for summing up Your abundant supply in the person of Your Son, Jesus, in whose name I pray, Amen. (Quote source here.)

I’d like to include one more thought on the phrase, “I shall not want.” This one comes from a blog post on Living Proof Ministries which was founded by Beth Moore, and the post was written by Lindsee(a young woman who used to work at LPM) titled, I Shall Not Want.” Beth Moore is a widely recognized evangelist, prolific author, Bible teacher, and founder of Living Proof Ministries, a Bible-based organization for women based in Houston, Texas.

Every morning while I am getting ready for the day, I listen to either a podcast or music. I go in and out of seasons with podcasts and right now, they’re on the back-burner while my music has made a comeback. I typically put on a worship CD of some sort, but other times I press shuffle and let my iPod do the leading. That’s always an interesting mix, but it’s fun nonetheless.

This morning I put on my “Recently Played” playlist and let that shuffle. I think there are nearly 100 songs on that particular playlist, and since my taste in music is pretty eclectic, it’s a fairly random assortment and one that keeps me guessing as to what song will come on next.

Not to my surprise, Audrey Assad usually ends up on this playlist and this morning I was struck afresh with “I Shall Not Want,” a song from her most recent album and inspired from Psalm 23. It is my second favorite, next to “Good to Me,” which I actually wrote about here. (I’d just like to go ahead and apologize for every blog post that is birthed from a song. It’s how I roll.)

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God

The reason it’s my second favorite is because it confronts me in my uncomfortable places and convicts me on issues I’d rather suppress and ignore. It’s one of those songs that just gets all up in your business, hence my love/hate relationship with it. I mean, from the need to be understood, accepted and fear of being lonely? Ouch. I’m telling you the truth when I say that so often her lyrics leave me speechless. Speechless or thankful because she has a gift in putting words to what I’m feeling. . . .

We started Bible study this past Tuesday and one thing that stuck out to me while I was reading earlier this week was the word “dependencies.” Our current and brand new series is called “Breath” and it is all about the Holy Spirit. We’re barely getting started but the word Beth brought to us on Tuesday was stunning to say the least. I’m not going to even try and recap for fear of obliterating the entire series, but I can say that we’re praying for miracles and salvations to blow through Bible study these next six weeks.

I think the reason the word dependencies jumped out at me is because, if I can be so honest, in my own personal life, I’ve noticed that the Lord has been removing all manner of dependencies from my life. Dependencies that distract me from Jesus himself. And while it’s not a fun process in the least, and even hurts most times, it’s a good thing. I said to a friend the other day that when we have no where to go but to Jesus, it’s a good place to be. Yes, I have the sweetest friends and the most caring family, but even when we have all of the above, there are just some things that only Jesus can tend to. There are some places that only He can fill because truly, there are intimate things that only He knows. Even in marriage our spouse wasn’t meant to be a God to us, but a helpmate. If some of us were honest, we’d could say that some of our dependencies are secrets only He knows about, but we’ve never spoken them aloud to anybody, let alone Him. But as a God who is intimately acquainted with you, He knows, He sees, He doesn’t require you to change before you come to Him and He still pursues you with His perfect and unconditional love.

Can we just all be real here and ask God to deliver us from our enemies? Our dependencies? And then all agree with each other in Jesus’ name? We can even speak it anonymously if need be. I know it’s Friday and Monday is the day for starting over (do you sense my sarcasm?), but let’s not wait until Monday, let it be today! After all, Jesus came “not to call the righteous ones to repentance, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) That’s good news to those of us today who are erring on the side of sin. Erring on the side of dependency of the things that make us weak and sick. Erring on the church-lady taboo that we’re all strong and well. Jesus is good news, indeed. (Quote source here.)

These three different views by the three different authors on the phrase “I shall not want” should give us plenty of “food for thought” on the meaning of “I shall not want” in our own lives. Also, I’ve included the Audrey Assad song, I Shall Not Want,” referenced above in the blog post by Lindsee, as the YouTube Video for this blog post (see below). And I’ll end this post with those famous opening words from King David in Psalm 23. . .

The Lord. . .

Is my Shepherd. . .

I shall not want. . . .

YouTube Video: “I Shall Not Want” by Audrey Assad:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

natsab

Here I stand.

The Daniel Fast

Consecrate yourself unto the Lord through extended prayer and fasting.

Unshakable Hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

It's a God thing...

Unpacking the baggage of life, love, and spirituality

drcristy

Dystopian Fiction Writer | Doctor | Wife | Mom

Reformedish

incompletely reformed thoughts on God, ministry, and life

lovelyseasonscomeandgo

This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

Messianic Sabbath

A daily break in your day to celebrate our salvation in Yeshua (Jesus) and our abundant life through the Torah

For Such A Time As This

"...who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Esther 4:14

The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Disciples of hope

Living the hope that comes from Christ

daily meditation

daily thoughts on scriptures

The Minstrel's Wife

A worship leader's missus and her views from the pew

From the Wisdom of our Founders

Important Quotations to Instruct and Inspire

Growing Forward

a blog for those seeking personal change for God's glory

The Old Guys

Quotes & Resources From... The Old Guys

Prime Reality Ministries

God is the Real Reality!

Flotsam and Jetsam

Random thoughts and commentaries on God's Word

Sara's Musings

Living It Out. . . on WordPress.com

Don Sweeting

Reflections on theology, worship, culture, history and the church

What's The Good Word?

Reflections on daily readings from the Scriptures

A DEVOTED LIFE

Practical Daily Devotions for the Real World

The Daily Way

A Daily Devotional from Dr. Michael Youssef

Jean Huang Photography - Los Angeles Custom Portraiture and Fine Art Photographer

"Transformational Beauty" "Maternity" "Newborn" "Children" "FineArt" Photography

Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

Laura's Lens

Taking a look at the beauty around us

Perception

Photography. Life.

ILLUSTRATION AGE

THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE FOR ILLUSTRATORS

The Elliptical Saloon

Weblog for WhiteHouseMuseum.org

Thought For the Day

Bringing whatever stirs my heart

A Breath of Fresh Air

"Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God." Philippians 2:15

Joel C. Rosenberg's Blog

Tracking events and trends in Israel, the U.S., Russia and throughout the Epicenter (the Middle East & North Africa)

ForeWords

Lectionary Musings within the Community of Christ

Of Dust & Kings

Empowering Faith. Transforming Culture.

A MINIATURE CLAY POT

"We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives" 2 Corinthians 4:7 The Message

gracefully50

On your birthday: count your candles, count your years, count your blessings.

lilies, sparrows and grass

"That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works." Psalm 26:7

%d bloggers like this: