Word in Action

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hearslow to speakslow to wrath20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:19-22; NKJV)

Perspective and process.  God gives us His perspective and is teaching us how to see our world from an heavenly perspective.  He also provides us process for our lives and the order does matter.  Here, we are to be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath.  If we are swift in our hearing of His word then we will have a heart prepared to be swift to hear another while seeking to understand rather than be understood.  This requires us to listen first and not speak first.  It requires us to consider God’s Word, what another is saying, and then humbly respond.  In all of this, we need to remember that wrath comes last not first and that the wrath of man does not produce righteousness of God which should be our goal.

The focus really is us as individuals here and not others.   We are to lay aside filthiness and wickedness so that we can humbly receive His implanted word.  In elevating God and others in our lives, He will save our souls.  If that is the focus, then we can be Godly communicators and humbly maintain our cool.   If we leave evil behind and receive His word, then we will find salvation and share salvation.

All of this is active.  Though we receive and we react to God’s word, we do so deliberately and purposefully.  It might not be a lot each and every day but we focus on and we do what we can in in line with what God’s word says.  This changes us and changes our relationships.  We determine to listen…to God’s word and to others.  We determine to understand and apply it and allow it to work in our lives.  We purposefully turn away from evil and choose good.  In all of it, we are emboldened in our humility and God will work in our lives and our relationships.  Perspective and process do matter to God.  Reflect on His perspective through His word and work to maintain His process in your life.

 

Father of Lights

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures. (James 1:16-18)

Perspective and process is what we discussed in verses 12-15.  God’s perspective is heavenly and we can have confidence in what He is doing and has promised to do.  Jesus says in John 15 to “Abide in Me” and to faithfully serve Him despite the highs and lows of our life and the result is eternal life…the crown of life.  That is the process.

In that, the devil will try to mix all that up, sow lies, cause confusion.  But we read here to not be deceived.  To remember that all good gifts and things that come into our lives are from Heaven.  If something is not good, we know it is not from God and we can work to avoid it, flee from it or otherwise escape and resist.

Specifically, God is the God of light and there is no darkness in Him.  Again, a standard we can measure the things in our life by.  God is the God of light and there is no variation or shadow.  God is solid in that He does not move and that He is not empty but is and represents His supreme and awesome power and nature which is fully focused on our restoration and salvation.  He works to build up.  The devil works to tear down.  We can know that God has and is working to restore us…bringing us into the light as He is light.  Our objective is to stay there and remain faithful and we will prevail.

Let me close with a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy and encourage all of us to move to the light and stay in the light no matter how hard the devil works to yank us back.

11 But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing, 15 which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords16 who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11-16)

Two Perspectives and Two Processes

12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. (James 1:12-15; NKJV)

This passage provides perspective from which we can confidently serve our God and also from which we can investigate what is going on in our life and determine what the problem is.

Jesus promised a crown of life, that is eternal life, for those that love Him.  Jesus told us if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.  If we are faithful and obedient to Jesus Christ then we will be blessed as we overcome our temptations, will endure in this life, and be found approved by Him as we return to Him in spirit (crown of life). That is the process of God.

In that, we can be confident that God is not and does not tempt.  It says clearly in the verse that “evil” is what tempts and there is no evil in God.  There is no darkness but only light.  There is no bad, only good.  Our God is Holy.

So if God isn’t tempting us, where is it coming from?  Evil.  What is evil?  That which is contrary to God.  Who is contrary to God?  The devil is evil and he is contrary to anything God stands for and he is the one that appeals to us in our flesh and tempts us to act in a way that is contrary.  The devil is selfish.  We are at risk of being selfish.  Satin will appeal to that perspective while Jesus is saying deny yourself and follow Him.

If we give way to the temptation of the devil through responding to the desires of our flesh or our self-centered perspective, then we are in danger.  This desire, if allowed to take hold, will give opportunity for sin and if the sin is born and not taken care of will result in spiritual death.  That is the process of the devil.

So we have two perspectives and two processes.  God’s is heavenly and holy and results in eternal life.  The devil’s is fleshly and results in sin and death.

This provides us opportunity to reflect on our lives and consider what choices we are making, what sorrows we have, what fruit we are bearing and determine which perspective and process we are adhering to.

God loves us and wants us to be safe and secure as any Father does but He wants our heart and that requires our faithful and consistent choosing of Him.  He does not tempt us.  He only loves us.  And He does and will equip us to endure temptation by the devil and to secure an eternal and living crown.

 

Trials in Poverty and Wealth

Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits. (James 1:9-11)

We looked at how we can prayerfully deal with trials, how we can triumph in them, and how important our attitude is in all of it.  When considering verses 2-8 and thinking about trials, our minds will more than likely go to the hardships or difficulties we or others are dealing with. Often times those hardships can be related to the lack of or abundance of money and earthly possessions.  It might be easy for us to consider the trials of one who has less money but not think that one with great wealth could face trials as well.  That, however, is what we see in these verses.   We see there are trials for both the poor and the rich and the attitude we should have.

In poverty, we might be tempted to curse God.

In wealth, we might be tempted to forget God.

But we can have joy in both poverty and wealth.  If we are poor, we can rejoice that we have been exalted.  Even if we are poor or have less than another, we can be spiritually rich and on equal footing with all Christians (Revelation 2:8-9).

If we are wealthy or are extremely blessed physically, then we can rejoice that we have been humbled.  The rich are humbled by becoming Christ’s slave and being placed on even footing with all Christians in which wealth means nothing.  This humility is important because a disciple of Christ knows that these riches are temporary, they are not able to save our souls and the love of money is like quicksand and a source of many sorrows brought on by ourselves.

In all of this, asking for and receiving Godly wisdom provides us with the heart and attitude to overcome trials whether rich or poor.  We will understand that we are not secure in our physical blessings.  We thank God for His blessings whatever they are and look to Him for wisdom in our stewardship and desire to have a giving and hospitable heart.  Christ is the great equalizer when it comes to wealth and no matter the size of our bank accounts we all have the same limitless love, mercy, grace and hope in Jesus if we are obedient to Him and His word.  Rejoice with those who rejoice and be prepared to lift another up as they have need and we have the means to provide it.

Prayer Attitude

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trialsknowing that the testing of your faith produces patienceBut let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothingIf any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to himBut let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:2-8; NKJV)

In the margin of my bible for this section, I have the words “Prayer Attitude” meaning I should take a heavenly perspective and commit myself to talking to God about my problems and seek His way as I work through them.

If I have this perspective, I will find joy in my various trials.  It does not alleviate the pain or the suffering but rather produces joy as I come through them closer and stronger in Jesus.  As an athlete or a military trainee, there were  a lot of times I dreaded going to exercise/training and didn’t feel that great during it.  What I felt when I was done was worth it…accomplishment, strength, endurance, preparedness.  It is the same in the exercise of our life.  There is joy in being victorious with God. Endure through prayer.

Patience takes time.  Have you ever said “I am going to start being more patient and I am going to start right now!”  That isn’t how it works.  As with the exercise, it takes time, repetition and learning.  Be patient in prayer.

Applying God’s word to our lives through our trials and testing results in wisdom.  Wisdom is the application of knowledge and what we need is God’s knowledge in our lives.  We just have to ask in confidence and He will give us understanding and wisdom liberally because that is what He wants for us…that we ask, that He gives it, that we grow and draw nearer to Him.  Seek wisdom in prayer.

All of this is founded on our faith in Him.  Pray that God increase your faith.

In all of this, we pray that our faith will grow and we will hold fast to our Anchor…Jesus Christ…who is in heaven and will keep us despite the turbulence of our life.  There is confidence in prayer and we can speak with a humble boldness and He will provide grace for the moment.  Those moments strung together result in a life lived for Jesus that produces a patient joy as we look expectantly for His return and our homecoming.

Good Deed

Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ— 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. 12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. (Philemon 8-14; NKJV)

In considering this text, do you see the awesome and powerful demonstration of leadership by Paul and made possible by the tremendous followership of Philemon?

We have established this is a tough ask Paul is making of Philemon in receiving Onesimus…a slave of Philemon who has run away and is not profitable.  With that in mind, consider the fact that Paul does not command Philemon and he never uses the words “forgive” or “reconcile”.  What Paul does is “appeal” to Philemon’s character to “receive” Onesimus as a brother in Christ.  Paul knows that Philemon understands this is only possible if he forgives and they are reconciled.  Paul is encouraging Philemon to put his faith and love into action and to further refresh the hearts of the saints.

Why didn’t Paul command him?  I cannot say for certain but I understand the power and joy in others doing the right thing because they choose to rather than because they are told or command to.  I understand the tremendous catalyst of choice.  I have responsibility of leadership in my life whether it is with a colleague, an employee, a child, a spouse, a brother/sister…God has given me specific commands and responsibilities to lead.  Do you see that?  God has given me a work to do (responsibility) and I am accountable to the outcomes of that leadership work…and though the authority is implied…the focus is on the responsibility and the expectation is that I fulfill that responsibility as a Christian who emulates Christ Who is love!  Love in the case of Christ is “choice”!  The catalyst!

Leadership is a result of a cultivated relationship of trust, understanding, and mutual respect which provides the foundation for leading or influencing others towards a common purpose and work.  Paul cultivated this relationship with Philemon.  Philemon demonstrated his heart through his fruit.  Paul trusted the faith and love of Philemon and Philemon trusted Paul’s leadership.

This is what is so awesome in this scenario.  No barking orders.  No insecurity.  No resentment.  All of these are opportunities for Satan to place a wedge and start working a relationship apart.  The more people involved, the more opportunity and this is why leadership is so very important!  Choosing the assume the best of another provides the opportunity for them to exceed your expectations and reduces the opportunity for Satan to divide.

Paul’s letter is all about the need to forgive and how to go about forgiveness.  Paul’s approach is all about trust in Philemon’s character because of Philemon’s actions and fruit.  This is a pattern worth evaluating in our own lives.  If a brother or sister has demonstrated love and faith then we can assume the best of them and that they will demonstrate love and faith now and in the future.  This should provide us with a confidence in each other and relieve the need for “orders” or “commands” but rather open opportunity for encouragement, increased opportunity to serve, and growth.

Forgiveness and reconciliation is a hard work that has to be voluntary for everyone.  We can lead others through forgiveness and reconciliation if we first trust and provide opportunity for reconciliation rather than command that we forgive.  Jesus chose us.  Lets choose each other!

Heavenly Inheritance

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5; NKJV)

Peter provides a beautiful picture in this passage.  We see God’s mercy and that in Jesus we have been born again, resurrected to a new life free from the bondage of sin.  In that, we have a living hope and an inheritance in Heaven that will not fade away, lessen or in any other way diminish.  We know this because it is God Himself who keeps this inheritance for us and He does so with power.  Our part is faith and in that salvation and an eager expectation of Jesus’ return.

This encouraging picture of salvation, hope, and eternal life help us to frame our present life and the challenges we face.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trialsthat the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christwhom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.  (1 Peter 1:6-9; NKJV)

The trials of life are like fire and as with gold, fire refines and removes the impurities.  Fire and pressure take a raw piece of gold and provides the process necessary to transform it into a precious and beautiful object.  Our faith is more precious than gold but the same type of process is applied to our faith and our soul…fire and pressure in a life lived for Jesus brings forth His glory and hope for others to see and receive the same inheritance through faith and obedience to the gospel.

Allow the love and promise of your Heavenly Father and Elder Brother lift your eyes upward when the world only seems to drag you down.

Pilgrims

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (1 Peter 1: 1-2; NKJV)

The power of the internet and digital communication is that we can all reach out and communicate instantly and to so many people.  One could argue that there is a lot of bad or trouble that comes from that but more importantly there is a lot of good and opportunity for positive influence in it.  We are spread out but have the means to be instantly connected.

I am humbled as I write to think about all the different people that read this in all the different places they live.  The nature of our lives in this world puts us in different spots doing different things.  The nature of our society is that we build houses or apartments and for the most part we are stationary.  In being stationary, we get involved in our locale and all the good and bad that goes with it to include our neighborhoods, our economies, our schools, our relationships, etc.  As a matter of fact, I think we can get so focused on those things that it becomes part of our identity.  I am “from” Michigan.  That means something to different people and it is understood that it is different than when I was “from” Alabama.  We live in this world and we have an identity in it, however, it is not THE identity.

We are pilgrims.  This life is temporary.  Our home is Heaven.  We are in the world but not of this world.  Our hope and true family are in Jesus Christ and He reigns from Heaven.  We are here for a purpose and it isn’t to be “from” some place but to demonstrate we are “going” to a very a special place and our hope is that our manner of life will provide an opportunity to participate in another being uprooted from their sinful life and join the journey from earth to Heaven with Jesus..to join our pilgrimage.

We are pilgrims who have decided and committed ourselves to obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ and therefore we are God’s elect…His children.  Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice and His blood spilled so that we would be saved and reconciled to the Father.  Believing that and valuing our lives in that context, we sojourn on and look for rest in Heaven.

We are blessed to live where are at and to serve with the opportunities afforded us in that place.  There is no right place to live and there is nothing wrong with living in one particular place.  We have work to do and it can be done where we are at.  The trap set by the devil is to get us to over-identify with that place and forgetting where home really is.  The trap is focusing so intently in the permanence of a location and a point in time that we lose heavenly perspective and forget to move…as a pilgrim…spiritually closer to home.  I am thankful to be “from” Michigan and to have brothers and sisters here and elsewhere.  I am so very thankful that Jesus has gone ahead of me and has prepared an even more awesome eternal resting place with Him.

Life is hard and troubles come no matter where you are “from”.  Don’t forget to look up…to keep moving toward your heavenly home…and to be aware of those who might be stuck in the world or are ready to throw down their life of bondage in sin and join the journey with Jesus.  Sojourn on with joy and hope!

House of Mourning

1 A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth; Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better.  The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-5; NKJV)

Today we will gather to celebrate the victory in Jesus of our dear sister.  It is indeed a celebration and that was what she asked we do today.  There will be sorrow to be sure because we miss her.  She lived a life that is amplified in the lives of the ones she influenced and participated in.  And today she will give once again as we reflect on her life in Jesus and draw encouragement and example in continuing to strive for the gospel.  Her name is a good name.  Her life wisely lived.  All of which echos in eternity.

The book of Ecclesiastes provides us a vertical and heavenly perspective as we view the horizontal nature of our lives on earth.  It is a lens that reassures us that all things matter because this life is not the end.  Our eternal life with God and the eternal nature of our relationships and actions here are earth are called into view.  Everything we do has an eternal impact and everything God is doing is about the salvation of souls.  Life.  Death.  All of it demonstrates a patient and loving God who is singularly focused on saving.

The house of mourning is not a place that we, by nature, would prefer to be but our Father says different and that we should go there and take to heart the eternal nature of our existence.  There is salvation in Jesus and destruction without.  It is the center theme to our lives here and in eternity.  It is what will be before us today and worthy of our consideration.  It is an opportunity to draw closer to our Savior, celebrate victory in Him and be encouraged as we leave and go back into the world knowing that everything we face is worth it when our race is run with Jesus and we go home to a loving God.

Finally, I want to share these passages as they were shared with me.  They are offered to help us as we work to understand God’s perspective for things that happen here, deal with the resulting emotions and search for peace and trust in God’s power.

Psalm 13:1-3; Romans 8:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 14:12-13; John 14:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10; Philippians 1:20-30; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Good Decisions and Decisions Made Good

25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.  27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”  28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”  29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”  31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:25-33; NKJV)

At a point in my life when I was making a big decision and was doubting myself, one of the elders/shepherds at the church I was attending said to me “There are good decisions and decisions made good”.  He was communicating to me a lot of things but what I understood was I am free to make decisions but most importantly I needed to make those decisions in prayer and look to Jesus for my guidance and strength.  If I was focused on Jesus, my decision would be good even if it didn’t go the way that I thought it would.

I have since shared this phrase with others as a matter of encouragement and it came back to me this morning as I was thinking through some opportunities and challenges in my life.  As I was thinking, the above verse came to mind.  There are so many lessons in this passage and generally I focus on how Jesus responds.  It has had a profound effect on me in terms of when Peter got himself in trouble, the FIRST thing Jesus did was save him.  When Peter was safe, back with Him and his brethren, only then did Jesus rebuke him and teach him.  That is our Jesus…our Savior…our Lord.  He saves first!

Change and change management is not just a business or organizational term but something we all deal with every day.  We make decisions whether big or small.  We set out on our day and it is made up of a whole lot of decisions.  We often make them fully confident we know how things are going go and boldly set out…and guess what…it doesn’t always go like we think.  One moment we are walking on wave tops and the next we are sinking.  We start flailing and often we make things worse…trying to save ourselves.  I know for me…sometimes I have to be down to my last breath…about to go under…before I put my focus back on my Savior or ask for help.  What I am so thankful for, however, is that His mighty hand thrusts out and grabs a hold of me and pulls me back to Him and safety.

Good decisions and decisions made good.  I pray I make good Jesus-centered decisions but when I don’t, I pray that I call out to Him before it is too late.  Out of the boat…back in the boat…out of the boat again…it’s our life but Jesus doesn’t move and He is all about saving…being His disciple is a good decision and a decision made good.  Focus on Him and go boldly.  Love you all.