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.

 

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!

Run the Race

1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2; NKJV)

Our sister in Christ who I mentioned last week as nearing death went on to be with Jesus on Saturday.  Many of us were remembering her as we gathered on Sunday and one story dealt with her running the race…quite literally…she would train and run a 5K each year for the past few years.  Of course, that training and running also was how she lived with Jesus.

The above verse came to mind and I invite you to think about your race today.  Each of our races are different as our lives are different.  That said, the What, How, and Why of it is the same…Jesus.  Our faith in Jesus is the “what race” of our life and dictates what we do in our life.  Our determination to glorify Jesus is the “how we race” and the zealous way we try to live for Him.  Our hope of life everlasting and spiritual security now is the “why we race” because we know Jesus is worth it.  We can look at our life and how we are running it and simply evaluate it through the lens of Jesus.  In doing so, we will see the areas that require more training in God’s word and practice in applying it.  That training and practice will provide more endurance for our race and we will better make the run from earth to Heaven.

In the story about our sister, one of the points was that when she ran that 5K, people took notice as what she was doing was an accomplishment for a woman of her age.  People took notice of her running, they stood up, and they cheered as she ran buy.  Strangers did that.  People who didn’t know her and didn’t know what it took to get where she was…they recognized the achievement she was realizing.  If we run our race spiritually with Jesus, folks are going to notice…even those who don’t know you or Jesus.  We pray that as they take notice they might ask “how did you get here” and in that an opportunity for the gospel is presented and the hope for a soul to be saved.  All because you trained and ran the race of Jesus.  Run on!

Encouragement

1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their GodAnd God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Revelation was written to encourage the 1st Century Christians as they suffered under the severe persecution of the Roman Empire.  There is much to study and to learn from the book and I believe it is also given as an encouragement to us.

There are many of us who have loved ones that are very sick, hurting, or are otherwise in a very tough spot.  We love them and we want to help them but in truth there is only so much we can do.  Cancer, mental illness, physical disabilities, emotion abuse are the ones that come to my mind as I think about those I love who are either suffering or have someone who is suffering.  It breaks my heart overall and as I consider each case and the impact of the situation hurts me even more.  I dare say it makes me mad on some level though that is a fruit of the flesh and not the Spirit.  The Spirit, if I am focused as I should be, brings me peace, comfort, and encouragement.

As I think about it, I hurt because of the pain but I rejoice because I know that in the end, every person on my mind who is suffering is going to be ok when they go home to Jesus.  With that said, as I turn to those that are caring for them, love them, or otherwise affected by their loved one’s suffering…what can I do there?  Of course I can say encouraging things, I can pray for and with them, I can just generally be available, compassionate, and loving.  That is a lot and I should do more.

What I also want to do today is encourage everyone who is reading this to take time throughout the day and pray for those we know are suffering physical, mental or emotional pain.  Pray that even though they may not be able to pray or read scripture, that verses like these would fill their heart and God would comfort them through the power I know He has and will use for His children.  I believe everyone that is in Jesus is going to be ok in eternity and I believe our God is willing and able to comfort His children who are our loved ones in ways we cannot see or fully understand.  I believe that and I think we can find comfort in it.

It is not about us and it is not about now.  We cannot do it all and thankfully He has done it all.  Take heart and pray with me for all our loved ones and their families in these difficult times.

Thankfully Praying

Continuing on in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, we read:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NKJV)

This brings to mind a similar instruction from Paul in his epistle to the Philippians:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.  6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthymeditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9; NKJV)

Take some time and consider the key words in these verses:

Rejoice, pray, thanksgiving, will of God, Jesus Christ, peace, true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good report, virtue, praiseworthy.

Evaluate your life today through the lens of these words.

Are you rejoicing in your own life and with those you care about or are you letting the bad things distract you?

Are you spending time in prayer whether it is a time you have set aside or continually conversing with your Father through the good and bad of your day?

Do you see the will of God today?  Do you see Jesus?  Are you trusting God is there and working?  Does this bring you peace?

Are the things you are thinking about true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy or is satan filling your mind with distraction?

God is a builder.  Satan is a destroyer.  Fill your heart and mind with the building materials of God, trust His will, feel His peace.  That is what He is shouting from Heaven.  That is my prayer for you and for me today.

What God Did and Will Do

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  (Ephesians 2:4-10)

For this text, I have underlined the words in bold above and in the margin of my bible I have written “What God Did!” and “What God Will Do!”.    When my eyes hit this part of my bible I am encouraged because the bottom line is that God has worked, is working and will work.  He is always working in me and for me and what He wants is to ensure that I make it home to Him.

Jesus is calling me (Come) and God is working…how awesome!  We see that He is rich in mercy, has great love, and He saves by grace.  Mercy, love, and grace from the Great I AM every moment of every day…backwards and forwards…that is where we are if we are in Christ Jesus through obedience to the gospel. 

Take these words today and be encouraged.  Mercy, love, grace.  God has done, is doing, and will do!  He is leading us home.  Heaven!  Salvation!  

Come

There is a passage in Matthew (11:28-30) that many of us are familiar with and often comes to mind for me when I am being challenged, am tired, or hurting.

 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

We are all laboring through this life and so is the devil.  He is working in different ways at different times to entrap us and keep us from Jesus and the Father.  It is work for us to fight through this and keep our eyes on heaven.  Jesus calls to us in that labor and invites us to Him and His rest.

Jesus says take His yoke and learn from Him.  A yoke is something that is fashioned for a beast of burden to pull something.  It is a tool made for work.  We are going to labor in this world but there is a way to work and have rest at the same time.  If we take the yoke of Jesus, the gospel, and put that around our neck and sit at His feet and learn, we will have rest.  Jesus is humble and kind with a heart to save and to teach.  He is looking to help us home in contrast to the devil who is interested in only destruction…and that burden is heavy.

Jesus is inviting us to spiritual rest and not a complete relief from the struggles in our physical world or a life of comfort or idleness.  He is inviting us to protect ourselves with Him and to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6) just as He did and be victorious just as He is. I think of it like a bullet proof vest.  The Kevlar covers the vital organs and will stop a bullet yet it is my understanding that even though the bullet is stopped, the force is enough to bruise and to hurt.  Just as the one who is shot is left aching but alive…we will also be spiritually safe and have rest in Jesus though we may hurt outwardly.

Safe in Jesus, that is the point of the day.  Jesus is safe and He provides rest.  God has begun a good work in those who have obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ and He is faithful to complete it and He will not forsake you even if everyone else does.  That is the point to remember…and one more.  None of this is true if we do not respond to the first word of this text…”Come”.  Jesus is calling but we have to answer…in the moment and every day.

 

Paul’s Prayer

Brothers and Sisters,

I apologize for the brief break in articles and hope this finds you well and having a great summer. This work was started by a brother who loves Jesus and wants to provide encouragement to men as they work to serve Christ. The result has been a sustained set of biblical thoughts and messages that inform and encourage brethren as we all join in an eternally important work. I want to make every effort to keep this rolling an as we get going again, I would encourage you and invite you to contribute or if you have any other thoughts/questions, please reach out as we would love to hear from you.

For today, I want to draw your attention to one of Paul’s prayers found in Ephesians 3:14-21.

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height–to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him b glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

God is love and His love is for all and is demonstrated in those who have obeyed the gospel of Jesus and have been reconciled to Him. His love is awesome with a width that makes room for us all, a length that represent the extreme measures He will take to demonstrate it, a depth that has room for every sinner every time, and a height that is equal with an eternal and all powerful God who is lofty and yet ever present.

Love. It is a tough word but made easy in Christ. If God could love us so much as to offer His only Son, we should be able to love and live in Jesus despite what we are facing. That is where God wants us to be despite every effort of the devil to steal us away. God’s love is real and it is knowable and will completely fill us if we open our hearts and make room for it…but we will have to get rid of those things like bitterness, envy, anger, selfishness that crowd out the love God is filling us with. And make no mistake, God is and will do the work…we are His handiwork and He is working in us so that we will bring Him glory…in love…so that others might come and join the family of Jesus.

Take some time and think about Paul’s prayer. It’s a great one. It’s one we should emulate. Allow God to work. Get rid of the things you put in your heart through a fleshly perspective and make room for the love God has given and gives from a Heavenly perspective. Watch the fruit of the Spirit overtake the fruit of the flesh and rejoice with all thanksgiving.

Count The Cost

 “A pair of dead birds greet visitors at the chained front door of what would have been the YMCA on Dishman Road in Beaumont, Texas. The birds likely flew in an opening in the rear of the 22,000 square foot unfinished building ripped open by vandals or transients looking for a place to get out of this season’s unusually cold winter. The owner, Wells Fargo, is looking for a way out of the property it acquired through foreclosure after the YMCA declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy and construction halted in February 2010. For about $2 million dollars you could own this facility.”

I read this in a newspaper about five years ago while living in Beaumont, Texas. It made me think about the words of Jesus in Luke 14:25-33. Jesus talked about discipleship. Those who follow Him must count the cost. Jesus demands total allegiance. While many might initially begin to follow Him, they fail to finish because they didn’t count the cost.

Jesus’ words in this text are some of the most challenging He taught. There is no middle ground when it comes to following Him. Being a disciple of Jesus is a life-long endeavor. There is no halftime, vacation, or sabbatical. How do you think the great crowds felt when they learned this?

How do we feel when we hear these words from Jesus?  Let’s consider a few thoughts from what Jesus said.

What is the cost? The cost of following Jesus is everything!  Despite the large crowds that were following Him, Jesus didn’t attempt to soften His words. His words were demanding, stringent, and probably shocking. To be a disciple of Jesus you must hate everyone including yourself, Luke 14:26. Jesus must be first. Jesus must come first before anyone else.  Many are surprised when they read the word “hate.” Certainly, we are to love all men. It’s the idea of “loving less.” We must love Jesus more than anyone else, including ourselves. Half-hearted discipleship will not work. An “every once in a while” kind of discipleship will not work. Read Revelation 3:15-17 as an example.

Can We Do It? Is it possible for us to put Jesus first above everyone and everything? The answer is YES. It is. Otherwise, Jesus would not have told us to do it. But it will require a lot of work. While our reward will be great, it will come with a price. But anything worthwhile comes with a price. The price of redeeming us required sacrifice on the part of Jesus, Ephesians 1:7. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that the same will be true for us. We can do what Jesus says. We will have to trust Him at all times. We will have to remember the big picture: eternity with Him.

Will We Do It? We are to count the cost. We don’t want to be like the man who began to build but then never finished. When I’m studying with people and teaching them about Jesus, this is one of the passages I share with them. I want them to see what Jesus says about discipleship. It really is a serious matter and one really needs to consider what Jesus says about it. As Christians, let’s be sure that we finish. As Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.”