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.

 

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.

Receive

17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. 20 Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. (Philemon 17-20; NKJV)

The good deed and importance is found in Philemon receiving Onesimus.  Before I start with Philemon, please recognize the Onesimus is returning.  He is determined to reconcile with Philemon though the worst outcome for him could be that Philemon doesn’t reconcile and he lose his life…a punishment that was given to slaves who were disobedient.  This was in the realm of possibility but Onesimus had a heart to go and to reconcile.  As much as Philemon had to receive him, Onesimus had to go.  This cannot be overstated.

Paul urges Philemon to receive him like he would receive Paul.  It seems they shared a close relationship so the picture here is of two dear friends reuniting.  That is what Paul is expecting for Onesimus despite the fact that he had caused Philemon harm.  This shows us what reconciliation looks like.  Forgiveness is not just a lack of retaliation but restoration.  It is about how we receive one another in all circumstances and how we build and develop relationships with one another.

This is how God receives us when we are forgiven.  We do not simply escape the wrath we deserve but He FULLY restores us into a relationship with Him.  Paul paints a clear picture of what this looks like for Philemon and we can glean what it needs to look like in our lives.  Receive one who has wronged you the same way that you would receive one of your closest and dearest brothers or sister.

Paul is a catalyst in this restoration and we can be too.  Philemon might have had a long list of grievances or wrongs and it might have caused him a great internal struggle with what Paul was asking.  But Paul steps in and offers himself to take that debt on.  He doesn’t stop there though.  He doesn’t want a list of wrongs from Philemon that are now a debt on Paul.  What Paul wants Philemon to remember is that we are all indebted to our Lord Jesus and in this case to the one who taught and led us to Him.  Paul simply wants to bring to mind how desperately Philemon needed salvation at one point in time and to return the same offering of grace and forgiveness and restoration to Onesimus which Paul offered to him.  Again, we all can understand what that looks like and at different points play our part as a Paul (catalyst for restoration), Onesimus (willing to go and restored), and Philemon (willing to receive and to restore).

We forgive because we are forgiven.  We erase other’s debts because we have a record of debts that others have against us and a debt we can never repay our God and Father.  We owe our eternal spiritual life to God.  We understand that, then it will be easier to forgive.  We forgive because we are forgiven and we work for restoration in whatever role or situation we find ourselves in.  We work because that is the action we must take in our faith and love for Jesus and each other.

 

Importance of the Good Deed

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.  15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 10-16; NKJV)

The good deed that is presented before Philemon is to forgive and there is no good deed without reconciliation.  Without reconciliation, the opportunity for a negative attitude is a snare for Philemon.  He could have thought “Paul can keep that useless slave” even if it meant financial loss.  It would be worth it not to deal with him anymore.  That doesn’t sound like a good deed to me…even if it made him feel “better”.

If Philemon forgives and reconciles, then all three men are free to work together and Onesimus can be with Philemon and Paul.  Consider our own lives.  We have no problem staying away from people that we have problems with…steering clear of those who have wronged us and harmed us. The hard part is to come face to face with that person and do what is good for the other and not for self. This is what Paul is asking Philemon to do and where the value of the deed lies.

Paul can’t reconcile with Onesimus…there is no reason.  In fact, Paul is excited about how Onesimus has come into his life and the result through the working of God.  Paul offers that just might be the point.  Maybe the reason Onesimus didn’t remain with Philemon for a short period of time was so that they could be together forever.  Not as a useless or unprofitable slave but a brother and fellow worker in Christ.  Paul is offering a heavenly perspective and calling attention to God’s hand in our lives.  We see troubles and hardships, but God sees opportunity.  Many times, our own hardships must be endured for the benefit of others in a way we can’t see. We can, however, trust God’s hand in all of it if we keep a heavenly perspective.

Here, a relationship that was broken and a trust that was violated could be overcome and give way to a new and different relationship in Christ.  How often do our own desires, ambitions, or insecurities in the flesh hold back another?  How often do we act on what we think is right rather than consider God’s way?  Are we withholding spiritual forgiveness, blessings, and love to the detriment of others?  Paul is demonstrating that we can trust God’s hand and to be careful not to hinder His work.

Paul is providing both sides of the case.  Yes, Onesimus has wronged Philemon and that needs to be reconciled.  Paul also calls Onesimus a beloved brother and that much good has happened since Onesimus left and the potential for so much more if they are all reconciled and working together.  Paul has had much joy from Philemon’s love and faith and is encouraged that Philemon will do much more in reconciling with Onesimus.

As you consider this relationship in the context of your life, look to Joseph as well.  How did Joseph come to a point that he could forgive and reconcile with his brothers after all the betrayal?  Joseph recognized that evil done to him was used by God for good.  I am sure this was not an easy thing to come to terms with and it might have been tough for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus.  We may have the same challenge facing us today.  Can we take a heavenly perspective?  Can we trust God’s hand in our lives?  Will we not give Satan an opportunity to drive a wedge further into the most important relationships we have with our brethren and with our Father?

The bottom-line is this.  We can confidently forgive and reconcile because we know the great power of God in our lives to accomplish good through our hardship. Further, we must forgive and reconcile any chance we get because we have been forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus every time we needed it and asked for it.  Finally, let’s not ever forget that we are all Onesimus in some way.  We are not perfect. We all sin.  We all hurt others and violate our relationships.  We need forgiveness and we need others to be willing to reconcile.  Therefore, lets open that door with our own attitude and with our willingness to forgive and reconcile.  Have a love and a faith like that.  Be confident that this will bring joy and refreshing to your brethren whether you know it or not.  Stomp on the devil’s head and forgive.  God is doing the heavy lifting…just look up and within and let Him.  Let go and let Him reconcile your life.  How important is that?  It is profoundly and eternally imperative!

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!

Deny Self

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28; NKJV)

A couple points from this passage and a whole lot for us to consider, meditate on, and practice.

A definition for deny is “refuse to give or grant (something requested or desired) to (someone).”  Here, the someone is ourselves.  Jesus is saying that if we want to be His disciple we must deny following what we want and choose to follow what He has commanded and the example He has shown.  Taking this further, if we look at His example, Jesus denied everything except to do the Father’s will.  In every relationship and every circumstance to include the cross, Jesus denied Himself and chose His Father.  We can use this template in our own relationships and circumstances and if we find ourselves not entering the situation prayerfully or with a heavenly perspective, then we are not denying ourselves and following Jesus.  If we are not denying ourselves and following Jesus, then how can we possible deny ourselves and serve others.  If we deny ourselves, then Jesus and those we are interacting with become the most important.  If others are most important, than we will work to see the situation from their perspective and determine what we can do to serve them and their needs…not our own.

Second point, the cross is a symbol of one thing and one thing only…death.  Death is a complete and final act.  We understand what death looks like.  Life does not continue in that form.  Therefore, when we deny ourselves and follow Jesus, we are not taught to do it “just a little”.  We are taught to completely put off our selfishness, follow Jesus, and serve others.  Jesus doesn’t teach us that it is a one time thing.  We have to do this daily and because we are human, it means we will be faced with the choice to die to our own desires, denying ourselves and following Jesus many-many times in a day.  We have to die to ourselves daily to serve Jesus.

I know that when self is promoted, emotions generated from selfishness are acted on, and a loss of heavenly perspective occurs…I get myself in all kinds of trouble and those around me are impacted.  I also know that when this happens it is a snowball…rolling down a hill gaining mass and speed  and bounding over anything in its path until it slams into the unmovable Rock and shatters leaving only a gouge and debris field.  Why don’t I skip that part and just deny myself, die daily, and follow Jesus?  I know I would be better for it and so would those around me…most importantly those I love.

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.

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!

Of First Importance

1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:1-3; NASB)

It’s been a week since I have written and that saddens me because my not writing is a direct result of not properly prioritizing.  I have a big deliverable for work due tomorrow so for the past week and a half that has been my focus, what I set my schedule off of, what I prioritized other things against…you get the idea.  In doing so, I have taken my focus off the things that matter…mainly Jesus.  In doing so, what I have found is my whole attitude, thoughts, and actions changed.  I got less patient, I am more frazzled, I become short-tempered…in general I am less productive both physically and spiritually though I am “busier”.

It took a conversation with a sister in Christ, a great bible class, and a an encouraging message from God’s word…all delivered yesterday…to soften my heart, reset my focus and get me back on a path that leads me along life’s events with Jesus.

I know that I am not the only one who falls into the busy snare that the devil sets out so I know you will have grace on my not writing and I hope that you will find encouragement in knowing that you aren’t the only one who is struggling with “busy” and that Jesus is but a prayer away.  Stop, take a breath, let Him grab a hold of you and walk with Him.  He has already lived and died for you.  Let Him live with you.  It is the first, most important and only thing we need.  Love you all!