Stories

James 5:17-18 “Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.”

There are incredible stories of God answering prayers throughout the Bible. Sometimes I think we do not think that God answers prayers in the same way as recorded in scripture; or we may believe that we are not as good as the people who had the answers to prayers.

One thing is for certain, the people mentioned in the Bible are real people who did their best to keep their hearts in tune with God. We do not have to worry about them being better than we are. They made mistakes as well; yet they still stayed faithful to God and hearing from Him.

There are people who have incredible stories of prayer and God’s answer to them. We can praise God for any answer He give: yes, no, not yet. Often times we hear of how a person prayed and God miraculously stepped in to deliver them from several kinds of situations (health failing, finances, work, etc). But what about those stories that do not get as much press or media attention?

Think for a moment about the times you know God has answered your prayers. Were they always the way you wanted them answered? Most likely not. Yet, we still have stories of how God answered prayers, even when we didn’t like the answer, to be an example of faithfulness to our Creator.

Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken away from Him; but He still followed through. You and I can be examples to show how we keep communication open with God, through our prayers, in all aspects of our lives.

What kinds of stories can you tell about God’s answers to your prayers? If this is something challenging to think of, I invite you to begin a Prayer Journal. In this journal, record the date, time, prayer you prayed and leave a space for answer. Every now and then go through this Prayer Journal to recall your prayers and see how many answers you received. This will be an incredible story of faithfulness that will make an impact not only on your life, but on the lives of your family and friends that will be able to help them in their walk with Jesus Christ.

Faithful

James 4:4-6 “You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud, but favors the humble.”

Ouch! This is a tough passage for today. It could be easy to take this in the negative and run with it. I have known many people who use a scripture like this to degrade another person.

One of the questions we have to ask is, “what does it mean to be a friend of God?” David was (and is) classified as a man after God’s own heart. Moses and Abraham were considered “friends of God.” This is showing that we do not have to have perfect lives to be considered a “friend of God.”

So what does this phrase mean? The New Interpreters Bible commentary says, “For the ancients, to be friends with another person meant to see things the same way, to share the same outlook.” I think this is important. There are times in our life where our actions does not match the words we say, but we can still be considered a “friend of God” because we come back to God and see the world through His eyes. Being transformed in the image of Christ should mean that we begin to develop the eyes and the heart of Jesus Christ for the world.

We will not always see things the exact same way. In fact, I am okay with people disagreeing with anything I say or write. This is a chance to develop relationships and learn where people are. One of the things that seems to get us in trouble is when we stick to one point of view and not even allow people the opportunity to express how they came to their understanding.

The Proverb quoted is Proverb 3:34. A better word instead of proud might be “arrogant.” Arrogant means, “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.” When we elevate ourselves above people, we are essentially devaluing them.

There are days this Proverb hits me right between the eyes. Those days, like today, I have to be careful. It could be easy to flat out say that I am right and you are wrong; but then where is the grace in that? I believe God wants us to have a humble, teachable spirit so we can be the people who allow Him to transform our lives to work with Him to transform the world.

It is the times when we believe, yet live a different standard than our faith says, that we are “unfaithful to God.” “You unfaithful people!” In other translations, the word “Adulterers!” is used. This is how serious the scriptures are showing God takes our relationship with Him. When we profess belief in Him and go another path, we are essentially “cheating” on Him with other ideologies and worldly living.

To be “friends with God,” is a way to show we are moving in His direction. Our lives point to Him. Even in the messed up parts of our life, we can still show people the grace that has been bestowed on us. Do we always get it right? No. But we can be humble and keep seeking to see life, the world and people as God sees them and have a heart that breaks when His heart breaks.

Lord, show us, through your eyes, the hurting and brokenness in this world so we can respond with grace and lead people to you. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Conflicts & Consequenses

James 4:1-3 “What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.”

Today we are looking at the consequences of our actions. Many of us may not take these attitudes to the extreme that is mentioned here; but maybe we do and don’t pay much attention to it.

This is not meant to convict and try to coerce anyone to change out of guilt. This is more meant for us to look at our lives objectively. From the beginning, we have said our purpose is to challenge us to draw us closer to Christ and encourage us to live our lives according to Him.

As we live, there are emotions and attitudes that come up. Every action has a reaction. Every attitude has a consequence.

So, we start with conflicts that arise. Why do we have conflicts? There are many reasons and many opinions that people give. Some legit and some just plain silly if we look at them closely. The heart of the matter is we are conflicted with people for many reasons. Most of the reasons is they conflict with our personal desires.

This doesn’t mean that all of our desires are bad. People are in conflict with others because of the good work that God is doing in them and through them. We have the desire for people to know and believe in the God who created them; yet we come into conflict.

Looking at this from a simply wordly perspective, we can see there are serious consequences to certain attitudes, mindsets and behaviors if not checked. My guess would be that there are people reading this who would say, “I have never murdered anyone.” I invite us to closely read Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. This shows us that whenever we think about harm coming to another person, or how another person makes us feel in a way that our spouse doesn’t, this is really just one step away from completing the “task”.

Throughout James, we have been examining that what comes into our mind is powerful and can lead us to do things we never intended. This even happens in our prayer life. How many times have we wanted something for our own use, our own cravings or selfish reasons? This can be on so many levels. James reminds us that we don’t get what we want, especially in times of selfishness.

I am so grateful for my wife. She is incredible and we are there for each other. As we live this life together, we are good sounding boards for each other. It is easy to slip into thinking solely about our own personal desires and wants; but we communicate with each other and we can grow our relationship and being open with each other. This doesn’t mean that we get it perfect every time; but praying for her and telling her what is on my heart and mind is how I can grow closer to her. She does the same thing with me.

How will we live today? For us? or for God’s purposes?

God, we come to you today to hear from you. We ask you to pour into us your Spirit, the Spirit that gives life and walks with us to be in line with Your will for our lives. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

Life’s Journey

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Colossians 2:1-5 I want you to know how much I struggle for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who haven’t known me personally. My goal is that their hearts would be encouraged and united together in love so that they might have all the riches of assurance that come with understanding, so that they might have the knowledge of the secret plan of God, namely Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him. I’m telling you this so that no one deceives you with convincing arguments, because even though I am absent physically, I’m with you in spirit. I’m happy to see the discipline and stability of your faith in Christ.

This is such a rick passage that I cannot really do it justice in the space I’ll be writing today. As Paul is in prison while writing this, he wants the people to know how much he is struggling for them. Reading this in context of the entire letter, it seems like he is struggling in his spirit because he is praying for them and desires for them to be mature disciples of Jesus Christ. I would think that it is difficult for him not to be present with them, thus his struggling.

I also think it is remarkable about who he is concerned about. He is not just concerned about those who know him, who have listened to him, who love him. He is concerned for those who haven’t been reached yet, those who do not yet know him. This is a great reminder that I need to be concerned about those I am interacting with daily right here, right now; but it is also a reminder to be concerned about and pray for those I have not yet encountered. Pray for God to open doors to the lives of those who are going to intersect the path God has me on.

Our goal should be to encourage people to be engaged with the message of Jesus Christ that unifies them with the Spirit of God; but also our goal is to work with people to bring unity and peace wherever we are. This unity begins with the knowledge of Christ, that really is not a secret, just hard to understand at times. As we learn more about Christ, then somehow the treasure is opened and released to us. This is not the treasure that is material. This treasure is spiritual. We, individually and collectively, receive this treasure as we open our hearts to God.

There are people who come along and sound convincing about “other truths” about Jesus Christ. This is not really what we should be listening to. Paul reminds his readers in 1 Thessalonians to “test the spirits.” We are to test whether or not someone is speaking the truth about God to us. We can do this through prayer, personal study, speaking with others mature in their faith. This is so we do not get led astray and go off on a life journey that God never intended for us to be on.

We cannot be with those we teach and disciple all of the time; but we can be with them in spirit. We can be with them by keeping them in our minds and finding ways to check up on them. We can also be in prayer for them. Our challenge today is to think of someone who may not know Christ, or who is struggling either in their faith or in their life. Pray for them and ask God to do a great work in their lives. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the person who God uses to walk with that person/people on their journey. This give Jesus Christ glory because we do this in His name and not for our recognition.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Even in the Storm

Most important, live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel. Do this, whether I come and see you or I’m absent and hear about you. Do this so that you stand firm, united in one spirit and mind as you struggle together to remain faithful to the gospel. That way, you won’t be afraid of anything your enemies do. Your faithfulness and courage are a sign of their coming destruction and your salvation, which is from God. God has generously granted you the privilege, not only of believing in Christ but also of suffering for Christ’s sake. You are having the same struggle that you saw me face and now hear that I’m still facing. (‭Philippians‬ ‭1‬:‭27-30‬ CEB)

“Live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.” When you think of this phrase, what does it mean to you? At first when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we may have the idea that life will be easy and that all of our problems and issues will go away. We can easily forget how Christ suffered, and he was God in flesh!

The gospel of Jesus Christ does not guarantee there will be no suffering or struggles. The gospel tells us the God is with us and we do not live this life alone. We will feel alone at times because we can choose to go through our struggles alone; but the gospel message is that we are never alone and God has experienced life as we do and knows how hard life can be. 

We have the opportunity to share life with others who are struggling also. Since we know that we are not alone, we have the privilege to show others that, even in the storms of life, they are not alone either. We can be a tangible, physical reminder of God’s presence to them. 

People will say all kinds of things about you and about me. We stand firm in our faith because Christ is with us and is guiding us and walking with us; so we don’t have to be afraid or fearful in any way. Paul is a great reminder of this. He kept his joy and peace because he leaned on his faith in Christ to allow him to endure any situation. Paul had people care for him and you and I have people that care for us. 

So, “live together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel.”

#BeJoyful

Motives

As we take this time to journey through the book of Philippians, we can see Paul’s joy even though he’s been locked up. I’m sure there are people that are mocking him and saying all kinds of things about him; even possibly saying that others are better preachers than him just trying to get him upset. 

I know there are better speakers, listeners, writers, readers than I am. I could easily sit back and say they are not doing their job right, they’re making me look bad, their hearts are not in the right place, etc. Have you felt this way about any person, any job, any church, any friend, any enemy? I believe this is something we all should look closely at, especially me. 

How often we can succumb to the pride of thinking that we are the only ones who can do the job, we are the ones who know the right way to do the task. Paul is reminding us of something important: look at the results of the work. I will say we need to keep this in mind, especially with the church. 

We will not always agree with each other on every point. There are those who enter ministry with selfish motives to go toward fame and recognition and prestige. And, there are those who have the most incredible spirits about them that do not want or desire any recognition or honors. What does any of this matter?

Paul is saying that thanksgiving should be given to all of those who are preaching Jesus, whether or not we think their motives are correct. It is pride that can keep us from celebrating with the body of Christ, if we are not careful, because we may be the one who want to be recognized. Paul wasn’t this way. He simply wanted Jesus Christ preached. 

People come and go, but the message of Jesus is eternal and can pierce even the hardest of hearts even if it’s not done the way we want. 

As I am writing this, I am giving thanks for all of those people, all of those ministries, all of those organizations, all of those churches who work tirelessly to proclaim Christ and the life we were meant to live. I give thanks for you!

Be motivated out of love and trust that God is working.

#BeJoyful

Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the things that have happened to me have actually advanced the gospel. The whole Praetorian Guard and everyone else knows that I’m in prison for Christ. Most of the brothers and sisters have had more confidence through the Lord to speak the word boldly and bravely because of my jail time. Some certainly preach Christ with jealous and competitive motives, but others preach with good motives. They are motivated by love, because they know that I’m put here to give a defense of the gospel; the others preach Christ because of their selfish ambition. They are insincere, hoping to cause me more pain while I’m in prison. What do I think about this? Just this: since Christ is proclaimed in every possible way, whether from dishonest or true motives, I’m glad and I’ll continue to be glad. I’m glad because I know that this will result in my release through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. (‭Philippians‬ ‭1‬:‭12-19‬ CEB)

Prayers for Love & Fruit

This is my prayer: that your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge and all kinds of insight. I pray this so that you will be able to decide what really matters and so you will be sincere and blameless on the day of Christ. I pray that you will then be filled with the fruit of righteousness, which comes from Jesus Christ, in order to give glory and praise to God. (‭Philippians‬ ‭1‬:‭9-11‬ CEB)

I love this letter that Paul writes. After he gives thanks for the people and their faith and devotion, he flat out tells them what he’s praying for. This is convicting to me because I don’t always pray for these qualities in people. 

So often, I believe, we pray for physical needs and health, as we should; but we can also neglect the spiritual needs and health. I have come to the understanding that we should focus on the spirit of people just as intensely as we focus on physical health and healing. 

Paul is praying for their love to be developed in such a way that his congregation, and us, become even more rich in knowledge and insight (wisdom). Our love grows more rich when we take time to abide (remain) in Christ and allow His Spirit to fill us and transform us. 

God freely gives wisdom and understanding to all who seek it. We can find this in many ways. God can choose to give wisdom through people, reading, praying, visions, dreams, directly to our minds and spirits. Truthfully, God is not confined to any method. Paul is praying for his people to be open to this; and this is my prayer for you and I today. 

When our love grows, the fruit God produces in us grows even more abundantly. What is this fruit? When we allow God to live in and through us, the fruit we see growing is the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, self-control. Imagine how the world would be if we lived in this manner and really allowed these qualities to blossom in our hearts and be manifested in our lives. 

Jesus Christ came so we could know life and live abundantly. I pray, as Paul prays, that your love grows strong. That you will see great fruit in your life. 

Today, I encourage you to read John 15:1-16. Read it and reflect on it to see what it looks like to remain in Christ. I also invite you to journal what you think about and talk with another person what God revealed to you. 

#LifeIsSoMuchMoreWithChrist

New Month, Same Amazing Grace

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Ephesians 1:1-2  From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will. To the holy and faithful people in Christ Jesus in Ephesus. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. 

It is hard to believe that we have now entered into February. Time seems to be moving faster and we still have so much to do. We almost seem to have a never ending to do list and feel like everything changes all around us and we have to somehow keep up. This can cause added stress into our lives. One things that doesn’t change is God, His will and His grace.

Paul knows he has been called into his profession by God. He has learned to follow God’s will, even when it wasn’t safe or completely clear for him. Paul has been all over the known world, during his missionary tours, and even after encountering all types of people, he can still begin his letters with “Grace and peace.” Can we do this today? Remember God’s will for us is to love God and love other people.

One thing that stands out to me is how Paul addresses the people he is writing to, “The holy and faithful people.” The amazing thing is that he knew he was writing to imperfect people but he still called them “holy and faithful.” I wonder how people would describe us when we are not around, or are trying to speak to us?

I believe this is a high calling for our lives. One that comes to completion over time. But we can still strive to be “holy and faithful” in our words, our actions, our thoughts, etc. So starting the letter to the Ephesians in this manner should also have us think today.

We have started a new month. Last month we make mistakes (and will continue to make mistakes this month); but God lavishes grace and riches upon us, even though we do not deserve it. This is grace that God can still look at us and call us “holy and faithful.” Life does not have to be perfect or completely in order, but we have new chances to live into the calling God placed on our lives.

#AmazingGrace