Good & Perfect Gifts

Hello church!

Sunday, in worship, we began a new five week worship series going through the book of James. I believe this letter will challenge and encourage us in our walk with Jesus Christ and help us live our lives more faithfully.

There is always more than can be said in a Sunday sermon. These devotionals during the week will hopefully help us keep the Scripture and the message in our minds. If we allow it to, the Scripture can go into our hearts so the word given to us by God is implanted on our hearts and we can be transformed people who work with God to transform the world.

This series is called “Transformers” since that is what the Spirit of God does in us and works through us and we step out in faith to transform the world with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther called James, “an eptistle of straw” because the letter appeared to ficus more on being justified by works and not faith. John Wesley, on the other hand, saw James as central to the Christian life because he saw it was showing how we can live out our faith so that our works match the faith we have been given.

James 1:17-18 CEB “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. He chose to give us birth by his true word, and here is the result: we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created.”

What is it you first hear when you read these verses? A child will most likely think of a material gift, something tangible. What about adults? I think it depends on the mindset and the character of the person. I have begun to think differently about “good and perfect gifts” the older I get.

My baby girl had a birthday recently and my wife and I celebrated it. We had the opportunity to go to the zoo and go to her favorite restaurant. My girl did not want a lot of people there, she seemed to want a simple birthday party. She did say she wanted a surprise birthday party and my wife reminded her “we don’t plan our own surprise parties because then it wouldn’t be a surprise.” So, she wanted a small birthday just with some family, and that’s what she got. It was an incredible day!

It also makes me chuckle to think about the times we would be in the store and want to walk down the toy aisle. Since her birthday was coming up quickly, she would point to every toy she wanted. I don’t think there was anything down the aisle she didn’t want. But, she was expressing some material items that she would play with and would help make her doll and toys collections complete. She was looking for the “perfect gifts.”

What about us as adults? What would really constitute a “good and perfect gift” for us? Lately, I have begun to thank God at the end of each day for the challenges, the frustrations, the times I lost patience, the times I was caught being arrogant and not understanding, and many more moments like this throughout the day. Could these be considered “good and perfect gifts?” I think so.

Without opportunities for us to experience a less than desirable feelings and emotions throughout the day, we would lose the chance for character development so we can learn to live more humbly. Even though I thank God for these difficult moments from the day, it doesn’t mean that I realized what was going on in the moment. Self-reflection is a good practice we should do at the end of the day, not to make us feel bad for our actions or thoughts or emotions, but to take the time to look back and see how God was with us throughout the day.

We have been given the gift of life so we can make a difference in the world. God allows us to go through situations to work in us so we can become stronger in our emotions, stronger in our character and be transformed into the person He created us to be.

Am I saying that the bad things that happen are from God, or that God causes them to happen? Not at all. I am saying we can view life as a gift with opportunities to become more because the Spirit of God is alive and active within us. In verses 13 and fourteen, James writes:

“No one who is tested should say, “God is tempting me!” This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them.”

We do have the ability to choose how we will live our lives. Unfortunately, some people take that freedom of choosing and impose their will on another person. These circumstances, I believe, do not come from God. If you have gone through something that another person did to you without your consent or desire, there is a perfect gift that is available to all people – Jesus Christ.

His is the gift that keeps on giving. He has promised never to leave or forsake us. He is with you and is with you through everything you go through. There is a counselor, the Holy Spirit, who walks with us each day. This is a “good and perfect gift,” because God, the Creator of the universe is with you and I each and every day.

God has and continues to choose you. His devotion to you is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We may not be able to “feel” God present, but He is there and He has not and will not leave you.

I pray the message of God’s good character and the gift of Jesus Christ sinks in to you to be transformed so we can work with Christ to transform the world. 

Will you take time to accept the gift that God gave us and allow this gift to transform you?

“Be who you say you are, yes!; but more importantly, allow God to work in you to transform you into the person He created.”

Advent Devotional 2014: Prepare (December 10)

Luke 1:57-66 When the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a boy. Her neighbors and relatives celebrated with her because they had heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy.  On the eighth day, it came time to circumcise the child. They wanted to name him Zechariah because that was his father’s name. But his mother replied, “No, his name will be John.” They said to her, “None of your relatives have that name.” Then they began gesturing to his father to see what he wanted to call him. After asking for a tablet, he surprised everyone by writing, “His name is John.” At that moment, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God. All their neighbors were filled with awe, and everyone throughout the Judean highlands talked about what had happened. All who heard about this considered it carefully. They said, “What then will this child be?” Indeed, the Lord’s power was with him.

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What stands out to you when you read these verses? If we remember what has happened before this time, Zechariah and Elizabeth have been prepared for this day their son would be born, They were given a glimpse of how the child’s life would be and what he would stand for. They trusted the Lord to provide in their circumstance and that his word would come true. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s heart was prepared and ready for this day.

This is part of the journey we are in this Advent (season of preparation and expectation) as we examine our hearts to see how the story of Jesus’ birth will continue to shape and transform us. Zechariah and Elizabeth were different after the meeting with the angel, and we should be different (being able to stand out from the crowd) after any meeting we have with God.

They were able to confidently tell the people around what their child’s name would be even though it did not make sense to the rest of the crowd. What is God asking you to do that seems other people don’t understand? Will you be bold and confident in your faith and the calling God has placed on your life?

Dear God, You have guided us to this place and this time. Help us in any unbelief we might have so we can celebrate this season of Christmas with boldness and confidence of your presence and your calling in our lives. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

Learning About God at the Beach

Standing on the beach and staring at the ocean can make us feel small. We may even feel like there is so much going on around us (birds flying and feeding, waves never ending, avoiding sea weed and jellyfish). With all of this going on around us, it can be difficult to see or hear from God; or even allow our minds and spirits to be quiet and calm so we can learn more about God.

Two mornings in a row, I’ve had the opportunity to just walk on the beach and learn 3 amazing things about God, God speaking to us, and something about us:

1) We have heard God’s love is like the ocean (vast, endless and never ending). As the waves were coming in, it occurred to me something is trying to stop them or at least break them apart. Then, looking at the land and feeling the breeze, it dawned on me that we are like the land and the breeze. We’ll try and try to stop God and His love from reaching us; but it just keeps coming and reaching out for us.

2) We can see there are many waves and they can be loud. We know the waves are there but we also have ways of tuning the sound and the presence of waves out. It was at this point I felt God saying the waves are like His voice, His words trying to speak to us. A question to think about is: How often do we really pay attention and tune in to hear the voice of God instead of ignoring it? Water is life. Without water, the land would dry up. So is the same with us when we try to avoid and run away from God. We need His life giving spirit each and everyday.

3) Last but not least. This morning there was a lone sea gull trying to search for food and wandering about. This reminded me of us, as humans. We are constantly reaching out and wandering about to find something, anything that will fill us up. Just as the water kept coming toward the land and the sea gull, God is always reaching for us. It is in Him we find fulfillment. It is in Him we find spiritual nourishment. It is in Him we find our purpose.

My prayer is that we never look at the beach or the ocean the same way again. May we be the people who see God everywhere!

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Our Real Gift

I’m not perfect.

There, I said it. This may come as a shock to some, but not for most. I do not pretend to be perfect. When I think about my past, I can see and remember things I’ve done and said that can cause regrets.

I bet there are many people, in fact I know there are many people, who can say the same things. The question we would have to ask is, “do I allow these past actions define me?” It is easy to dwell on the past mistakes (let’s be honest….these past SINS) and to think that is who we really are. “I am a liar…I am cheater…I am a (fill in your answer).”

Here’s the deal though, we can allow these past decisions to define us, or we can realize our true identity. We may not see ourselves as perfect or “new creations,” but God does.

His love has been handed to us and placed before us in the form of Jesus Christ. Because of his life, death and resurrection, we can have and experience a new life and new identity in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Romans 5:8-11 says Christ died for us while we were still sinners so we have a reconciled relationship with God.

So many people (including me at times) don’t know, forget or don’t realize this incredible gift God has given you and has given me. Each day you and I are invited to accept, open and receive the gift of life God gives through Jesus Christ.

You’ve messed up and don’t feel you can be accepted by God? You are accepted AND loved! Live your new life in grace and holiness and live life with the knowledge of God working and living inside you.

Don’t live in the past, live in the presence of God by receiving the gift of Jesus Christ.

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