Fuel4Thought (Page 3)

Journeying through James, 1:4

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:2‑5 (NKJV)

With respect to the word perfection or the verb form to be perfect, God alone is perfect because he needs nothing. He is complete, whole, lacking nothing, and needing nothing. The whole universe, and everything in it, depends on Him. If He didn’t keep it all going, it would cease to exist in an instant. We live and exist only because He does.

When God, in the Scriptures, uses the word perfection to refer to us, His human sons and daughters, He is not referring to what you are. Rather He’s describing what His grace and power in Christ is making you to be. A good analogy for this is a telescope. The word in Greek for perfect is actually where we get the word telescope or telescopic.

When you look at where you are going through the lens of a telescope, you focus on the goal of your journey, where you want to be, more than where you are presently. You fix your hope on that goal, and your journey is aimed at that goal. That’s the way that the Bible speaks of perfection. You have been called by God to be like Jesus. Jesus is the image that we are to focus on as we live out our journeys in this world. The world in general is not focused on Jesus Christ, nor concerned with being like Him, but we are. God’s grace has done this.

Perfection, for us, is a life-long process of being like Christ. We, at best, are an example, a pattern, we’re not the original. God has already made believers perfectly acceptable to Himself by the blood of Christ, so now let us focus being like Christ. As Jesus taught, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” John 13:15-17 (NIV).

The apostle Paul has a very beautiful prayer in 2 Thessalonians that can remind us that God is really with us in this and that being like Christ is what perfection is all about: “That is why we always pray for you, asking our God to help you live the kind of life he called you to live. We pray that with his power God will help you do the good things you want and perform the works that come from your faith. 12 We pray all this so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will have glory in you, and you will have glory in him. That glory comes from the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” 2 Thessalonians 1:11‑12 (NCV).

Journeying through James, 1:2-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2‑4 (NIV)

James begins his epistle is such a bold way‒“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (v. 2). Why?

There’s a story in the book of Daniel where three friends of Daniel are thrown into a fiery furnace. The king did this because they refused to worship him‒they only wanted to worship God. Normally the fire would have consumed them, in fact, the fire was so hot that it killed the king’s servants when they threw Daniel’s friends into it. But while the king watched, these believers stood and walked around in the fire. Then the king saw a fourth person with them, and in his amazement, the king said, “he looks like a son of the gods!” Of course, it was the Son of God, Jesus, who was with them and saved them. The King was amazed when the three believers came out unscathed, and he praised their God. *

The three believers were given the privilege of going through the fire so that God would be glorified. Of all the nations in the world, God chose only one, Judaism, to draw into such a relationship with Himself. He showed His glory and His steadfast love to those who trusted in Him. I wonder how many Gentiles found faith in the God of Jacob as a result of these three men enduring this amazing trial? And isn’t that the point?

What James is saying is two‑fold. One, our problems change when we see that God is working in the midst of them. What James is saying in this passage is: don’t deal with your problems apart from God’s grace. Instead, when difficulties trouble you, remember that Christ is with you in the midst of them. Two, God likes to boast about how much He loves His children. When James says, “the testing your faith produces perseverance,” he is speaking of a good quality that God works in you for a purpose, so that others will see the glory of God through your life.

We all know how fragile glass is. But when workers heat-treat glass, and put it in under great pressure, it becomes four to five times stronger and safer than untreated glass. Safety is the reason they do this; so that the glass won’t break so easily. The book of James is an exceedingly practical epistle. In it, James assures us that God will keep us from breaking under the pressures of life. For us, as God’s children, trials are carefully engineered by God, not to break us, but to make us stronger‒tried and true.

Kingdom Culture of Prayer

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:8‑11 (NIV)

The Coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for us to depend on God. The issue is: can I trust God in all of the areas where I have need. For some it’s an issue of finances. For some it’s the issue of health. For some it’s the issue of change and disruption that has come with the coronavirus. Relationships are not the same. We can’t fellowship at church as we would like. Whatever it may be, you can never depend on God too much.

I would invite you to make a list of your needs: spiritual, emotional, material. Lay them before God—talk to God about them. Write these things down, and check them on a regular basis. We have many wants, but God knows what we need. The hope is ”that we might not rely on ourselves but on God“ (v. 9).

I would also challenge you, in line with what the Apostle Paul writes, to not just to think about yourself, but each other’s needs. List them out. Think about what someone else needs. Pray that their faith would prosper and grow. When we do that, pray for each other‘s needs, that‘s when we are really living as children of God.

Here’s an honest question. How do we take God at His word? That’s something we have to experience and grow in. Our hope is anchored in Jesus Christ and in His unmerited, undeserved grace. We receive it and we share it. “Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (v. 11).

Kingdom Culture – The Word Creates It in Us

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire 2 Peter 1:2‑4 (ESV)

Peter opens this passage with these words in verse 3: “he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.”

There are many great and precious promises which God has given us in the Bible. These are blessings for our good; and while we don’t always know what’s good for us, God does. His promises are according to His own good purposes for us. The purpose given here is that we may become partakers of the divine nature. God uses promises to cause us to trust in Him. It is by faith that we receive all of the blessings that God promises. The blessings come through actively trusting that God is good and he will do what he has promised.

For example, let’s look at two promises of God:

  • “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die’” (John 11:25,  NIV).
  • “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46,  NIV).

Both these are good examples because it is pretty easy to see how they apply to this present life.

The first promise, gives the hope of life after death. Everybody dies, but Jesus is saying that upon death we’ll see him again because He rose. That will be good news for those who love him, and very bad news for those who don’t. This promise is for the present because the body we’re living in now has an expiration date, and Christ has a glorious new body for believers.

The second promise has to do with following Christ. Christ came to destroy sin and the devil’s control over us (see Acts 26:17 ). If we think of sin as darkness, then Christ is promising to light up our lives. This is in the present tense in the Greek, so these things that Christ promised begin now and later find completion when we get to heaven.

What Peter’s concerned about in this passage is that we arrive safe and sound in heaven—a basic concern that any good shepherd of Christ would have. We do this by taking the promises of God and acting as if they are really for us. Given to us as something we should seriously build our lives upon

We’re full citizens of Christ’s Kingdom now, but we’re living in a hostile land that questions the validity of God’s good promises. By “partakers in the divine nature,” Peter is echoing what Paul the apostle taught in Philippians, and since Paul there provides a very clear description of that what that divine nature looks like in us now, I will end my devotion with it: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1‑5, NIV)

Kingdom Culture – Forgiveness

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossian 3:12‑15 (NLT)

The last few devotions have been about Kingdom Culture. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but we’re supposed to live like citizens of His kingdom now. That’s what this text here from Colossians is about. Notice that verse 13 says that we are to “make allowance for each other’s faults”. Do you hear the amazing grace in the verse? Essential Christian attributes, like “tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” in verse 12 include forgiving each other. Why?

While we live in this world, we are not citizens of this world, we are temporary residents. As citizens of Christ’s kingdom, we have a higher calling. But, surrounded as we are, by the citizens of this sinful world, we can act; well, without “tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” very naturally. God’s suggests that we keep in mind how easy it is for us to blow it. It’s a passionate plea to extend to others that same kindness that we have in Christ. It’s interesting that genuine appreciation of God’s amazing grace in Christ makes us see how much we need to extend it to others. In other words, without Christ’s forgiveness and grace, we don’t deserve, and we couldn’t earn, any “tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” from God. So, the more we understand this, the more we apply it to others. Why? It’s because these attributes come through the Spirit of God working in us, giving us a profound and abiding love for what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Kingdom Culture – 2

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. 3 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. 7 Don’t participate in the things these people do. 8 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! 9 For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Ephesians 5:1‑9 (NLT)

Every family in the world has its own unique culture. Culture is values that influence our daily lifestyle, our habits, our traditions, what we do and what we don’t do. Some families eat hot dish and jello salad, others eat beans and rice. Some families go to Las Vegas for vacation, others go camping in the woods.

Where do we get this culture? Children learn through watching and listening to everyday experiences at home. As they grow, they copy their parents. What the parents say, the children say; what the parents do, the children do (for better, or for worse). Soon or later, children are exposed to different families and different lifestyles. I can remember, when I was a child, copying one of my friends and afterwards hearing my parents say, “Don’t do that.” Of course, my reply was, “But, Jason does it. His mom lets him do it.” I bet you already know the reply, “I don’t care what Jason does. We don’t do that.”

This is what God is telling us. We are his own dear children, adopted into his family. Our new heavenly family has a different culture, and different values. There is a world all around us, promoting values and lifestyles opposed to those of our heavenly Father; as irreconcilable as darkness and light. But God says we don’t do that. We are children of light, and these things are not for us, these things have no place in our family. We imitate our Father. We imitate Jesus, our Savior. Because God loved us, we love too. We love God, we love what He loves, we love those He loves, we live in love. This is our family culture.

Kingdom Culture – 1

You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:5‑9 (NLT)

The expression, a chip off the old block, is truer than we’d like to think. The Bible tells us that we, human beings, were made in the image of God, but when Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit a competing image came to the fore. The devil said that “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And “when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom…” * The rest is history.

The devil lied and we never got the wisdom promised. In fact human beings just can’t seem to solve their own problems. Even the greatest ideas have flaws or unintended consequences. I can’t help but think of how the world is wrestling with the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s the best way to deal with it? We don’t really know. People hope for the best, but God has not left us without hope.

God’s solution is very interesting. The world will remain as helpless and hapless as it has been since Adam and Eve chose to listen to the devil. But God has given us a new and beautiful image to follow. In Christ we live as new creations in a broken world. We are all concerned about the present pandemic, and the best help we can be is that Christ be seen clearly in us. We share love and mercy and grace because God has shown us that in the person of Christ. We are called not to the follow the image that Adam and Eve left us, but that which Christ has given us through the power of God’s Spirit.

Serving Grace

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2 Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.” 8 So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. 9 Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. Mark 16:1‑11 (NKJV)

Mary Magdelene had experienced great deliverance through Jesus Christ. He cast out of her seven demons who had tortured her for who knows how long. When Jesus died on the cross, the believers must have thought, “Is that it? Am I going to return to the way I was?” Did Mary have to fear that? Do we have to fear that?

The resurrection shows that we don’t have to fear anything. Death didn’t defeat Jesus and life won’t defeat us. If we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we don’t have to be afraid, worry or complain. If we were wise, we’d give all our cares to Christ.

This is a challenge for us each and every day: am I going to live in the hope and life that Jesus brings? We may not be in the horrible state that Mary Magdelene was in, but none of us are free from sin. Our hope is not in who were as sinful people, but in who we are as Christ’s forgiven and blessed people.

Mary’s response was one of loving gratitude for what Christ had done. She sought ways to serve Christ and others because of what Christ had done for her. Believing is the beginning of serving Christ and others. “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:11‑12, NIV).

Teaching Grace

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:11‑14 (NIV)

We don’t usually think of the grace of God teaching us, but this passage is quite clear. It reminds me of the disciples and apostles of the Lord having to learn so many things about trusting God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus told them, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29‑30, NIV). Jesus is a most excellent teacher—I wish all my teachers had such perfect patience and wisdom.

The subject matter is God’s grace and truth. All of the prospective students know nothing about this subject. The desired outcomes can be summed up as “godly living” (v. 12). This college of grace has one perfect student who upon Graduation became the Headmaster. We’re all on distance learning now, but the Headmaster will return one day. At that time all that we’ve learned will be evident.

Why do we need to learn about this? Because we don’t know anything about it and Jesus Christ is perfect example to show us what the grace of God is. The Gospel of John puts it like this: “Out of the fullness of his grace he has blessed us all, giving us one blessing after another. 17 God gave the Law through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. The only Son, who is the same as God and is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:16-18, GNT).

The text says that Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” It’s meant to be an encouragement. You don’t have to have to be good enough, pay tuition, have all A’s. You can’t get scholarships, merit or cheat your way to the top of the class. This teacher is so good, adept and understanding that just being with Him will have an effect on you. Mary and her sister Martha are a great example of this in the Gospel of Luke: “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ 41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:38-42, NIV). Let us learn to take our questions and concerns to Jesus and also learn sit at Jesus’ feet, that the grace of God would teach us.

3 Lessons Learned on the Road to Emmaus

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. 17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” 25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. Luke 24:13‑35 (NIV)

Why didn’t these two disciples recognize Jesus Christ? We could come up with any number of reasonable ideas. Humanly speaking, we don’t have the means to see God unless He lets us see Him. The Bible tells us that “no one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18, NIV).

These disciples were talking about the crucifixion and everything that had happened to Jesus. But when they broke bread together, like when they had communion in the upper room, they recognized the peaceful presence of Jesus with them. It was the Lord—He had risen, but “but they were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). Why?

Jesus explained in the upper room, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26–28, NIV).

The sacrifice of Christ opened the door of fellowship with God for us. The disciples are an example for us. They didn’t understand how God was working in all the events that happened, but through Jesus, they could “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him,” and that verse goes on to say, “For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean” (Hebrews 10:22, NLT).

The story makes clear two other aspects of Christian faith that we need to cultivate. One, the Bible is our resource to see Christ at any time. We can read it, even memorize it, so Christ is with us always. The additional thing that Luke wants us to see is that spending time with Jesus, as they did, causes us to love one another. “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together” (v. 33).

So, three things come clear with the resurrection of Christ. We have fellowship with God through the sacrifice of Christ. We’ll find Jesus in the Word of God. We are to love one another and share all the good things that we learn from Christ.

“Then Nebuchadnezzar said, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’” Daniel 3:28‑29 (NIV)

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You may speak in your defense.” So Paul, gesturing with his hand, started his defense… 9 I used to believe that I ought to do everything I could to oppose the very name of Jesus the Nazarene… 12 “One day I was on such a mission to Damascus, armed with the authority and commission of the leading priests… 13 About noon, Your Majesty, as I was on the road, a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on me and my companions. 14 We all fell down, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will.’
15 “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked.
“And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting… 17…I am sending you to the Gentiles 18 to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me.’” Acts 26:1, 9, 13‑17 (NLT)

Genesis 3:5-6 (NIV)