Heavenly Rewards…

1_12 Reward Gift

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12 (NIV)

When we are undergoing a trial or test, the last thing we want to hear is that there is some sort of benefit to it. We would prefer to be miserable and let everyone know we are! We also invite others into our misery. James tells us we are blessed if we are going through trials! This is of course on the heels of him telling us to consider trials a joy! The word blessed means to be highly favored. This is not always our attitude during tests, is it?

When I become a college professor, I found myself on the other side of tests! It was one of the most interesting changes when going from student to professor. You could watch (sometimes with amusement) as students took their seat for the examination and started sweating. They had prepared for the test, some more than others. In this passage, James is encouraging Christians to persevere, to take the test well, to face and withstand with courage, because there is a reward at the end of the test.

The crown of life that James references is not salvation, because salvation is a free-gift, we don’t have to do anything other than believe to receive salvation. This crown of life is heavenly rewards, where the Bible clearly teaches we can gain or lose heavenly rewards based on our thoughts, actions, and emotions. I must admit, I don’t completely understand this part of God’s kingdom, but I accept it because the Bible teaches it. We are to run the race, fight the good fight, and finish well. Jesus says in Revelation 22:12, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”

So, what are we to do? James 1:12 ends with “those who love him.” All of the 60 or so commands in James are driven by love. This shouldn’t surprise us. James was the half-brother of Jesus who summed up the entire Old Testament in the command to love. Jesus said in Matthew 22: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (vv. 37, 39).

This idea of love has been corrupted by those who push tolerance and acceptance. Yes, we are commanded to love, but that does not mean that we have to agree with, tolerate, or accept anything that disagrees with God’s design or will. Love is to be tempered with truth and delivered with grace.

What about you?

 

Does testing drive you towards God or away from God?

Do you struggle to love God during tests and trials?

What rewards in heaven are you looking forward to?

What does it mean to love God with all your heart? All your soul? All your mind?

What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself?

What is one thing this week you can do to tangibly demonstrate your love towards God?

What is one thing this week you can do to tangibly demonstrate your love for your neighbor?

But the rich…

1_10-11 hearse_uhaul_crop

 

“But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.” – James 1:10-11

Riches are transitory. You know the old cliché, “There are no luggage racks on hearse’s.” Now, I’m sure you can find a picture of one online, or at least one pulling a uHaul… but you know what I mean. You can’t take your money with you. But, you can send it on ahead! When you invest your life in things that truly matter, you are making deposits in heaven’s bank. True wealth is found in developing your spiritual life (and helping others do the same).

Since James talked about the poor in verse 9, I thought I should mention this: It is hard to convince the rich of their need for forgiveness, but easy to convince them God loves them. For the poor, it is exactly the opposite.

Material possessions and wealth is one of the greatest trials in American Christianity. We must be good stewards of God’s resources while here on earth. We know we can’t take it with us, but we can send it ahead by giving it away to worthy causes, to missions and people that are advancing God’s agenda, and those who need it more than we do. Hold your money with open hands and open hearts. That is true wealth.

What are you hoarding that you should be giving away?

What has God blessed you with to be a blessing to others?

Why are we tempted to keep everything for ourselves?

If everything was taken away from you, what would you miss the most?

How are you developing true riches?

Take pride…

1_9 Royalty

“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.” – James 1:9 (NIV)

You may be lacking material possessions, but you have undiminished possessions in Christ. As James exhorts us to grow up and mature in our faith, he reminds us to stay humble. We must recognize that our possessions, our material wealth, all come from Him. He is the provider of all.

Don’t judge your worth on man’s standards because we are royalty in Christ, co-heirs of His kingdom. This is a profound truth. So often we look to our possessions and bank accounts to determine wealth. How many suits in the closet? How many cars in the garage? How many bedrooms in your home? This is a worldly perspective. God cares a lot more about our hearts.

What does it mean to be royalty? It means we have been completely forgiven of our sins; it means we have been given an immeasurable gift; it means we have a responsibility to share this gift with others.

The Bible teaches that for us who are In Christ…

  • There is no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1)
  • We can never be separated from God’s love (Romans 8:39)
  • We who are many form one body (Romans 12:5)
  • We have wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • Our labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58)
  • We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • We become God’s children (Galatians 3:26)
  • We have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3)
  • We have the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7)
  • We were also chosen (Ephesians 1:11)
  • We are for the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:12)
  • We have been seated in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6)
  • We’ve been given the incomparable riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:7)
  • We who were once far away have been brought near (Ephesians 2:13)
  • We are built together as a holy building (Ephesians 2:22)
  • We may approach God with freedom and confidence (Ephesians 3:12)
  • We are light (Ephesians 5:8)
  • Our joy overflows (Philippians 1:26)
  • All our needs are met according to his glorious riches (Philippians 4:19)
  • We are holy and faithful (Colossians 1:2)
  • All things hold together (Colossians 1:17)
  • We have our hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)
  • We become fully mature (Colossians 1:28)
  • Are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge for us (Colossians 2:3)
  • We are rooted and built up (Colossians 2:7)
  • We have been given the fullness of the deity (Colossians 2:9-10)
  • We come into reality (Colossians 2:17)
  • Our life is now hidden (Colossians 3:3)
  • We will rise from the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
  • We can give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  • We have faith, hope, and love (1Timothy 1:1, 14)
  • We can gain an excellent standing and great assurance (1 Timothy 3:13)
  • We have the promise of life (2 Timothy 1:1)1

What a staggering list!

It is funny to see folks in this world act with an air of superiority. Some think they are better than others based on their economic position. They fail to realize that Christ paid the same price for the poor and rich. He died for all, that all may receive grace, forgiveness, eternal life.

So, Christian, be humble in this world, Christ has already exalted you in His kingdom!

 

What about you?

Do you act with humility?

Do you look down on others with an air of superiority?

Do you gauge success based on worldly or godly standards?

How might you take pride in your royal position?

 

 

1=List compiled by Soul Shepherding.

Guest Post: When Policy Trumped Principle

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I don’t anticipate making too many friends with this post. However, as a follower of Christ, a pastor of a conservative church, and an American, I can’t stay silent anymore. I know I haven’t been completely silent, but I have tamed down my thoughts on this issue. But near-silence is not an option anymore. I care about this country too much. I care about the church too much. I care about the witness of the Evangelical church too much.

My goals in sharing this article are this:

  1. To call Christians to put God’s Word before nationalism.
  2. To encourage Christians who are struggling with this issue that they are not alone
  3. To show non-Christians that not every Evangelical is a supporter of Donald Trump.
  4. To start a dialogue (or at least contribute to it) about the future of Evangelical Christianity.

Please read the entire article before agreeing or disagreeing with me. Let’s show the world that civil discourse about ideas is still possible.

And, because it will be brought up eventually, just because I didn’t support Donald Trump for president doesn’t mean I voted for Hillary. It also doesn’t mean I don’t pray for the President of the United States. I do, and have almost every day since election night.

My heart grieves for this nation, the church, and the world my daughter is growing up in.

-Scott

 

When Policy Trumped Principle

by Jerry Gramckow

“Policies are many, principles are few, policies will change, principles never do.”                                       – John C. Maxwell

 

The year 2016 will go down in history as the year American Evangelical Christianity sold its collective soul for the proverbial mess of pottage. Don’t get me wrong: I love a bowl of stewed lentils—especially if some meat was diced and simmered into it. And, like Esau, after a long, hard day, with little to eat, I could easily be tempted to sell my birthright. I pray that when those temptations come I will remember the bigger picture—the long-term perspective over lentils.

Sadly, it seems to me, in the 2016 presidential election 82 percent of Evangelicals chose lentils. Faced with a choice between a morally bankrupt, power-hungry, socialist-leaning, woman, and a morally bankrupt, power-hungry, populist-leaning man (who claimed to be conservative), the vast majority of America’s voting Evangelicals chose the populist. In a binary world, they probably made the better choice. But the world is not really binary. We are rarely limited to choosing between terrible and dreadful. There’s almost always at least one other option.

Certainly, one of those two bad candidates was going to win. So, many calculated, better to choose the (slightly) lesser of two evils. It was, after all, the pragmatic thing to do. He might not be a great guy, but he has promised to enact policies we like.

But has God called His followers to pragmatism? Did God tell His people to put policies before principles? Are lentils now better than a righteous inheritance for future generations?

Eighty-two percent of Evangelicals knowingly voted for lentils, for a man whose entire life contradicted almost every imaginable biblical principle.

  • Love God first? Everything about Donald Trump screams self-love as his primary focus.
  • Sanctity of marriage? Which one? He’s had three and bragged about cheating throughout each marriage. And who can forget: “Grab ‘em by the pu***.”
  • Integrity in business dealings? Two words: Trump University (although many more could be added).
  • Love of money as the root of all evil? “My whole life has been money. I want money. I want money. Greedy, I was greedy, greedy. I want more money, more money.”
  • Humility as a virtue? “It’s very hard for them [some women] to attack me on looks, because I’m so good looking.” “And I’m sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest—and you all know it! And I also have the world’s greatest memory.”
  • Compassion for others? “You’ve got to see this guy: ‘Uhh, I don’t know what I said. Uhh, I don’t remember,’ he’s going like ‘I don’t remember,’” Trump said as he mocked the disabled reporter’s uncontrollable hands.
  • Honesty? Too many lies to list here, but see https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/06/23/opinion/trumps-lies.html

Okay, you say, I get it; he’s no saint. But at least he’s better than Hillary. And now we’re back to that binary thinking. Hillary Clinton is a dishonest, immoral person, so the one who opposes her is good—simply because he opposes her. After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. That was what Churchill and Roosevelt believed when they cozied up to Stalin against Hitler. How’d that work out? But then, these days, Russia—ruled by an ex-KGB spy—once again seems to some to be a good bet.

So that binary thinking has, for the watching world, tied Evangelicals and all they say they stand for to a man devoid of principles. We stand for love of God, sanctity of marriage, business integrity, humility, compassion, and honesty … to a point. But when we are forced to choose between those principles and getting policies that benefit us (at least in the short term) … Well, a guy has to draw the line somewhere.

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36).

Well, what should we have done? Should we have let Hillary win and take us down the road to godless socialism?

Socialism is bad. No argument there. But if a Christian must jettison virtually every biblical principle to resist it, has he really won? I suspect that had Hillary Clinton won the election, she would have taken us further down the path to socialism and other evils. Instead, we have President Trump taking us down the path to white nationalism. Yes, we faced a horrible choice in November 2016. But, sometimes, when faced with two bad options, the best choice is neither.

Instead, Evangelicals put Trump over the top, and as a consequence, we will forever be remembered for that choice. People outside Evangelicalism now—and in the future—see Donald Trump, a man devoid of principles, as the standard bearer for Evangelicalism.

“If Donald Trump represents what Evangelical Christians hold dear, I want nothing to do with your religion.” Expect to hear that as a common refrain.

We got our bowl of lentils. We lost our birthright.

 

Jerry Gramckow

 

 

Single-mindedness…

1_7-8 Single Chess Piece

“That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” –James 1:7-8 (NIV)

The United States has already fought one civil war (or two if you are on the British side of American Independence…), and it is dangerously close to another one. The idea of a “Civil War” is what is conveyed by “double-minded” here in James 1:8. It literally means two souls. There is a divided allegiance in your mind and it feels like that allegiance shifts depending upon who is winning. This type of double-mindedness leads to instability. The Ancient Israelites were known for this type of instability. Throughout the Old Testament you see them going here and there to solve problems, but rarely do they go to God. James had just told us to go to God for wisdom in the midst of trials. We need to echo Joshua’s words, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Other aspects of being double-minded is not even knowing what you want, not being able to look both ways at once, and knowing that you need to leave it up to God but wanting to solve it all by yourself. Is that you?

What is the solution to being double-minded? It isn’t easy. That is, it isn’t easy to do on our own. No surprise here, but the solution is to decide who you will serve: The world or God? God is looking for 100%. Don’t misunderstand me, this is not an issue of salvation, but sanctification. All that is required for salvation is belief in Christ’s atoning work on the cross. However, sanctification is a radical call to obedience. If you feel like your life has been like a raft on the open ocean, up and down with no sense of direction, perhaps the reason is disobedience. As a friend once told me, “The way of salvation is easy, too easy for most to accept, but the way of discipleship is difficult, too difficult to do without help.” James would agree, we need God’s help.

Be single-minded in your devotion to the Lord.

Even if our nation is on the brink of another civil war, your life doesn’t have to be. You can choose who to follow, yield to His will for your life, and live a joyous life of obedience.

What areas of your life feel double-minded?

Do you have instability in your life? In what area? Could the reason be you are trying to solve it on your own without God’s wisdom?

What would it take for you to completely submit your life to God?

What is holding you back from committing to Him right now?

No Doubt…

1_6 Ocean

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” –James 1:6 (NIV)

We saw in verse 5 how we should ask for God’s wisdom if we lack it and God will give it to us. This sounds almost like God is Santa Claus! If we just write Santa a letter, we will get what we ask for. But James puts a condition on our request. We must believe. This means the prerequisites to God’s provision of wisdom are: 1. You are a Christian, and 2. you pray in faith.

In regard to the first prerequisite, it only makes sense that God’s wisdom is provided to followers of Christ. Why would those who don’t believe in God turn to God for answers? 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Believers have access to God’s wisdom through prayer. But, then comes prerequisite numero dos.

We must pray in faith. It is easy to trust God when things are going well, but if you sprinkle in some pain, testing, or trials, doubt creeps in. Doubt is pausing or holding back in uncertainty. We need to be honest about our doubts. Even pastors have doubts! We need to pray, “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief.”

If we have doubts, James says we are like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. One of my favorite places is the beach. I love seeing the expanse of the ocean, I love listening to the waves crash on the shore, I love the call of the birds, I love everything about the ocean. But it is also unpredictable. A wave may be bigger than we can tell, there is the undertow that can drag you out to sea, and a whole host of other things (sharks!). Our doubt is like the uncertainty of the sea. It blows us around from side to side. A mind that wavers is not completely convinced God’s way is the best. We try to retain the option to disobey.

How often have we said we believe and trust God, but then work at it as if He doesn’t exist?

What about you?

What are you trusting in? Yourself? God’s wisdom?

Why do we doubt God’s provision?

When you ask God, do you truly believe He will answer your prayer (especially when you ask for wisdom)? Remember, God does not always answer our prayers the way we think He will.

Need Wisdom?

1_5 Wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” –James 1:5

As we go through trials, we inevitably have questions. The biggest question is “why?” The good news is we are not left to strive or struggle (with joy) on our own. God tells us that if we don’t know something, we should ask! However, at this point, we must recognize the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge comes through work and study, wisdom is the ability to apply that knowledge is every day decision making. This leads to another incredibly important issue: the source of wisdom.

Scripture is clear that God is the source of all wisdom. James tells us that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God. It is crucial to look to the right places for answers. If you go to the world’s system, you are going to be told what the world thinks you should do. Not surprisingly, the world is often wrong. God, and only God, has the proper perspective on our trial. Only He can see the big picture. Only He can see tomorrow. If we have access to this type of wisdom, which James says we do, why would we not ask God?!? To top it off, God gives us wisdom generously! That is a promise of God we can stand on.

God loves it when we come to Him, seeking His wisdom. We can’t afford to make decisions on our own. We need God’s wisdom.

How about you?

Do you look to the world or to God when you have questions?

What is stopping you from relying on God’s wisdom?

In what area of your life do you need wisdom? Stop. Ask God for it. Then wait.

When we ask God, we are talking to Him, this is known as prayer. How are your prayers?

How much time do you spend seeking Godly council or relying on earthly advice?