I Peter 1 part 1–Our Great Salvation

Peter reaches out to the churches with a very “Peter-like” view of faith.  Peter was the apostle that was pragmatic. His faith was as real and raw as any person could imagine.  Peter was the one that on at least two occasions saw Jesus fill his boat with fish. Peter walked on water. Peter rushed into the empty tomb. Peter had the vision of the ultimate barbeque in Joppa. Peter led the first gentiles into the kingdom.  Still, Peter was also the apostle that denied Jesus, that looked at the waves and sank, that distanced himself from the gentiles when the Church leaders showed up. Peter was real.  He faced life and death as a frail but completely committed man of God.
 
So, when Peter speaks of the grace and salvation we as God’s chosen receive, he does so as a person that has experienced it personally with Christ and because of Christ. Peter’s unique walk with Christ helped him to truly know Christ’s love and forgiveness.  What is more, Peter is commending those that did not walk daily with Jesus for the faith given to them by God’s Spirit.  In short, we know God and are devoted to Him by faith and without His physical presence; something that not even the angels have experienced.  We are truly blessed and are truly redeemed by faith.  In this season of Thanksgiving, we should be grateful to know Christ and walk with Him.  
 
Like Peter, we face life raw. We are not perfect, but we are redeemed. We are not omniscient, but, we are filled with the God who is! We are not omnipotent, but our Father is. We are not omnipresent, but we serve the God that has been there and done that. We, therefore, benefit from all that God is because of who and Whose we are in Him.  No apostle, not even Paul, understood redemption any more than did Peter. Peter reminds us that our redemption is a gift of love that is indescribable, irreplaceable, and infinite. We will never deserve it, and that is why we so freely partake of it. Help us, Lord, to grasp the enormity of our salvation and to rest peaceably in it.
 
God Bless You and Happy Thanksgiving!

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

James 5 Part 1–Wealth Management

In Philippians 4, Paul lays out his plan for success quite succinctly. Paul tells the Philippians that he has learned to be content in all circumstances. Whether well fed or hungry living in plenty or in want that he could do all things through Christ Who strengthens him. (Phil 4:12-13)  In these verses from James, the author takes the negative side of that argument.  He tells the people who have had plenty and rely upon their riches and wealth for security and peace that they will come to a long and brutal end. Conversely, he tells those that have struggled not to lose hope, that God will provide in His time and in His way.  In short, James tells the people that they need to be content in serving and trusting God no matter what their circumstances may bring.  
 
Fast forward to this week of Thanksgiving.  We as God’s chosen still need to fully rely upon God. If we are wealthy and have all the security we think we need, that is when we should seek Him and lay all that we have on the altar for Him to bless.  When God blesses us with wealth; it is to prepare us to rely upon Him despite our feeling of self-sufficiency.  That is often difficult, but when one finds the ability to be free from their dependence upon their own wealth, it allows God to bless them even more.  Conversely, when one acts completely self-sufficient, they never are quite satisfied, nor are they ever quite secure in their wealth.  Their wealth becomes their prison and they never are free to enjoy the life God has given them. 
 
As for those that struggle to make ends meet; they face the same drama. They live in constant fear of losing what they have. They are always chasing ways to make circumstances better.  James tells such folks, be patient, do not grumble and trust God to prepare, provide and protect you in your journey.  There is very little actual difference in cause and effect. In all circumstances, we must choose to rely upon God for everything we have and how we proceed in the journey. If we will do that, God will, in his time, bless us. If we choose to rely upon our own power, we will sadly find no peace. Solomon said it best, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your paths straight!” Proverbs 3:5-6
 
God Bless You

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.[a] You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Patience in Suffering

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

James 3 Part 1–Watching Our Tongues

James starts to get personal in Chapter 3.  As God’s kids, we do our best to stay away from the “Big Sins”; killing, stealing, and sexual sin. But, James began discussing our tongues. Gossip, berating others, cursing, telling lies, filthy jokes…you get the picture.  God knew from the beginning the devastation caused by our evil use of our mouths. So many lives have been ruined by harsh language and gossip. We can issue a great deal of pain to our spouses and our children by failing to manage our words and our tones.  James tells the people that big ships are controlled by a little rudder–so lives are controlled by the tongue.
 
The tongue can be a source of life or death. God calls us to use our tongues as a source of life.  Earlier, James reminded the people to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry! We are to speak life to people. We encourage, we pray and we share the gospel. We speak the truth in love and always seek ways to use our language to make people better.  There is no need to be harsh, coarse. deceptive or manipulative.  Simply, speak the truth and seek to point people to faith and not from it.  One of the great sadnesses in life is to hear that Christians, by their words, do more to keep people from wanting to know God.  So, as James has so eloquently put it–control your tongue and you will be a superstar to the church!
 
God Bless You

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

James 2 Part 2–The Product of Our Faith

James deals with the elephant in the middle of the living room…How can one claim to have faith if their life fails to reflect any evidence of that faith?  Growing up, many great evangelists passed through my town and church. They would preach wonderful sermons on the Gospel and Christ’s sacrifice. At the close of the evening, they would present alter calls and ask people to pray the sinner’s prayer requesting Christ to come into their lives and save them. It was a great way to spread the Gospel–many were saved and lives changed.  However, there were also some that were caught up in the emotion and missed the point of the prayer. The prayer was not a call for fire insurance so once prayed that is the end; instead, it is a call for the Lord to enter our lives and begin a relationship with us that transforms us into His image.
 
James is preaching to that point. One cannot truly have a relationship with God and it not impact that person’s life.  As we walk with the Lord, we become different people. We desire to be selfless, we desire to serve God and others. We seek him through prayer, scripture, and fellowship with other believers. It is not that those things “save” us but as new creations, our lives look and run differently.  As His chosen, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17).  James is simply saying that our faith is evident through how we live out our lives. We need not be perfect, but, we should be different.  The great news is that God takes us as we are (Romans 5:8). The greater news is that God does the transformation as we seek Him and rely upon Him. (Phil 1:6 and 2:12-13) James is not saying our salvation comes by completing good works, instead, He is saying that our salvation transforms us into people that are different and that becomes evident in how we then live. 
 
God Bless You

 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[e] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

James 2 Part 1–Loving Folks, Baggage and All

It is simply easier to love beautiful people. People that are wealthy, healthy and free of life’s baggage are often given preference and position. Those that struggle with life, with finances and have difficult journeys are often avoided and forgotten in the world.  James says the Church must be different! As a community, the Church must not show favoritism and it must take folks warts and all. That is the example the Lord showed by loving tax collectors and sinners of all sorts, healing the sick, crippled and dead. James is reminding the Church that it is truly our place to love people as they are and never look back. 
 
It is a tall order to simply love folks as they are. People drive us crazy. Their attitudes and actions may be maddening, but then the Church can be a part of seeking to save that which is lost. One simply needs to look at their own lives to realize we all have our own sets of baggage. That is why we must not serve as judges, but instead as a family to those with needs. As we do that, the communities we live in will grow strong and our hearts will grow rich. Selflessness will bring purpose and those touched will then touch others. We are called to be different. As a community, loving each other no matter what will set us apart from the rest of this selfish, biased world!
 
God Bless You

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,”[a] you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

2 Timothy 3 Part 2–The Bible-Life Sustaining Weapon and Tool

What keeps from falling prey to the attacks of the enemy? One of the chief tools is God’s holy word.  The Bible is no ordinary book. 66 separate books written by 40 authors over hundreds of years. It is the true message from our creator and the author of the universe. It has been the center of controversy for millennia and the guide to the formation of governments, foundations of education and creation of Churches, families and some of the greatest leaders of all time.  The Bible is dynamic–Its message tailored to fit each person at the place they are in their lives.  It is used for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training.  Paul wanted to give his young friend a grasp of the vital nature of understanding the word of God.  The Faith, the Church, and Christianity, in general, would not grow or remained sustained without the clear message that God’s word provided.
 
In our lives, we are still very dependent upon the message from God.  The Bible is as relevant today as the words of God were 2000 years ago.  We still gain a great wealth of knowledge from the lives of the people in the Bible, the messages of the Bible, and Spirit’s leading through the Bible. If we continue to draw from its message each day, we can battle through the spiritual battles this journey throws at us.  We can never lose heart, nor can we ever lose hope.  Amazingly, faith hope and love are promised by Paul in God’s word. One need not be a Bible scholar to use God’s word. We must simply ask God to lead us through and spend time digging in and reading each day. If we will, then God will use His word to build our lives and grow us into the people He has called us to be!
 
God Bless You

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, 11 persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Philippians 3 Part 1–Bragging Rights

Paul was the super pharisee.  If one wanted a poster child for how to “do religion” Paul was easily that guy. He was circumcised, Part of the tribe of Benjamin, trained by Gamaliel the ultimate Rabbi.  He knew all the traditions, all the law and exactly what to do.  He attacked the Christians with zeal and complete abandon. Any Jewish leader would be proud of Paul’s record.  Paul, however, realized that it was not his knowledge or performance that made him righteous.  Paul went as far as to say that stuff was bio-waste compared to the surpassing greatness of Christ,  Paul no longer needed to flaunt a resume–He simply needed to trust God and allow God to transform him into the image of Christ.
 
We are the same.  We are not a product of our accomplishments.  We can never “DO” Christianity to a level that our actions bring us justification.  In fact, as Paul so elegantly articulated it, our efforts to earn salvation look, smell and feel like bio-waste! We need to know Christ! As we get to know him we quickly see that it is His grace and His mercy, not our background or performance that brings us salvation. If we will simply trust and follow His lead–He will restore our relationship with God, and he will prepare us for the journey that lies ahead.  In addition, the Lord will change our hearts and our desires to conform to His image.  There is simply no greater gift than the salvation we receive by trusting Christ alone.
 
God Bless You
 

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.