Archive | May, 2012

Faith that saves embraces and acts

29 May

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works. James 2:18-22

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In Sunday school growing up, I heard many conversations between student and teacher that went a little bit like this:

T: “Who can tell me what it means to be saved?”
S: “Believing in God.”
T: “Yes, but believing in God is not enough. Even the devil believes there is a God. We have to repent of our sins, accept Jesus into our hearts and strive to become more like him. That’s what separates us.”

In other words, we can’t just believe IN God to be saved….we have to actually believe him. That means we take him at his word. We believe that what Christ did on the Cross is real and true. And we repent of our sins and work hard to be doers of the word (James 1:22) and become more Christlike, which is our calling (Romans 8:28-29a).

This is confirmed in the commentary on James 2:19 provided by Crossway’s ESV Study Bible:

The affirmation of monotheism stems from the core Jewish creed called Shema. But James stresses its inadequacy, since even the demons believe this, and they shudder. Mere mental assent to the Christian faith does not save anyone. The faith that saves, as both Paul and James affirm, embraces the truth of the gospel and acts accordingly.

So, what is the result of faith that actually believes God? Faithful obedience. But it requires action. How do I know that? Well, let me make a list from Hebrews 11…

  • By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain…
  • By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark…
  • By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age…
  • By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…
  • By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau…

By faith, they all obeyed. They acted. They trusted. Their faith was ever-so-clearly completed by their works (James 1:22).

Is that not inspiring? I’m feeling challenged to evaluate areas of my life where I’m simply believing in God and not truly believing him. I hope you are, too! Let me leave you with one of my favorite parts of James that helps us remember to do more than just believe IN:

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:22-25

Jen


Cleansed from all sin, walking in the light

21 May

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:5-10

Not one of us is innocent. We all are sinners. And, we must confess our sins to God. Repent. Then, we are cleansed and we find freedom. 

Jen

Beautiful plan, beautiful place

18 May

As bad as it was, as bad as it hurt
I thank God I didn’t get what I thought that I deserved

Carrie Underwood, “Good in Goodbye”

I am in a beautiful place.

It’s not a place that I ever imagined myself in. Actually, it’s kind of the opposite of what I thought I wanted. What I thought I deserved. What I thought would make me happy.

Happiness of this world will fade away. Joy in Christ remains.

God has given me pure joy in a season of trial. He has brought me from a place of destruction to a place of utter beauty. Because I delight in him and trust in him, and I want nothing to do with self.

And to be honest, if never getting my way means I stay in this beautiful place, then I say, “Yes, please.”

He has a beautiful plan. He is so faithful.

Jen

Unstained from the world (a James 1-from-memory victory)

17 May

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. {James 1:26-27}

Jen

James 1:12-25 (from memory)

15 May

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God.” For God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin. And sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Know this, my brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

Jen

Whatever is TRUE

12 May

Have you ever had a bad dream? One that wakes you up in the middle of the night and disrupts your peace? Maybe it was a nightmare, or maybe it was something from your past that creeped into your dream world and awoke you abruptly after it finished.

When I have dreams such as these, I find it difficult to start the day off on the right foot. Often I find myself trying to figure out why I had the dream. Did it result from a thought or worry I had the previous day? Was it because of something I overheard that my subconscious picked up? Long story short, I begin to evaluate the dream and my mind can wander off into a somewhat depressing place.

And I can’t stand it. Thankfully, I have learned that when a bad dream leaves me feeling down, I must remember that it shouldn’t control or direct my thought life for the rest of the day. It should have no power over me.

Why is that?

It’s because Philippians 4:8 tells us to think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise. A bad dream does not fall under any of those categories. In fact, it’s the opposite of “true.” Dreams are not real. I encourage you not to spend your entire day dwelling on something that is not a part of reality. Instead, remember what is real: God is good, Jesus died for my sins, He rescued me, He is with me and He loves me. Those are all things that are true. And honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, etc…

I just have to leave you with a cool little story. Last week, I woke up in the morning from a rough dream. Shortly after I awoke, I read the following tweet by Christian recording artist Dara MacLean:

“Had a dream about the past & realized its because the enemy is scared of my future. Today u have everything u need through him 2 succeed.”

Girl knows what she is talkin’ about. And God knew I needed that! I instantly began to see my dream as an opportunity to trust God instead of a reason to doubt myself and my situation in life. I’m not going to let the enemy become a stumbling block to my growth and maturity in Christ. Are you?

Jen

Yes means yes, no means no

11 May

Anyone out there remember the song “Follow Through” by Gavin DeGraw? I always have and always will love that song. And even though it’s not a Christian song, it has a great message. The chorus includes the following phrase:

You have to follow through with every word you say.

I was reminded of this song recently in a session of Beth Moore’s James: Mercy Triumphs study when she mentioned James 5:12:

Above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

This was a major challenge to me because, just like anyone reading this probably has, I have experienced broken promises in my lifetime. I’ve had people tell me “I promise to never _____,” and then they go and do that very thing. Even I have made statements such as, “I promise I will ____,” and then I go away and forget to do that very thing.

You see, we really shouldn’t have to use the word “promise” at all (James is telling us not to!). When I say, “I will do this,” I should just do it. I should be a woman of my word. I want to be someone people can trust and have faith in.

It’s challenging. It’s biblical. It’s hard work. But I’m going to try harder. Anyone with me?

Jen

A victor, not a victim

10 May

Today I was talking with a dear friend about how, no matter what we’re going through, we are not to view ourselves as victims. She said to me something along the lines of, “We are not victims. We are victors because of Christ. It is about him, not about our suffering.”

Yes!

And, after our conversation, I began to wonder and almost worry: Have I conveyed that completely in each blog I post about difficult times and the things I’m going through?

Just incase…let me be clear:

I am not a victim. I am a VICTOR. And only through Christ and what he did for me on the Cross.

Life’s gonna knock me down.
It’s not gonna keep me down.
I’m gonna trust You now, in every season.
I know You’re here.
I know You’re for me.
I know that joy comes in the morning.
God, I believe it now.
God, I believe You now.

{Britt Nicole – Who You Say You Are}

Jen

I hope you’re not tired of James yet, friends…

9 May

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:22-25

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A few months ago, I remember Beth Moore making a comment in one of the video sessions for James: Mercy Triumphs that really stuck with me. I’m not quoting her word-for-word (I should have written it down!), but she said something along the lines of, “Some women have told me they have taken several of my studies more than once, and are still encountering the same issues in their lives. I think many times this is because we have to not just hear the word. We have to act on it.”

I don’t think Beth could be any more accurate about that! As you read at the beginning of this blog, we can’t just hear the word and then walk away, forgetting it. As Romans 15:4 says, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope.”

Did you catch that first part? It was written for our instruction. Notice how it doesn’t say that it was written for our entertainment. To instruct implies that we are being directed, taught, trained and ordered to act. When we’re told to love our neighbor, to honor our mother and father, to forgive our brother seven times 70 times…those aren’t little suggestions or neat ideas. Those, in fact, are instructions.

But, of course, I think we can easily forget that. (I’m guilty!) There have been innumerable times in my life where I’ve read a portion of scripture and said, “WOW, that’s good! I needed that!” But then, as James says, I walk away and so easily forget it, as though I were looking into a mirror one moment and forgetting what I looked like as soon as I walked away.

If you’re struggling to do the word and not just hear it, I’d encourage you to pray about it. Then, get out some notecards and write down scriptures that apply to whatever you are facing in life. If you’re dealing with unforgiveness, write Matthew 18:21-22 down and preach it to yourself until you start living it! I have found that this, along with memorizing the scriptures I write out, is the best way to force myself to live the word. If something is imprinted on my brain via memorization, I think it’s much easier to remind myself in the moment what I’m supposed to do.

Give it a try today. It could be life-changing!

Jen

It’s ALL a PURE joy

8 May

Have I ever mentioned that I love the book of James? Well, I do.

In fact, a few of my favorite verses, which I’ve mentioned in several previous posts, are ones that are quoted often:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds. For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)

Even though I typically read and study from the ESV, I LOVE the way NIV tells us in verse 2 to “consider it PURE joy.”

Wait. Trials are “pure joys”? Really? You’re probably thinking, “Isn’t that a bit extreme?”

To me, “count it ALL joy,” means counting every single one of your trials–ALL of them–as joys. And “considering it pure joy” means your trials are totally, completely, unequivocally a JOY to face. Each trial is a joy, and each joy isn’t just some silly little sprinkling of joy…it’s an unmistakable heaping of PURE joy.

Do I sound crazy yet? I’m not, I swear…

Sometimes when we face hardships, we fail to understand why. We think we don’t deserve it. We think we’re pretty good people and that we should have an easy life because we’re Christians and we love God. So why do trials come?

James makes it clear. God allows our faith to be tested so that it may become stronger. And, after we’ve remained steadfast under our trials (aka: when we never lose faith in God despite the hard stuff), we’ll receive the “crown of life.” We’ll make it to heaven, where there will be no more trials. (See my previous post for more on that.) Don’t you think that reward is worth the pain?!

Try considering it it ALL a PURE joy today, no matter what you’re facing. Mandisa does a great job of putting tough times into perspective in her song “Stronger”:

When the waves are taking you under, hold on just a little bit longer, He knows that this is gonna make you stronger.

Jen