Let it grow!

The Book of James is easily the most hard-hitting section of Scripture in the New Testament. James, Jesus’ half-brother, doesn’t pull any punches and tells his readers that actions speak louder than words.

While anyone who’s read God’s Word knows that, according to Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT), we are saved by grace and not by works, James tells us that if you truly are a believer, your faith should produce good works.

Let’s take a look at the first section of James, as he speaks to faith and endurance. James 1:2-4 (NLT) says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

The keyword, seen three times in those three verses, is “when”. James tells us that troubles are inevitable, during those time of trouble your faith will be tested, and you’ll have a chance to grow. Trials and tribulations are not a matter of if, but when, and these obstacles that God places in front of us have a purpose.

What is the purpose? Only God knows. Perhaps rather than asking why our faith is being tested, it’s better to, as James says, “let it grow”. Allowing God to develop our endurance rather than resist his teaching is essential to growth. God doesn’t quit, so you’re better off submitting to His will, growing your endurance, and becoming the man or woman of God that He’s chosen you to be.


Limitless Possibilities

Why do we waste time arguing over what’s possible? Who are we, as mere human beings, to make sweeping announcements about what is possible and what’s impossible. God’s in charge. He always has been, and He always will be.

There’s a great verse in Mark 9:23 when a demon-possessed boy was thrown to the ground and began convulsing violently. The boy’s father pleads with Jesus to be merciful to his son and help him, if he can. Jesus’ response is fantastic. ‘What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”

The boy’s father then cried out that he did believe and Jesus rebuked the demon, causing the spirit to leave the boy. All Jesus asks for is our faith. In return, He offers everlasting life.

Later in the Gospel of Mark, after speaking to His disciples about the difficulties of the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says in Mark 10:27, “…Everything is possible with God.”

How soon we forget, right? There is no such thing as impossible, because everything is possible with God. The problem is believing. As people, we like to see things in order to believe them. It takes a great deal of faith to put your life into the Lord’s hands, but once you do, the possibilities are limitless.

When is enough enough?

A lot of folks know Philippians 4:13, but the verse preceding that well-known section of the Scriptures is very valuable. Philippians 4:12 (NLT) reads, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

The Apostle Paul even says in Philippians 4:11 (NLT) that, “…I have learned how to be content with whatever I have.” What a marvelous revelation, and one that would do us well in today’s fast-paced society.

The things of this world cause us to oftentimes question if we have enough. Is my house big enough? Do I have enough friends? Am I thin enough? Did I give my grandchildren enough for Christmas? Am I making enough money? When is enough enough?

The answer is, enough is never enough if you follow the ways of the world. Instead, the solution is to rely on the Spirit of God. As Paul says in familiar verse, Philippians 4:13 (NLT), “For I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NLT) that, “Everything is meaningless…completely meaningless.” But as his life passes in review, Solomon is quick to point out in the final paragraph, “…Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey His commands, for this is everyone’s duty.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13- NLT)

Instead of chasing after every little thing that this world puts in front of you, count your blessings, and obey your Heavenly Father. Motivational speaker Tony Gaskins once said, “To be content doesn’t mean you don’t desire more, it means you’re thankful for what you have and patient for what’s to come.”

Hard work pays off.

The second letter to the Thessalonians gives us several commands of what to do, and what not to do. It’s referred to in the New Living Translation as an exhortation to proper living. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 reads like like the Book of Proverbs, except rather than the pen of Solomon, these words come from the pen of the Apostle Paul.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-9 reads, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a burden to any of you.”

Paul is basically exhorting believers in Jesus Christ to work hard. We see similar passages in the Book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 13:4 (NLT), Solomon writes, “Lazy people want much but get little, but those who work hard will prosper.” Proverbs 21:5 (NLT) says, “Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.”

My dad taught me long ago to work hard, but the phrase, “work smarter, not harder” seems to be all the rage today. People are looking far and wide for the easy way out, rather than putting their nose to the grindstone and working hard to achieve their goals. In my experience, the quick and easy path does not offer the same rewards as the road less travelled.

I think both Solomon and Paul are speaking of the same thing. While the easy path seems like it will yield the best results, oftentimes it leaves us feeling empty. Such as it is in our pursuit of the Christian life. Nowhere in the Bible does it suggest that living a life that pleases God is easy. It requires diligent study, self sacrifice, and a strict adherence to the Scriptures.

Stop sinning and follow God.

Have you ever noticed that God never just leaves you out in the cold? Now, as I write that, I know there are some who would say, “If you only knew my circumstance.” However, God’s Word is a promise, and his discipline, divine in nature, is designed to get you back onto the straight and narrow path.

Psalm 119:67 (NLT) says, “I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word.” God has a purpose when He disciplines His children. We see it time and time again. God is not cruel. He corrects us with repentance in mind.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says to repent is to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life. Turning away from sin is crucial to living the Christian life. While today’s image of God is focused so much on His love, there’s not much talk surrounding how much God hates it when we disobey and fall into sin.

Hebrews 6:1 (NLT) reads, “So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God.”

Repentance from evil deeds and gaining a mature understanding about the basic teachings of Christ is fundamental to the Christian faith. In essence, the writer of Hebrews is saying, “Stop sinning and follow God.” It can’t get much more elementary than that.

Delight in God’s law.

While many people turn to the Book of Proverbs for God’s sage advice and wisdom, as written through the pen of Solomon, the Book of Psalms has some incredibly thought-provoking insight as well.

One of my favorites is the very first Psalm, as it speaks to how to find happiness. Psalms 1:1-3 (NLT) says, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

What great counsel. Avoid those who do wicked and sinful deeds, preferring instead to delight in God’s law, and maintain a prayer-filled life. The pslamist says that doing so will result in a fruitful and prosperous life.

But what of those who fail to follow God’s law? What will become of them? Psalm 1:4-6 (NLT) lays it out very clearly, “But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. For the Lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.”

I don’t know that we have a clearer picture in all of the Bible of what happens to those who walk with God and what happens to the perpetual sinner. Be sure to mind your walk and allow God to guide your steps, otherwise you’ll be on the path to destruction.

Your eyes play tricks on you.

The Book of Judges, one that’s not often referenced by Christians today, is a stark reminder of what happens when we disobey the Lord our God. Judges 21:25 (NLT), the last verse of the book says, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.”

How relevant is that today? How many times have you walked down the street, turned on the evening news, or scrolled through your social media feed only to see terrible actions taking place in our beloved country?

Murder, opioid overdoses, drunk driving, theft, arson, and on and on it goes. But, why? Why do we see so much anger, hatred, violence, and bad behavior in our society? Because we’ve blurred the lines between right and wrong and people are doing whatever seems right in their own eyes.

So what’s the answer? It’s quite simple; obey God. Obedience to the Lord is sewn throughout the Bible, and when disobedience is cited, destruction is soon to follow. When people stop obeying God and do whatever seems right in their own eyes, nothing good will follow.

Instead, open your Bible. Turn to the Scriptures for the answers. Go to God in prayer. Be obedient to your Heavenly Father. When you start obeying and seeing things through God’s eyes, you’ll stop trusting yourself and start trusting Him.

It is better to give.

We all love a good compliment. After all, we work diligently at our outward appearance, so when someone takes notice, it’s flattering. We put our nose to the grindstone during our time in school, so when someone is intrigued by our education, we revel in it.

However, the Bible teaches that we should be leery of taking such compliments if it results in our lack of praise toward our God. John 13:43 (NLT) says, “For they loved human praise more than praise of God.” Jesus was, of course, speaking about the Pharisees; the hypocritical religious leaders of His day.

If we take our eyes off of God and focus on what is temporal rather than eternal, we’re headed down the wrong path. Jesus calls for us to model ourselves after him and be humble; a servant.

Jesus spoke of himself in Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Find your rest in Jesus, not of this world. Don’t seek out compliments of others, but instead be humble and offer praise to your Heavenly Father. It is better to give than to receive, right? So why not find your joy in giving praise to God rather than accepting praise from others?

Don’t let worry control you.

Are you a worry wart? I know, we all worry. Ask any parent if they’re worried about their child, and if the response is anything other than yes, they’re probably not being 100% truthful.

We worry about paying the mortgage on time. We worry about how we’re going to get our kids to baseball practice after working overtime. We worry about how we look, what we wear, our weight, and on and on it goes. But, can I tell you something, worry is the most wasted emotion we have. Yet, it’s one we all carry with us.

Jesus spoke about worry in his Sermon on the Mount, which can be found in Matthew 6:27 (NLT), when he asked, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” That’s a penetrating question, huh? How often do we worry about things that we have no control over. Instead, our worry controls us.

So what does Jesus tell us to do instead? Take a look at Matthew 6:31-33 (NLT), “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Finally, Jesus counsels His followers in Matthew 6:34 (NLT) saying, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Isn’t that the truth? It’s time to stop obsessing about tomorrow, seek the Kingdom of God, and stop worrying.

That you may continue to believe.

John’s Gospel is filled with great stories of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. But John clearly outlined the reason why he wrote the book; that you may continue to believe. One of Jesus’ followers, Thomas, had a difficult time believing.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to His disciples on Easter evening. We’re told of the encounter in John 20:19-20 (NLT), ‘That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord!’

But Thomas wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came. In fact, he was so filled with doubt, despite the fact that the others had told them about Jesus’ return, he wouldn’t believe it. Read John 20:25 (NLT), ‘They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”’

Well, eight days later, Thomas got his wish. Look what happens in John 20:27 (NLT) after Jesus returned to His disciples once again, ‘Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”’

Thomas’ response is tremendous, and can be found in John 20:28 (NLT), ‘”My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.’ Thomas, like many of us, needed to see it to believe it. But Jesus, in John 20:29 (NLT) has a message for those of us with that type of attitude, ‘Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”’

John closes out chapter 20 with these words, “The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.” Please, for your own sake, believe!