Living Stones

1 Peter 2

1 Peter 2 5 NASB

Often, we think of our life as our own; and it is to a point. We think we just go and do what we want, when we want and no one else has any right to say anything about it. The thing we need to remember as Christians is that we have given our lives to another. We have devoted ourselves to service. As such the master to which we are devoted is constantly guiding us … Are we following?

Peter tells us to put aside ALL malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. He suggests this will come naturally as we long for the pure word of God. This will cause us to grow in salvation and kindness. One of the best ways we can show love to one another is to show kindness to others. He says that as we have seen the kindness of God we will show kindness to others.

As His servants we are constantly being built up into a priesthood for Him. That does not mean we are going around in black shirts with white collars but it does mean we are to be serving Him with our entire being. We are called to offer sacrifices to God. Verse five of this chapter reminds me of Romans 12:1

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Romans 12:1 (NASB)

The sacrifice we offer is one of ourselves, not merely something of value to us but our entirety. We are chosen to serve Him as capable in His power, we are His possessions to serve as His people, for His glory and purposes. Peter continues to tell us that as we do what is right we may turn others to serve God as they see our actions. Also in doing right we will silence false accusations as all have seen us doing right by Him.

We are also called to respond differently than those around us. Many people are vicious toward others, especially when wronged. God is calling us, through Peter, to a better way. He has called us to be true to Him and to turn the other cheek as Jesus gave example. He reminds us that sin is no longer our master but we are now servants of Christ and his Father, our Father.

-Bill Dunn

Following the Alien Way

1 Peter 1

1 Peter 1 15 nasb

As we open the first letter from Peter, we find that he identifies himself as an apostle. This is a word that is rarely used outside of the church today. It translates to one who is sent. Peter says of himself, “I am one who is sent of Jesus Christ, I am his ambassador, his representative to you.” The you he refers to are all of those “living as aliens” across the region. I remember when I was a child, I would think of Marvin the Martian or some other made-up extra-terrestrial when I though of the word alien. Now I understand that an alien is simply one who is living in a place that is not their own. I now know that we, as servants of Christ, are living as aliens in a world that has turned itself over to follow evil. So, Peter is actually writing to us as well.

He continues by saying that we are chosen according to God’s foreknowledge. So, God knew the future enough to chose us as His servants for this time and to guide us to believe in His Son so we can enjoy life everlasting in His amazing Kingdom at the appointed time! WOW!!! It is incredible to think of the ways that God sets so many things in motion for our good, even when we have no idea of what He is setting up. We are set aside to obey Jesus and be cleansed by his blood. As if that was not enough Peter then asks that grace and peace be ours in the fullest! This is quite the blessing … and that is just the first 2 verses!

In the next three verses he reminds us that our inheritance is stored up where moth and rust cannot destroy. He says our hope is in resurrection and salvation is to be revealed in the last time. This is a beautiful reminder that the dead sleep and we will receive the promise together. In verse six Peter reminds us that the troubles of this time will pale in comparison to the blessings of the Kingdom of God, and this is where we draw our rejoicing from.

Verse thirteen says because of the gospel that has been preached to us we must be ready for action, with our hope fixed, because the world will continue to resist us for a time. Therefore, we must be obedient. We are called to be like Him.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”     1 Peter 1:14-16 (NASB)

In the last parts of this chapter Peter again writes of what is imperishable. This time he is telling us that we were not saved by what is perishable, such as gold and silver (these even vary in worth today), but by what is eternal, the blood of Christ. “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)

-Bill Dunn

Priceless Final Instructions from James

James 5

James 5 13 a

In our final chapter of James we find a teaching that is difficult for many of us. We find that we are taught to have patience. I find it difficult to be patient many times when I see someone behaving in a way that is not good for them, especially when it is someone whom I have invested time and care into. We care so deeply for so many people and it is hard to watch them go down a path that leads to destruction. He reminds us first of all that the things we have amassed for ourselves on this earth are of little value in the long run. He reminds us to store up our treasures in our eternal future, NOT in this temporary life, where moth and rust destroy.

We are told in verse eight to strengthen our hearts because the return of the Lord is “at hand”. We are to patiently await the return as we seek to serve Him in our thoughts and actions. In verse nine he says that we are not to complain about one another, remembering that the judge is at the door. It is not our job to complain about each other and to cause strife. It is not even our job to judge one another, we are to encourage with our actions and speak the truth in love.

James also tells us that we will face difficult times and we need to remember in those times that God is on our side and He is full of compassion and mercy. He uses the example of Job and reminds us that in the end, although his struggles were many, he still praised the LORD. In verses thirteen through eighteen he reminds us that no matter our circumstances we should prayerfully seek God.

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. James 5:13-15 NASB

He also reminds us that we should not think that we are not capable of the incredible feats God has accomplished through others. He says Elijah was a man just like us, … and he prayed. This is the answer to so many of our issues that we have today … and he prayed.

Unfortunately, as we experience life we will find times when brothers and sisters in Christ turn and choose not to follow. We are encouraged to turn him back to save his soul and cover his sins. We sometimes think when we have fallen short that our sins are too much for God to forgive. Who am I to say that the blood of Christ is insufficient for the forgiveness of my sins? James says this will cover “a multitude of sins.”

We must remember to be patient with one!

We must remember to strengthen our hearts because Christ is returning!

We MUST remember to pray in EVERY situation!

We must encourage one another to turn back to God when we fall!

-Bill Dunn

Freedom

James 4

James 4 7

Have you ever read or watched a news feed of any kind and thought to yourself, “Wow, why is the world such a messed-up place?” Odds are you have had these thoughts or said this not just once but many, many times! Unfortunately; we live in a world that is covered in disgrace, selfishness, and unkindness. These things become evident as we look at the world around us and wonder at just how far some have fallen. When we ask how the world got this way it is not a new question and it does not require a new answer. It is an answer that James wrote about a long time ago on a continent far far away (sorry, back on target).

In James 4:1 he asks the question, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” Why are you fighting all the time?!? When he wrote this it wasn’t in the time of instant communication that we have today. He couldn’t use snapchat, private messenger, or even email. Because it would take weeks or even months for responses to go back and forth, he asks the question and immediately supplies the answer. Isn’t it the pleasures that wage war in your members? Have you ever thought of your pleasures as waging war within yourself? If not just think how much you long for the latest and greatest, even when what you already have works just fine. Even more when you go to replace something that is broken.

My phone broke  about a month ago (completely stopped working) and I was faced with the question do I replace it with a new model, attempt to repair the old one, or get a refurbished replacement of the currently broken phone at a fraction of the cost of a newer model. There is a part of me that has always been fascinated with the newest electronics and the new features (after all – I want my phone to be the best, right?). As I was weighing my options I continued to see the latest models waging war against my budget. I reasoned with myself, “It will get updates longer if I get the newer phone, it will have better features.” The fact of the matter is my phone that had just died served me quite well for nearly three years, I know all of its settings and have cases, chargers, and screen protectors that I have already purchased sitting at home. I also get all of these benefits for a quarter to a third of the price. After attempting to have the old phone repaired I finally received the refurbed phone and am quite happy with my decision. All of that to say that I am quite familiar with my desires waging war within me.

He says you lust and envy and it leads you to strife and disagreements, even to murder. He then goes on to say that the only reason you don’t have is that you don’t ask. Jesus said if you seek you will find, we merely have to ask. In verse three we find that just because we ask does not mean we will instantly have the desires of our hearts. If I ask with self-serving motives I will not receive, but if I am needing wisdom to better serve God it will be granted. If I focus my desires and friendship on the world and its pleasures I show myself to be serving stuff, NOT God.

In verses 6 and 7 we find that God gives grace to the humble and we are to submit to Him and His desires because of His mercy and grace. James then says the devil will flee from us if we resist him. That is a magnificent piece of information if you have ever felt tempted to serve your own desires instead of God’s desires!

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8

Do NOT let yourself fall into the trappings of this world that say you can be a slave to the latest and greatest and still serve God, we can have but one master. Do not be double-minded, only serve the things of God. Philippians 2:3, 4 tell us to treat others as if they are a higher priority to us than ourselves, and verse 5 tells us to have the attitude that was in Christ. It is amazing how much this spirit can set us free from the struggles this world consistently brings about. After all, 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

James also warns us of the arrogance that comes from assuming we know what is going to happen. He reminds us that our lives are in the hands of God. What better place is there to rest?

Let’s rest in His hands and find the freedom that only He can provide!

-Bill Dunn

Consistently Strong

James 3

James 3 5 NIV

Have you ever heard young boys arguing? It may begin as an argument about which is faster but many times it will end up with the two boys shouting something to the effect of, “My dad is stronger than your dad!” Often times we see our fathers as a symbol of strength, but what does strength look like? Is it a bodybuilder with bulging muscles? Is it a sprinter with unbelievable speed? These can be measures of physical strength but the strength that we are called to display is more than just strength of body.

The world tells us that a strong person should “get mad and fight like a man” God tells us through James to control our speech and even to control our anger. In chapter one he said, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry”. James 1:26 tells us “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” In Chapter 3 he says that anyone who does not stumble in what he says is a perfect man, I can tell you I am far from perfect. He goes on to explain how such a small part of our bodies can control and lead so much of our life. When I take a flight I often sit near the wing and will watch the flaps as the pilot makes adjustments to control the aircraft. It always amazes me to see that such a small change, in a relatively small piece of the plane, can determine the altitude of such a massive machine as it carries me through the air at hundreds of miles per hour. James 3:5-8 says

5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

Although the tongue is such a small part of our body it is what we use to express our thoughts and emotions to those around us. Jesus even said that our words are the overflow of our heart. Does that mean when we are sarcastic and disrespectful to those around us that is what is truly in our heart? That can be a disturbing thought sometimes. Perhaps we should use our words to view the contents of our heart.

When I lived in the South I would hear someone say something inappropriate and another person would ask, (insert your best southern accent) “You kiss yo momma with that mouth?” James says something similar but with even more force. He says, “With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, … these things ought not to be this way.” We should seek to honor both God and people with our words.

We should be consistent with our thoughts and actions.

We should be consistent in the strength of self-control.

It takes true strength to control your tongue.

Show strength that builds up, not tears down!

-Bill Dunn

Faith ____ Works

James 2

James 2 14 NIV

In Chapter two of James he continues to tell us that we need that Humble Pride and we are not to judge others in partiality. We must not look at others and decide that God isn’t going to use them because we don’t like the way they look. Just as we may turn away from a book when the cover is worn and frayed, we occasionally turn away from people when we see they are worn and frayed. The thing we must remember is sometimes the books, and people, that are worn the most are worn from use not from neglect. When we look at someone we should seek the potential that our LORD sees. When Samuel went to anoint the king he would have overlooked David but God was looking at David’s heart.

In the same way that we tend to judge by what we see on the surface James tells us that our faith is to be more than mere words.

When you look at Faith ______ Works, what would you place in that blank?

  • Faith or works
  • Faith VS. works
  • Faith and works

We know that we are cleansed of our sins by faith (not by works), so why would James ask in 2:14, “Can faith with no works save you?” Do Paul and James have a long-standing disagreement on this matter? No, they agree beautifully! James is not saying that we are saved by our works but that our works are evidence of our faith. In verses 15 and 16 he says that empty words mean nothing. For example, if I simply say I am feeding my dogs regularly, yet I give them no food; eventually they starve. They will not survive on my words or good intentions alone. The same is true of our faith. Luke just told us last week of that “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11 that were all shown to be faithful and that faith was made evident in the works they did for God.

James says if we have true faith it will be shown by our actions! He says in verse 19 that if all it took was a belief in the truth that God is one then even the demons would be okay, because they believe and shudder. Although they believe, their actions and their allegiance are not inline with God’s plan. They understand truth but choose to do their own thing. We need to understand truth AND let that truth move us to action for God!

James says that we need a Faith that Works!

If our faith is not causing us to work for God we must ask ourselves, “Do I truly have faith, or do I have empty words?”

-Bill Dunn

 

Oxymorons

James 1

James 1 9 (1)

I am a dad and as such enjoy the occasional (or perhaps not so occasional) dad joke. I also like to see the look on someone’s face as they decipher the unexpected oxymoron. Some of these are so common that we don’t even realize when we say them. Others take a moment to realize what has been said.

Here are some examples:

  • Act naturally – Is it really natural if it is an act, or is it natural to act, or … WHAT?
  • Random order – Which is it random or in order?
  • Original copy – By definition if it is a copy it cannot be the original.
  • Only Choice – If it is the only one it is not a choice.
  • Jumbo Shrimp – Enough said

I am clearly confused by all of these oxymorons.

James, although known to be quite practical in his writing starts out using a couple of oxymorons.

The first he uses is in the second verse, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” I am usually not saying, “Thank you for this traffic jam” or, “I am so glad I just stubbed my toe.” James is not saying that we will or should enjoy pain or difficulties. He is saying that as our faith is tested it becomes stronger, just like we do when we go to the gym.

Next he writes of Humble Pride. James 1:9-10 says,

9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.

How can one in humble circumstances glory in his high position? The trick is we are not boasting or glorifying ourselves, but we are glorifying our God. Jesus tells us in Luke 10:42-45 that the one who wishes to become great must become least. As we serve others, we show that we are not focused on the desires of our flesh but instead we are caring for others. This shows true humility. After telling us that we are to be doing the word of God and not just hearing it James ends this chapter by telling us that pure and undefiled religion is to serve widows and orphans while keeping yourself unstained.

Sometimes when you do the right thing it may just confuse someone enough to cause them to ask why you did it. Let’s live in a way that inspires others to seek God and His Kingdom!

-Bill Dunn