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Change of Plans

Psalm 90:12 – So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

This week I turned 45.

I planned on sharing tidbits about what I have learned over the course of 45 years. It had all the ear-markings of my shortest post ever.

But then reality hit home and I was reminded on one thing that I have learned…we all have a change of plans.

As a single guy (for the next 36 days), my birthday started as pretty much any other single guy’s birthday. You wake up.

But I was reminded of something today.

A good friend of mine didn’t wake up. At least not in the human sense of the word.

A good friend of mine, and an elder in the church I attend, went home to be with the Lord a few days ago.

Tonight, I attended his viewing. Tomorrow I will attend his funeral.

I haven’t known him for too long, maybe a couple years at most. But Eric had a vibrancy to him and a calm demeanor that was infectious. He was quick with a smile and filled with wise words.I am blessed to be able to call him friend.

But tonight as I was entering the church and everyone I knew was wishing me happy birthday, I was reminded that we don’t have an eternity to make the choice.

If you believe much of humanity, you believe that there is no afterlife, and, that once you are in the dirt, that is the end of you.

Matthew 25:46 – And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

To me, that simplifies life way too much when I know that there must be a billion things that go right in our universe every day just so you can take your next breath. There must be something more.

This week is a great example of that.

I don’t believe in coincidences. And this week was filled with what the world would call coincidences.

At the beginning of the week, I was blessed by my church to be able to attend a conference for pastors and church and leaders. In it, there were back to back presentations on the eternal aspect of our lives.

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The first presentation, by Charles Nieman, explained something that I knew from studying my Bible, but never really grasped until he discussed it in further detail. He explained that this life is simply a continuation of the John 3:16 life. We think of death here in terms of ending and eternal life in terms of beginning. But that isn’t it at all. This life is simply part of the greater whole. Death is not the end of this life or the beginning of the next. It is, if can be so crass to use worldly terms here, the evolution of man into the eternal. It is our next step in our humanity. Not the end of it. Not the beginning of something else. It is the continuation of it.

Jeremiah 1:5 – Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations

Jesus knew us before we were even born. This means we existed even before we were in the womb. This short life here is simply part of the greater plan.

The next presentation was by a man named Dale A. O’Shields. He shared a visual that showed the three aspects of our humanity: Spirit, Soul and Body. The spirit is that inner core of your being that is sensitive to God. This is what we humans like to call our conscience. The body is the physical shell that covers the soul.

It is the soul that defines us. This is made up of our mind, our will, and our emotions.

When put together with the first presentation, the eternality of the soul (past, present, and future) combined with the second presentation, the definition of the soul (as what defines our character), shows us a more complete picture of this humanity.

Fast forward to Wednesday when I learned that an outreach we did through the young adult group I help lead touched the lives of 500-600 people over a 4-day period. Those were souls, at very similar points in their eternal timelines, who were provided physical needs in order to have their souls refreshed. And hopefully it will reap spiritual rewards in their lives.

And then today happened, where I was able to see my friend one final time. Where I learned that this beautiful man of God had finished his race strong and was simply moving on to the next stage in eternity.

2 Corinthians 5:1 – For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

But it put my past 45 years in perspective. What would have happened if I would not have waited until I was almost 40 to surrender complete control of my life to God? How many more souls could have been affected? What would it look like to Christ if my eternal pace was quickened 20 years ago and not 5.

None of us know what kind of time we have left on this planet in this physical form but one thing is for sure: we need to spend our time trying to figure it out.

That is called discipleship.

If you are not a Christian, I would like to urge you to reach out to me at fnoble777@gmail.com. If you are a Christian but feel weighed down by the world and don’t know what your next step should be to get closer to God, use that same email address. I would like to speak with you.

As long as you take that first step, Christ will run toward you the rest of the way.

1 John 3:18 – Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

I Remember When I Used to be you Before you Became me

2 Timothy 1:9 – He has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time

Hi there, Christian.

Do you remember when you were not a Christian?

Do you remember when the world enticed you at every turn? When alcohol smelled sweet. When the drugs just made the problems disappear. When that one night stand made you feel good.

What happened when you became a Christian?

There is a whole school of Christian thought out there that says you logically stopped hanging out with those people and stopped going to all those places that you used to frequent.

But why?

Now I am not saying that once we become saved that we continue to live the same way we did before we came to Christ. But what I am saying is that God saved you from that for a purpose.

He saved you from it so that you can go back and save others.

If the building is burning, we don’t simply get out of it. We try to take as many people with us as we go. And if we see people still trapped inside after we get out, we go back in to try and rescue them.

John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

The world hates Christians. It always has and it always will. But we say too flippantly that the world hates us. We say it like we don’t care. And while we are not to worry about how others feel about it, we SHOULD care about them.

Christianity is a people business.

You can’t do Christianity simply from the internet. You can’t do Christianity from the cell phone. You can’t do Christianity simply from the walls of the church on Sunday mornings or Wednesday evenings. You need to go where the people are that need to be saved.

There is an amazing story of Tony Campolo. He was sitting in a small diner in a seedy neighborhood at 3 AM when a whole bunch of prostitutes came in. One mentioned it was her birthday and all the girls clapped for her and cheered. They left soon after. Tony went up to the manager and asked if they were in there a lot and the manager said they were in there every night. The next day, Tony was sitting in that same booth at 3AM when the women walked in. He immediately went up to the one whose birthday it was and presented her with a cake. They asked him what he did for a living and he said he was a pastor. Then they asked him what church he belonged to at which he answered, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Unfortunately, when we look in the mirror, too often we see a shell of person that God created. You see, we think that when the Bible says we become a “new creation,” that we actually change who we are completely. But guess what, that if you were to change yourself, then you wouldn’t be the person God intended you to be. You would be someone else.

When we hear about becoming a new creation, it simply means that we now look through the lens of a Christian worldview. We begin learning spiritual wisdom.

Let me share a story.

When I was in middle school, I could not stand the kids in my youth group that my parents made me go to. Every time I opened my mouth with the wrong answer to the Bible questions or shared my opinion that was different from theirs they would glare into me with their eyes of bitter judgment.

I told myself I never wanted to become like any of those kids.

But then at the age of 12 I got saved.

I started learning more and more about God and what He does and does not consider sin.

I started flashing my bitter eyes of judgment at people and burning into them with my self-righteous views of what God would want.

I became the people I could not stand to be around when I was lost in the world.

It was not until many years later when I rededicated my life to Christ at around 40 that I really started to understand what Jesus really came for. Why he came to die. First, let me tell you that it was not simply to show us a caring, Western Jesus that is petting the little lambs while the world rides a shopping cart to hell.

And no, it was not so that conservatives and liberals can cut up the Bible into little pieces without understanding how it all ties together just to shame the other.

And, no, it has nothing to do with letting the world see everything that God is opposed to while seeing nothing of what He advocates.

Luke 5:32 – I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

Remember, Christian, you will create disciples of the kind of Christian that you are. Would you like to create a disciple that is filled with hatred toward others or is selfish or prideful? Then focus on making Christianity to fit your mold.

But if you would rather have disciples who will love one another so much that they would rather die before dividing and tearing each other down, then live a life that emulates Christ. Sure, it won’t be perfect. We simply are not perfect. But it will be loving. And it will call out sin where it needs to be called out. It will not water down the gospel to reach more people. It will stay true to the purpose and reason that Christ came to die.

So if you are a Christian, I want to challenge you to go out and talk to your non-Christian friends and ask them what they think of you and how your faith affects that. You might find that conversation very eye opening.

But then again, try to remember what it used to be like to be them.

And then go out and talk to your Christian friends. Ask them what they think you are known for in your Christian walk. Is it all negative? For example, “I love how you tear those liberal Christians up!” Or how about, “I love how you don’t take any lip when someone is wrong about the Bible.” Are you better known for what Christ is against and less known for what He is for?

And if those friends are people you led to Christ, remember what they were like before coming to Christ and how they have changed. Negatively and positively.

Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

It can be a scary place to see ourselves as the world sees us. No, we are not to conform to the world, but we are to be used to transform it through living in it. If you are always pushing people away with your political religious stances, how can you handle someone who doesn’t hold your political view? Are they now pariah? Or what about if they hold a different view of church governance? Can they not be in YOUR worldview?

The mirror that we need to see ourselves through is that of us and Christ. No one else. We are not to be like the media’s version of a Christian. Those people are conformed to the world. We are to be like the Biblical Jesus. This is a Jesus that can only be found by reading, studying, and testing the Scriptures.

Then and only then can you say that you understand the Jesus of the Bible.

And then you can see God growing in the lives of people around you, people who are just like the people you knew yesterday.

2 Timothy 2:2 – And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Study of James 1

Last week we learned that the book of James was written by James. There is the announcement of the century. But beyond that, it was written by James the Just, the half-brother of Jesus. It was written to Jewish Christians before the Judaistic Controversy around 45 AD, which makes this most likely the earliest written book of the New Testament.

James 1:1 – James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

We can get an idea of who this was written to simply by the first verse, this is written to the twelve tribes that were scattered out of Jerusalem soon after the martyring of Stephen.

The first chapter of this book is broken into 3 sections: the greeting (in v. 1), trials & temptations (vv. 2-18), and listening & doing (vv. 19-27).

After the greeting to the twelve tribes, James starts in discussing trials. Right out of the gate, James makes it very clear, we WILL have trials. There is no “if” in there. The verse says:

James 1:2 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

Also evident in v. 2, James calls for us to count our trials as joy.

Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you thanked God for the tough times you have been going through? It isn’t easy to do so, is it?

I’ll admit, when life is throwing everything at me, my first inclination is not to say, “Thanks God, I really appreciate this opportunity to grow.”

No way. I’d rather complain to my girlfriend, scream at the stupid drivers on the road, or rant on Facebook. It is so much easier to vent our frustrations (usually loudly) than direct them to God and thank Him for causing us to grow.

But James tells us to consider it joy. Why? Because as we go through trials, it tests our faith and brings perseverance.   Perseverance brings maturity. Some key things to consider here is that trials do NOT CREATE faith….trials TEST faith. So what causes faith? Read Romans 10:17. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

While trials do not create faith, when we meet the trial with faith, patience is created. Patience can only come through passing the tests of faith. If we take trial with disbelief or an argumentative heart, then we could find ourselves in bitterness or discouragement.

James 1:5 – 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 then goes on to tell us in vv. 5-8 that we need wisdom as we go through our trials. Please know this, WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE are two different things. Knowledge is the raw data. It is the book smarts. Knowing that we need to love someone because the Bible tells us to, for example. But wisdom is how to use the raw data. So if the raw data of the Bible tells us that we should love, wisdom, which comes from the Holy Spirit, explains to us how we should love.

Something cool about this wisdom is that God gives it liberally and without being angry about it. How often has someone asked us how to do something and we exhale loudly, giving them that feeling that we are put out by them. As a parent, I have found myself doing that with my kids from time to time.

But God doesn’t do that.

He gives freely. Happily. Liberally.

James 1:9-11 – Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

The interesting thing here is the beginning of v. 9. It speaks of the “lowly brother” and the “rich.” The lowly brother glories in being lifted up by God. It is so much easier for the impoverished to see God’s hand as they come through a trial while the rich find it much more difficult as they lose in their humiliation. This humiliation comes as the rich realize that this life, and all their riches, is only for this life. They cannot take any of their riches into eternity. To that end, the rich also fade, just as the flowers and beauty of the fields fade.

It is at this point that James changes direction a little. Up until this point, James talks about perseverance and patience and joy during trials. But now he is going to change it to speak strictly to temptation. He begins by sharing the blessing that those who endure temptation, and love Him, will be given the crown of life.

James 1:13-16 – Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

How many times have we said to ourselves or someone else, “This must be God testing you.” Don’t get me wrong, there will be tests of faith. But God will not tempt us. Guys, for example, God is not going to give you the desire for that beautiful, half-dressed woman walking down the street just so He can see you fall. He is not intentionally giving you the temptation of sex. He will give you a way THROUGH the temptation. Not the temptation itself.

James goes on to explain that we are tempted when we give into our own desires. We are drawn away from God when we give into the evil beauty that Satan and the world has put in our path. And while Satan tempts us, it is our own fallen nature that destroys our true desire to please God.

When our desires of the flesh are realized, then that gives birth to sin. Coming from the corrupted desire of sin is death. Satan will always try to hide that progression from us, but if we stay in the light of Christ, then we will be able to have the wisdom to see the corruption before it begins.

James 1:17-18 – Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

It is now in vv. 17-18 that James compares the sinful corruption to the “good and perfect gifts” that come from God. When James explained the Father in v. 17, he describes Him as the “Father of the lights.” It is these celestial bodies that are example to us as eternal lights as they never go out. God never changes. James explains that because God never changes, it begins with their generation. They are the “firstfruits” of the redemption.

James 1:19-20 – My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James begins talking about listening and doing in the final section of James 1. Have you ever been angry? In your anger, have you simply lashed out and said the first thing that popped into your head? Of course, we all have. But James tells us that anger and our wrath does not come from God. When we lash out in anger, we are attacking the other person based on our own desires, and, as discussed above, that does not come from God, but our own selfish, corrupt desire.

By the time James gets to v. 21, he tells us to accept with meekness the “implanted Word of God.” By accepting in meekness, we accept it with a teachable heart. His Word, then implanted into our hearts, will maintain our purity in an age that is filled with impurity.

James 1:22-24 – 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 observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

Does this sound like the church today? Most people go to church, sit in the pews, and listen to a message by the pastor. After church, they take the notes from the service and place it in their Bible, never to be seen from again. They don’t apply what they had just learned in church. James tells us that this is like a man who sees his face in the mirror but forgets what he looks like once he walks away from the mirror. This kind of Christian is one who is easily swayed by the winds and waves of every new doctrine to come down the pike.

Let me ask you a question.

Do you believe that the majority of the televangelists are acceptable for a Christian to cite as an authority?

Let’s look at an example. Joel Osteen. This is the televangelist that everyone loves to attack and many people feel pity for him, deservingly so. We should pity him. But we shouldn’t pity him for the rebukes he is facing, but for being completely and utterly deceived by the spirit of greed and evil that Satan gives.

His own wife proclaimed in both the pulpit and on his TV show that “when we obey God, we are not doing it for God…we are doing it for ourselves.” Matthew 5:16 refutes what she said very clearly: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Looking at Joel himself, he wrote in one of his books that the Israelites “lack of faith and their lack of self-esteem robbed them of the fruitful future God had in store for them.” Unfortunately, Osteen added words to the actual Bible verse. Both Hebrews 4:2 and 11:6 speak only to the Israelites’ lack of faith, not their self-esteem.

But if we are simply going to church to hear the Word and change our lives to live the Word, then we will find that any teaching, including that of Osteen, as long as it has a Christian title to it, is acceptable when it most certainly is not. The Bible tells us that there are plenty of people out there that will distort the Word for their own, and for evil’s, purposes.

James 1:26 – If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.

In the final two verses of James 1, we are told that if we do not hold our tongue then our religion is useless. In Greek, the word for “religion” is never used in a good context in the bible. James uses the idea here for someone who has religion but does not have a right relationship with God. He tells us that we can spot that pretty easily by a person who claims religion but does not hold their tongue.

James concludes by showing that our faith is truly simple. We should love on orphans and widows and to keep our faith undefiled. Too much of today’s religion is defiled by greed, ego, desires of the flesh and so on. If we simply love on those who the world deems unlovable and keep our eyes affixed on Christ above, then we will be able to keep our religion as undefiled.

James 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book. While in chapter 1 we learn about “hear and do,” in chapter 2 we will learn about “faith and deeds.” Each of these are stepping stones into a deeper faith and a practical way to live out our faith.

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