Friday, January 31, 2014

Crown of Life

I shared earlier this week how I was struggling with memorizing last weeks verses. Dare I say, I do believe I've got them now - or at least close enough to feel better about being on a new week!

For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. - James 1:11-12

Actually, I think the reason that last weeks verses are coming around for me has more to do with the context and application of this weeks verses. 

Moving on to this week, in study and in prayer, I've felt a need to explore this crown of life. In reading verse 12 we see that this is given to the person who perseveres in trials, who stands through testing. Even going back to the earlier verses in James 1 - who considers it pure joy whenever facing trials of many kinds, who lets perseverance be made mature and complete, who doesn't lack anything, who seeks Christ when lacking so that He may give what is needed, who believes and doesn't doubt, who lives humbly - this is who receives the crown of life.

I've read that this could also be considered the martyrs crown, that only those who lay down their lives standing firm on the gospel receive this crown. I would need to go and study in depth the original language to see that for certain. I don't discount that it could be the case, especially when looking into the related verse found in Revelation. 

What I am fairly sure of is that this crown of life is a reward (from the Greek, stephanos.) It isn't the gift of eternal life - eternal life in Christ is given freely to all who confess Him as Lord and Savior. That's it. There is no fine print to read, no "act now" conditions. When we decide to follow Jesus, when we see that through his broken and bleeding body there is forgiveness for all of sin, when we see that this way is the only way, the only truth, that is where we find eternal life. This crown of life seems to me to clearly be something else, something more. 

We see through the new testament that crowns will be given to believers when we finally reach Jesus at the judgement (bema) seat. Now, this judgement seat isn't about condemnation. This judgement seat is only for believers (at least that's how I understand it... I'm not Bible scholar... I should probably ask my husband to read over this before I publish it!) This is where we will fall at Jesus' beautiful feet, where He will say "Well done, my good and faithful servant." This is where He will show me where, through faith, I persevered and loved Him fully, loved His people, and answered the call. I think this is also where He'll show me where I didn't do those things. Where I didn't persevere. Where I gave up, gave in... where I leaned on my own strength and understanding rather than seeking Him first. Because honestly, I've fallen short and I know - ashamed as I am - I know that I'll have to answer for that. But I don't think that is where the focus will rest. Yes, I believe He'll call it to account, but I think the focus will rest in these crowns. Crowns of rejoicing for those who answer to the call of sharing the gospel and leading the lost to Christ. Crowns that are given for those who stand firm in their faith, incorruptible, for the sake of the gospel. Crowns of righteousness, for those who live according to the Word of God. Crowns of glory for those who teach and preach - the overseers who shepherd God's people. And crowns of life for those who persevere through trial, temptation, and persecution. 

So what does this all mean? How do I apply this? Are we justified by faith or works? (James will challenge this again in the book!) 

These works that earn these crowns, they aren't about me. They aren't about how decorated I'll be, how honored I'll be. Because really, no matter the number of crowns that may or may not be placed on each bowed head, the only honorable mention will be Jesus.

BUT... as a follower of Christ, as someone who has made Him Lord over my life, who has accepted Him as Savior and Lord, these things should just happen. Loving Him. Standing firm. Sharing the gospel. Reaching the lost. Living according to His Word. Persevering. It should just happen naturally and selflessly in the life of every believer.


Life happens. I get caught in a tangled mess of me and myself and my flesh. And I battle this and that. BATTLE. It's in these times that I must believe and not doubt. It's in these times that I should not back down, that I shouldn't turn away. That I should stand firm and hold fast, hold tight. And sometimes... sometimes I don't keep focused on Christ. My knees wobble and I loosen my hold. And there goes a crown. But sometimes... sometimes I do hold tight and I do stand firm.

oh Lord, may I surrender these struggles into Your hands. May I stand firm and hold fast, hold tight. May a live a life worthy of these precious rewards, rewards that I can not fully understand on this side of heaven. May I live to see Your glory in it all. Not that MY reward would be my focus, but that YOU would be glorified above all else. Forgive me where I waiver. Steady my knees, illuminate that solid ground. For You. Always for You.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Wrapping up James 1:9-10



I do not have this one.
If I'm totally honest, I don't know that I've tried as hard with it as I have the others. I haven't prayed as much through it. I haven't taken every opportunity to fully digest it and grasp it and apply it. I can ramble some of it off, just not the entire thing. And I "get" it - I do. I just don't have it down.

Thankfully I get to repeat it in the days and weeks to come.




Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The irony of seeking to be humble

Yesterday I was praying to stay humble through being "successful" so far in scripture memorization. I also mentioned this here.

Oh the irony of seeking to be humble. The verses for this week, James 1:9-10, say:

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.

I do believe I'll be spending much time meditating on all that that can encompass this next week. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wrapping up James 1:6-8


Week 3 is just about done.

I'm praying to stay humble through this. I feel like I'm coming along well in the discipline of memorizing this precious word, I just hope that it stays fresh in my heart. What good would it do to store up stale words that have no life in them?

Monday, January 20, 2014

It's not always easy to be thankful...

It's not always easy to be thankful.
Actually, sometimes it seems nearly impossible. 

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice ALWAYS.
Pray CONTINUALLY.
Give thanks in ALL CIRCUMSTANCES.


I can't do that on my own. When I'm wrapped up in my circumstances and I'm overwhelmed by how I'm going handle things, I tend to rejoice little, pray less, and complain in all circumstances. The evidence of a changed heart is what I am in search of, what I am longing for. I know my flesh will trip me up at times, even when I am rejoicing and praying and giving thanks. I'm far from perfect. I'm just seeking to be perfected through my trials. I'm seeking to know the fullness of His grace and love. When I feel the power of Christ rise up in me, I know He is changing this heart.

With report after report of friends who are ill, and babies who are suffering, and a cancer that just. won't. quit.
Rejoice always.
When my heartbreaks, my faith is thin, and I'm worn out just sitting on the edge of giving in and giving up, but then there is that still small voice. A nudge that pushes at my feet, tugs at my heart and whispers close to me "This ground I have set you on is steady, solid. Take one more step. And another. And then another. We are going to make it through."
Pray continually. 

At 4:00 a.m. with a child who has been up sick for an hour, and all I feel is thankfulness for the beauty of the moonlight on the snow covered ground out the window.
Give thanks in all circumstances.

When I am surrounded by an arena of Christ followers worshiping Jesus and it feels like it's just the two of us and He is holding me close as I cry out in prayer.
For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.


The more I rejoice, the more I pray, the more thankful I am, the more I walk in His will for me - this is exactly where I want to be. Even when circumstances are bad, He is good. May this truth be ever in my heart, hanging on my lips, never out of reach.

 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

But when you ask...

Today begins our third week of committing the book of James to memory. (And, on a side note, I can  not believe how quickly January is passing by!)

For the next 7 days our scripture memory will be James 1:6-8, which says:
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

And now He works in me to commit this to heart and mind.

I wonder how this will look... awaiting expectantly to see Him work this out in me over the next week... thankful and blessed as His word opens up and comes to life.





Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pressing on, praising up

As we reviewed our verses from the first two weeks of  James (which wasn't without mistake) my husband and I shared with each other just how exciting and convicting and challenging and all around good this experience has been so far.

Only two weeks in though... so how could it have gone any other way?

We both spoke of the way God's word is coming alive, seeing it at work as though we had been missing something all this time. We spoke of the conviction we both have felt so far to apply this precious word all the more completely in our lives, our home, our walks, our marriage.

And then to experience it come to life, see it in others too.
Yes. It has been a good two weeks.


James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 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.


As we sipped on coffee at our weekly Bible study Tuesday night a woman, new to our humble church, shared her story with us. Shared her fears. Shared her failures. Shared her want for a savior - a want that has been hiding in the shadow of her feelings of a need to fix herself.

Another shared her heartache in feeling inadequate. Unworthy. Not good enough for this life in Christ that she had accepted years before.

Once again that part of verse 5 stands out to me - without finding fault.

Without finding fault.

And it's not as if these two are without fault. Just as I am guilty, they are too.

But God...
But God.

Without finding fault.

Tears were spilt and the gospel was shared. Prayers were prayed and God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, was glorified in the rededication of one heart and the new acceptance of Jesus in another. Hearts reconciled unto Him. Lives reborn. The holy Word of God come to life right before our eyes. To witness this is precious, beautiful.

Let our eyes not be blind to these glorious tasks You set before us, oh Lord. Steady our hands. Guide our hearts. Use us as You will, that we may be more mature, more complete - more like Jesus.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wrapping up James 1:4-5

Tomorrow we will be wrapping up our second week of memorizing James.


This passage seemed to start off as a challenge, which was a little unnerving. The first week went so smooth that it left me feeling confident that memorizing James is something I'd be able to achieve, but this past week... Well, it kept things in perspective, that's for sure! This is truly something that will leave me right where I should be - seeking Christ, leaning on His Spirit and His strength.

Week 3 begins on Wednesday! 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A new week, but feeling like the old me

Today starts the next week in the James memorization project. I feel fairly confident that I've got James 1:1-3 down, but James 1:4-5 already feels like it isn't sticking as well. 
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  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 1:4-5

(By the way, that was a copy and paste.)
I've repeated it at least 3 dozen times this morning. I've wrote it out. I've hung it in my kitchen. This one is going to take some work.

And while I may have memorized James 1:1-3, applying it is an entirely different story, but one that is proving to be urgent and critical. Applying this word to life is really at the heart of why I should do this, why I should earnestly seek to have His word stored in my heart and at the front of my mind.


It could be that the past month has been a little shaky.

It could be that my morning has been full of coffee grounds on the floor, a keurig that wouldn't drip, a toddler that has found his voice, and hormones that are enough to make me plead for menopause to come early and be mature and complete, quickly.

It could be that I'm tired of feeling giving. That I'm looking for the room to be selfish. The room where I can put my wants ahead of my needs, or, my wants and needs ahead of the wants and needs of others. And while that isn't a place I truly want to be, is it so wrong to settle there every so often? To take that break. To tell someone "no". To take that nap. 

To feel like what I want matters too.

It's not about me. I do believe that in my heart.
But gosh, why can't it be about me? Just even sometimes. 


Consider it pure joy.. whenever you face trials of many kinds.
Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

I am sure that it is no coincidence that James was the book that God laid on my heart when I felt led to intently memorize and commit His word to my heart and life.

 ...that you may be mature and complete... 

Because the way in which it already is speaking so deeply to me is amazing. 

...you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault...

Because when I come to Him like this, selfish and self-seeking, He finds me without fault. He sees through to my heart. And He loves me as I am: A mess, surrendered. A disgrace, seeking His grace. He finds me without fault.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)

Obviously, I am going to sin. But I'm hiding this word in my heart, that I might not. And when I do, and I ask Him to hold me where I am, to forgive me, He does. And He finds me without fault. And it's not because of anything that I've ever done.

It's because of what He has done.

Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46) 

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split  and the tombs broke open... (Matthew 27:51-52a)

 "Surely this man was the Son of God!" (Mark 15:39b) 

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:1-8)

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? (1Cor.15:55)

But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1Cor. 15:57)

But Thank God.
He finds me without fault.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Wrapping up James 1:1-3



If you started this journey with me last week than you should be wrapping up the first week of memorizing the book of James today. Even if you're just getting started (you know, since I just shared the entire plan... er... yesterday) I wouldn't stress too much. We'll be reviewing the first three verses of James as we continue through this chapter over the next several weeks.

May this not be redundant repetition.
May it not be for personal glory.
May it only be for Jesus.
May it only be for drawing nearer to Him - for deepening of faith - for being a bright light in the darkness.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Committing to memory the book of James

Recently I shared  that I have been putting together a reading plan to memorize the book of James in 2014. (I know, I said I would share those files in a day or two. It's only been three days. I'm back, I'm sharing, and, in my defense, I did have to work all weekend.)

I've made the plan in two formats. The first one is a chart that you can place in your Bible, or hang on the fridge or somewhere else you'll be able to access regularly. The only thing that I don't like as much about the chart alone is that it doesn't include the date. It also does not include the verses themselves, it just tells you what verses you read and what week number to read them. I just didn't feel like I could keep it compact and include much more than what I have. Still, I think it will be handy in my Bible (that's where I'm putting it!) You can download that here: The book of James, One Year Memorization Plan 

 

The other plan format I made was in the version of weekly cards. Each card gives the date, the verses to review from the previous week, and the verses to learn for the current week. You could leave these loose, or maybe punch holes in them and string them together or put them on a binder ring. I actually put them in a small journal and turned it into a book.

I figure this way I can use the journal for repeatedly writing the verses all while keeping the cards together in one place. You can download the cards here:
Weeks 1-10
Weeks 11-20
Weeks 21-30
Weeks 31-40
Weeks 41-50
Weeks 51-52

And, if you'd like to have the cover image for your cards, you may use this IMAGE.

(If you have any problems downloading any of these files from mediafire, please let me know and I'll make sure you get the files one way or another! Also, I did use the newest version of the NIV for these.)

I've had a few friends say they'll be joining me for this memorization project, as well as my husband and our church worship leader. Will you join us too? We're committing the word of God to mind, heart, and life - what better way to live out 2014 than by drawing closer to Him? 

My goal through this journey is to share here at least once a week, and not just the memory verses for the week, but also words of encouragement as we journey through this together and words of prayer as we seek the Spirit to help us on this journey - we won't do this on our own power, but through His power within us.

May we grow ever more dependent on Him.
May we fall deeper in love with Him.
May we learn what it truly is to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds and prove ourselves as doers of the Word.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Resolutions?

It's a new year.

Working at the YMCA means I have heard fairly often about resolutions over the past few weeks. Resolutions can be a good thing, I think. But it seems to be a pretty universal thought that resolutions are hard to keep. Impossible even.We all make them though - even if we don't call them resolutions. Even if we don't do it on or around January 1st. (Personally, I'm in the camp of not wanting to call them resolutions - maybe it's an easier let down when I fall short or give up?)

In 2013 my... purpose (teehee... not calling it a resolution) was to read through the Bible again, but take a year to do it. And I did it.
In 2012 my...aim was to declutter and organize. I even had this great idea of following a weekly challenge and posting about it all here. You won't find the posts. I didn't do so great at that! In my defense, it is kind of hard to write about decluttering when you don't have a lot of clutter. Some of the challenges were good and needed. And I will say this, I've kept up with paper clutter better since that challenge than ever before.
In 2011 we were still getting settled in Ohio. I really just wanted a place of our own, and we accomplished that. Other than a home, I think my only resolve was to stay fit. And 2011 was pretty good to me in that area too, until I developed some health issues near 2012 that lead to me being unable to workout. That's kind of been a downward spiral for me. I'm not very happy about it.

So. It's a new year.
Resolutions?
I suppose I do have a few...

There's the obligatory health and wellness resolution. Sure, I have it too... along with a few pairs of pants that are just hanging out in my closet, totally without use. I need to do something about that. And again, working at the YMCA, there's really no reason for me not to do something about that. So I guess I start by saying I resolve to get back in the habit of working out regularly and eat cleaner foods. And - bonus - my Bradley is starting a new position with his "day job" that will provide us with health insurance! Which means that if, while getting back into that routine, my health issues resurface, I can take care of it. It's better for all of us - me, my Bradley, our kids - if we're all active.
There's the I want to be a better wife/mother/friend resolutionWho doesn't want to be better in their relationships? For me it's a matter of being less selfish and more giving; less preoccupied with the cyber-world (facebook, cafemom, candy crush...) and more aware of the real world; less focused on tasks and more focused on people; caring less about what we do/have and more about who we are/will become. I want to be the wife that my Bradley needs and the mom my kids deserve. I want to be a good friend and an obedient servant of Jesus. I need to give more of me and want less from others. Be a good listener. Be understanding and kind. Be patient and positive. Be a light.
There's the spiritual resolution. This is really where I am resting all of the other resolutions. If Christ is first, everything else always seems to settle right into place. I'm not sure it gets any easier than that, or that a hundred words of "how to" could even add to its simplicity.
And isn't that always what we should be desiring as followers of Jesus, to put Him above all else? And when we feel like we're doing it right, we glorify God and keep on doing it some more. And when we feel like we're doing it wrong, we repent, ask for endurance, and keep on trying to do it some more.


And there is one other thing... Not to discount the above, but my real goal (resolution... whatever) in 2014 is to put scripture to heart. There are a few verses that I have memorized, but I want more. I want it committed to memory, to heart, and to spill out into my life. I want this not just in my own walk with Jesus, but for my kids and my husband so that they can also draw closer to Him.

So, I'll work out. I'll eat cleaner. I'll respect my husband, and be affectionate with my children, and helpful to friends, and generous with strangers. I'll put Jesus first.

And I'm going to memorize the book of James.

It's not as daunting as it sounds. It's actually fairly short as far as books of the Bible go. And it's one of my favorite books in scripture. My husband has offered to join me in this - accountability is always helpful - so I'm feeling really confident in attempting this. I just finished creating a year long memorization plan, along with memory cards.  Now, a blogging resolution (goodness... if you "frequent" this blog you know that I'm no regular blogger) I want to journal my prayers and progress through this. Since I'll be focusing on repeatedly reciting and writing these verses, I figure this has got to be a great place to do some of that. Right?

Technically, this started on Wednesday (and I did, too) with James 1:1-3, and I'm going to attempt to type it from memory... James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kind, for we know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

How did I do? =)
(I double checked it... minimal mistakes! See for yourself: James 1:1-3)

I'm really excited about this! Is anyone else interested in joining me?  I'll post the study here in a day or two (after I finish making it pretty!)