Chapter 7 EXHORTATION: Letters to Encourage and Inspire Part 2: Additional New Testament Guidance

December 6 Blessed with the Crown of Life

James, believed to be a half-brother of Jesus, is a to-the-point kind of man. As a leader in the early church, he addressed persecution and his words of wisdom hold true for all generations. 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.” His letter goes on to give advice for remaining steadfast. James teaches us to be unshakeable, wholehearted and firm in our convictions by gaining a realistic perspective of trials, temptation, and the need of putting faith into action. Each lesson builds on the other. But is it all worth it? Remaining resolute and loyal to God is a blessing in itself. If we need more motivation, let’s ponder “the crown of life” that James says God promises to the ones who love Him. When the busy swirl of day-to-day obligations and pressures make it hard for us to contemplate the future that awaits us beyond this world’s struggles, we are wise to pause and re-think priorities. Do our thoughts and behavior reveal a trusting, growing, dependent and joyful love of God? Nothing needs to separate us from that love. Embrace Him in the good and in the bad times because the testing will come. I like the expression “she passed” as a way of saying that someone has died. This world is our test; at the end of it I sure want to pass—pass with flying colors right into the Presence of God who knew me even before there was a me to know.

James 1:12 ESV

December 8 Do Blessings Flow from Us?

To make his message about training the tongue clear to his readers, James brings to life many visual aids. Animals can be trained, but can the tongue? With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Do we want to be blessed? Don’t curse. When we desire purity in our body and speech, we take action to rid ourselves of the hypocrisy that our enemy would like to trap us in. James desires us to thrive in the freedom that comes from living an unmixed life. Then we can in full confidence bless God and bless people.

James 3:9-11 ESV

December 10 Don’t Pervert God’s Blessings into Lawlessness

In his brief letter, Jude warns his readers not to become false teachers and not to be led astray by them. For certain men have crept in stealthily [gaining entrance secretly by a side door]. Their doom was predicted long ago, ungodly (impious, profane) persons who pervert the grace (the spiritual blessing and favor) of our God into lawlessness and wantonness and immorality, and disown and deny our sole Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). Instead of listening or responding to those false teachers, we need to be built up in the faith, pray in the Spirit, and keep ourselves in God’s love. We need to be wise and not let the wolf in sheep’s clothing lead us away from the truth that is found in our Messiah and His teachings. How do we know if a leader is a wolf? Look at his offspring, or in other words, what kind of fruit is coming from his life? Jude was not the only one who warned of the seriousness of knowing who it is we choose to follow. Jesus made it clear that it will not end well for those who lead others astray.

Jude 1:4 AMP

December 11   Blessed to Be Born Again

God’s Story is passed on through the perspective of Peter. He used to be a fisherman and then he had a change in careers. This was not a smooth transition for Peter, but an important one, and by the end of his life those who knew him learned about many blessings of God. Do you need a good reason to praise God today? Peter gives us several as he begins his first letter written to Gentile Christians who were living in a time of great hostility to the gospel. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…” Peter, the fisherman, also known as Simon and Cephas, wrote this. But Peter did not write this right away. First he needed to experience and then process those experiences.

Friendship with Jesus changes people. In John’s Gospel we read that it was Peter’s brother Andrew who introduced Peter to Jesus. Peter lived and learned what it meant to truly trust God by seeing Jesus in action. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus led Peter up the mountain of transfiguration. Jesus told Peter where to fish and so many fish were caught it must have been talked about for years. Another time Jesus told Peter to catch a fish and that fish had a coin in its mouth which was used to pay taxes. Peter heard Jesus’ sermons and was able to ask the smartest Man who ever lived question after question. And then, when the time came, Peter denied that he ever knew his Friend. But that is not where God’s Story ended for Peter. It went on to see Peter’s reconciliation with a resurrected Jesus.   God’s Holy Spirit filled Peter with boldness to preach and gave him a purpose worth living for. Praise be to God, who has so richly blessed His children, born into a hope that will not die, with an incredible inheritance guaranteed. God’s mercy is great and the promise of what we have yet to receive is unimaginable by human minds. Thank You, Father God, for raising Jesus from the dead and through Him offering us abundant life and a living hope. Amen.

1 Peter 1:3-4 ESV

December 12   Payback Blessings

Peter stressed the importance of unity within the community so that compassion and harmony could flow. Living this way will glorify God. Peter said at the close of his letter, “Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.” Like in other places in God’s Story, we find that when we bless others (even when they don’t “deserve it”) God will bless us. Look for opportunities to bless, and all the more so, when blessing may seem far from what might come naturally.

Let God’s supernatural love flow. From March of 2013 to March of 2014 I had a new job. While wearing a cute apron, I worked part-time at a friendly self-serve frozen yogurt shop in our neighborhood. I loved riding my bike to work on quiet streets lined with large trees. Greeting guests and offering them samples of our yummy flavors was fun for me. Everyone is happy in a frozen yogurt shop, right? Well, early in my training, a guest impatiently fussed about a number of things and when she left the store, my team leader, who has wisdom in many areas, encouraged me not to let it get to me, as this lady was known for her grumpy, insulting attitude. My new mission was to show extra genuine kindness, blessing this guest until she could not help but to enjoy her fro-yo with a smile. When we have been blessed by God’s love, how can we not desire to bless others, especially those who may not know Him yet? Over time as this lady came into the shop, she warmed up to what I like to believe is God’s love flowing through, and now she even smiles and says kind words. This is a blessing to me and to all those around her.

P.S. During my long ankle recovery I contemplated a variety of jobs that I might like to explore and added dog walking to my now-mobile days. I also went back to the yogurt shop. It is just one of many good venues for living out Peter’s teaching: be tenderhearted, keep a humble attitude, when rudeness comes respond with kindness. This is the way to living a blessed life.

1 Peter 3:8-9 NLT

December 14   Blessed When Insulted Because of Jesus

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Awareness and proper perspective can make all the difference in the way one lives through suffering. Peter, gentle with his words, lets his readers know that committing to a faithful Creator and continuing to do good is the direction to go for those who seek to follow Christ. One day the glory of Jesus will be made known to all.

When Russell teaches CrownHeartWorld, the whole biblical Story using three symbols in five columns, I love applying verses like this one from Peter.  They fill in more details to our final hope. Column five show what is yet to come, when we will see God for who He is and all things will be restored. When we are complete, face-to-Face with our Creator and Redeemer, our hearts will never flip over into selfishness again. For now, though, those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus are still living in column four. In column four, we advance toward transformation and there is testing and suffering and the hurts of a world that is broken. But hold on to hope, there is over-rejoicing guaranteed in our future!

1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV

December 15   Blessings like Rain

It is unclear who wrote this letter to Christians with a Jewish background, but what does ring clear is the truth that Jesus Christ is superior to everyone and everything including all of the traditions within the Jewish heritage. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. This illustration about the land is a warning to all of us against falling away from the goodness and redemption found in Christ alone. It is essential for us to check what it is that we are growing in our character and to live useful and not worthless lives. This letter written to the Hebrews is fascinating. It is filled with warnings and blessings and retells God’s Story in a concise and powerful way. Give it a fresh read, circling the blessings for yourself, and be blessed!

God, I pray that we would not drift away from You but out of gratitude we would press on into purposeful and effective living. Let us not coast but produce a crop of goodness that blesses You and blesses those You place in our lives. Amen.

Hebrews 6:7-8 NIV

December 17   Blessing Giver is Greater Than Blessing Receiver

To further clarify his point of the superiority of Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews retells the story of a Melchizedek, a priest, with a name that means king of justice and peace. This Melchizedek was king of the city of Salem and also a priest of God Most High. When Abraham was returning home after winning a great battle against the kings, Melchizedek met him and blessed him…  And Melchizedek placed a blessing upon Abraham, the one who had already received the promises of God. And without question, the person who has the power to give a blessing is greater than the one who is blessed. The writer goes on to explain the priesthood of Jesus and how He is our permanent, powerful, and perfect priest. Others may bless us in our lifetime, like how Melchizedek blessed Abraham, but the blessing of Jesus extends into eternity. Father, how thankful we are that Your Story has an extensive history and it has room to include each of us. We who believe in You are blessed and no matter if we are returning home from winning a battle or are still in the midst of the fighting, You have overcome our sin and through Jesus it is paid for in full. Thank You for the blessing of being Your child. Amen.

Hebrews 7:1, 6b-7 NLT

December 18   Bless Those Who Come after Us

The Great Hall of Faith chapter in God’s Story begins with a definition of faith. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we still do not clearly see. Faith and blessings are often interlinked. Abraham had lived by faith and passed blessings down to his son Isaac. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. The next generation also experienced the faith/blessing combination. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. When we live our lives by faith, being certain in God whom we do not see, we can bless those who come behind us. What a legacy to give: the example of a life lived faithfully. While on earth, we may never fully know just what kind of impact we’ve made. But there can be no impact for good or for God if we hide our light under a basket. Let’s shine brightly for our Lord and King! Our children, our nieces and nephews, grandchildren, and neighbors need light in order to properly grow. Little seeds of faith require good soil, water and light. Let’s allow the Gardener to use us in this process.

My mom was raised on a farm and she’s still a wonderful gardener. Each season finds her doing what needs to be done to bring about beautiful blooms in her many flowerbeds. The first time Russell and I had a rental home with a little yard, I wanted to have flower gardens like my mom but found it very hard to while keeping up with three toddlers. Her wise words to me were to put flowered-printed dresses on the girls, bright colors on Isaiah, and spend my time playing outside with my young ones, for they were my flowers for this season. Through blended families, Mom is now the grandmother to fourteen grandchildren and two great-grandsons. She has watered those souls with prayers and shines her light on them as she spends time with each—in her gardens, in her kitchen, at their sporting events and on and on. I picture that when she leans against her hoe, like Jacob did on his staff, she is thankful to God knowing her “gardening” has made the world a more beautiful place.

Hebrews 11:20-21 NIV

December 20   Blessed to Have Eternal Life

When the apostle John was young, he walked beside Jesus and he penned his gospel account that is filled with distinctions between light and dark. As an old man John wrote letters to those who wanted to follow Jesus’ teachings. There are so many things he could have shared as he pondered the past. He contemplated the present situation and addressed the need to love faithfully and to remain obedient to God’s commands. John knew false teaching was a real enemy so he pleaded with his readers to practice discernment. Then John concluded one of his letters by giving needed assurance. I write this to you who believe in (adhere to, trust in, and rely on) the name of the Son of God [in the peculiar services and blessings conferred by Him on men], so that you may know [with settled and absolute knowledge] that you [already] have life, yes, eternal life.”  What a blessing his words must have been then and how they remain a blessing to all who still yearn to follow Jesus today. We are blessed with eternal life. All praise to God! We do not need to wait until death ushers us into life; through God’s Holy Spirit we can live with eternal life kind of hope even now. Jesus is the Key that opens the door.

1 John 5:13 AMP

 Continued:

Chapter 8 ETERNITY: The Best Is yet to Come