Good Works, Good Deeds

The other day I got to thinking again about the idea of good works or good deeds. These two terms are both used throughout the New Testament, for example:

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” James 2: 17
“And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind.” Titus 2:7a
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6
“Don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” Hebrews 13:16

There are a couple of a couple of stories in the New Testament of people who think that good deeds/works are what will get them into Heaven, which isn’t the case.  The only way to get to Heaven is by being saved by Jesus (John 3:16). But tied in with being a true believer and follower of Christ is the idea of good deeds/works. Jesus did good while He was here on Earth. He also spent time talking with God, teaching and building relationships, and loving others.

We all mess up from time to time because we’re sinners and not (yet) perfect, but life always seems to go a little smoother and be a little more rewarding when we’re doing good. As Hebrews 13:16 said, yes, sometimes a sacrifice is required as part of doing good. Maybe it means you’re sacrificing your vacation to go and do construction in a needy part of the world, or you’re giving up your free time to teach a VBS class, or you’re making a little extra food each week to share with your elderly neighbors. The virus has given us some new opportunities to do good including buying high-demand products in moderation and wearing masks, both of which are sacrifices that we haven’t had to work on before, but can really help others out.

And that’s what it really comes down to, is being willing to help others on many levels and ways both big and small, just like Jesus did day in and day out. And if you don’t know what to give or how to help, or don’t have the ability to get out and about or donate to charities, start with the advice of Romans 13:8: “Owe nothing to anyone-except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.” Doing good can be as simple and sometimes challenging as loving others.

What good will you do this week?

Reminders from God

Sometimes we get so caught up in life that we forget to stop and take a moment, or we’re so focused on one direction that we can’t see the way God is trying to lead us.  Let’s take a look at some of the reminders in the Bible:

There’s a lot we can’t see, and a lot to hope for:
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”  Hebrews 11:1

Use your words wisely:
“A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”  Proverbs 15:1

Live with joy:
“I will be filled with joy because of you.  I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.”  Psalm 9:2

If God can forgive and be merciful, can’t we?:
“But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love.”  Nehemiah 9:7b

God saves us, leads us and teaches us:
“Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.”  Psalm 25:5

God is generous, gracious, and loving:
“Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.”  1 Timothy 1:14

We belong to God, and are to worship Him:
“For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship…”  Acts 27:23 ESV

Choose patience:
“Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.”  Ecclesiastes 7:8

Don’t give up:
“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”  Philippians 3:14

Each of our days include thousands of interactions, experiences and relationships, each with the potential to teach us something, help us heal in some way, make us a better person, put us in a position to help someone else, or reveal another aspect of who God is to us and who we are to Him.  It’s up to us to be open to where life takes us and where God sends us, and to pay attention to what’s going on around us.  What has God shared with you recently?

Eyes on Jesus

This Wednesday in the US is See You At the Pole, a day honored by high school and college aged students gathering for prayer around the flag pole at their schools. As adults we can certainly pray for them as they gather, and we can also reflect on the verse they’ll be focusing on: Hebrews 12:2: “We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete.”

This is a great reminder verse for all of us, believers of all ages. We all can benefit from the reminder to keep our eyes on Jesus because there are so many distractions, responsibilities and dreams that fill our days and nights, often not specifically focused on Jesus and the work He is doing and has us doing. Having done the human experience Jesus understands some of what we’re going through and trying to manage in our lives today, so we should not be completely discouraged or frustrated by the fact that we get distracted, that’s part of the life we live.

But as people of faith we should always be working to strengthen, grow and share our faith. We should be listening and learning and praying and sharing as we all work through the challenge that is 2017 and beyond. We should be more understanding of the pressures each of us face, and be more encouraging as we try to figure out what it looks like to live a life of faith in 2017.

So as students around the country gather to pray and remind each other to look to Jesus, I encourage you to pray this week for that generation.  Pray that they’ll gain the wisdom, knowledge and experience that the world needs to lead it into the future, that they’ll be good stewards of the world we share, and that they’ll share the love, compassion, consideration and faith the world needs to hear today.

Spiritual Labor

As we look ahead to this weekend and Labor Day here in the US, I thought we’d take a look at a few verses from the Bible about work and what God says about work.  A few of the results caught me by surprise, so as we head into the new month we may take time to dive deeper into a few of them.

“He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” Matthew 9:37

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” Colossians 3:23

“The Lord will send rain at the proper time from his rich treasury in the heavens and will bless all the work you do.” Deuteronomy 28:12

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty!” Proverbs 14:23

“I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned.” Ecclesiastes 2:18

“Whatever you do, do well.” Ecclesiastes 9:10a

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4:10a

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:9

“Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval.” 2 Timothy 2:15

“When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned.” Romans 4:4

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.” Romans 12:11

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24

God and work:
“But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”” John 5:17

“On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work.” Genesis 2:2

“Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.” Psalm 127:1a

“Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place—what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?” Psalm 8:3-4

“For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!” Isaiah 64:4

“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile.” Romans 1:16

“God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” 1 Corinthians 12:6

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

What are your thoughts on (spiritual) work?

Choosing to Do Good

This month we’ve talked about living. I believe that God put each of us on this earth with our very own purpose, none of us are purpose-less. Some of us will work together more than others to make that purpose come to fruition, while others of us will operate more independently. The purpose God has for each of us is to share His message of love with our world using our gifts and talents. Some of us will share God’s message of love in really spiritual ways like being a pastor or spiritual writer. Others of us will spend time loving the world as gardeners and ecologists. And still others of us will be teachers to share love with the next generation. Just because we’re not all pastors and have clearly spiritual jobs doesn’t mean that we aren’t living our purpose or sharing God’s message of love.

The only way that we can go against God’s purpose for our lives is if we don’t live the message of love and if we encourage people in living cheating, lying, stealing, damaging lives. If we spend our time thinking up ways to mess people up or intentionally put hoops to jump through and obstacles in their path to make them work harder or try to make them fail we’re definitively not living lives that honor God.

Instead we should be looking for ways to encourage each other and help each other fulfill our purposes. We should be helping make a difference for God in the world and making the world a better place for the next generation if God sees fit to let us all live that long. Choose to do good for God this week.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”  Hebrews 10:24

Only with God’s Grace

Grace is a topic that always fascinates me.  It’s one I’ve written many devotionals and blog posts on as well as taught many youth group lessons.  It’s one of those topics that never fully reveals itself, and there’s always something new to learn.  What is grace anyway?  A really simple definition is “God’s mercy and goodness to us.”  It doesn’t really describe the whole package, but it’s a start.

Hebrews 4:16 says “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.”

Grace is that unknown factor, that last second touchdown, that surprisingly answerable question on a math test, that free drink from the person in front of you in line, that delay on a deadline, that forgiveness when none is deserved.  It can’t be predicted or expected, but without it hope would have much less impact or relevance.  Not to mention that each of us need mercy and blessings in our lives almost on a daily basis.

The awesome thing is that God is there ready for us when we need help.  Maybe we won’t get the exact answer we were looking for or be freed of consequences, but whenever we need that peace that passes all understanding it’s waiting for us just a prayer away.  We all have those dark-night-of-the-soul days too where the only thing that can pull us out is a touch from God.  The next time you’ve screwed up, or just don’t know what to do, don’t worry, you can get through this challenge too, just lean on God’s grace.

Conquering Challenges

Some days it seems that around every corner there’s a challenge or obstacle waiting for you.  As people of faith, we’re blessed to have encouragement and support when we face these challenges, but we’re not immune to them.

Even Jesus who was fully divine (and fully human) while on earth experienced challenges, like the temptation in the wilderness, and even death on a cross.  He was yelled at, laughed at and treated as someone a few cards short of a full deck.  It’s not easy, but Hebrews 12:3 encourages us to “Think about Jesus. He patiently endured the angry insults that sinful people were shouting at him. Think about him so that you won’t get discouraged and stop trying.”

When we face challenges in our day to day lives, it’s OK to feel frustrated and challenged.  Jesus did too.  But, He didn’t let those things get in His way for too long.  As Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Whatever challenges, trials, obstacles or even opportunities that you’re facing this week, know that you’re not facing them alone.  Jesus is right there, ready to support you in whatever way you need.

Faith Beyond Life

Today we’re taking a look at one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible, yet maybe one of the most well known: Enoch.  His story can be found in Genesis 5, but our verses today come from Hebrews 11:

“By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.”

What Genesis tells us is that Enoch lived for 365 years and in those years his walk was so close with God, he had so much faith in God, that God didn’t let him die but took him to heaven before he died. WOW!  That’s faith!

Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t tell us too much about him; we know he had kids and we know he was very close with God, but that’s about it.  Yet I believe we can learn a couple of things from this man.

1-his faith made him special.  You are no different. If you have faith in others and in God, you’re special too.

2-faith is an experience.  Enoch’s walk of faith was short (comparatively speaking), yet it was such an experience that he had a different ending to his story than others of his time.

3-faith is best when in relationship.  Faith isn’t something you do all by yourself, there has to be another something or someone in the equation.  Even when we’re talking about having faith in yourself, if you have faith in yourself you’re working to build yourself up and support yourself.

4-faith is full of surprises.  I’ll bet that Enoch never guessed he would leave Earth as soon as he did.  You’ll never be able to guess the blessings that your faith can help you experience. There’s nothing like being part of someone’s healing or encouraging them in their faith journey.  But it’s something you wouldn’t expect until you’ve become a person of faith.

I don’t know if Enoch was perfect, or if the big factor in his life was his strength of faith.  But he shows that it’s possible for any ordinary man (or woman) to have faith that pleases God.  What does Enoch’s story reveal to you about faith?  Share your thoughts below.

God-Pleasing Faith

“And it is impossible to please God without faith.” Hebrews 11:6a

God loves that you do good things for others, He loves that you join groups and work together in the community to make good things happen. But nothing makes Him happier than when you’re doing it because you’re doing it for Him.

So, why does God want you to have faith?

Faith is the basis of the relationship you do or don’t have with God.  Without the faith, you can’t have a relationship with God.  You can do all the good things in the world and be as nice as humanly possible to people, but without faith something will be missing.

What God wants more than anything is a relationship with you.

You know that warm fuzzy feeling your special someone gives you, or how excited your kids get when you spend time with them or let them do something special?  That’s what God feels when you connect with Him-and it makes Him happy.

So, why please God in the first place?

I try to please God because I’ve seen the evidence of Him in the world, and in my life.  And just like in any other, human, relationship, I want to do my part.  Just like I want my partner, friends, family, coworkers and anyone else I’m in a relationship to enjoy being in a relationship with me, I want God to be glad He’s in a relationship with me too.

What can you do to better improve the relationships in your life?

Celebrating Christmas: Love

Happy Holidays!  I’m so excited to have entered the Christmas season!  It’s so much fun to pick out presents for friends and family and celebrate life and hope at parties. This month, going along with the season, we’ll be taking a look at the word “love”.

Hebrews 10:24 says:
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.”

I think the best thing about love is that it keeps on giving.  True love is abundant and overflows into the lives of those around you.  The holidays season is all about giving gifts (no matter what you’re celebrating), and within the very meaning of giving gifts is spreading joy and sharing with each other.

It’s not about how much or what you can get but giving what you can give.

Love works that way too.  God gave us His son not because we would give ourselves to Him, but because he loves us.  Love creates countless opportunities to encourage each other and share some hope with others.  If you’re acting in love, you’ll do things and say things without expecting something similar in return, but usually your love will be reciprocated.

Whenever I think of how love works I’m reminded of the TV commercial about how one act of kindness is seen by another person and then they go and do an act of kindness, which in turn is seen by someone else who does their own act of kindness.  And the cycle continues.

No matter how much money you have, the best gift you can give this Christmas is the gift of love. Who can you share love with this season?