Gold!

 …Now for a short time different kinds of troubles may make you sad. These troubles come to prove that your faith is pure. This purity of faith is worth more than gold. Gold can be proved to be pure by fire, but gold can be destroyed. But the purity of your faith will bring you praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ comes again. (I Peter 1:6-7, ICB)

Throughout history, gold has been viewed as valuable. It contains an array of unique and beautiful colors. It absorbs light, which makes it appear to shine. It is rare enough to be special, but still possible to find. It is hard to locate and extract from the earth in large quantities. It does not corrode. It is malleable and can be formed into different shapes. When melted, it can be poured into forms and stamped for practical uses, like money, or admired in jewelry and decor. It does not react with other elements, allowing it to retain its beauty over time. The purer a piece of gold is, the more valuable it is.

God compares our faith to gold. Faith is beautiful. It shines. It is relatively rare. It is hard to find on the earth in large quantities. It does not corrode. It is malleable. Faith is practical but also admirable. It retains its beauty over time. The purer faith is, the more valuable it is.

Gold can be proved to be pure by fire. Raw gold has other elements mixed in with it. It is purified by being heated by fire or electricity, then introducing a chemical that pulls out the impurities (non-gold components).

These troubles come to prove that your faith is pure. God compares the process of refining our faith to refining gold. Trials are the heat that is applied to our faith. They bring ungodly beliefs, thoughts, and actions to the surface so they can be removed from our lives. The result in God’s children is far more life — a purer faith that is a better reflection of God.

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart. (Proverbs 17:3, NIV)

This purity of faith is worth more than gold. This seems like a strange comparison, comparing seemingly-intangible faith with tangible gold. But our faith results in actions. It shapes our decisions. It permeates every aspect of our lives. That makes it tangible. Our faith is real to God, too. It is valuable to Him. He will use one of earth’s most valuable elements — gold — to make the streets in Heaven (Revelation 21:21). Those streets will be beautiful, but our faith is infinitely more beautiful and valuable in God’s economy!

Gold can be destroyed. Humans do not know how to destroy gold. We can dilute its purity, but it still exists. We can dissolve it with chemicals, but that only causes it to disperse further. Perhaps God can destroy gold by some power or force that is not available to us. The Greek word that was translated “destroyed”, apollymenou, can mean “to no longer serve the use for which they were designed”, so perhaps that is a better interpretation. Using either meaning — destroy or make unusable — these verses contrast gold’s destructibility with our faith. There is no trial that can destroy genuine faith. Nothing can cause it to stop serving its purpose in our lives. In fact, our faith leads to eternal life:

For you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:9, NIV)

Here are other Bible verses that use gold to illustrate a spiritual lesson:

The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. (Psalm 119:72, NIV)

Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 8:10-11, NIV)

God’s guidelines for life are more precious than gold! They offer value for both this life and the next one.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. (Acts 3:6-7, NIV)

The lame man did not recognize Peter possessed something more valuable than gold. Peter looked beyond the man’s obvious need and met his deepest need. God’s work in our lives is also precious and priceless!

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. (I Corinthians 3:11-13, NIV)

The writer uses physical building materials as an analogy for the components of our lives. Some, like gold, are valuable investments of our time and energy that God will reward when we reach Heaven. Others are not deemed valuable by God and will not gain us anything in Heaven. Far more life builds with gold!

Sisters,
What aspect of gold is most appealing to you? How do you see that aspect in your faith?
How have trials refined your faith? What impurities have they exposed and removed?
What is your reaction to the claim that faith is valuable? Do you value it more than gold?
Are there areas of your life where your faith seems unusable? Ask God to help you see how faith can add value in those areas.
Where are you using gold to build your life? What is not gold that could be?
Thank God for the richness of faith and far more life that accompanies it!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Persevering in Faith

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.  (James 1:2-3, NIV)

These are familiar verses to me — and maybe to you as well — but it is easy to skim over them. They can be hard to digest if we read them in the middle of a trial (also translated temptation, test, trouble, difficulty, challenge, and hardship). Joy often seems impossible at those times. But if we read them when life is pleasant, we are tempted to dismiss them as idealistic thinking. But I recently realized how powerful and life-changing this instruction can be if applied literally.

The testing of your faith produces perseverance. In the past, I have thought of perseverance as grinding through a hard time, not giving up, not turning away, digging in our heels. But that response to a test of faith leaves out God and increases our reliance on ourselves and our abilities. That is not what God intends! And that is definitely not far more life.

Looking into the original Greek, the word translated as perseverance (or endurance in some Bible versions) is hypomonḗ, which means “to remain under” or “be unswerving in deliberate purpose and loyalty to God”. God wants us to remain under Him, unswerving and loyal, through our trials. That is actually the best place we can be during hardship: under the care, power, and purpose of our loving Father. That is where we find far more life.

We are tempted to think difficulties mean God is displeased with us and good circumstances indicate His approval. If this is our view, it is impossible for us to remain under Him when trouble arises. Fear tempts us to hide from Him. But God has a glorious plan for the faith-stretching struggles He allows in our lives.

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4, NIV)

…Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (I Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

We want to experience good circumstances for remaining under Him; while God sometimes blesses us in that way, we can always count on Him to increase our faith and grow our character. What does that mean? Is it worth the pain we suffer?

Mature. Complete. Not lacking anything. Paul describes the same idea three ways to make sure we catch it. We will become like Christ, perfect in character, with perfect beliefs, thoughts, actions, and understanding. Every trial has the potential to make us more like Him if we allow it. Trials offer us far more life.

Keeping this big picture perspective enables us to obey the beginning of the passage: consider it pure joy whenever you face trials. Knowing we can use each trial to make us more Christ-like is a reason to face it with joy. I have a friend who embraces this. He consistently responds to trials with the exclamation, “Oh, good. God has allowed a trial!” His response is authentic and automatic; he relishes the chance to see God work in and through his life. My friend has faced some very difficult trials yet remained under God; and God has faithfully shaped his character to be more like Jesus.

How do we face trials with joy?

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 1:5, NIV)

If you do not know, ask God! He will not criticize, berate, or belittle you. He will generously and graciously provide the wisdom you need to walk in far more life. But Paul does share this caution:

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. (James 1:6, NIV)

You must ask God for wisdom with genuine faith. This is not the time for testing: “God, if you are real, give me wisdom.” It is not the time for bargaining, “God, if you give me wisdom now, I promise to never doubt you again.” It is good to admit that we lack faith; that is the first step in growing it! Use your doubt to uncover your core beliefs about God by asking yourself how you feel about trusting God and why you feel that way. As you alternate between these questions, digging deeper into your beliefs, you will encounter a core belief about God’s or your identity that does not line up with His Word. Turning to His Word for truth replaces that false belief, removes doubt, and allows genuine faith to flourish. And far more life!

I think this translation makes this passage relatable:

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4, VOICE)

Do not run away from hardship. Instead run to far more life as you remain under God in your difficulties this week.

Sisters,
What is your first thought or feeling when a test, hardship, trial, or difficulty arises?
Can you think of a time when you relied on God through a trial and your faith in Him grew? Can you also think of times where you relied on yourself instead? What impact did those have on your faith?
How has your character grown more Christ-like through hardship?
Where do you turn for wisdom? What barriers keep you from turning wholeheartedly to God?
Thank God for His faithfulness and commitment to keep growing you. And for revealing far more life to you each step of the way.
-Shari

Fight the Good Fight

Fight the good fight of the faith. (I Timothy 6:12a, NIV)

There are many fights: against injustice; against false information; against illness and disease; against undesirable laws and policies; against corruption; and many more. Joining one or more fight can grow us in far more life. Or it can drain the life out of us. Or pull us away from far more life. How do we choose which fight or fights are good to join?

There was a lot of fighting in the Old Testament era. Sometimes God clearly instructed the Israelites not to fight (Deuteronomy 1:42, Judges 2:15) but there were many more times when God supported the people in their fights (Deuteronomy 3:22, Judges 11:32, I Chronicles 5:20, Nehemiah 4:14, Jeremiah 1:19). The latter fights were often for physical land God had promised His people:

I will give you every place where you set your foot…Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life…you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. (Joshua 1:3-6, NIV)

The good fight was clear to the Israelites because God gave very specific orders and named specific enemies. But today God has called us to a spiritual battle:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world… (2 Corinthians 10:3-4, NIV)

Our good fight is a fight of faith. It is not against people, rather it is against evil, spiritual darkness, sin, and Satan’s plans. The good fight strives to be like Jesus and live as His representative on planet earth. It takes place on many fronts, and not all spiritual soldiers are called to the same front.

Every person who has accepted Christ is a soldier in this battle. But some do not realize the importance or prevalence of this fight. In fact, one of Satan’s tactics is to distract us from the good fight with side skirmishes.

When I was in lower elementary school I received a watch as a gift. I was very proud of that watch — and my ability to tell time. One day after school I got into an argument with an older boy about the time. There was no easy way to check Standard Time while we were on the bus, but I was adamant my watch was right and his was wrong. Later I was embarrassed for fighting about such an unimportant thing. But at the time it felt like a very good fight.

Satan knows that when we are engaged in unimportant battles, we lack the energy and awareness needed to join the good fight. When Satan convinces us to battle against other Christians on which day to worship Him, what clothing or activities are most righteous, or what translation of the Bible is best, then we are not able to unite and join the good fight against him. When Satan convinces us to battle unbelievers on matters of righteousness, priorities, and current issues, then we cannot fight the good fight by sharing the love and hope of Christ with them and inviting them into God’s family.

Since we are imperfect, there are times when we abandon the good fight and join lesser battles. When we recognize our mistake, we have the opportunity to admit it, rejoin the good fight, and enjoy far more life. These verses warn us that temptation to stay in the lesser battle is Satan’s attempt to keep us out of the good fight:

…With God’s message stirring and directing you, fight the good fight, armed with faith and a good conscience. Some have tried to silence their consciences, wrecking their lives and ruining their faiths. (I Timothy 1:18-19, VOICE)

Thankfully our identity remains secure in Christ, even when we engage in the wrong battle. We may forfeit far more life for a time, but our relationship with God remains intact and we are readily accepted back into the good fight. We are reminded of God’s perspective:

Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession… (I Timothy 6:12b, NIV)

Sometimes the good fight is exhausting. I appreciate the following pep talk from Jeremiah. When written, it referred to a physical city that was protected from physical enemies. Today God’s Spirit inside of each of His daughters makes us a spiritual city that is protected from spiritual enemies:

“Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:18-19, NIV)

Satan and his forces will not overcome us because God is with us! Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us far more life by rescuing us from the penalty of sin. The Holy Spirit living inside of us gives us far more life by rescuing us from the power that Satan used to hold over us. And one day God will send Jesus back to earth to secure the final victory, rescue us from the presence of evil, and usher us into the ultimate experience of far more life. As we wait for that glorious day, Lord, help us fight the good fight!

Sisters,
How would you describe the good fight of faith?
What lesser battles tempt or distract you?
What barriers keep you from rejoining the good battle when you stray?

How do you remain strong over time?
Thank Jesus for the security of far more life and the promise of final victory!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Imitate Their Faith

I recently attended a celebration of life service for a woman who lived far more life. Despite facing three occurrences of cancer within six years she focused on Jesus and lived far more life to the end. She loved Him with her whole heart and trusted Him with not just her life, but also her death. It was both encouraging and humbling to hear testimonies of the impact she had on others, simply because she loved and obeyed Jesus to the best of her ability every day she remained on earth. I was starting to compare myself to her — and feel guilty about how short I fell — when her pastor shared this verse:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7, NIV)

Remember your leaders. Leaders are people of influence in your life. This is definitely referring to those with spiritual authority over us (pastors, etc.). But I think many of us have additional “leaders” in our lives who do not hold an official title or role. They lead through their example and influence.

Who spoke the word of God to you. Good spiritual leaders rely on God’s Word for their wisdom and direction. They apply it in their own life and lovingly share it with others. Their goal is to help you better understand and follow God so you have far more life.

Consider the outcome of their way of life. Do not simply trust a leader’s words or blindly follow because of their title or personality traits. Look at the results in their lives. Are they consistently modeling far more life? Does their personal life honor God? Are they respected by their leaders, peers, and followers? Do you want the same results in your own life?

Imitate their faith. We are not instructed to imitate a leader’s specific actions or choices. Rather we are instructed to imitate the faith of those who live far more life. Faith looks different in each of our lives. But we can learn from those whose faith has grown through facing challenges with God. We can recognize areas where they have far more life, ask how their faith developed in that area, and apply ourselves to growing, too.

Why is this important?

 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NIV)

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9-10, NIV)

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, NIV)

Sisters, faith is the foundation of your relationship with God. Faith believes that God is real, powerful, and seeking you. Faith professes that Jesus paid the penalty for your sin and saves you from eternal separation from God. Faith provides peace with God, which is your first taste of far more life. This faith is not blind; it usually follows an experience that proves God exists and loves you.

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12, NIV)

Faith enables us to build a relationship with God. We can talk to Him, even ask Him for help, without fear. God has graciously made our faith an “all-access” pass to Him; He is available 24/7/365 and is eager to interact with us. As we look to Him through eyes of faith, we witness His work in and around us.

“But my righteous one will live by faith…” (Hebrews 10:38a, NIV)

As we grow our relationship with God, we live more and more by faith. We discover that following God’s instructions leads to far more life. The more we see the benefit of living by faith, the more willing we are to yield to Him.

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:17, NIV)

Faith changes our motives and actions. It prompts us to share God’s love with others because we believe His love is the best gift they could ever receive. Faith urges us to generously give our time, energy, and money to those who need it because we trust God to supply our needs. Acting by faith brings us far more life.

In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:16, NIV)

But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (I Thessalonians 5:8, NIV)

Faith equips us for spiritual battle. Believing God’s word is true, powerful, and relevant is our defense against the lies that Satan hurls at us. Since our enemies are spiritual, our weapons must be spiritual as well (Ephesians 6:12, 2 Corinthians 10:4). As a follower of Christ, entering the battle is not optional. A growing faith will encounter spiritual opposition.

At each stage of our faith journey, looking at the examples of others who are further along can be helpful. We can learn from their victories and mistakes. Far more life is often the result of a hard-fought battle, but can also come through following God’s instruction to imitate the faith of our leaders.

Sisters,
Who are the leaders in your life?
What about their faith can you imitate?
Are you starting, building, learning to obey, or acting on your faith?
As you consider the spiritual battles you are facing, whose faith can you learn from?
Thank God for your leaders who are modeling far more life and joining you on your journey.
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso

This Life That I Now Live

If we give up our old life to pursue far more life, what will this new life look like?  The road will be different for each of us, but we will have this in common: “This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me” (Galatians 2:20b, GNT).

 The Amplified Bible explains that “faith” means “adhering to, relying on, and completely trusting” the Son of God. Hebrews 11:1 defines it this way: “Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see” (CEV).

So if we put these definitions together, we arrive at this description of faith:
Living in a way that proves I completely trust Jesus Christ — the one who loved me enough to die for me — adhering to Him no matter what comes my way and relying on Him to keep His promises for now and the future. That is far more life!

Completely trusting Jesus means believing wholeheartedly that He deserves our devotion and allegience. It frees us to share everything with Him, knowing that He will never condemn us. We feel safe enough to show Him the ugliness in our heart and listen to Him rather than our fear or selfishness. Complete trust enables us to accept His promises because we believe He is faithful and always speaks truth. It gives us confidence to be vulnerable and take risks, knowing that we have a wise counselor and advisor backing us. Proverbs 14:10 describes completely trusting Jesus: The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (NIV).

Adhering to Jesus means that we are permanently attached to Him. For the long haul. Regardless of our circumstances. We recognize there will be hills and valleys on our journey together but believe that traveling with Him is where we will always find far more life. Our desire is to become so entwined with Him that it’s hard to tell where He stops and we begin. He has promised to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). And we have made the same commitment to Him. An adhering mindset echos that of Simon Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69, NIV).

Relying on Jesus is believing that His example and instruction are perfect and will never steer us wrong. It prompts us to study His interactions with people so we can act the same way. We don’t have to forge our own path or learn the hard way because we know He has modeled it for us. Reliance allows us to live out this instruction: Trust the Lord completely, and don’t depend on your own knowledge. With every step you take, think about what he wants, and he will help you go the right way(Proverbs 3:5-6, ERV).

Completely trusting Jesus. Adhering to Jesus. Relying on Jesus. This is the life that we now live. This is far more life.

But there are challenges to living this out. In good times we can forget to rely on Him. We are lulled into believing we are doing fine in our own strength. In bad times we can be tempted to stop trusting Him completely. It may feel like He is far away and not protecting us. And in the everydayness of life we can lose sight of our need to adhere to Him. There are so many shiny distractions that catch our eye and pull us in a different direction. How do we stay the course of faithful living and far more life?

In relationship. Our faith cannot be an obligation if we want far more life. Rather it must be the outgrowth of an intentional relationship with God. Jesus told his disciples, “I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who live in me while I live in them will produce a lot of fruit. But you can’t produce anything without me (John 15:5 GW). As soon as we agree to a relationship with God, his Spirit comes to live inside of us. Nothing will ever change that (Romans 8:38-39). But we choose day by day, moment by moment, whether to nurture that relationship or ignore it. Will we talk to Him about the big and little moments of our day? Our thoughts? Hopes? Dreams? Will we share our excitement and fears, worries and wonder, burdens and blessings with Him? Will we vent our anger to Him? Will we sit quietly with Him, drinking in the wonders of His creation? Will we study His written Word, the Bible, to learn who He is and what He does? Will we seek out His opinion and wisdom? Will we follow His advice? Will we watch expectantly for His answers to our prayers? In essence, will we let Him become our best friend and travel guide? Or will we simply tolerate Him as a passenger on the route we choose?

Jesus promised that those who intentionally connect with Him and live by faith in Him will have far more life. He doesn’t give us the roadmap, so we never know exactly where He will take us. Our adventure with Him will take us up the highest mountains, down narrow winding paths, and through the lowest valleys. But no matter where we are on the road, when we adhere to our trustworthy and reliable guide, we can rest assured it will be a good life, even far more life than we can ask or imagine!

Sisters,
Is Jesus your travel guide or a tolerated passenger?
Is your life and faith characterized by complete trust in Jesus?
Do you adhere to Him?
Rely on Him?
Choose one way you can intentionally improve your relationship with God this week.
Watch expectantly to see far more life emerge!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso