Not Forsaken

Jeremiah 51 & 52

As a junior high teacher, there have been a couple of times when a student’s behavior warranted their removal from the classroom, even after multiple redirections and warnings. The school administrator would assign a consequence, such as on-campus suspension for one to three days, and then the student would return to reintegrate back into our class community.

While this scenario isn’t a perfect analogy to what we read in Jeremiah chapters 51 and 52, it has a few similarities.

Throughout generations, Israel had been warned over and over about what would be the consequences if they failed to be obedient to God’s decrees. And yet the kings over God’s people and the people themselves rebelled, they did evil in the eyes of the LORD. And God cannot tolerate sin. There had to be consequences. 

So God allowed Babylon to capture Israel. God allowed for His dwelling place, the temple built by Solomon, to be ransacked and destroyed. This was the consequence of decades of disobedience. 

But throughout this time, God never stopped loving His people. He longed to see them be restored. And so He made a way. The very kingdom that had caused destruction to Israel, would eventually face its own consequences and be brought down by its enemies. God’s people would be released from captivity. 

What we read in Jeremiah 51 and 52, describes what no doubt was a rough patch for Israel, to put it mildly. And it even foretells what it might be like during the time leading up to Christ’s second coming.

But we can also read it through the lens of how God must deal with us as individuals. Because He is the Holy One of Israel, there must be consequences to our sin. We are destined to be separated, exiled, from Him because our sin and His holiness cannot coexist. But God longs to be in a relationship with us. And so God provides for a way, through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, for this relationship to be restored. So even though our lives are “full of guilt before the Holy One of Israel”, we will not be “forsaken by our God, the LORD Almighty”.

-Bethany Ligon

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 51-52 and James 4

Words, Works & Wisdom

James 3

The two prominent subjects in James 3 are the tongue and wisdom.  Though the tongue is a body part and wisdom is intangible Godly knowledge, James manages to successfully contrast their attributes for the reader.  And as we have seen in the previous chapters, he does not “sugar-coat” his words! 

James again uses word pictures to introduce us to this most necessary part of our body, “the tongue.”

“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.” (verse 3)

The bit is an important part of a horse’s tack and controls the horse’s mouth.  The bit, bridle and reins work together to control the horse’s head for its rider.  The average bit size is 5 to 6 inches, quite small compared to a horse’s size. 

James continues with another word picture to “set the stage” for his coming discourse on the tongue. 

“Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines.”  (verse 4)

A rudder is a flat piece hinged vertically near the stern or rear of a boat and is used in the steering process.  But as James points out, compared to the large ship it directs, its size is incredibly small. 

  • Small bits control/direct—large horses
  • Small rudders control/direct—large ships
  • Small TONGUES control/direct large bodies—US!

“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.  See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (verses 5-8)

Tell us how you really feel, James!  Oh, he did!

Our tongues can get us into so much trouble!  Remember, James told us in 1:19, let everyone be, “quick to hear, slow to speak.” Once we share that small bit of gossip, respond with rudeness, call out a mean-spirited comment, or answer in anger, the “fire” has started.  It quickly gains ground and can no longer be easily extinguished. 

Proverbs 12:27 says, “A worthless man digs up evil,
While his words are like scorching fire.” 

Think of the massive forest fires that have destroyed thousands of acres in the USA and Canada this past summer.  Think of the devastation of homes and property and the loss of human and animal life.  NOW, think of the lives wounded, ravaged, and ruined because of thoughtless words from tongues. 

 “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.” (verses 9-10)

What a humbling reprimand!

James finishes this serious warning with another word picture.  “Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers andsisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.”  (verses 11-12) James wants his readers to “see” the disparity of an uncontrolled tongue.

James’ discourse on the tongue, (“a world of unrighteousness”), contrasts with the wonderful wisdom from above, wisdom from our heavenly Father.   Worldly versus Heavenly.

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom” (verse 13)

Notice that if we have Godly wisdom, it will be evidenced in our daily lives—what we do, who we help, how we serve.  Don’t you love that James says our deeds should be done “in the GENTLENESS of wisdom?”  Softly, thoughtfully, kindly.

These WORKS contrast greatly from the “LIP service faith” of the tongue.  As James said in 2:17, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

Verses 14-16 tell us jealousy and selfish ambition have no place in our “works.”  If they live in our hearts, we don’t have true wisdom, but instead, “disorder and every evil thing.” 

What constitutes the wisdom from above?  “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”  (verse 17)

When we have this wisdom described in detail by its eight desirable characteristics, the end result is peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationship with others. 

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (verse 18)

Be wise and grow a Godly garden of goodness, living out your FAITH through your peaceful words and WORKS.   

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 49-50 and James 3

Giving Life to Your Faith

James 2

As we consider the second chapter of James today, the writer gives us another easily understood illustration, as he warns about an attitude of personal favoritism.

“My brothers and sisters, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the bright clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters: did God not choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?  Do they not blaspheme the good name by which you have been called?” (verses 1-7)

We must note that James is not saying we should ignore the rich in our Christian outreach.  But he is saying rich people should not be elevated above others because of their bank accounts. 

The result of the sin of favoritism is found in verse 9. “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the Law as violators.”

So what is the solution?  Verse 8– “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.”

This is why I love the book of James.  Simple and direct—easily understood. 

A modern-day story I have heard several times fits right in here. 

A Pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000-member church where he was to be introduced as the head pastor that morning.

He walked around his soon-to-be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service– only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food — no one in the church gave him change.

He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people only to be greeted back with stares, dirty looks, and people looking down on him. As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements.

When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with all eyes on him. He walked up to the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,

“Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all that he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry, and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?” He then dismissed service until next week.

I hope this story moves you as it moved me.  And James reiterates these thoughts in verses 14-17. 

“What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

Faith without works is dead.  They go hand in hand, like salt and pepper, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly.  James’ impassioned words teach us that our faith should totally transform our lives and daily actions.  Our faith should be reflected in the life we live.  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” II Corinthians 5:17

James sums up his thoughts with two examples from the Old Testament, Abraham and Rahab.  “Was our father Abraham not justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called a friend of God.” (verses 21-23)

We cannot imagine the agony Abraham faced on that mountain, preparing to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac.  But he had ultimate trust, FAITH, in God and followed through with WORKS, laying Isaac on the altar before the ram was revealed for the burnt offering.  “And as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”

Such an unfathomable example of faith and works, Abraham was called the friend of God, an honor bestowed on no one else in Scripture.

“In the same way, was Rahab the prostitute not justified by works also when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?”  (verse 25) The account of Rahab is found in Joshua 2.  Rahab hid the two spies Joshua sent into Jericho.  This daring deed brought a rewarding outcome for Rahab and her family, as they were saved when Jericho was defeated by the Israelites.  Rahab’s faith and actions blessed her descendants as she is found in the genealogy of Jesus.

James concludes his thoughts with verse 26.  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

Without the breath of life, we are dead.  Without a life of daily ACTIVE Christian living and service to others–our works— our faith is dead.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 47-48 and James 2

How-To-Do-It Manual

James 1

We begin a new book of the Bible today—James.  James is one of my favorite Bible books.  I participated in Bible quizzing on James as a teenager in IL, and coached Bible quizzers on James in IN and MN.  More than half of the verses of this first chapter of James are underlined in my Bible.   

James’ writing style differs from the author of Hebrews.  He is blunt and forthright in his writing.

The author of James was most likely the son of Joseph and Mary, which made him the half-brother of Jesus.  Interestingly, James and other family members did not initially accept the teaching of Jesus.

In Mark’s account of Jesus, we find these verses.    

 “He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own people heard about this, they came out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” Mark 3:20-21

The book of John tells us “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” John 7:5

However, after Jesus had risen from the dead, (“then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” I Cor 15:7), James’ life was transformed.  He became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding early churches.

The first verse of James ties in with his widespread influence to the churches.  He addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes which are dispersed abroad.”  This audience was actually Jewish Christians, many of whom had been forced to leave their homeland due to persecution.  They were new in their faith and needed instruction and encouragement that was straight forward and easily understood. 

Think about the opportunities and choices available today for people who want to be a “do-it-yourselfer.”  Whether it is home building or remodeling, cooking, gardening, crafting, “you name it,” there is a book, a manual, a TV program, a YouTube video, or a website that can help you out.  (DIY network, HGTV, Craftsy, are a few that come to mind.)  Paul A. Cedar calls the letter of James a “how -to-do-it manual for the Christian life.”  James offers solid, practical instruction for Jesus’ followers.

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

Verse 2 tells us to be joyful when we face trials.  It seems like a difficult thing to do, but remember, the Christians who first received this letter had experienced extreme trials to the point they had fled their homes to survive. 

Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

This is the joy we should have when trials confront us.  And, as verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.”  When we experience trials, our faith grows in the Lord, as we work towards our “perfect self” in God’s Kingdom.  (verse 4)

James’ brother Jesus, our Savior, often told parables, or simple stories to help his audience understand his teaching.  I find it interesting that James, like his brother, uses several illustrations in his letter to further explain his instructions to his readers. 

If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, but don’t doubt you will receive it.  One who doubts “is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  (verses 5-8)

Blunt and to the point!  No commentary by me needed! 

Story/illustration #2–Verses 9-12

“Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out.  Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

A Christian with limited means for livelihood “glories” in his coming inheritance in God’s Kingdom.  A rich man/Christian should glory in the fact that his wealth is temporary, only of this world.  Verse 11 gives us a visualization of the fleetingness of this life—hot sun, scorching wind, dead grass and flowers.  (This picture reminds me of the drought areas around the US this past summer.)  Both men are equal in their future reward, a “crown of life,” IF they “persevere under trial.”

James continues with straightforward, sensible instruction.

“No one is to say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

God, the Father of Lights, loves us, and is a generous giver.  His greatest gift was His Son Jesus and the plan of salvation, but He has also given us the beautiful natural world to delight in and discover its wonders each day.  God has given us our families, friends, jobs, food, homes.  How blessed we are.  And His care, His protection, His love never changes—“with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Malachi 3:6a. “For I, the Lord, do not change.”

James continues with his direct approach in verse 19.  He tells his readers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  Why? Verse 20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (Insert drum rimshot here!)  Obviously!

Quick, Slow, Slow.  In other words, 30 seconds to think and respond during a contentious conversation.  Even Thomas Jefferson had this sage advice.  “When angry, count to 10 before you speak.  If very angry, a hundred.” 

Verses 21-25 bring us another story/illustration to make James’ point, if we still don’t get it!  The guidance is repeated with action words this time to begin the illustration. 

  • Put aside filthiness and the remains of wickedness.”
  • Receive the word”
  • Prove yourselves doers, (not merely hearers, who delude themselves.)”

Don’t hold back, James! 

Here comes the explanation/story.  “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.”  (verses 23-25)

A man looks at himself in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like.  This man is like a person that listens to God’s Word, hears what “the preacher says,” and then leaves church on Sunday and lives his life the rest of the week not connected to God. 

However, one who not only looks into God’s Word, (the perfect law of liberty) abides in it, and follows through with appropriate actions, is truly blessed in his life.  Paul said it this way, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” Galatians 5:4.  Where do you start? 

James gives us an example in the last verse of James 1, verse 27.  “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” 

Simple love in action.  The Bible is our guidebook/how-to manual.  We can’t just read it and not follow through.  James 1 is direct instruction for the do-it-yourself generation. 

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 45-46 and James 1

Dead Faith

James 1-5

I have enjoyed going through the first half of the book of Acts with all of you, as the book of Acts is one of my favorite books in the Bible.  I am fascinated with the history of the church after Jesus ascended to heaven, and there is no better source to take a look at than the book of Acts.  I hope you all enjoyed the first half of Acts as well.  Today, we cover the book of James, another real solid book (really all 66 books are real solid).  James is one of the first books of the Bible that I would have a new believer read, as it has a ton of applicable information.  The book provides great stepping stones to living a godly life.  If you haven’t read the book of James before, stop whatever you’re doing (Well, I guess that means stop reading this devotion), and read the book of James for yourself.  If you have read it before, I would still encourage you to revisit this piece of gold.

            James covers a wide range of topics throughout his book.  Today, we are going to spend most of our time covering two topics found in the book.  Before we do that though, I want to mention the other topics found in James.  If there is a topic that interests you, then go ahead and see what James himself has to say about it.  The main talking points in James that we won’t talk about are: hearing and doing the word, the sin of partiality, taming the tongue, wisdom from above, warning against worldliness, boasting about tomorrow, warning to the rich, patience in suffering, and the prayer of faith.  Much could be said about each of these different topics.  There is simply not enough time/space to mention all of these topics in our devotion.

            With that being said, we will talk about the testing of our faith and the relationship between faith and works.  I wanted to talk about the testing of our faith because it connects very well with what we have been talking about with the book of Acts.  In the first 14 chapters of Acts, we saw a handful of people suffer because of their faith in Jesus.  What does James have to say about this?  Well, James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” (James 1:2-4).  In summary, James says to consider it a joy!

            I don’t know about you, but it is not my initial thought or feeling to consider a trial a joy.  I think a large reason is because it is not fun or enjoyable to go through a trial.  However, when we think about the effects of enduring through trials of various kinds, we can come away with an appreciation.  When we successfully endure through a trial, it can produce steadfastness, which enables us to be a more complete, well-rounded person. 

Every single time that someone goes through a trial, they either grow closer or they grow further away from God.  The heroes of our faith that we took a look at in Acts went through various trials, and it appears that they grew closer to God.

Our next main topic is the relationship between faith and works; they have an interesting relationship with one another.  They have caused a lot of discussion and even some disagreement in Christian circles.  According to James, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” (James 2:17).  That means that a faith that is not accompanied by any works is useless!  We need to remember though that it is by God’s grace that we are saved, and we accept that grace through our faith, not our works (Ephesians 2:8).  However, we can’t accept God’s grace with a dead faith; it must be a living and active faith that we have to accept God’s grace.  We already mentioned that a faith without any works is dead and useless.  That means that we must accept God’s grace through our faith, but we have to accompany our faith with our works.

At an initial glance, it can appear at times that James and Paul (in Ephesians) clash with one another.  However, that is not the case at all.  They both show how faith and works have a beautiful relationship with one another.  I remember being stumped over the relationship between faith and works for some time.  It took me awhile to see how they work together, and I hope this very short explanation can help clear up the confusion that any of you may have between faith and works.

Well, there we have it, folks.  This past week we got to spend time in Acts and James.  We have learned a handful of very valuable lessons from the likes of Paul, Peter, and James.  If you have read the devotions for this week, I hope you stick with it!  There is lots of great content ahead, as we get to explore the writings of Paul and others.  As always, there is also a great lineup of writers to help us all dig into God’s Word.  God bless!

-Kyle McClain

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – James 1-5

Tomorrow we read Acts 15-16.

Priceless Final Instructions from James

James 5

James 5 13 a

In our final chapter of James we find a teaching that is difficult for many of us. We find that we are taught to have patience. I find it difficult to be patient many times when I see someone behaving in a way that is not good for them, especially when it is someone whom I have invested time and care into. We care so deeply for so many people and it is hard to watch them go down a path that leads to destruction. He reminds us first of all that the things we have amassed for ourselves on this earth are of little value in the long run. He reminds us to store up our treasures in our eternal future, NOT in this temporary life, where moth and rust destroy.

We are told in verse eight to strengthen our hearts because the return of the Lord is “at hand”. We are to patiently await the return as we seek to serve Him in our thoughts and actions. In verse nine he says that we are not to complain about one another, remembering that the judge is at the door. It is not our job to complain about each other and to cause strife. It is not even our job to judge one another, we are to encourage with our actions and speak the truth in love.

James also tells us that we will face difficult times and we need to remember in those times that God is on our side and He is full of compassion and mercy. He uses the example of Job and reminds us that in the end, although his struggles were many, he still praised the LORD. In verses thirteen through eighteen he reminds us that no matter our circumstances we should prayerfully seek God.

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. James 5:13-15 NASB

He also reminds us that we should not think that we are not capable of the incredible feats God has accomplished through others. He says Elijah was a man just like us, … and he prayed. This is the answer to so many of our issues that we have today … and he prayed.

Unfortunately, as we experience life we will find times when brothers and sisters in Christ turn and choose not to follow. We are encouraged to turn him back to save his soul and cover his sins. We sometimes think when we have fallen short that our sins are too much for God to forgive. Who am I to say that the blood of Christ is insufficient for the forgiveness of my sins? James says this will cover “a multitude of sins.”

We must remember to be patient with one!

We must remember to strengthen our hearts because Christ is returning!

We MUST remember to pray in EVERY situation!

We must encourage one another to turn back to God when we fall!

-Bill Dunn

Freedom

James 4

James 4 7

Have you ever read or watched a news feed of any kind and thought to yourself, “Wow, why is the world such a messed-up place?” Odds are you have had these thoughts or said this not just once but many, many times! Unfortunately; we live in a world that is covered in disgrace, selfishness, and unkindness. These things become evident as we look at the world around us and wonder at just how far some have fallen. When we ask how the world got this way it is not a new question and it does not require a new answer. It is an answer that James wrote about a long time ago on a continent far far away (sorry, back on target).

In James 4:1 he asks the question, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” Why are you fighting all the time?!? When he wrote this it wasn’t in the time of instant communication that we have today. He couldn’t use snapchat, private messenger, or even email. Because it would take weeks or even months for responses to go back and forth, he asks the question and immediately supplies the answer. Isn’t it the pleasures that wage war in your members? Have you ever thought of your pleasures as waging war within yourself? If not just think how much you long for the latest and greatest, even when what you already have works just fine. Even more when you go to replace something that is broken.

My phone broke  about a month ago (completely stopped working) and I was faced with the question do I replace it with a new model, attempt to repair the old one, or get a refurbished replacement of the currently broken phone at a fraction of the cost of a newer model. There is a part of me that has always been fascinated with the newest electronics and the new features (after all – I want my phone to be the best, right?). As I was weighing my options I continued to see the latest models waging war against my budget. I reasoned with myself, “It will get updates longer if I get the newer phone, it will have better features.” The fact of the matter is my phone that had just died served me quite well for nearly three years, I know all of its settings and have cases, chargers, and screen protectors that I have already purchased sitting at home. I also get all of these benefits for a quarter to a third of the price. After attempting to have the old phone repaired I finally received the refurbed phone and am quite happy with my decision. All of that to say that I am quite familiar with my desires waging war within me.

He says you lust and envy and it leads you to strife and disagreements, even to murder. He then goes on to say that the only reason you don’t have is that you don’t ask. Jesus said if you seek you will find, we merely have to ask. In verse three we find that just because we ask does not mean we will instantly have the desires of our hearts. If I ask with self-serving motives I will not receive, but if I am needing wisdom to better serve God it will be granted. If I focus my desires and friendship on the world and its pleasures I show myself to be serving stuff, NOT God.

In verses 6 and 7 we find that God gives grace to the humble and we are to submit to Him and His desires because of His mercy and grace. James then says the devil will flee from us if we resist him. That is a magnificent piece of information if you have ever felt tempted to serve your own desires instead of God’s desires!

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8

Do NOT let yourself fall into the trappings of this world that say you can be a slave to the latest and greatest and still serve God, we can have but one master. Do not be double-minded, only serve the things of God. Philippians 2:3, 4 tell us to treat others as if they are a higher priority to us than ourselves, and verse 5 tells us to have the attitude that was in Christ. It is amazing how much this spirit can set us free from the struggles this world consistently brings about. After all, 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

James also warns us of the arrogance that comes from assuming we know what is going to happen. He reminds us that our lives are in the hands of God. What better place is there to rest?

Let’s rest in His hands and find the freedom that only He can provide!

-Bill Dunn

Consistently Strong

James 3

James 3 5 NIV

Have you ever heard young boys arguing? It may begin as an argument about which is faster but many times it will end up with the two boys shouting something to the effect of, “My dad is stronger than your dad!” Often times we see our fathers as a symbol of strength, but what does strength look like? Is it a bodybuilder with bulging muscles? Is it a sprinter with unbelievable speed? These can be measures of physical strength but the strength that we are called to display is more than just strength of body.

The world tells us that a strong person should “get mad and fight like a man” God tells us through James to control our speech and even to control our anger. In chapter one he said, “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry”. James 1:26 tells us “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” In Chapter 3 he says that anyone who does not stumble in what he says is a perfect man, I can tell you I am far from perfect. He goes on to explain how such a small part of our bodies can control and lead so much of our life. When I take a flight I often sit near the wing and will watch the flaps as the pilot makes adjustments to control the aircraft. It always amazes me to see that such a small change, in a relatively small piece of the plane, can determine the altitude of such a massive machine as it carries me through the air at hundreds of miles per hour. James 3:5-8 says

5 So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

Although the tongue is such a small part of our body it is what we use to express our thoughts and emotions to those around us. Jesus even said that our words are the overflow of our heart. Does that mean when we are sarcastic and disrespectful to those around us that is what is truly in our heart? That can be a disturbing thought sometimes. Perhaps we should use our words to view the contents of our heart.

When I lived in the South I would hear someone say something inappropriate and another person would ask, (insert your best southern accent) “You kiss yo momma with that mouth?” James says something similar but with even more force. He says, “With it we bless our Lord and Father; and with it we curse men, … these things ought not to be this way.” We should seek to honor both God and people with our words.

We should be consistent with our thoughts and actions.

We should be consistent in the strength of self-control.

It takes true strength to control your tongue.

Show strength that builds up, not tears down!

-Bill Dunn

Faith ____ Works

James 2

James 2 14 NIV

In Chapter two of James he continues to tell us that we need that Humble Pride and we are not to judge others in partiality. We must not look at others and decide that God isn’t going to use them because we don’t like the way they look. Just as we may turn away from a book when the cover is worn and frayed, we occasionally turn away from people when we see they are worn and frayed. The thing we must remember is sometimes the books, and people, that are worn the most are worn from use not from neglect. When we look at someone we should seek the potential that our LORD sees. When Samuel went to anoint the king he would have overlooked David but God was looking at David’s heart.

In the same way that we tend to judge by what we see on the surface James tells us that our faith is to be more than mere words.

When you look at Faith ______ Works, what would you place in that blank?

  • Faith or works
  • Faith VS. works
  • Faith and works

We know that we are cleansed of our sins by faith (not by works), so why would James ask in 2:14, “Can faith with no works save you?” Do Paul and James have a long-standing disagreement on this matter? No, they agree beautifully! James is not saying that we are saved by our works but that our works are evidence of our faith. In verses 15 and 16 he says that empty words mean nothing. For example, if I simply say I am feeding my dogs regularly, yet I give them no food; eventually they starve. They will not survive on my words or good intentions alone. The same is true of our faith. Luke just told us last week of that “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11 that were all shown to be faithful and that faith was made evident in the works they did for God.

James says if we have true faith it will be shown by our actions! He says in verse 19 that if all it took was a belief in the truth that God is one then even the demons would be okay, because they believe and shudder. Although they believe, their actions and their allegiance are not inline with God’s plan. They understand truth but choose to do their own thing. We need to understand truth AND let that truth move us to action for God!

James says that we need a Faith that Works!

If our faith is not causing us to work for God we must ask ourselves, “Do I truly have faith, or do I have empty words?”

-Bill Dunn

 

Oxymorons

James 1

James 1 9 (1)

I am a dad and as such enjoy the occasional (or perhaps not so occasional) dad joke. I also like to see the look on someone’s face as they decipher the unexpected oxymoron. Some of these are so common that we don’t even realize when we say them. Others take a moment to realize what has been said.

Here are some examples:

  • Act naturally – Is it really natural if it is an act, or is it natural to act, or … WHAT?
  • Random order – Which is it random or in order?
  • Original copy – By definition if it is a copy it cannot be the original.
  • Only Choice – If it is the only one it is not a choice.
  • Jumbo Shrimp – Enough said

I am clearly confused by all of these oxymorons.

James, although known to be quite practical in his writing starts out using a couple of oxymorons.

The first he uses is in the second verse, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” I am usually not saying, “Thank you for this traffic jam” or, “I am so glad I just stubbed my toe.” James is not saying that we will or should enjoy pain or difficulties. He is saying that as our faith is tested it becomes stronger, just like we do when we go to the gym.

Next he writes of Humble Pride. James 1:9-10 says,

9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away.

How can one in humble circumstances glory in his high position? The trick is we are not boasting or glorifying ourselves, but we are glorifying our God. Jesus tells us in Luke 10:42-45 that the one who wishes to become great must become least. As we serve others, we show that we are not focused on the desires of our flesh but instead we are caring for others. This shows true humility. After telling us that we are to be doing the word of God and not just hearing it James ends this chapter by telling us that pure and undefiled religion is to serve widows and orphans while keeping yourself unstained.

Sometimes when you do the right thing it may just confuse someone enough to cause them to ask why you did it. Let’s live in a way that inspires others to seek God and His Kingdom!

-Bill Dunn

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