Faithful

James 4:4-6 “You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud, but favors the humble.”

Ouch! This is a tough passage for today. It could be easy to take this in the negative and run with it. I have known many people who use a scripture like this to degrade another person.

One of the questions we have to ask is, “what does it mean to be a friend of God?” David was (and is) classified as a man after God’s own heart. Moses and Abraham were considered “friends of God.” This is showing that we do not have to have perfect lives to be considered a “friend of God.”

So what does this phrase mean? The New Interpreters Bible commentary says, “For the ancients, to be friends with another person meant to see things the same way, to share the same outlook.” I think this is important. There are times in our life where our actions does not match the words we say, but we can still be considered a “friend of God” because we come back to God and see the world through His eyes. Being transformed in the image of Christ should mean that we begin to develop the eyes and the heart of Jesus Christ for the world.

We will not always see things the exact same way. In fact, I am okay with people disagreeing with anything I say or write. This is a chance to develop relationships and learn where people are. One of the things that seems to get us in trouble is when we stick to one point of view and not even allow people the opportunity to express how they came to their understanding.

The Proverb quoted is Proverb 3:34. A better word instead of proud might be “arrogant.” Arrogant means, “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.” When we elevate ourselves above people, we are essentially devaluing them.

There are days this Proverb hits me right between the eyes. Those days, like today, I have to be careful. It could be easy to flat out say that I am right and you are wrong; but then where is the grace in that? I believe God wants us to have a humble, teachable spirit so we can be the people who allow Him to transform our lives to work with Him to transform the world.

It is the times when we believe, yet live a different standard than our faith says, that we are “unfaithful to God.” “You unfaithful people!” In other translations, the word “Adulterers!” is used. This is how serious the scriptures are showing God takes our relationship with Him. When we profess belief in Him and go another path, we are essentially “cheating” on Him with other ideologies and worldly living.

To be “friends with God,” is a way to show we are moving in His direction. Our lives point to Him. Even in the messed up parts of our life, we can still show people the grace that has been bestowed on us. Do we always get it right? No. But we can be humble and keep seeking to see life, the world and people as God sees them and have a heart that breaks when His heart breaks.

Lord, show us, through your eyes, the hurting and brokenness in this world so we can respond with grace and lead people to you. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Fresh and Salt

James 3:10-12 CEB “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. 

Blessing and cursing. We have been given this incredible gift from God called communication. We have the ability to speak to each other and praise God for all the many blessings we have been given. It is so easy to praise God, and sometimes other people. Many times it is easier to belittle or to speak negatively about another person, about God.

This image of a spring and fig tree is pretty cool to me. Jesus is described as the water of life. He is the life that flows through us. The fig tree has been illustrated in the bible to be the people of God (namely Israel). Jesus cursed a fig tree because it didn’t produce what he wanted from it.

So, here is a question we can think of today, “If we’re made in the image of God and we have the Spirit of God within us, what else should come out of our mouths except praise and words to build people up?” As I write these words, I am convicted. Just this week, I found myself silently judging people, the very people I would normally help and speak encouragement to if I’m in conversation with them. Had my thoughts been found out, any words I said would be completely void of meaning. I would have lost all credibility. I would not be able to reflect God to them because I allowed myself to be closed off to seeing God in them, or helping them reflect God in their lives.

Double talk interferes with our witness. When we bad mouth the opposing side, and say positive things about our side, how do people look at us? The point is that I could not show Christ if I did not see Christ’s potential in the other person. I cannot produce quality fruit in my life when I am praising God and degrading people. Thank You God for grace.

We have been given new opportunities each day to be like fresh water, something cool for the soul to allow God’s message to speak through us. We also have been given opportunities to stand out as a reflection for Christ in all we do. We can bring healing hope with our words or pour more salt on wounds.

Lord, You are praise worthy. Please continue to work in me to speak grace, mercy and hope to those I encounter. I pray people see your light through me. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Words From Creation

James 3:7-9 CEB “People can tame and already have tamed every kind of animal, bird, reptile, and fish. No one can tame the tongue, though. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness.”

Here, James is going back to our relationship with creation. From the beginning, God has charged humans with caring for and subduing the animals and life on this planet. We have been gifted with a great undertaking that cannot be taken lightly.

I do find it interesting that James is illustrating here that it is easier to take control of animals and wildlife; but for some reason, the tongue cannot be tamed. What do you think about this? I have known people that seem to control every word they say. But, are they controlling what they say or just refusing to say something? There is control that happens when we refuse to say what we’re thinking; but the words have already been formed in our minds.

What do you give more praise and admiration to on a daily basis? Animals or people? Animals are often easier to say nice things to or even about; and then we’ll talk nasty about their owners or about other people.

I love the how the first chapter of Genesis ends, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 NIV). The first things that God said to His creation was something to build it up. He said the same thing about people before the fall. After the fall, God was grieved, so he spoke through prophets, through animals (donkey), through creation itself (Romans 1:20). When God speaks, it is to redeem and to build faith and the people up. His motivation is to have all people come to a saving knowledge of Him.

The first words God spoke at your birth were, I think, “very good.” Even though we do not speak positively to people all the time, or even think nice thoughts about them, God still desires us to know Him and come to Him. This means we’ll listen for His voice and follow Him where ever He leads. God speaks to you and I words of conviction yet encouragement, challenge yet grace, mercy, hope, etc.

Listen for the voice of God today. See how He speaks to you and see how you and i can reflect the image of Christ to all we encounter from this day forward.

Gracious God, You spoke good things at my birth. I pray to hear from you today to be built up so I can go out and build others up as well. Amen.

Control

James 3:2-3 CEB “We all make mistakes often, but those who don’t make mistakes with their words have reached full maturity. Like a bridled horse, they can control themselves entirely. When we bridle horses and put bits in their mouths to lead them wherever we want, we can control their whole bodies.”

I love the illustration James uses here about horses being controlled with a small bit. Isn’t it amazing how just a small instrument can control the direction of a large animal like a horse. It seems as if something larger might be needed; but a bit in the mouth of a horse is enough to control the animal.

James is comparing the way horses are controlled with a bit to humans who control their tongue (what they say). He even says that those who can control their words have reached full maturity, perfection. Is this possible to attain? It is easy to think that all we have to do is watch what we say. But there is more.

When we bridle a horse, the way the horse thinks has drastically changed. The animal doesn’t need to fight instincts to do what the person wants. Instead it grows to trust the person and know direction will be examined. I believe the same is true for people. It is not as much as what we say, or what we don’t say. It is about how our faith guides us and directs our actions, words and thoughts. Our thoughts are what come out of our mouth.

Jesus said it is not what goes into a person that defiles him; but rather what comes out. So, the bridle we should allow God to use in our lives in not necessarily on our mouths, but in our minds. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “capture every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Our direction is driven by our minds on so many levels. If we can control our thoughts, then our words will not be an issue. If we can control our words, then we can live up to the high standard we speak about. If we control our actions, then people will see our faith and the grace of God at work and alive in us.

Is it possible to attain perfection? With the grace of God, anything is possible. Today, we have the challenge to control what we say by allowing God to “bit” our minds so our thoughts comes from a new and higher direction. What we say shows what we think. What we think is a product of how we are allowing the grace of God to move in and through our lives.

Lord, Guide me today. Help me think about what you think about. Help me love others and say what needs to be said out of love. Amen.

Live Out Loud

I love the lyrics to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song “Live Out Loud:”

Think about this
Try to keep a bird from singing after
it’s soared up in the sky
Give the sun a cloudless day and tell
it not to shine

Think about this
If we really have been given the gift
of life that will never end
And if we have been filled with living
hope, we’re gonna overflow
And if God’s love is burning in our
hearts, we’re gonna glow
There’s just no way to keep it in

Wake the neighbors
Get the word out
Come on, crank up the music, climb a mountain and shout
This is life we’ve been given, made to be lived out
So, la, la, la, la, live out loud

This is essentially what James is talking about in chapter 2 verses 14-17 today.

My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs?  In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.

How can we today, live our life “out loud?” This is not being obnoxious, nor is it being in people’s face; but rather showing how our faith has transformed our life to reflect the image of God placed in us.

Now, an easy way to do this would be to go and volunteer for an hour or so, open the door for another person, smile, do something nice our of the goodness of our heart. Showing our faith can be as easy as this, and much more. For us to live out loud, I believe it calls for us to do something even more, to go a step further. Yes, we help those in need; but we help in the name of Jesus Christ. This is so He gets the glory and people see we love them because Christ loves them. Anything we can do to point people to Christ, the better.

What are some things you can do that are easy to do? How can you go a step further to show you’re acting out of the faith that has been given to you? Would you be able to say something like, “I’m helping because I love you. I love you because Jesus loves you.”?

The book of James challenges us to live our faith more intentionally and more visibly so people are directed to the glory, the grace, the love of God through Jesus Christ.

Lord, Thank you for the gift to show your love today and for the opportunities to tell about your love. Holy Spirit, guide me each step of the way to direct people to Jesus Christ. Amen.

Will You Accept This Challenge?

James 2:12-13 CEB “In every way, then, speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment.”

We don’t have to go very far without seeing something negative. It is common to turn the television on and see people angry, see crime, see violence, and much more. When we hear stories of what’s going on, it is easy to formulate our own thoughts, our own opinions of what should be done and how people should respond. We become angry and convinced there is no safe place in the world.

All of the negative images and stories we hear on television, radio, internet can leave us wondering where grace or mercy is in the world. We say that God has shown us mercy and has given us grace; but how do we live into this incredible gift?

I have a challenge for each of us today, and for the rest of the week: (this goes for me too) Find a way to go out of our way and show someone mercy, extend grace to another person. 

Mercy and grace are both given freely and given to people who do not deserve it.

The dictionary defines mercy as, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”

Grace is defined as, “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”

Extending mercy and grace to another person who doesn’t deserve it will show our faith as active, as God working in and through us. We have the chance to step out of our comfort zone and respond in grace not anger, mercy not hatred.

We are all challenged each day to be a light reflecting the image of God to all we encounter. This will not be an easy challenge. There will be people who say mercy and grace can’t be extended to some people or in some situations. Pray and see how God leads. We will be tempted to extend grace and mercy on our terms or with conditions; but our challenge is to look beyond ourselves.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 “First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. This is right and it pleases God our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (Italics added)

Lord, you call us to live as salt and light. It is not easy to show grace and mercy to all people; yet you extend it to me daily. Help me live this way. Guide me and show me where people need to be met to come to know you. Amen.

Keeping Egos in Check

Hello Church!

The book of James may seem harsh or brash when first reading it; but there is so much grace offered. This grace allows us to live into freedom and keep us from thinking too highly of ourselves. This is the kind of love that is given to us so we can build up and strengthen the community around us.

James 2:8-11 CEB “You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself. But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it. The one who said, Don’t commit adultery, also said, Don’t commit murder. So if you don’t commit adultery but do commit murder, you are a lawbreaker.”

This is a passage we may want to break down verse by verse; but the first sentence shows how we can extend grace and live into it. The next verses give examples of how we might respond as humans which go against the “royal law”

Why would this be considered a “royal law?” It is because this is the law that trumps all other laws. If we commit adultery, then we’re not loving our spouse. If we commit murder then we’re not loving human life nor the family of the person murdered. We’re also not loving the Spirit of God in the other person and not living in the manner that God desires us to live.

It is easy to look at other people’s crimes and say they are a lawbreaker or a criminal and, at the same time, think we are perfect and not in the same boat as they are. The truth is that we all have lied, taken something not ours without permission, coveted another person’s materials or circumstances. So, in essence we are all lawbreakers of the law God established.

It is also easy for us to take Bible verses and passages out of context and make them fit our own viewpoint and opinions so we actually look like the better person. But God has something bigger and better in mind for us, to be a shining light for the world to be drawn to Him through our lives. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect; we just realize the gift of grace that has been given.

Romans 5:6-10 CEB “While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. So, now that we have been made righteous by his blood, we can be even more certain that we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life? And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.”

Praise God!

Lord, guide me today in my thoughts, words and deeds to reflect your light and love to this world. I will not be perfect today; but your grace is enough and makes me whole. Amen.