Suffering & Singing

James 5:13 “If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing.”

This week we are entering into the final week of our series on James. We’ll be focusing this week on prayer and it’s power.

“Are any of you suffering?” This is the first thing we come to is the idea of suffering. I find that we tend to over think suffering and try to make this as something really bad. This is one of the reasons, I believe, many people avoid praying because our “problems” or “issues” may not seem big enough to “bother” God with our “little lives.”

Suffering is defined as, “pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc. : physical, mental, or emotional pain sufferings : feelings of pain.” So, with this definition, we all suffer on some level.

One thing I would like to take care of first is reminding us that, no matter how small or insignificant we think our problems or issues are, God loves when we communicate our “sufferings.”

The Apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:6, “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.” Anything we go through or have on our minds or hearts, we can bring up to God and express our thoughts and our feelings. We don’t not have to be in a place where we think our problems are big enough for God. We have a God who wants us to bring to Him any and every part of our life.

Praying is a sense of release of the burdens we carry on our hearts. This means that we have a chance to experience joy. Through joy, we can sing our praises. Singing expresses joy in our hearts. This joy is then expressed throughout our actions and our relationships.

What is it you need to pray about today (big or small) to release it off your heart and allow God to fill your spirit with joy and happiness?

The best part is that it doesn’t require any special words or phrases. Simply talk with God as you would another person.

: pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc. : physical, mental, or emotional pain

sufferings : feelings of pain

God is Near

James 4:7-10 “Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Do you ever have those days where the scripture seems to beat you down? We can personalize scripture and, if we’re not careful, we’ll make it all about us and feel like it’s telling us what a bad person we are. Even throughout the Old Testament, I read grace. Specifically grace from God.

There is always hope. God has not abandoned. Jesus will not forsake. The Holy Spirit is with us and guiding us. This is where we are today with the passage. All week long, there have been times in the scripture (James 3:13-4:6) where it can seem like we have to have our lives perfect. Arrogance, pride, jealousy, selfish ambition, etc have all been talked about and discussed. I pray this is not where you are left, dwelling on any negative aspect you may view about yourself.

Today, we see something amazing. God is saying, “come near.” This doesn’t mean that God is far off and He is wanting us to go up to Him to be in His presence. God is already near to us. There are times when we feel like we are distant from God or that God is distant from us. God’s proximity to us is always the same. Our proximity to God is always the same. We will still feel distant because of a number of reasons: we know we sinned, how much sleep we got, how hungry we are, having a rough day or a rough week.

These are all reasons we feel distant from God, and I’m sure there are more. God says “come near.” When we realize He is already present among us, all we have to do is acknowledge His presence.

I invite you right now to pause, close your eyes, and thank God for His presence with you at this moment.

It is through these times when we realize we can still come close to God, even though we messed up, even though we feel low, that we can experience and live into the grace He gives. We have this opportunity to confess, repent, and allow God to purify us.

God will “lift you up.” I don’t take this to mean that He will automatically make everything better, or that He will wipe away consequences from our actions. He does make His presence known, and somehow gives us the strength and the power to endure the situation and allow Him to shine through us.

Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” What an incredible verse in scripture! The Apostle Paul is showing that he can handle and still live joyfully in every situation. He wasn’t saying that he can do anything he wants because Jesus said he could. Paul is saying that because of the power of Jesus Christ working through him, he is able to handle what comes his way.

I believe God does the same for you and for me. So, draw near to God, confess, repent, purify, humble yourself and see how God is working in you and through you.

We all need the power of Jesus Christ in our lives. It is through grace that we are able to be lifted up and brought to a place of knowing who and whose we are.

Lord God, you are close to us. Help us see you and experience your presence. We confess the ways We have gone against you….We pray for the strength to handle the situations in life and for your power and grace to shine through us. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

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.

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.