Devotional Life

James 1:26-27 CEB “If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.”

When I was preparing for the sermon last week, these verse really stuck with me. I felt like I needed to say so much in the sermon; but then I looked at the scripture again and felt the Spirit leading me to focus on these verses.

I’ll begin by asking the questions that I asked on Sunday in worship:

Who are the widows?

Who are the orphans?

A reason that I did not mention on Sunday these two groups of people are mentioned here is that they did not have any legal help. They were basically on their own. James is reminding his readers how important it is for Christians to stand up and help those who cannot help themselves.

Let’s add another layer to this. Who are the widows? A widow is a person who has lost a significant other in their life (i.e. spouse). So I would ask the question, “does a spouse have to die in order for someone to be a widow?” I don’t believe so. I believe there are also spiritual widows as well. Think of people who have lost a connection with their spouse. Think of spouses who have shut down and caused their wives (or husbands) to lose faith in them. Think of those who have been cut down or abused. These are also widows (in a spiritual, emotional sense) I believe we should look after as well.

Who are orphans? We know that orphans are children (or adults) who have lost their parents due to death. In some countries, children are considered orphans if their father has left them. Again, let’s add another layer to this. Does someone have to lose their parents physically to be considered and orphan? What about those who are spiritual orphans? There are many people who walk around who have both their parents but have lost a relationship with them for whatever reason. There are people who have lost “parents in the faith.” I believe there are many spiritual orphans out there as well.

James says that true devotion is taking care of the widows and orphans. We can also say that true devotion is caring for and about those God cares about (no matter life circumstances) and acting upon it. We constantly seek and work in opportunities to help people with physical needs so they can live; but also offer mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual help and guidance as well.

Our challenge as we continue in this journey is to all the Word of God to transform us. To be doers and not just hearers of the Word. To be the creations God is calling us to be.

I invite you to take time to read the entirety of chapter 1. Click here for the chapter in full context.

Lord, thank you for the chance to see the world through Your eyes. Break my heart for what breaks Yours and help me act and step out to live the life You have called me to live. I can do this with You. Amen.

NEXT WEEK we begin the journey in James 2:1-17 “What Matters Most?”

Stepping Out

Hello Church!

Before we began this five week series through the book of James, I wrote down a thought that I believe catches the heart of these messages: “Be who you say you are, yes!; but more importantly allow God to work in you to transform you to the person He created you to be.”

James 1:22-25 CEB “You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.”

The first verse we come to is a verse that I am sure everyone of us has heard many times. We must be the kind of people that don’t just learn and not do anything. We have to put our faith into practice. This seems very straight-forward and is easy to understand.

Another verse that comes to mind is Ecclesiastes 12:12 “studying too much wearies the body.” I used to tease high schoolers to give this verse to their teacher to say that they don’t need to give so much homework. They never did go to their teachers (I’m glad 🙂 ); but there is some truth to this verse that we can see through the lens of today’s passage.

If we only study, and don’t do anything about it, our studying has really been done in vain. Same thing with our faith. If we do not move to help those who need help, visit those who need to talk, giving or going where we need to go, then we have not let the words we learn for our faith to strengthen our bodies. If all we do is take time to study and not apply the message to our lives, we actually miss a grand part of life: being a vessel for the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts and lives of people around us. This is a great and joyful thing to do.

Then there are these verse about looking into a mirror and then forgetting what we see. Have you looked at a picture, turned away after a few seconds and remembered everything? No. There are times I am getting ready in the morning and I look into the mirror to brush my hair or shave and can forget if I did everything I needed to. Why is this? If the image has not seeped into our minds, and then our heart, we will easily and quickly forget what we saw. The same thing is true for our faith.

The works we do mimic what we really have faith and believe in. Our lives are a reflection of what we believe in. Simply learning new information does us no good unless we put it into practice, unless we teach another person.

This is why it is important to be doers of the word and not just hearers. If we look into the mirror and see God changing us through His Spirit and through His word, we are looking at His reflection and remembering what He says.

Today, I invite you to think about what areas you have had a difficult time doing in your faith journey. What are aspects of what you hear about faith that make this challenging?

If you’re ready to, I invite you to say YES to Christ. Allow Him to come into your life. Allow Him to guide you. See how much more you’ll be able to see much more by stepping out in faith.

Lord, today I say YES to you. Guide me to love the people you love and step out when you call me to. Amen.

The Right Reasons

Hello Church!

Today, I invite us to continue our look at James chapter 1 with a verse about humility.

James 1:21 CEB “Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.”

I love this quote from C.S. Lewis, “humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

We all know that we need to change and we have a desire to become better each day. What is our motivation for wanting to change? Are we trying to impress someone? Are we trying to improve our career? Are we trying to show others we’re better than they are?

Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and tax collector during their personal prayer time in Luke 18:9-14 (CEB)

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

We can look at this parable and know the pharisee was not showing humility and he was trying to show how much better he was than the tax collector. Jesus showed grace and compassion in his telling of the tax collector. The tax collector was humbly asking for forgiveness and grace, not even able to raise his eyes to look for God. He was not looking to justify himself but to ask God to show mercy. I view this as the tax collector trying to have his life changed by coming to grace and not seeking grace because of his actions and his life.

What is our motivation to change? I ask God daily to be the husband and father He would have me be so that my beautiful wife and kids will have everything they need; not just materially, but emotionally, spiritually, mentally, relationally. I pray I do not ask this so I can look good for other people; but that I am allowing the grace of God to flow through me and help me transform into His creation. Tears almost come to my eyes when I think about the ways I could have possibly fallen short throughout the day with them and with Christ; but we have been given new chances to seek Christ daily.

So we change, not because we want to appear better; but so that we can change for the better with the grace of God.There are many things we can change about ourselves; but if we’re not working to change with the right motivation, we are not humble enough.

People say they’ll go to rehab to help with their alcoholism, or drug addiction, or any other addiction they may have. There are many times, people go to rehab simply to appease the person who requests it. This is not how we are transformed because this is not done with humility.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

We are transformed through the grace of God and with His guidance. So, because of the grace of God, we can have removed from us the things that steer us away from Christ. The word of God is implanted on our hearts and helps keep our focus on Him. Our focus on the word reminds us who we are and that God is with us each day. We do not have to change to please people; we change by going to the Creator and allowing Him to work in us and through us to become the people He created.

God is not interested in you or I changing to try to please Him; I believe He is more interested in our relationship with Him. It is through our relationship with God through Jesus Christ that we can begin to change. The Holy Spirit in us, empowers us to be transformed into the new creations God makes.

If we allow it, the words of God can be planted, watered and nurtured in us so that we can be saved. Not necessarily saved for a future time period; but “saved” from ourselves and the chance to see and experience the Kingdom of God right here right now.

Lord, I need you today. Have mercy on me. I seek you. Guide me and change me to the new creation. My desire to to work with you. In the powerful name of Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.

Reaction Time

Hello church!

The book of James is a good one to challenge us to live deeper in our faith. The thought I believe we should take time to unpack during this worship series is, “Be who you say you are, yes!; but more importantly allow God to work through you to transform you into the person He created.” This is something that can challenge us since it has us go beyond our human desires and become something even more than we thought because we live out our faith deeper and become closer to God through Jesus Christ.

Today we continue looking in James chapter 1 and come to some verses I need to hear, and my guess is that there are others who need to read these verses as well.

James 1:19-20 CEB “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.”

Children are funny and incredible people. They go from happy to angry to throwing a tantrum faster than we adults can react to. We pray and work with children to learn to slow down and control their anger and emotions so they don’t hurt themselves or other people. Do we adults do this as well?

A couple days ago, I was in the store and found myself getting frustrated and upset because people kept cutting in front of me and I kept thinking “they need to think about other people and not try to only do what they want.” I think a similar thought happens in most people. We do not like it when people stop us, or slow us down from doing our tasks. We are busy people who do not like to be redirected.

What do we do with children? We attempt to redirect them in order to guide them to utilize their energy in an appropriate way. Is this something we can do as adults? I love the speed analogies used in these verses “quick,” and “slow.”

We should be fast in our reaction time to listen and observe the situation and what people are actually saying. We should be slow in our reaction time to speak because we may say something not helpful, something we might regret, something we can’t take back, something that doesn’t build the character of the person just tearing it down. Finally we should be slow to become angry.

We make brash decisions when we’re angry and lose our ability to see the entire picture. There are times when it is okay to become angry. Most of the time we become angry about trivial things. These verses are showing us that we should take the time to listen and observe so we can discern the appropriate thing to say (if needed) and so we do not act out of anger which could actually hurt the relationship.

What are some things that make you angry? Football team losing? Traffic? Long lines to check out at the store? Spouse not do the dishes? Children without food? Abuse? What makes you angry? Is it worth allowing that emotion to be fueled?

This is why we take time to observe and listen to the situation. Our reaction time of our emotions can help or hurt our witness to show people the grace of God. Everything we do is an opportunity to bring people to faith, and give a tangible witness to what we really believe.

I work on my reaction time daily. This is possible because the Holy Spirit is our counselor and guides us in our lives.

Lord God, you have given us the gift of faith. Help us to live righteously, in Your sight, so we can have our lives reflect Your glory, Your love, Your holiness. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Good & Perfect Gifts

Hello church!

Sunday, in worship, we began a new five week worship series going through the book of James. I believe this letter will challenge and encourage us in our walk with Jesus Christ and help us live our lives more faithfully.

There is always more than can be said in a Sunday sermon. These devotionals during the week will hopefully help us keep the Scripture and the message in our minds. If we allow it to, the Scripture can go into our hearts so the word given to us by God is implanted on our hearts and we can be transformed people who work with God to transform the world.

This series is called “Transformers” since that is what the Spirit of God does in us and works through us and we step out in faith to transform the world with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Martin Luther called James, “an eptistle of straw” because the letter appeared to ficus more on being justified by works and not faith. John Wesley, on the other hand, saw James as central to the Christian life because he saw it was showing how we can live out our faith so that our works match the faith we have been given.

James 1:17-18 CEB “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. He chose to give us birth by his true word, and here is the result: we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created.”

What is it you first hear when you read these verses? A child will most likely think of a material gift, something tangible. What about adults? I think it depends on the mindset and the character of the person. I have begun to think differently about “good and perfect gifts” the older I get.

My baby girl had a birthday recently and my wife and I celebrated it. We had the opportunity to go to the zoo and go to her favorite restaurant. My girl did not want a lot of people there, she seemed to want a simple birthday party. She did say she wanted a surprise birthday party and my wife reminded her “we don’t plan our own surprise parties because then it wouldn’t be a surprise.” So, she wanted a small birthday just with some family, and that’s what she got. It was an incredible day!

It also makes me chuckle to think about the times we would be in the store and want to walk down the toy aisle. Since her birthday was coming up quickly, she would point to every toy she wanted. I don’t think there was anything down the aisle she didn’t want. But, she was expressing some material items that she would play with and would help make her doll and toys collections complete. She was looking for the “perfect gifts.”

What about us as adults? What would really constitute a “good and perfect gift” for us? Lately, I have begun to thank God at the end of each day for the challenges, the frustrations, the times I lost patience, the times I was caught being arrogant and not understanding, and many more moments like this throughout the day. Could these be considered “good and perfect gifts?” I think so.

Without opportunities for us to experience a less than desirable feelings and emotions throughout the day, we would lose the chance for character development so we can learn to live more humbly. Even though I thank God for these difficult moments from the day, it doesn’t mean that I realized what was going on in the moment. Self-reflection is a good practice we should do at the end of the day, not to make us feel bad for our actions or thoughts or emotions, but to take the time to look back and see how God was with us throughout the day.

We have been given the gift of life so we can make a difference in the world. God allows us to go through situations to work in us so we can become stronger in our emotions, stronger in our character and be transformed into the person He created us to be.

Am I saying that the bad things that happen are from God, or that God causes them to happen? Not at all. I am saying we can view life as a gift with opportunities to become more because the Spirit of God is alive and active within us. In verses 13 and fourteen, James writes:

“No one who is tested should say, “God is tempting me!” This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them.”

We do have the ability to choose how we will live our lives. Unfortunately, some people take that freedom of choosing and impose their will on another person. These circumstances, I believe, do not come from God. If you have gone through something that another person did to you without your consent or desire, there is a perfect gift that is available to all people – Jesus Christ.

His is the gift that keeps on giving. He has promised never to leave or forsake us. He is with you and is with you through everything you go through. There is a counselor, the Holy Spirit, who walks with us each day. This is a “good and perfect gift,” because God, the Creator of the universe is with you and I each and every day.

God has and continues to choose you. His devotion to you is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. We may not be able to “feel” God present, but He is there and He has not and will not leave you.

I pray the message of God’s good character and the gift of Jesus Christ sinks in to you to be transformed so we can work with Christ to transform the world. 

Will you take time to accept the gift that God gave us and allow this gift to transform you?

“Be who you say you are, yes!; but more importantly, allow God to work in you to transform you into the person He created.”

December 13: Prepare (Advent Devotional 2014)

Matthew 1:20-25 As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”) When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

advent

How do you make decisions? Do you only look at the facts, or so you allow God the opportunity to speak to you? I tend to have quick reactions, but then I try to take time to think about and assess the situation from different angels.

Joseph was about to dismiss Mary from the marriage contract, but I imagine there was still something in his heart that was questioning the decision. This is where God had an opening to prepare Joseph for what was about to happen in the birth of Jesus. After he heard from God, he obeyed and was confident he had an encounter with an angel of God.

I hope we all take time to think and pray about our decisions. God is preparing each one of us for something bigger than ourselves and we should allow him the opportunity to speak, and then obey.

Joseph knew the community would probably not understand his decision or even stand behind him to give him support. But he knew God was there and in that event. May we know, believe and live like this too!

Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.