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.

Conflicts & Consequenses

James 4:1-3 “What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.”

Today we are looking at the consequences of our actions. Many of us may not take these attitudes to the extreme that is mentioned here; but maybe we do and don’t pay much attention to it.

This is not meant to convict and try to coerce anyone to change out of guilt. This is more meant for us to look at our lives objectively. From the beginning, we have said our purpose is to challenge us to draw us closer to Christ and encourage us to live our lives according to Him.

As we live, there are emotions and attitudes that come up. Every action has a reaction. Every attitude has a consequence.

So, we start with conflicts that arise. Why do we have conflicts? There are many reasons and many opinions that people give. Some legit and some just plain silly if we look at them closely. The heart of the matter is we are conflicted with people for many reasons. Most of the reasons is they conflict with our personal desires.

This doesn’t mean that all of our desires are bad. People are in conflict with others because of the good work that God is doing in them and through them. We have the desire for people to know and believe in the God who created them; yet we come into conflict.

Looking at this from a simply wordly perspective, we can see there are serious consequences to certain attitudes, mindsets and behaviors if not checked. My guess would be that there are people reading this who would say, “I have never murdered anyone.” I invite us to closely read Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5. This shows us that whenever we think about harm coming to another person, or how another person makes us feel in a way that our spouse doesn’t, this is really just one step away from completing the “task”.

Throughout James, we have been examining that what comes into our mind is powerful and can lead us to do things we never intended. This even happens in our prayer life. How many times have we wanted something for our own use, our own cravings or selfish reasons? This can be on so many levels. James reminds us that we don’t get what we want, especially in times of selfishness.

I am so grateful for my wife. She is incredible and we are there for each other. As we live this life together, we are good sounding boards for each other. It is easy to slip into thinking solely about our own personal desires and wants; but we communicate with each other and we can grow our relationship and being open with each other. This doesn’t mean that we get it perfect every time; but praying for her and telling her what is on my heart and mind is how I can grow closer to her. She does the same thing with me.

How will we live today? For us? or for God’s purposes?

God, we come to you today to hear from you. We ask you to pour into us your Spirit, the Spirit that gives life and walks with us to be in line with Your will for our lives. In Christ’s name we pray, 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.

Small; Yet Powerful

James 3:4-6 CEB “Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. In the same way, even though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts wildly. Think about this: A small flame can set a whole forest on fire. The tongue is a small flame of fire, a world of evil at work in us. It contaminates our entire lives. Because of it, the circle of life is set on fire. The tongue itself is set on fire by the flames of hell.”

This is definitely something to consider. Our words may seem small; but they have a huge impact. For this reason, the tongue is described as something that’s evil and flame of fire. What we say makes a difference, positive or negative, in another person’s life.

We often don’t really think about what we’re saying. We’ll just say something because “that’s what the person needed to hear.” Isn’t it amazing how our seemingly small words can actually change the course of someone’s life? There is great power in our words. This is a reason, I believe, we see admonitions against saying anything that doesn’t point to God. (Proverbs 8:13 ,2 Corinthians 8:7, 1 Timothy 4:12, Ephesians 4:29, Titus 3:2-3, 1 Peter 3:10, and more).

What comes out of our mouth shows our character, more often than not. James’ letter is cut and dry in several places, including this one. He is also being inclusive of everyone, including himself. The human tongue (which helps us form words for speaking) is a very powerful muscle on it’s own. Add the power of communicating and we have a weapon more powerful than any human weapon.

The Talmud describes the tongue as something so dangerous that it has to be kept hidden behind two barriers (teeth and mouth). Our words have tremendous power and guide us in many ways. The words that we speak come from our mind. The tongue is dangerous because it can tear a person down or build them up.

Our challenge today is to continue looking at how we speak to people. This means that we do even more than simply watching what we say. We actually pay attention to what we think about other people. When we pay attention to our thoughts, we don’t have to think so much about what we’re going to say because we’ll speak, think and act out of true love for God and for other people.

James is challenging; but this can be accomplished with the Holy Spirit of God working in us and through us.

Lord, Thank you for the incredible gift of speaking. Show me where I can be more loving in my words, thoughts and actions so I can better reflect you to the world. 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.