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.

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.

Careful Career

What do you do for a living? Do you feel like you are scrutinized for your job? Does your job directly affect the well being other people? The passage we begin this week in James talks about a profession that has many judges and criticizers. This is a profession that many people may think they are equipped to do, but may not realize the undertaking it involves.

James 3:1 CEB “My brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers, because we know that we teachers will be judged more strictly.”

Why should this profession be under this much scrutiny? Teachers are among the few people in the world who have to be able to talk to many different people all at once. Everything they say, write or do is under constant criticism. People want to make sure they are being taught and lead correctly, and in a manner that will be the most benefit for personal growth.

Teachers are those people who have to be the non-anxious presence when things are not going as we want them to. They have to be the people to help us see a different perspective. They have to help us grow intellectually, emotionally, relationally, even spiritually. This is a high calling that carries a lot of weight to it.

Who would want to have this much pressure, face this much criticism, endure this much human grief and growth? I believe this is a calling, that the Holy Spirit of God places within a teacher. This is a profession a person is drawn to. Not because they want glory or recognition; but because this is a way of life that gives fulfillment and joy for the person to be a mentor and leader in another person’s life to help them achieve their full God-given potential.

This week, begin a discussion on the power of our words. Teachers have the added responsibility to maintain the language of learning, the language of faith so it is carried on to the next generation.

This is a high calling that is not taken lightly. Praise God for all the teachers, in all fields (especially faith), who have answered YES to this calling in their lives.

On some level, everyone of us is a teacher and mentor to another person.

Lord, you have tasked us with teachers and leaders to help us grow in our faith and become the people you have called us to be. Thank you for those who have been there for me. Thank you for the opportunity to teach and be an example to another person.

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.