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.

Beneath the Surface

James 2:5-7 CEB “My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?”

We all want to be around “rich” people, right? Why is this? Is it for their benefit? for our benefit? Do we place people on a pedestal simply because they have money or wealth?

Here, James is giving an unfavorable viewpoint on rich people. There are wonderful people who are wealthy. There are people who are wealthy that are not worth our time because of their character. It is not wise to simply look more favorably on a person simply because of their financial position.

James reminds us of the special concern that God has for those people who do not have many material possessions, those who are poor. All throughout scripture, God is telling the people to take care, and how to take care of the poor in their community. God was making sure the community did not turn a blind eye to those in need. Our verse focus today reminds us “God has chosen those who are poor by world standards to be rich in terms of faith.”

This is giving us another example of God looking to the person’s heart instead of appearance. Also, this is how we should be living our lives: caring for those who are in need. James is writing to make sure the community of faith is living out their faith in all they do. James is connecting the beatitudes in Matthew chapter five to practical living.

Feel blessed by God even if you do not have an abundance of material possessions. God has given the gift of faith and this makes you and I rich. This is true wealth we can give each and everyday that never runs out.

Lord, you have given us so much. Thank you for the gift of faith. Help us look beneath the surface and look to the person’s heart instead of material possessions. Amen.

Favortism

We have now begun our second week in our look into the book of James. This week, we look at verses that, on the surface, seem harsh; but in reality help us see an alternative way of living and thinking so we can truly live in freedom: freedom to love, freedom to serve, freedom to share God’s grace.

James 2:1-4 CEB “My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges? 

Our devotional time this week begins with favoritism. Who would you consider to be a favorite person to you? Who are your favorite people? If we look at it closely, our favorite people really fall into three categories: people who are just like us, people we aspire to be like/imitate, people who can do stuff for us. I believe it is okay to be drawn to people, especially when they help us draw closer to Christ.

We have favorite places to eat, favorite destinations, favorite times of year, favorite Bible verses. Since we have favorites, this also means that we have least favorite things or people we encounter. James warns us not to treat people better than others. Why should we not have “favorite” people or types of people?

I remember when I was younger, I had a desire to want to be part of some groups. But for some reason, I did not feel like I was part of the group. I wanted to bad to be part of their inner circle because I thought it would help be be a cooler and more interesting person. I was looking for favor from people and being drawn to those who I thought would have the best influence over my life and help me become a happier person by becoming more popular.

The flip side of being someone’s favorite is that, to some people, we are their least favorite. This does not feel good emotionally, and we can place our faith in people which means we forget who we are in Christ.

Instead of looking for qualities or certain personalities that we would want; what would it look like to be around the kind of people that God is calling us to? This means we’ll hang out with and be present (physically, mentally, emotionally) with those whom Jesus would. We’ll help people see that God created them and looks at them as a favorite. We get to extend God’s grace to all people we encounter.

Our challenge today is to talk with another person we may not consider as a favorite and help them see God’s grace in them.

Lord, you have created us and chosen us. Help us to be the people to shine with you and help others experience your love and grace. Amen.

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.