Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Turn Back to Truth (James 5:19-20)

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
(James 5:19-20, NASB)

We’re told, “Do not judge and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37). We’re told to “esteem others better than ourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

And indeed we should not judge others. It is God’s place and His right to judge the actions of us human beings.

However, we who follow Christ should be willing and able to help guide fellow believers back to faith. While we shouldn’t judge them and the choices they’ve made, we can help them to see where they’ve strayed and share truth with them.

And we can remind them of God’s love for them. We can share verses like 1 John 1:9 that assure them of forgiveness.

God loves each of us, and He dearly loves prodigals—and welcomes them back with open arms. I know this from experience. I spent a very long time as a prodigal daughter, but praise God, I finally made my way back to Him. As I wrote in Crooked Paths:
For the first time, I could picture that father standing in the road, just waiting for his son to return. It didn’t matter where the son had gone or what he’d done, the father loved him still. It didn’t matter that the son had squandered his inheritance or that he’d lived an immoral lifestyle, the father waited with unconditionally opened arms. That’s the picture I had that evening and the picture I have now: my heavenly Father standing in the road with His arms open wide, just waiting for me to come home, waiting to embrace me with all the love He has for me. (Crooked Paths © 2005 Sauni Rinehart)
If you know someone who’s strayed from the truth, someone who’s a prodigal, walk alongside her. Help her find her way back to the arms of the Father.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Effective Prayer (James 5:16-18)

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
(James 5:16-18, NASB)

I have to be honest. I don’t really understand how prayer works. God knows everything. There is nothing that is outside of His sight. He could do anything without our intercession.

So why do we pray? Why does James insist that the “effective prayer of a righteous man [or woman] can accomplish much”?

Because, somehow in God’s plan, prayer does change things.

Paul wrote on more than one occasion that prayer isn’t an option. We are to “pray without ceasing … for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:17-18). And he told Timothy, “I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands …” (1 Tim. 2:8).

As I’ve mentioned before, for reasons beyond my comprehension, God loves to hear our voices raised to Him in prayer. In fact, as I wrote yesterday, He delights in hearing our voices (Prov. 15:8).

When we pray with sincere and open hearts, God listens. And He answers. Every time. We just have to remember that His answers aren’t always what we’re hoping for. You’ve heard this before, I’m sure, that sometimes He answers, “Yes.” Sometimes, however, His answer is “no.” And then there’s the answer I don’t really love … “wait.” But He always answers.

So pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray for your needs and for the needs of others—within His will. Be ready to accept His answer, no matter what that answer might be.

Because your effective prayer can accomplish much.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Prayer and Praise (James 5:13-15)

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
(James 5:13-15, NASB)

I think most of us would agree with the first part of today’s verses. We can pray when we’re suffering. We can praise when we’re cheerful.
We have an amazing privilege as children of God. We can talk to Him. Doesn’t that amaze you? The Sovereign Creator, the Lord of all, our heavenly Father, wants to hear our voices. That just astounds me. Who in the world am I that God would want to hear my words? I don’t understand it, but I’m grateful beyond words. Just listen to your Father: "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3). (excerpted from The Best Laid Plans © 2005 Sauni Rinehart)
Yes, we can speak to God when we’re hurting, when we’re confused, when we’re celebrating. And He listens.

Not only does He listen, but He delights in hearing our voices. Proverbs 15:8 tells us that “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight.”

But then James also tells us that when we’re sick, we can call on the elders to pray over us and anoint us with oil, and we’ll be restored. And indeed that sometimes happens. We have to remember, however, that all prayer must be said with the sincere request for God’s will. Just as Jesus prayed in the garden (Luke 22:42). Sometimes, beyond our understanding, God's will is not to heal here on earth. Sometimes, His answer is to give us strength to endure the pain. And sometimes, His will is what I call eternal healing ... the privilege of entering His presence.

Prayer is indeed a privilege and something we should never take for granted.
God wants to hear our prayers. He desires to give us joy. He longs to provide for us. But He also knows what’s best for us. Again, He knows the plan He has for us. All we need to do is ask for His will and trust in that will. And He will answer. (excerpted from The Best Laid Plans © 2005 Sauni Rinehart)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Let Your Yes Be Yes (James 5:12)

But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.
(James 5:12, NASB)

This is one of those verses of which I’m rather unsure, so I visited a couple of commentaries.

The Adam Clarke Commentary offered some illumination: Apparently, the Jews were “notoriously guilty of common swearing ... allowed on all hands; and that swearing by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, the temple, the altar, different parts of the body, was not considered by them as binding oaths, has been sufficiently proved.”

So instead of swearing by something, just do what you say you’re going to do.

Don’t say “yes” and then turn around and do “no.” To do so would be hypocritical (a couple of the commentaries I read said that “judgment” could be translated as “hypocrisy”).

How many times have you said you're going to do something, and did the opposite? Or how often have you promised not to do something and done it anyway?

Be true to your word. And be true to yourself.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Blessing of Endurance (James 5:9-11)

Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
(James 5:9-11, NASB)

Endurance.

Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially : the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.” James refers to Job, who is certainly an example of one who withstood hardship or adversity.

And he received God’s blessings after he endured (Job 42:10-13).

Many of us have had our own “Job moments.” Perhaps you’ve lost a child. Or a home. Or your health. You’ve experienced tragedy and hardship and suffering. Maybe you are still.

And too often, instead of enduring, we try to cover up our pain through alcohol or drugs or rejection of God.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that I covered my own suffering through the latter. I turned my back on God whom I blamed for allowing sexual abuse and emotional pain. I didn’t endure.

After I made my way back to God and recognized His compassion and mercy, I experienced new suffering—I continue to suffer today.

But now I’ve learned to endure because I know God is compassionate and merciful. I know He loves me through the pain. I know He gives me strength through my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). I know I can crawl on His lap and cry out to my Abba.

And one day, after I’ve endured all this world throws at me, I will stand pain-free in the presence of my Lord God (Rev. 21:4). And I pray He’ll smile at me and say, “Well done, my daughter. Well done.” (See Matt. 25:14-30.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Be Patient for Christ's Return (James 5:7-8)

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
(James 5:7-8, NASB)

Like many of you, patience is one of the “fruit of the Spirit” that I struggle with the most. Fortunately, the older I get, the easier it is to wait.

But the one thing that I feel really impatient about? Christ’s return.

I really can’t wait … although I know I must.

When I went through Philippians not too long ago, I talked a lot about this when I came to verses 21 and 23 in chapter 1. I believe with all I am that being with Christ is far better than being here on earth.

This earth and all it holds is nothing compared to being in the very presence of my Lord and Savior. Being free from this pain-filled body. Being free from wars and rumors of wars. Being free from natural disasters that maim and destroy.

So, I read words like these from James that I’m to be “patient … until the coming of the Lord,” and I think, "I don't want to wait." But I know he’s right. My impatience isn't going to hasten Christ's return.

I must patiently wait.

But James reminds me of something else I can do as I wait. I can strengthen my heart. I can grow more like Christ as I study and meditate on the word of God. I can spend time in prayer seeking the Father’s will. I can share the truth of the gospel.

And I can be assured that the “coming of the Lord is near” … nearer than it has ever been.

Oh, Lord Jesus, come quickly! But I’ll patiently wait for You and strengthen my heart as I wait.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Perils of Riches (James 5:1-6)

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you. (James 5:1-6, NASB)

Our society seems to revere the rich and famous. We read about their escapades in the latest tabloid. We stand in awe of their homes, cars, and jewels. Even “mainstream” media seems obsessed with them. I can’t count how often the early morning news program I watch focuses on some celebrity’s multi-million dollar wedding or some star’s latest brush with the law.

Some day, however, all the houses, cars, and jewels will mean nothing. The exotic vacations. The wild parties.

None of it will matter.

When Jesus Christ returns to set up the new heaven and the new earth, this world and all that’s in it will be no more. (See Revelation 21:1.)

The only thing that will matter then is whether or not a person has put her faith in Christ. Riches themselves aren't really the issue. Commitment to Christ is. God doesn’t condemn riches. But if you’ve been blessed with money, use what you’ve been blessed with to serve others. Provide for the “least of these” (Matthew 25:35-40).

Don’t live wantonly, focusing only on your money and what it can do for you. Don’t risk the “upcoming misery” of eternity separated from God … because you’ll also be separated from your riches.

You really can’t take it with you.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Plan Within God's Will (James 4:13-17)

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.
(James 4:13-17, NASB)

I have an entire weekend retreat talk centered around knowing God’s plan for our lives. I do believe God will reveal His plan—sometimes. Yet I do believe He expects us to do a bit of planning ourselves.

It’s a fine balance. Trusting God and planning our futures.

I’m a big-time planner. I like to know what I need to do and where I need to be—often months ahead. But I do my planning with a major caveat: I pray for God’s will in all things.

In my book, The Best Laid Plans, I quoted Bill Russell:
Any plan has to be submitted with the qualifier, “Lord willing.” Still, although God may alter any plan through dramatic circumstance or counsel, Jesus said, “No man builds a tower without first sitting down and calculating the cost” (Luke 14:28). While we realize that God is in control, he does expect us to make provisions for the future (When God Builds a Church © 2000, p. 89).
We know this. We know we should say, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”

But have you ever thought that when you don’t ask for God’s will—sincerely ask for it—you’re being arrogant? Even more, you’re sinning?

When you commit your life to the Lord, you’ve given Him back what’s already His. Plan your life. But put everything in God’s loving hand. Ask Him to do His will in all things. And trust that His plan is perfect for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Don't Judge (James 4:11-12)

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?
(James 4:11-12, NASB)

We are told in these verses and others in God’s word that we are not to judge others. It is not our job. Yet how often do we point fingers at others? We judge their behavior. We judge their choices.

But the Bible makes it clear: We are not to judge others.

That’s God’s job.

“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy …” God and He alone has the right to judge because He and He alone is holy and righteous. He is perfect and without sin.

We are not—definitely not—holy and righteous. Oh no. We are sinful and fleshly. We should be focused on cleaning up our own acts rather than telling others how they should clean up their own.

So next time you’re tempted to judge someone else, let it go. Let the Judge of all of us do His job. And you do your job of becoming more like Christ.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Christian Living (James 4:7-10)

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.
(James 4:7-10, NASB)

James gives us a check list of things we should do as Christ-followers. We should:

Submit to God. This means giving everything we are and everything we have to Him. Every day. It all belongs to Him anyway, but sometimes we hold back a little. A habit. A desire. A relationship. Give it all to Him.

Resist the devil.
Don’t just hope he’ll go away. Resist him. Combat his wiles with scripture. Defy his presence.

Draw near to God. Seek Him constantly. Pray. Read His word. Ask Him to reveal His will.

Cleanse your hands and purify your heart. Figuratively cleanse yourself of all sin by confessing everything that takes your mind and heart off of God.

Be miserable … Okay, I kind of hit a roadblock with this one. Everything up to this I totally understand. But we’re to be miserable and mourn and weep? Why? So I went to one of my trusted commentaries. According to the Adam Clarke Commentary,
“… many of those to whom St. James addressed this epistle had lived a very irregular and dissolute life. He had already spoken of their lust, and pleasures, and he had called them adulterers and adulteresses; and perhaps they were so in the grossest sense of the words. He speaks here of their laughter and their joy; and all the terms taken together show that a dissolute life is intended.”
In other words, if you’re living in the joy and laughter of sin, you need to feel the misery and sadness of your sin, and you need to repent.

And finally, humble yourself. God exalts (other translations say “lifts up”) the humble—the truly humble in heart. It’s not necessarily that He’ll give you all the desires of your heart or lift you to a place of prominent. Rather, He’ll lift you from the depths of your sin and cloth you in pure garments.

Are there any of these you need to work on? Pray for God to work through you to be more like Christ.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cheating God (James 4:4-6)

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”
(James 4:4-6, NASB)

James has been writing about how the tongue can destroy and how conflict between believers can harm and how we don’t receive answers to prayer because of wrong motives.

Now he really lays it on the line.

He accuses those of us who have “friendship with the world” as adulteresses. And rightfully so. The church, the body of Christ, is described as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17). And what do we call a bride who cheats on her bridegroom?

So if we cheat on the Lord by being friends with the world, we are rightly called adulteresses. We are enemies of God.

Wow.

I don’t know about you, but that thought makes me cringe. I in no way want to be God’s enemy. But I see myself often spending too much time watching TV shows that don’t honor God or reading books that don’t nurture my faith. Time that I should be spending with my Bridegroom.

But there is hope. God’s grace. If we humble ourselves and come to Him, surrendering our lives to Him, He showers us with His grace. He forgives our sins. And He invites us to one day attend the marriage feast.

When you one day stand before God’s throne, whose friend do you want to be?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Asking With Right Motives (James 4:1-3)

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
(James 4:1-3, NASB)

We truly are fleshly, fallen creatures, and James perfectly captures the state of our hearts. We want what we want. And many of us do pretty much anything in order to get what we want.

Not too long ago I read an article written by a “ghostwriter.” Most people know that a ghostwriter writes another person’s story and that other person gets the credit. This particular person gets paid by graduate students to write their papers for them. They then turn them in to get credit. Sad, isn’t it? But what was really tragic? Many of his “customers” are seminary students …

Truly sad …

Then those of us who selfishly seek what we want complain when God doesn’t answer our prayers. Perhaps we should memorize verse three of today’s passage. We don’t receive answers to our prayers because we’re asking with “wrong motives.” Instead of praying for God’s will, no matter what that might be, we pray for our will.

We want a better-paying job, not so we can better support our families or give more to God’s word, but so we can buy a bigger house, a luxury car, and a summer cottage.

We pray for a change of heart in our spouse, instead of praying for a change in our own hearts.

God does answer prayer. Always. But He knows our motives. He knows our selfishness. And He’s going to say “no” when what we’re asking for isn’t within His will.

When you pray today, ask Him for whatever you want. However, make sure you’re asking with right motives. And make sure you’re asking for His will—over and above your wants.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Godly Wisdom (James 3:14-18)

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
(James 3:14-18, NASB)

The world has wisdom of its own. It is a wisdom that says, “I know everything and am in total control. Therefore, I don’t need a god.” The worldly wise are selfish, looking out only for themselves.

That’s not the wisdom the Bible talks about. Godly wisdom is selfless. Those of us who follow Christ and seek the Father’s will grow to know our triune God more intimately through His word.

We learn about loving our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). We learn about godly humility and meekness (Matthew 23:12; Philippians 2:5-9). We learn about taking up our cross (Luke 14:27). We learn about the fruit of the Spirit manifested in each of us (Galatians 5:22-23).

That wisdom is so very different than the “intellect” the world sees as wisdom. It has nothing to do with book knowledge or degrees or facts. It has everything to do with a pure heart.

How wise are you? Are you so busy trying to attain worldly wisdom that you neglect to seek wisdom that will last through eternity?

Seek God’s wisdom, a wisdom that is pure and gentle and merciful. A wisdom that loves and serves both God and those around you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Gentleness of Wisdom (James 3:13)

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
(James 3:13, NASB)

I usually feel far from “wise and understanding.” As I continue growing in my faith and learn more about who God is, I realize how little I really know.

But I do realize this: True wisdom equals humility. It equals gentleness. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.”

And how do we gain wisdom? First, we need to know and honor the one true God: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Then we need to spend time in His word.

God gave us a written document through which He teaches, exhorts, admonishes, convicts, encourages … When I speak I often say that He didn’t have to give us His word. He could have just let us “wing it.” However, He loves us so much, He inspired writers over centuries to put to paper what He wants us to know about the history of His people, about what lies ahead of us, and how He wants us to live. Most importantly, He gave us exactly what we need to know to find salvation and how to live in relationship with Him.

That’s how we acquire wisdom. And when we come to know Him more through His word, when we realize how much He’s done for us, we serve Him with gratitude and humility.

And the gentleness and humility others see in us may very well attract them and lead them to the Giver of wisdom.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taming the Tongue (James 3:5b-12)

See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.
(James 3:5b-12, NASB)

As I was beginning to write today’s devotional, I really struggled with what to say. Even after I prayed and started several times, I kept hitting the delete button.

I feel very strongly about the fact that many Christians “bless our Lord and Father, and … curse men” with the very same tongue. “… from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing.” I so agree with James when he writes, “… these things ought not to be this way.”

Things as seemingly simple as writing “OMG” on a Facebook page are so not right … And the proliferation of vulgarities …

I know I sound old-fashioned, but when did it become okay to use really vulgar words in everyday language? What makes us different from everyone else when we’re using the same curses they do?

I think the problem is these words have become part of the world’s lexicon. You hear and read them everywhere.

But think about it. Jesus is with you all the time. He hears your words and knows your thoughts. What would He want to hear?

Think about it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Avoid Stumbling (James 2:1-5a)

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well. Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.
(James 3:1-5a, NASB)

“… we all stumble in many ways.” Isn’t that the truth?

None of us is able to “bridle the whole body.” None of us is perfect. We will stumble.

The question is, what do we do when we stumble? Do we throw our hands up in defeat and continue in our sin? Do we figure we’ve failed so badly there’s no hope?

If you have never accepted the gift of salvation of your sins, all you need to do is confess your need for salvation and submit your life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then find a Bible-teaching church. Get a Bible and read it every day. Pray for guidance and help from the Holy Spirit.

But if you’re already a Christ-follower, don’t ever give up. Know that you will stumble, but the more you grow in your faith, the more you become like Christ, the less you’ll stumble. And when you do, confess your failings and commit to avoiding that sin in the future. Keep away from anything that might make you stumble—that means you may have to give up certain friends or seeing certain movies or going certain places.

Because, yes, you may stumble. But you have choices to make that might keep you from stumbling again.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Example of Faith and Works (James 2:24)

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
(James 2:24, NASB)

Rahab is an unlikely example of faith. She was, indeed, a harlot, a prostitute. For reasons we’ll never know, she made her living by giving her body away.

But God redeems those who seek Him.

Rahab lived in Jericho, a city that God had promised to His people. But the city was surrounded by high walls, and God’s people needed to see more of the city. So two spies snuck into the city and found shelter with Rahab. And this woman—who was not a member of God’s chosen people—hid the spies and saved their lives.

Somehow, though, she knew of their God:
“I know that the LORD has given you the land … Now therefore, please swear to me by the LORD, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death” (Joshua 2:9, 12-13).
She knew this God whom she didn’t serve was the one true God. And she knew He could save and protect His people—and those who helped His people.

She had faith, and she demonstrated that faith through her actions.

And Rabab—that unlikely example of faith—became the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth. And is in the line to Joseph … the earthly father of Jesus.

When we claim to have faith, our heart’s desire should be to show that faith through serving others. And when people see faith in action, they’ll be attracted to the One in whom we’ve placed our faith.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

More Than Belief (James 2:18-23)

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.
(James 2:18-23, NASB)

Countless people say they believe in God, and because of that belief, they feel they’re headed to heaven. But James makes a chilling assertion here: “… the demons also believe, and shudder.” Satan and his minions certainly believe that God exists, but if you’ve read Revelations, you know their fate (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 15).

Again, as we saw yesterday, faith—true faith—demonstrates itself in more than just lip-service. True faith shows itself through works of service, works of obedience.

Then James gives us a marvelous illustration of amazing obedience. Every time I read about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, I’m humbled. He was so willing to do anything God asked him to do, trusting that his Jehovah would work everything out for good.

And because of his obedience, Abraham was called a “friend of God.”

Isn’t that what your heart desires? To be a friend of God?

Believe in Him, certainly. But don’t stop there. Commit your life to Him. Submit everything to Him. Obey His every command. Seek His will. And serve Him by doing what He asks.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Faith vs. Works (James 2:14-17)

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
(James 2:14-17, NASB)

The next couple of days are going to cover some rather controversial verses.

James makes quite an argument about faith vs. works, and some say he contradicts other passages that speak to our being saved by faith in Jesus Christ (See Romans 3:21-28; 5:1-3; Eph. 2:8-9.) Salvation does come through faith in Jesus Christ and the belief and acceptance of His death, burial, and resurrection.

But James adds a dimension: The person who has true faith in Jesus, who has committed himself to Him, demonstrates that faith through service. Just as Jesus Himself served.

This means taking action against those who exploit others. I have friends who are active in the fight against sex trafficking. They are the hands and feet of Jesus as they go into the bowels of some cities to serve those forced into prostitution.

This also mean serving the “least of these” (Matt.25:34-46). Helping out at a soup kitchen. Volunteering at a local prison. Giving to organizations that provide food and shelter for the disenfranchised.

I believe a person is saved through faith. Forgiveness of sins and promise of eternal life comes through faith in Jesus Christ. But if she stops there, her faith doesn’t grow. If she’s not demonstrating her faith through service, her faith can become stagnant.

Don’t let your faith “die.” Go out and do something. Let the world see Jesus Christ through what you do to serve others.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

God's Mercy (James 2:8-13)

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
(James 2:8-13, NASB)

Many belief systems or religions believe that if your good outweighs your bad, you’ll get to heaven or some kind of an eternal realm of peace or nirvana. What that percentage of good over bad no one quite knows.

The Bible tells us something very different. "All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory" (Rom. 3:23). "There is none righteous" (Romans 3:10). Or as James puts it, if we “stumble in one point, we have become guilty of all.” And each of us has stumbled … at least once.

We are all deserving of judgment, and if it were up to us, we wouldn’t get anywhere near heaven. But God is merciful. He, through His love and grace, offers freedom from our sin. He offers liberty. He offers forgiveness. To everyone.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 3:16). “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

We are sinners. We do deserve judgment. We do deserve eternal separation from our God. We don’t deserve mercy. We don’t deserve grace.

But when we accept God’s gift of salvation, we don’t receive judgment or eternal separation from God. Instead, we receive His mercy and grace.

What an amazing God we serve!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Don't Play Favorites (James 2:1-7)

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
(James 2:1-7, NASB)

In God’s eyes, everyone is equal. Gender. Age. Cultural background. Wealth. He doesn’t care about any of that. He just cares about the heart.

But us? Not so much.

We look at the outside. We admire the beautiful. The young. We want to be around those who are like us.

And we especially hold those with all the “stuff” in high esteem. For some reason, we think those with lots of money are somehow more important. We’d rather hang out with the rich and famous than spend time in the soup kitchen.

But think about it. Where do you often find the most faithful? In the palaces? No, you find them in the slums. Friends of mine who have had the privilege of going on short or long term missions to “third world” countries have told stories of the generosity of the “least of these.” And of their love for Jesus. They live with nothing, but they praise the name of their Lord and Savior.

These are the people we should hold in highest esteem. These are the people whose faith we should emulate.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Worthy Religion (James 1:26-27)

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
(James 1:26-27, NASB)

Statistics would tell us that there are many, many “religious” people in our world. They are “spiritual.” They believe in a “higher power.” Some even call themselves Christians.

I can’t speak to those of other religions or belief systems. But I can speak to those who call themselves Christians yet don’t live anything like Christ. With their words and actions, they show hate and intolerance and anger. They put down others. They despise the sin and the sinner.

Tragically, this is often all the world sees of so-called Christians. And indeed Christianity that is not like Christ is “worthless.”

You know what kind of behavior attracts the world? That makes them look at our religion as worthy rather than worthless? When we act as Christ did. When we serve others. When we speak love. When we “visit orphans and widows in their distress.”

St. Francis of Assisi said, "The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.”

What sermon will you give today?

Monday, August 08, 2011

Doers ... Not Just Hearers (James 1:21-25)

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
(James 1:21-25, NASB)

How many of us are guilty of being “hearers” but not “doers”? How many of us go to church on Sunday, listen to a wonderful message about being the light of Christ, and then just go about our weeks? Or a podcast about serving the less fortunate, and ignore the needs of those around us? Or read a passage about helping the widow and orphan, and hope someone else does the work?

You can’t see me, but my hand is raised …

I do try to live those “greatest commandments”: Love the Lord, heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love others. I truly try to show love, kindness, patience, and gentleness. I want to “judge not.”

But I know I could do more to serve others as Christ did. I could figuratively (or perhaps literally) wash the feet of those around me. It’s funny, but I was thinking about this very thing this weekend. What in my own community could I be doing to help the “least of these”? I know there are prisons and shelters within just a few miles of where I live.

What more could I do? What more could you do?

Let’s be doers of God’s word. Let’s shine Christ’s light and be so sincerely caring of those around us that they’ll be attracted to our Lord

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Words to Live By (James 1:19-20)

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
(James 1:19-20, NASB)

Oh, if we could only live by these words. If we would listen more and speak less. If we would take time to think before reacting … what a difference it would make.

I used to facilitate Seven Habits for Highly Effective People, and these verses remind me of two of the habits.

The first is "Be Proactive." It’s the habit of choosing how you respond. You may have been told as a kid to count to ten before reacting? That’s what this is about. Being “slow to anger.” Instead of having a knee-jerk reaction, you stop and think. Then you respond based on what you value. In other words, if you value your relationship with your child, then instead of yelling at him when he accidentally spills grape juice on your new white linen tablecloth, you take a deep breath and respond with gentleness.

The fifth habit is "Seek First to Understand." In this habit, you listen, really listen, to what the other is saying. You don’t judge. You don’t think about what you’re going to say. You don’t interrupt. You just listen. The other person is your focus. Not you.

Try this today: When your spouse or your friend or your child wants to talk to you, put everything else aside. Look them in the eye. And listen.

And if someone does something that upsets you? Count to ten. And respond in love.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Our Never-changing God (James 1:17-18)

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
(James 1:17-18, NASB)

One of my favorite all-time hymns is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The chorus comes from Lamentations 3:22-23:
The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
But there’s also a hint of James 1:17 in the first verse:
Great is Thy Faithfulness, O God My Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not. Thy compassions, they fail not.
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
God was, is, and forever will be. We can have be confident of that.

And our never-changing God, our Father of lights, showers us with “every good thing … and every perfect gift.”

He carries us through the difficult times. He provides for our every need. He works through us to tell the world His truth.

I don’t know about you, but I feel tremendously blessed to know that God is the same loving, compassionate, righteous, and faithful God He’s always been … and always will be.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Do Not Be Deceived (James 1:13-16)

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
(James 1:13-16, NASB)

For reasons beyond my comprehension, God has allowed evil to exist since Adam and Eve. And He’s allowed this continual battle between those who follow Him and the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Eph. 6:12).

But He Himself does not tempt us. Rather, we allow circumstances or other people to infiltrate our hearts and minds. We make poor choices. We listen to the voice of the enemy.

And when we open ourselves to those things not of God, we are enveloped by sin. And unrepentant sin leads to death—eternal separation from God.

I spent many years with my back turned firmly away from God. I let myself think that, because I’d been abused and hurt as a child, I had an excuse. If God allowed these things to happen, I thought, then I would make my own decisions, chart my own course.

I was deceived.

It wasn’t until I realized that I was indeed in a battle, and I was letting the enemy win, that I came back to the One who will be ultimately victorious.

Don’t let the enemy win. If you’re struggling with sin, turn it over to the Lord. Ask Him to forgive you and to help you overcome whatever temptation the enemy of your soul sends.

Do not be deceived, my friend

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A Crown of Life (James 1:12)

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
(James 1:12, NASB)

This is one of those verses that we Christians should commit to memory. It’s a wonderful reminder of why we can find joy in our trials. (See devotional from August 1.)

One day, each of us will stand before our Lord God, and He will place on our heads the crown of life. He will look at what we did to serve Him and others. He will review how we stood strong through trials and sufferings.

And He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:14-30).

When I think of seeing my God face-to-face and hearing those words, anything that happens to me here on earth is worth it. The abuse I experienced as a child. My struggle with infertility. My daily pain.

Every trial has refined me and made me stronger. God has used—and continues to use—me and my stories to encourage others.

And one day, I’ll wear that crown of life.

If you’re struggling, remember that God loves you and will help you through whatever storm you’re going through. Persevere and know one day you, too, will wear that crown.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Futility of Riches (James 1:9-11)

But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
(James 1:9-11, NASB)

Just a few days ago, I saw a stage production of Fiddler on the Roof. If you’ve never seen it ... get a copy of the DVD and watch it! It’s a great musical with a great story.

The main character, Tevye, is a poor milk man, and at one point, he asks God why He couldn’t have given him riches (singing the iconic “If I were a rich man …”). Tevye thinks that having money, being rich, would take care of all his problems.

And the same is true for many of us today. If I were rich, I’d have a perfect life, we think.

So we work too hard, trying to earn just one more dollar or get just one more promotion. We fudge on our taxes. We gamble.

We seem to forget one thing: Riches do not necessarily equal happiness. Think of the rich and famous who have spiraled out of control due to drug or alcohol use. Think of the lottery winners who are bankrupt in just months. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that wealth is futile: “behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (2:11b).

Instead of focusing on wealth, perhaps we would be wise to focus on contentment, on being satisfied with whatever God gives us. Or as the apostle Paul wrote:
“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil. 4:11-12)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Trust Without Doubting (James 1:5-8)

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
(James 1:5-8, NASB)

I like the first part of today’s scriptures. I’d like a bit more wisdom, and I’m assured I can ask God, and He’ll give generously to me.

But then comes that phrase that breaks my heart: “… he must ask in faith without any doubting …”

Without any doubting? Is that humanly possible?

Because there are still times when I doubt, when I question—even after walking with the Lord for years. There are times when I feel “driven and tossed by the wind.” So does this mean that I shouldn’t “expect that [I] will receive anything from the Lord”? Am I “double-minded, unstable in all [my] ways”?

Praise God, I believe the answer is “no.”

Just as the Bible convicts those who live in habitual sin, I believe these verses speak about a state of mind. A constant doubting. A continual double-mindedness.

The Adam Clarke Commentary gives some insight:
The man who is not thoroughly persuaded that if he ask of God he shall receive, resembles a wave of the sea; he is in a state of continual agitation; driven by the wind, and tossed: now rising by hope, then sinking by despair … The man whose mind is divided, who is not properly persuaded either of his own wants or God's sufficiency. Such persons may pray, but having no faith, they can get no answer … The man of two souls, who has one for earth, and another for heaven; who wishes to secure both worlds; he will not give up earth, and he is loth to let heaven go. (http://www.studylight.org/com/acc/view.cgi?book=jas&chapter=001)
I know God is in loving control. I know He has a perfect plan for me. I may not always understand. And doubt may sometimes make me question why things happen the way they do. But then I am reminded how faithful God has been and how faithful He will be.

And so I know I can ask for wisdom to know His will. And the strength to do it.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Joy In Trials (James 1:1-4)

James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(James 1:1-4, NASB)

Many Christians know and quote verses 3 and 4 often. Those of us who've walked with Christ know we’re to find “joy” in our trials because trials do, indeed, test and grow our faith.

I believe this with all my heart. I believe each and every trial or test I’ve gone through has made me stronger, both in mind and spirit. I know when I face adversity or difficulty, I have two choices: I can whine and complain and roll up into a little ball, or I can seek God’s strength to get me through.

I’d rather do the latter.

But I do know that there are those whose struggles have been so much greater than mine. How do you find the joy when you lose your dearly-loved child? Or the job you’ve faithfully served for 20 years lays you off? Or your spouse tells you he just doesn’t love you anymore? How do you find the joy then?

The only thing I can tell you is take your pain to God. I know that sounds clich├ęd, but it’s true. I spent too many years suffering alone. I turned my back on God as a teenager because I couldn’t understand why He’d allowed very painful things to happen to me.

When I finally made my way back to Him in my late-twenties, my suffering didn’t end. But a level of maturity let me know that trials do come to all of us. And I know now that I can truly find joy in knowing God has a plan beyond my understanding. And that plan is surrounded by His love.

A woman of faith I greatly admire said it this way:
I have learned that all things fit together into a pattern for my good and God’s glory. Hardships have forced me to make decisions about God. Ah, this wheelchair has made muscular my faith.
You know who said these words? Joni Earekson Tada who’s been in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic for over 40 years.

Yes, we will all suffer at one time or another. Yes, we will face trials and temptations. But we can find joy if we just trust God. Trust Him and His plan