pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Humble Submission

Reading: James 4: 7-8a

Verse 8a: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”.

In our short one and a half verses, James gives us three pieces of advice. In James 4 he has just finished quoting Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. When we are proud and allow pride to guide our words and thoughts, then we have trouble with today’s advice.

Most Christians are rule followers. In general. Sometimes we follow the rules because of circumstances. For example, in my old truck I do not drive 80 miles per hour on the interstate. 80 is the rule. I could physically drive 80 and the truck can too, but the gas mileage plummets and I am cheap. Most of the time, though, I do follow the rules because it is simply the right thing to do.

Sometimes rules do not make sense or we know they are wrong. In the cases when the rule does not make sense, we struggle to follow it. But when the rules are wrong, as Christians, we must take a stand. Such was the case back in the 1960s, when rules excluded or denied or segregated based on race. These rules were broken by and protested against by people, bringing reform to a bad system. Although it is sometimes long and hard, what is right usually wins out in the end.

Today, James is advising us to follow a rule that is both good for us and is in alignment with our faith. James says to submit to God. Tying in the verse from Proverbs, we are to humbly submit to God. Yes, it is good and right to do so. No, we cannot argue or protest against this rule. Yet at times we struggle to follow it. The devil is always at work, trying to tempt us. It is precisely then that we must over God. When we obey God, we are resisting the devil. When we obey God, the devil flees. And then we receive the promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”. Come to God and He’ll come to you. Draw near and rest in His presence. Connect with God and live in His light and love. How could life be any better?

O Lord, my God, in humble submission I draw near to you. In awe, I come into your presence. It is a good place to be. Fill me up with your love and grace and mercy and compassion. Fill me to overflowing, so that you can flow out of me and into the lives of those I meet today. Amen.

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The Struggle Within

Reading: James 4: 1-3

Verse 1: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”?

So far in the book of James, he has built the argument that the things in our heart and mind are what guide our actions, control our tongues, and directs our decisions. In chapter four, he turns the discussion towards the disagreements and arguments that mankind often enters into. One only has to watch the nightly news for a short time to see plenty of examples.

James opens chapter four with two great focus questions: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you”? Once in a while we fight and quarrel for other reasons, but most often the battle begins with an internal issue or struggle. Maybe it is something that happened in our past that we haven’t gotten past or let go of yet. Similar events trigger us, pushing that button that leads us to desire to fight and quarrel. Maybe our desire to enter the battle comes from some perceived need or want and our envy or jealousy flares up. Sometimes it has to do with a lack of maturity. I can remember times in my greener years when I’d argue for the sake of arguing and times when I would argue long after I knew I had lost the argument. Pride was definitely at work.

When we come to the edge of a fight and quarrel, James suggests a few filters. We should ask ourselves questions such as these: What am I about to fight about? Is this about getting even? Are these feelings even connected this actual person or situation? Am I being stubborn or prideful? Again, in most cases the urge to fight and quarrel is driven by a struggle or issue within us. When we allow these to linger, they inhibit our relationships with God and with others. Only when we make peace within will we have peace without. James has a suggestion here too: seek God’s help with the right motives. Pray for help with the struggle within. God is faithful. He will rain down mercy, grace, forgiveness, and healing.

Prince of Peace, pour out your peace upon my inner being. Guide me to those that I need to reconcile with. Lead me to speak words of unity and healing. Wipe away all unrest and discord that is within. Help me to freely offer mercy, grace, and forgiveness so that I may receive them from you and from others. May I model your love each day. Amen.


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Pleasing to God

Reading: Psalm 19: 7-14

Verse 11: “By keeping them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward”.

Verses 7-10 tell of God’s laws, statutes, precepts, and commands. These guide believers in how to live our lives pleasing God. In turn, our lives are better as well. To me, this is the basis of our relationship with God. In reality, all of our relationships are built upon a set of rules or guidelines or understandings. Sometimes these are not written down but are implied or simply understood.

In our earthly relationships, the value of keeping the relationship on good terms has temporal worth. In my most important earthly relationship the phrase “happy wife, happy life” applies in many ways. When my relationships with my wife, kids, boss, congregation, clients, … are good, then all are happy and life is rewarding and blessed. In our heavenly relationship, it is much the same. The psalmist writes, “By keeping them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward”. God’s laws, statutes, precepts, and commands keep us out of trouble and out of toxic situations and are also the path to a rewarding and blessed relationship with God.

In the next few verses, there is an admission that to live in a relationship that is pleasing to God is one that requires help from God. For us, the Holy Spirit augments our efforts to know God by reminding us, by directing us, by convicting us when necessary. The Holy Spirit helps us maintain a good relationship with God.

When all of this is humming along, we can pray verse 14 with confidence. It is a verse that I quote just before preaching. I guess it is more of a request and a hope. As I reflect on it this morning, it occurs to me that it should be a part of my morning prayers every day too. May it be so.

Lord God, your ways are perfect and trustworthy. They bring me joy and life. Remind me if them often so that life is both blessed and is pleasing in your sight. My rock and my redeemer, thank you for your steadfast love, your unwavering understanding, and your endless grace. I love you God! Amen.


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Tongue, Mind, and Heart

Reading: James 3: 1-8

Verse 8: “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.

Taming the tongue is never easy. James is absolutely correct when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways”. Our words are usually what affects others the most, so being in control of our tongue is essential to living a faithful, Christian life.

The tongue is quite small compared to the rest of our body. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship, the small tongue can choose our path or set our course. And like a small spark, our tongue can create a raging fire. James extends the fire idea to our final destination point if we allow our tongues to control us: hell.

The reality is, though, that the tongue cannot speak on its own. The tongue only forms the words brought to it by our minds. So to really control our tongues, we begin with what we put in our minds. When our mind is filled with the evils of the world, then that is what comes out of our mouths. When we fill our minds with the things of God, this is what our tongues speak. If we meditate on God’s Word and know His ways, then our tongues will be filled with faith.

Closely related to what is in our minds is what is in our heart. The same pattern is true here. If we allow anger and bitterness and envy and jealousy to dwell in our hearts, then our mind quickly turns to these things as well. But if instead we fill our hearts with love and mercy and Grace and forgiveness, then these God qualities will be what our mind turns to.

In James 3:8 he writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While it may certainly be true that one cannot ever fully tame the tongue, one can definitely do things that make this task easier. When we fill our hearts and minds with the things of God there is less room for the things of this world. May it be so each and every day.

God, fill me with your Words and with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with you so there is less room for me. Then, may my words and thoughts be pleasing to you, O Lord. May I honor you today. Amen.


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Tongue, Mind, and Heart

Reading: James 3: 1-8

Verse 8: “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.

Taming the tongue is never easy. James is absolutely correct when he writes, “We all stumble in many ways”. Our words are usually what affects others the most, so being in control of our tongue is essential to living a faithful, Christian life.

The tongue is quite small compared to the rest of our body. Like a bit in a horse’s mouth or a rudder on a ship, the small tongue can choose our path or set our course. And like a small spark, our tongue can create a raging fire. James extends the fire idea to our final destination point if we allow our tongues to control us: hell.

The reality is, though, that the tongue cannot speak on its own. The tongue only forms the words brought to it by our minds. So to really control our tongues, we begin with what we put in our minds. When our mind is filled with the evils of the world, then that is what comes out of our mouths. When we fill our minds with the things of God, this is what our tongues speak. If we meditate on God’s Word and know His ways, then our tongues will be filled with faith.

Closely related to what is in our minds is what is in our heart. The same pattern is true here. If we allow anger and bitterness and envy and jealousy to dwell in our hearts, then our mind quickly turns to these things as well. But if instead we fill our hearts with love and mercy and Grace and forgiveness, then these God qualities will be what our mind turns to.

In James 3:8 he writes, “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. While it may certainly be true that one cannot ever fully tame the tongue, one can definitely do things that make this task easier. When we fill our hearts and minds with the things of God there is less room for the things of this world. May it be so each and every day.

God, fill me with your Words and with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with you so there is less room for me. Then, may my words and thoughts be pleasing to you, O Lord. May I honor you today. Amen.


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God’s Good

Reading: Psalm 125

Verse 4: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright”.

For the psalmist and his contemporaries, trusting in God and doing what God said to do was how life was to be lived. A hop, skip, and a jump to the west or south or north and religion was what one must do to please Baal or some other god. Even today, as we scan the world, we find that religion is still essentially these two components: worship God or a god or gods and live a good life to gain an improved state in the next life. Naturally there is conflict between those who seek to worship their god and to do what is right according to that god and those who do not. All religions have an “us” and “them” mentality to some degree. In Judaism, you were one of the chosen people or you were not. In Christianity, either you are saved or you are not.

Psalm 125 clearly paints this picture. Trust in God and you will not be shaken. God surrounds His people. God banishes evildoers. In the context of this Psalm, the Jews were a closed group. They practiced circumcision as a physical sign of belonging to God. Either you were or you weren’t. The Law kept the Jews from mixing with others. Verse 4 fits right in: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, to those who are upright”. Follow God and be blessed. Sin and be cursed was the flip side of this.

And then came this radical evangelist and his followers who shared a message that God loves all people. They took the idea that God was the omnipotent and omnipresent creator of all and applied God’s love in this way – to all people and to all situations. They acknowledged that we are all sinners. And then the leader, Jesus, gave His own life as the perfect sacrifice for all sins. He who was without sin, God’s own Son, gave His life to atone for all sin. Once and forevermore. Jesus defeated the power of death and rose to be the first of many to experience God’s grace. Grace – this purely Christian manifestation and experience of God’s love – says “I love you” over and over, to all people in all situations. Oh yes, God is good. God pours out grace upon grace freely. There is no condemnation, there is no punishment, there is no banishment.

Thank you God for your good grace – a grace that allows us to be forgiven and to walk upright in a continuing relationship with you. Thank you God for your goodness and your love. May both be evident in our lives. May both overflow from us so that all may come to know your love and grace. Amen.


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God’s Presence

Reading: James 2: 14-17

Verse 17: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.

Our faith rests in our relationship with God. As our journey begins, we first sense God’s presence in the world and in those around us. Then we come to a point where we realize that we too can have a relationship with God. Our faith journey leads us to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as our hope, and as our salvation. We realize that grace is big enough for even our sins and we commit our lives to faith in Jesus’ saving power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our heart and we live from then on with Jesus’ presence within us, leading and guiding our continuing journey. Others begin to sense God’s presence in us.

Each day we will encounter others who do not have faith. Like we once did, they too can sense God’s presence. And here is the crucial moment, the time that really matters, the litmus test of our faith. As we encounter the lost, do we just offer to pray for them and maybe give them a Bible, really keeping our faith to ourselves? Or do we allow the words to become actions, walking alongside them, guiding them through the next steps of faith? As we encounter the needy, do we do like the man in our passage, simply wishing them well? Or do we spend time with them, understanding their needs so that we can actually meet them as best as we can, taking advantage of the opportunities to share our faith as they arise? As we encounter the broken and hurting, do we only offer a few words of sympathy or give our condolences? Or do we make the time to be present to them in their grief or pain? Do we bring a needed meal or mow an overgrown lawn? Yes, we have many opportunities and many ways to be both God’s presence and Jesus’ hands and feet in the lives of others.

In our passage today, James asks, “What good is it?” if our faith does not lead to action. What good is it if our faith does not make a positive difference in the world? James plainly states, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. How true.

Lord God, move me past my comfortable, easy inner faith. Move me outside of my tidy, little, personal relationship with Jesus and out into the real world. Help me to live a real faith that is shared and given to others, leading them to know you and the gift of salvation. Use me today, O Lord. Amen.