Scripture: James 1:19-22
Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. 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. You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves.
Thought for the Day: Has your defensiveness ever had you speaking before thinking? Whenever we feel attacked and put on the defensive, our reaction is often to enter into a defensive posture and to do whatever is necessary to cast blame elsewhere. We want the spotlight when things go well, but when there is a mistake that has repercussions, suddenly our mouth is in deflection mode. As I read James, the idea of listening is an important theme. Pausing long enough to listen creates the possibility of something other than our own defensive thoughts taking shape. When that silence is coupled with humility, the living word is given space to enter our lives. For most human beings, this is not natural. It takes practice, and might I suggest that we all practice when it is less stressful and chaotic. If we practice in those moments, then we might be able to become those who are “doers of the word” and not those who misrepresent the word in a moment of panic.
Prayer: Let me breathe; let me pause long enough that I can respond to your loving presence, O Lord, and not my own fears; let me have quality time with your living word that gives peace, patience and self-control. Amen.
SERMON: Wrestling With The Past
Scripture: James 1:14-16
Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them. Once those cravings conceive, they give birth to sin; and when sin grows up, it gives birth to death. Don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters.
Thought for the Day: Oh my, I think James hits it out of the park on this one. Without pointing fingers at other more dramatic examples, where can you name a craving that got out of control and led to some form of death in your life. For most of us, it isn’t a significant death, but a craving that led to a sinful act that caused an ending of a relationship or dream or some other thing of value. The internal craving justified it or made us blind to the potential ramifications, but in the end, there was a death of sorts. Some people will be quick with the line, “The devil made me do it!” In my opinion, that’s nothing more than the internal craving refusing to take responsibility. The devil for me is a personification of evil in the world, and though we may find ourselves caught in the systemic structures of evil that exist around us, there is usually an option to not be owned by the evil. In fact, pushing against the craving and the sin birthed from it is the power of the Spirit working within us. It is the ongoing work of a follower of Jesus, and though never done to perfection, we do so within the framework of God’s grace.
Prayer: We are constantly being pulled, both from the inside and the outside. Provide me with eyes that see and a spirit that perceives where it is that I might be pulled away from you, O Wonderful and Loving God. May I find the strength necessary to name the craving without giving it authority in my life. Amen.
BIG DAY TODAY
Scripture: James 1:10-11
Those who are wealthy should find satisfaction in their low status, because they will die off like wildflowers. The sun rises with its scorching heat and dries up the grass so that its flowers fall and its beauty is lost. Just like that, in the midst of their daily lives, the wealthy will waste away.
Thought for the Day: During the Great Reformation, Martin Luther suggested that the book of James was a straw epistle. As you can guess, Luther was not a fan. There are a host of reasons, but I would suggest that among them was the uncomfortable language used by James in regard to the wealthy. Though Martin Luther was hard on the institution of the church and its greed, he was also very dependent upon wealthy individuals to fund his work. As you can imagine, he was not well liked. He required protection. Do we ignore the tough and challenging language of James because of what appears to be a lack of grace…the grace that Martin Luther found in the Apostle. Paul? I would like to present an idea that is not entirely unique to me, but is a clear tension that I find in scripture. I would suggest that we are saved by grace, and we are judged by our works. For many, those appear antithetical and incompatible. For years, I would have agreed. Today, I think it is a necessary tension for Christians to uphold. Grace cannot be an excuse for wealth that ignores the plight of the poor. At the same time, our works cannot become tools by which some arrogantly claim special status before God. I believe James not only has an important place within Christian faith, but Protestants need to pull him off the back shelf a bit more often.
Prayer: Continue to remind me of your grace that frees me from fear, O Merciful Creator, and may this amazing gift be the inspiration by which I serve others with the grace I have received. Amen.
JOIN US TOMORROW
Scripture: James 1:5
But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.
Thought for the Day: How many of you can remember sitting in a classroom and praying to God for the answer on the test? Maybe I was the only one who sought divine intervention when I clearly did not study as I should have. Too often people mistake correct answers with wisdom. There might be some overlap, but wisdom is something that goes far beyond academic degrees or book knowledge. In fact, there are a lot of people with multiple degrees who are not terribly wise in regard to daily choices, how they perceive life and the relationship they have. Now is James suggesting that in our moment of crisis, we can quickly turn to God, ask for wisdom, receive wisdom, and find our way out of the crisis? Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that’s what James is suggesting. I imagine that asking God for wisdom as an ongoing work of faith. It is about prayer, study, listening, patience, spiritual awareness, discernment, grace for self and others, etc. Each of these is associated with Spiritual Disciplines, and there is not a Spiritual Discipline Vending Machine where the correct changed will provide instant gratification. Those who I would describe as wise are usually the quickest to distance themselves from wisdom as they are very humble and do not see themselves in that way. Later in the third chapter of James, we find the following: “Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom.” Humility appears necessary for wisdom, and wisdom is a product of humility.
Prayer: Like Solomon of old, let me seek wisdom above all things. O Gracious God, may the generosity of your Spirit and the receptiveness of my heart come together that wisdom might flourish. Amen.
Scripture: James 1:2-4
My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.
Thought for the Day: In considering the logic presented here by James, would common sense suggest that most people would prefer immaturity? Tests is one of those words that conjures up some significant concerns. When there is a test, there is usually a test facilitator who created the test. So the assumption becomes, in the area of faith, that God is sitting in the heavenly office developing an exam and then waiting to spring it on us. And then God grades it. But at no point does James suggest that God is testing us. In fact, James writes in vs. 13, “No one who is tested should say, ‘God is tempting me!’ This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” By not blaming God for some bad experience that confronted us, it is much more likely that we will feel comfortable in approaching God and seeking assistance as we go through this challenging time. As I often say, “I don’t believe God needs to test us. The world around us is already doing a fabulous job of putting our faith to the test.”
Prayer: Whether life is going as planned or not, I pray that your loving presence, O Merciful God, is recognizable to me. Let me know that I face whatever comes my way with your eternal love at my side. Amen.
Scripture: James 1:1
From James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the twelve tribes who are scattered outside the land of Israel. Greetings!
Thought for the Day: I have been reading some James lately, and so I thought I might offer some devotionals on this opening chapter. Now let’s be clear, the author gives his name as James, but outside of the name, we have no other specific information in regard to who this James might be. Some have suggested it was the brother of Jesus, but the Book of James was probably not written until somewhere between 90 – 110 AD which would have put it long after the death of James the brother of Jesus. Though questions of authorship might be interesting, it’s funny how the arguments over authorship have allowed for the challenging words of the book to be ignored. It doesn’t matter who James really was, but notice how he described himself as a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not just pretty poetry, but a description of faithful surrender to the ways of God revealed in Jesus. As a slave, the question is not what does Jesus give me, but what does Jesus demand of me. God is gracious and kind, but for those who have said YES to these gifts, there is an expectation.
Prayer: May my life this day, O Lord God, reflect the belief that I am a slave to your glorious ways of grace, mercy, justice and forgiveness. May the love I have received from you be the inspiration by which I surrender my ego and my personal needs to your high calling. This I request in the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus. Amen.
THIS COMING SUNDAY
Prayer for the Week: God of Glory, your presence shines into the darkness. You are light, yet when the weight of the shadows linger over us and attempt to insulate us from your gift, we too often find that anxiety only exacerbates the lostness. Keep us close, even when we cannot claim your continuous and contiguous presence. Keep us close, so that hope is present even when light appears elusive.
Wherever we are, O Lord, lead us to those who are needing a hand to lift them. For people around our community who find themselves knocked down, whether by their mistakes or powers beyond their control, we do not judge…only love. Bring us alongside with a voice that is able to announce Good News and with actions that reinforce that Good News. We are thankful for all our sisters and brothers in this journey of life, yet so many are dealing with news that strikes at the very core of their humanity. For those who are dealing with a frightening diagnosis or undiagnosed concerns, we pray for your Spirit to work both with us and beyond us to bring comfort, encouragement and peace. Let us be mindful and discerning of your Spirt, while also being attentive to what is said and was is not said by those who are hurting. Make us your apostles and advocates in the ministries of grace.
We ask this prayer as members of the Body of Christ, as those who continue his work. Amen.
SECOND CHANCE SUNDAY
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