March 4 – Paul’s Amazing Prayer for You

The verses we are going to look at today are some of my favourite verses in the Bible. Right after Paul told us yesterday that God was working through him despite his sense of being unqualified, Paul goes on to reinforce that God is behind all we do. Paul prays this prayer over the Ephesian elders. This prayer is for you too. I’ve posted it in 3 different versions. Read each one slowly and carefully and soak in what it says.

This prayer is for you!

Ephesians 3: 14 – 21

(New Living Translation)

“When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”

(New American Standard Bible)

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

(The Message)

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”

Perhaps you could reread one of the versions and put yourself right into the prayer. For example, using the NLT version, you could say something like this:

Father, you are the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. Empower me through your strength by your Spirit from your glorious, unlimited resources. Make your home in my heart. Help me to trust you and grow into your love. Help me to be strong. Help me to understand how wide, how long, how high and how deep your love is for me. I want to know you so much more. I want to be complete with the life and power that comes from you. I will give you all the glory for all that you do with me. Glory to you and Christ Jesus forever and ever.

If there was an idea that God was whispering to you yesterday as you read the devotions, once again, wrap your head around the fact that God wants to work in and through you. He loves you more than you can ever comprehend. Be brave. Trust him. Go!

Our song for today is Strength of My Life by Vertical Worship

March 3 – No Matter the Circumstances, God is Still at Work

Ephesians 3:1-13 (The Message)

“This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you’re familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.

4-6 As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.

7-8 This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

11-13 All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!”

Why is Paul in jail? Actually, Paul is under house arrest in Rome. That would be much more doable than being in the atrocious jails of that time. But I think we “pandemic folk” would understand why being confined to a house all the time would be considered jail. Being there literally all the time would be horrendous. Charles Swindoll in his Ephesians’ commentary (Living Insights) sums up the reason Paul is in jail:

“The Jews had accused him of being a rabble-rouser, a disturber of the peace, and the promoter of an illegal religion. His big problems began in Jerusalem, where he was falsely accused by Jews from Asia of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into the inner courts. In the midst of the ensuing riot, Roman soldiers actually rescued Paul from his Jewish attackers by arresting and chaining him. When given an opportunity to address the crowd of Jews, Paul recounted his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He then took his testimony a step further. He shared a vision he had of Jesus, who had explicitly instructed Paul to leave Jerusalem, saying, “Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles”. (Acts 21: 27 – 22: 21)

Upon hearing this the Jewish crowd responded in rage: “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” So infuriated were the Jewish religious Zealots over Paul’s preaching of the Jewish Messiah to the Gentiles that several Jews swore not to eat or drink until they had killed him. Clearly, the Jews were unimpressed by Paul’s God-given mission to the Gentile church. Eventually, after several years of being shuffled around in the custody of the Roman government, Paul ended up under house arrest in Rome, having exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar. To the chagrin of Paul’s Jewish opponents, his message to the Gentiles never let up. While detained in Rome, he wrote four letters that continue to shape our lives to this day: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.” (page 213)

Paul’s determination to figure out how to continue his mission of reaching Gentiles and others really speaks to me. For a year now, we’ve been shut down and feeling isolated in this pandemic. Especially now that it’s winter, we’re not even seeing friends that much unless they want to go for a walk outside. Thankfully, we have Zoom, Google Messenger or Meets, etc. so we can talk face to face, but it’s still not the same. So, in this year of isolation, how have we continued to demonstrate our faith to those around us? Have we looked for creative ways to reach out to people, to help people?

But, there is another thing about what Paul says that brings home a message to me. I could look at Paul and excuse myself, because I’m not the amazing person that Paul was. Yet, look at what he says about himself. “I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities. And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head,” (v. 8) Paul didn’t think he was ‘Superman’, not at all. He felt totally unqualified.

Is that how you feel when you hear about something that needs to be done? Perhaps, it’s something that needs to be done around our church, or something you’ve heard about in the community. You’ve heard the Downtown Mission needs help, or the Downtown Windsor Community Collaborative, or Matthew House. Maybe it’s as simple as helping someone in your neighbourhood – making a phone call, or dropping a small gift off at the door, or helping shovel sidewalks. Maybe you stay isolated because it frightens you to reach out. What if what you think can do is not enough? You feel unqualified.

How did Paul do it? How can you do it? Let’s see what Paul says: “It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details.” (v. 7) “God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.” (v. 8) “My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels! All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!” (v. 9 – 13)

God does it! Did you really understand that? God does it! God works in you and through you! It’s not your qualifications that are required for God to use you in some way. It has to do with “the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ” (v. 8) One of the things that I’ve discovered over the years, is that God whispers to us about things he would like us to do. Some idea keeps popping up in your head about doing something, helping somewhere, getting involved in some ministry, etc. What I’ve also realized is that when I act on those ‘whispers’, I discover exciting things. I realize that God wants me in that situation, and he provides the ability to do it.

So, is the Holy Spirit nudging you lately? Is there an idea of how to help someone, or some situation that keeps running through your mind? Remember that it’s not your qualifications as you think they might be – it’s God working in and through you.

“When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go.” (v. 13) Got it? Believe it? Go!

Our song for today is Strong Enough by Matthew West

March 1 – A Very Clear Explanation of Salvation

Ephesians 2: 1 – 10

  1. What were we like before God intervened? I’m going to have you read the first 3 verses in 2 different translations since the wording in both gives us a clearer picture.

“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. (New Living Translation NLT)

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.  (New American Standard Bible NASB)

That answer to what we were like before God intervened is very blunt – dead! We may have looked like we were alive, but inside, our spiritual selves were dead and controlled by Satan. Verse 2 couldn’t be any clearer “obeying the devil – the commander of the powers in the unseen world”. Our reason for living was to live life for ourselves. That started in the Garden of Eden when Eve and Adam decided they wanted to be like God Himself, and followed Satan’s suggestion that they eat the forbidden fruit. If you are ready to admit it, you know that your first inclination in life is make sure what you want is what you get – what you want for your emotions, your physical body, and for your mind. Me first.

  1. But … what did God do for us?

“But God” (v. 4)

“ But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”

God loved us so much that He sent Christ Jesus to earth to show us what God is like, and most importantly to provide a way that we can be united with Christ. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus took the punishment for our sin and self-centredness, and demonstrated victory over death. This is only because of “the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us”.

  1. How can I know that God has saved me? What do I need to do?

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”

It’s simple – you believe what is said in these first verses in Ephesians. Period. Apart from believing, there is nothing you can do – nothing!  Because of our sinful nature, our focus is on ourselves; we tend to think there must be something we can do – that somehow we need to prove to God that we are sincere and trying hard. But we can’t earn our salvation in any way – it’ a gift from God! Sometimes I think we have a hard time accepting this. We think there must be more to it than that. We’re not sure what, but somehow we think we need to do more. God just doesn’t accept us only because we believe that Jesus died and rose again for us. That seems too simple. But that’s exactly it – “Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (v.9)

  1. So … is that it?

10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

Actually, there is more. When we believe that what God has done through Jesus is enough, we are “created anew”. Another verse tells us the same thing. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” There is a transformation in our lives when we believe. In Romans 8, Paul tells us this: “10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. … 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.”

We do not become God’s children by doing good works. We can’t earn our way into God’s family. But once we are adopted/renewed by God, God has good things for us to do. We are now part of God’s plan for this world. That’s exciting, and Ephesians will go on to talk about some of those practical things in the coming chapters.

As you have read through these verses today, you may have been nodding your head and saying – ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I believe. Thank You so much for saving me’. Or you may have been thinking – ‘Is that all there is? Don’t I have to do more?’ I want you to reread these verses, and ask God to help you to truly understand how much He loves you.

“ But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”

Our song for today is Amazing Grace by Pentatonix

February 25 – Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians and Us

Ephesians 1: 15 – 23 (NLT)

Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, 16 I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. 18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”

Today as I comment on this passage, I’m going to use several quotations from Charles Swindoll’s Living Insights; New Testament Commentary – Galatians/Ephesians. Paul begins his prayer by thanking God for the Ephesians’ “strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people”. (v. 1)

Swindoll says, “Today, many Christians tiptoe gingerly through the Christian life, afraid of stumbling, unsure about whether the path of faith on which they’re travelling might lead them into danger. When they hear strange noises, they cower. When darkness sets in, they hesitate. And when obstacles fall in their path, they panic. But not the Ephesians, – with the illuminating light of faith, they marched forward, bold and strong, advancing in the Christian life toward spiritual adulthood.” (page 176)

Swindoll also comments about the need to love God’s people everywhere. “At this point, I need to emphasize something that is often overlooked. Bible-believing churches need both fidelity to the truth and unconditional love for fellow churches. Without abandoning doctrinal purity on the essentials of the faith, we need to foster unity between churches and between Bible-believing denominations. Our loyalty to Christ – who is the head of the whole body of Christ worldwide – must work itself out in practical, observable love for one another. A church that has truth but lacks love is not a church; it’s a giant Bible class cultivating cliques, leading to a clannish mentality, and producing cult-like attitudes of pride, superiority, and exclusivity. That must stop! We need to pray for other Bible-believing churches, partner with those of genuine faith, and learn from evangelical teachers with backgrounds different than ours. In other words, we need to follow the example of the Ephesians and demonstrate love for “all the saints.”’ (page 176)

Paul goes on to pray for some very specific things:

  1. That God will give them “spiritual wisdom and insight” so the will know God better (v.17)
  2. That they will understand the “confident hope” that God has given us (v. 18)
  3. That they will understand the “incredible greatness of God’s power for us” (v. 19)

Those three things are actually quite amazing! If we truly understood that God gives us wisdom and insight, that we can be confident of God’s promises, and that God’s power is available for us – wouldn’t we live in a much more positive way? Instead of worrying about all sorts of things, we would be confident that God is at work and has things under control. That is really something to think about – and pray about – if we confess that in reality we trust mostly in our own ability.

The last three verses state strongly why we can be confident as God’s children and members of God’s church. Let’s read those verses over again, and as we read, let’s soak in who we belong to. Soak in why we can live in confidence.

“This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”

Our song for today is How Great is Our God by Chris Tomlin

February 24 – Praise God!

Ephesians 1: 1 – 14 (NLT)

“This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.

I am writing to God’s holy people in Ephesus, who are faithful followers of Christ Jesus.

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, (or we have become God’s inheritance) for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.

12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.”

Paul is writing Ephesians from where he is under house arrest in Rome. I’m not surprised that he starts off this book with praise to God. Once again, he wants to underline to that new church that God is supreme. The worship of Artemis and all the culture and wealth that brings to Ephesus has nothing on our God. They are not to feel like the underdogs. Just look at who they belong to.

Let’s look at what we can praise God for:

God loved us before He even made the world. This idea of God being omniscient is hard to wrap out finite minds around. Let’s look at the definition from dictionary.com:

“having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things”

Related words:

almightyinfiniteknowledgeablepreeminentwise

Before God created the world, He knew what was going to happen. His creation would reject Him, and would need to be redeemed. Yet He went ahead with the creation plan. God loves each one of us, and He always has.

God decided to adopt us into His own family. We belong to Him! This is what God wanted to do and it gave Him great pleasure (v. 5) Great pleasure! Isn’t that just amazing!

God’s love for us was so great, He was willing to “purchase our freedom with the blood of His Son” (v. 7) In fact, He chose us in Christ “to be holy and without fault in His eyes” (v. 4) This is something I find very hard to comprehend. If I had a child who decided to leave home and ignore me because he/she thought they were much smarter than me, that would create a huge rift. But then if that child actually did things to harm me? Would I be willing to sacrifice a huge part of myself – even my life – to get that child back on track? I suspect I would be very hurt by what had happened, but would also think that child needed to ask for forgiveness and make some amends before I would make any sacrifices on my part. I am soooo thankful God is not like me!

“He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding” (v. 8) Again we can be so thankful that God imparts His wisdom to us. Can you think of a time when you were unsure about what to do? You prayed and thought over principles given in the Bible as you tried to come to a decision. As you prayed and thought, a decision came to you that you felt was the right one – and in retrospect, you realize was the right decision. That is God showering you with his wisdom and understanding.

God has a plan for this universe. “He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ – everything in heaven and on earth” (v10) We are part of this plan. If you are anything like me, you have probably experienced times in your life when you wonder why. Why has something happened? Why do I feel like life is so much dull routine? Does God have something for me to do? Verses like this one help me realize that God does have a plan, and I am part of that plan. So when you experience that unrest, turn to God and ask for His leading on what He wants for you next.

Paul goes on to say that that the Jews and Gentiles both belong to God through Christ. The Jews can no longer claim special status.

Finally, we can praise God for giving us the Holy Spirit. “And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.” (v.13 – 14)

As you think back over these verses posted today, I want you to think about specific reasons you can praise God for. It may be just repeating some of the facts given in today’s verses. But also think of some special moments in your life where you know God stepped in and loved you. Then praise Him for that, and all the special moments that lie ahead for you.

Our song for today is Who You Are to Me by Chris Tomlin

February 23 – Paul’s Goodbye

Paul left Ephesus, and travelled around Asia and Greece over the next few months. Our scripture passage today starts as Paul asks the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him in Miletus, a city about 30 miles from Ephesus.

Acts 20: 17 – 27 NLT

17 But when we landed at Miletus, he sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come and meet him.

18 When they arrived he declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now 19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. 21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.

22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

25 “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. 26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.”

Paul is an apostle, a special ambassador for God. His primary purpose is to spread one message – “the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus” (v. 21) and “the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (v. 24). Although churches were formed, Paul’s mission was to spread the Word. In chapter 19 we read, “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (v. 10) Verse 20 says, “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”

Paul begins his meeting with the church elders by talking about his own commitment to spreading the good news. He talks about the difficulties he faced – which they would know about – and that nothing could stop him for carrying out “the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus” (v. 24). It looks like Paul is telling the church elders that they should follow his example. God has put them in charge of this church, and they need to take that calling seriously.

I also think it is interesting that there are a group of elders. Today, many churches tend to leave the leadership of a church to a pastor. He/she does have elders or deacons to help as well as other staff members or volunteers, but the pastor seems to ‘run the show’. At Ephesus, there is a group of elders that are responsible for the church. Perhaps that plurality of leadership leads to a more unified group of believers, as the elder group seeks the Holy Spirit’s leading in all areas of the church. In case you are wondering, our new pastor believes church leadership is for staff, elders and volunteers.

Acts 20: 28 – 38

28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock.30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.

32 “And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.

33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

36 When he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them.37 They all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye. 38 They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship.”

Now Paul turns to practical advice. First of all, make sure what you believe is true/right. Paul cautions that people from outside the church will try to convince believers that they are wrong. They will come into the church with false teaching. He also warns that people within the church who most believers would trust will also distort the truth. It appears the motive behind that is “to draw a following” (v. 30) – ahh – popularity and prestige. So for those elders in charge of that church, they are to be on guard about what is taught, and make sure they aren’t motivated by wanting to be liked/popular.

Paul’s next advice hits home to us in the 21st century. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” We are so consumed with getting ahead, and acquiring beautiful things – the next gadget. You name it! At the beginning of Acts 18, Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla, and ends up staying with them because he had the same trade as them – tentmakers. (18: 1 – 3) Later in the chapter, Paul convinces Aquila and Priscilla to come with him as he begins his second missionary journey. In verse 19, we read that Paul left them in Ephesus.

In chapter 19, we discover that Paul has been in Ephesus for 2 years, and in the verses today, we discover that he has been working at his trade to support himself- and even the needs of others who were travelling with him. Sometimes we think that Paul was just travelling and preaching. He was also working! Just think about that! Imagine the energy it takes to earn a decent living, support others, preach and counsel this new church.

And … he tells us that we need to be most concerned about helping those in need. Wow! What an example for us to follow!

Tomorrow, we’ll start reading through Ephesians. Paul begins with doctrinal statements – the truth we need to know. Then he will give us practical applications of those truths. Get ready to hear what might shake you up a bit.

Our song for today is Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham

February 22 – Who Was Paul Writing to When He Wrote Ephesians?

Today we are going to start reading through Ephesians, but before we do that, I want you to understand the background of this book. Paul was writing to the new church at Ephesus, a city with quite the history. The first information I’m going to share is from The New Inductive Study Bible, with comments from staff at Precept Ministries overseen
by K. Arthur.

“Ephesus, the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, was the home of the temple of the goddess Artemis, sometimes referred to as Diana. Of all the deities in Asia, none was more sought after than Artemis.

But by the time of Paul, Ephesus’s position as a centre of trade was lost because the harbour became unnavigable. From that point on, the worship of Artemis became the city’s means of economic survival. The tourist trade and pilgrim trade associated with Artemis made many people in Ephesus wealthy. Silversmiths made their living selling images of this goddess and her temple. Innkeepers and restaurant owners grew rich from the large influx of worshippers who travelled great distances to see the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world. The temple treasury even served as a bank loaning large sums of money to many, including kings. And since Artemis was the patroness of sex, prostitutes sold their bodies without condemnation in the two-story brothel on Marble Road. Although Artemis was the main attraction, all sorts of magic and sorcery were conjured up in Ephesus.”

Paul stayed briefly in Ephesus on his second missionary journey (Acts 18: 18 – 21). On his third missionary journey Paul stayed in Ephesus for over 2 years. Chapter 19 tells us quite the story of what happened during his stay there, and that is what I want you to read today.

Acts 19: 1 – 7 (NLT)

“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul travelled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them.

“No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

“Then what baptism did you experience?” he asked.

And they replied, “The baptism of John.”

Paul said, “John’s baptism called for repentance from sin. But John himself told the people to believe in the one who would come later, meaning Jesus.”

As soon as they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.”

Paul finds some men in Ephesus who have a garbled picture of Christianity. They are likely Jews who heard about John the Baptist, and realized that this new message was more important than the rituals they experienced in the traditional Jewish faith. After talking with Paul, they understood that Jesus was the complete sacrifice for sin, and faith in who Jesus was, and what Jesus had done was the crucial belief. Paul lays hands on them and there was evidence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling as they spoke in various languages. I’ve included an excerpt from the Inter-varsity Press New Testament Commentary Series about why the laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, etc. were common in the early church and not so common now.

“As we reflect on conversion experiences at Pentecost, in Samaria and at Caesarea with Gentile God-fearers, what is unique to the various first-century situations and what is normative for all time? Unique items, given to demonstrate to various groups and to Jewish Christian observers the direct incorporation of various groups of non-Jews into the body of Christ, are the apostolic laying on of hands and the extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, speaking in other languages and prophecy. Necessary precedents having been set, there is no need in God’s economy for their normative repetition in every Christian’s experience (Acts 15:7-11). But “repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Spirit . . . belong together and are universal in Christian initiation” (Stott 1990:305; Lk 24:46-47; Acts 2:38-39).”

Acts 19: 8 – 11

Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus.10 This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord.

11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.”

This is the early church. The apostles had amazing power given to them by God to validate what they were saying about Jesus. Paul refers to this power in Romans as well: “Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. 19 They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.” (Romans 15: 18 – 19 NLT)

Acts 19: 13 – 22

13 A group of Jews was travelling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this.15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

17 The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honoured. 18 Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. 19 A number of them who had been practising sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.

21 Afterword Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. “And after that,” he said, “I must go on to Rome!” 22 He sent his two assistants, Timothy and Erastus, ahead to Macedonia while he stayed awhile longer in the province of Asia.”

Now that is an interesting story. We see some Jews blending mysticism, Jewish beliefs, and some Christian ideas as they gained a reputation for casting out evil spirits. God obviously decided to put a stop to this. The result was amazing! The message about Jesus ‘spread widely’.

Acts 19: 23 – Acts 20: 1

23 About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. 24 It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. 25 He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades, and addressed them as follows:

“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. 26 But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! 27 Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshipped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”

28 At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheatre, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s travelling companions from Macedonia.30 Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. 31 Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheatre.

32 Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander forward and told him to explain the situation. He motioned for silence and tried to speak. 34 But when the crowd realized he was a Jew, they started shouting again and kept it up for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

35 At last the mayor was able to quiet them down enough to speak. “Citizens of Ephesus,” he said. “Everyone knows that Ephesus is the official guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, whose image fell down to us from heaven. 36 Since this is an undeniable fact, you should stay calm and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, but they have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess.

38 “If Demetrius and the craftsmen have a case against them, the courts are in session and the officials can hear the case at once. Let them make formal charges. 39 And if there are complaints about other matters, they can be settled in a legal assembly. 40 I am afraid we are in danger of being charged with rioting by the Roman government, since there is no cause for all this commotion. And if Rome demands an explanation, we won’t know what to say.” 41 Then he dismissed them, and they dispersed.

Acts 20: 1 (NLT)

When the uproar was over, Paul sent for the believers and encouraged them. Then he said good-bye and left for Macedonia.”

This chapter in Acts has given us a picture of life in Ephesus. It was a culture dominated with idolatry and the occult, also with an emphasis on wealth and power. Anything that threatened those things created a fuss. I want you to stop a moment and think about our culture and values. What do we think are the important things in life in Canada? Can you think of 5 things that we value? Do those things clash at all with our Christian values and faith?

Tomorrow we are going to look at Acts 20 when Paul says good-bye to the elders and leaders of the church in Ephesus as he leaves for Jerusalem, and a future that he is concerned about. What does Paul say to them? What is he concerned about the most?

Our song for today is Keep in the Moment by Jeremy Camp

February 15

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wrongedIt does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

(I Corinthians 13: 4 – 7) NLT

“Love keeps no record of being wronged”. Even Solomon had that figured out. “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9 NLT) You know that for sure as well, don’t you? You NEVER remind someone of something they did that you didn’t like. Or have you?

There are some sides to forgiveness for wrongs done that are really serious. When a partner or friend does something to smash trust, it’s hard to forgive. It takes a long time to trust again – if ever. If that is the situation in your life, then I’d strongly recommend seeing a counsellor.

Just like all the other qualities of love in these verses, this ability to forgive and forget comes from our Heavenly Father. If He wasn’t forgiving, we’d all be doomed. His patience is so special. He forgives and forgets as we make the same mistakes over and over again. There is a psalm that I love, but right now I want to focus on verses 8 to 14.

Psalm 103:8-14 (NLT)

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
    nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins;
    he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us
    as the east is from the west.
13 The Lord is like a father to his children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
14 For he knows how weak we are;
    he remembers we are only dust.”

I love those verses. “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west”. God doesn’t make a list of wrongs that He keeps in the back of His mind so He can remind us of how pathetic we are. In fact, He has forgotten completely about them. And the reason for all that is that God loves us. His love “is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth”.

It’s when I ponder on those verses, that I know deep down in my soul that I need to be more like that. I know I’m human (and so does God – “For he knows how weak we are”), and so I will mess up, but my goal is to become more like Him, more like Jesus. So, I need to be willing to forgive and not carry grudges. Sometimes, God reminds me of this, when I’m fuming over something someone has done. In my head I’m going over how many times this person has ‘ticked me off’. It’s usually when I’m fuming the most, that the sudden reminder comes into my thoughts – Audrey, you are forgiven. So what are you going to do about this?

I’m going to leave you to think about how much you make lists in your mind of the wrongdoings of your friends, and especially of your partner. And, realize that those lists separate you, not bring you closer together.

Our song for today is Forgiveness by Matthew West

February 11 – Jealousy

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proudor rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” NLT

(I Corinthians 13: 4 – 7)

Love is not jealous. That’s the New Living Translation. The New International Version uses the word envy. Love does not envy. My first reaction to that characteristic is disbelief. Who would be jealous or envious of someone they love?

When our children were very young, I was jealous of my husband, and that didn’t create a very good atmosphere in our marriage. There was a lot of petty criticism on my part, and I became an expert at “suffering without saying anything” – how annoying is that! At the time I didn’t realize I was jealous. I thought the problem was that he was too busy and needed to spend more time with me and our young family. It was all his fault, of course.

Now that I look back, I realize that I was angry because I resented the fact that he got to go out to work every day, and his routines hadn’t changed. He got to have fun with the challenges of his job, and set his own schedule. I was at home, and discovering that parenting little ones creates chaos and fatigue. Putting it bluntly, I was jealous. The Bible tells us that jealousy or envy is a destructive quality. Proverbs 14: 30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones”. (NIV) A longer passage of scripture in James goes into more detail about the results of jealousy.

James 3: 13 – 18 NLT

“If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honourable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favouritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”

So if you’re finding yourself grumbling to yourself about how easy life is for your partner or your friends, and how you seem to get the harder end of things, realize that love is not jealous, and that jealousy only leads to a worse situation.

Learn to pray all through the day. When you start feeling irritable with your partner or circumstances, breathe a prayer asking God to help you calm down and stay peaceful. Take a good look at what your expectations are. Are you actually feeling jealous because you think you have to carry the load on your own – or at least most of the load on your shoulders? Are you frustrated because things are not going the way you think they should? Take some time to think these angry feelings through, and pray about them. How do I need to change? Ask God for clarity and help.

1 Peter 5: 7 NLT

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

Our song for today is Our God is Love by Hillsong.

February 10 – Patience

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

(I Corinthians 13: 4 – 7 NLT)

Love is “patient”. Patience is one of the qualities that God wants to give us, and it is a characteristic of God Himself. It’s actually thinking about God’s patience with me, that gives me the incentive or motivation to be patient with others. How can I accept God’s patience without extending that to others? The apostle Paul talks about God’s patience with him as he writes to his student pastor, Timothy; Paul says that God demonstrated His patience in choosing Paul for the important job of bringing the Gospel to the Gentile world. Prior to becoming a Christian, Paul’s goal in life was to exterminate the Christians. He travelled from place to place with his government and Jewish-faith supported troops to find them and put them in jail or to death. I Timothy 1: 16 says, “But God had mercy on me (Paul) so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of His great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in Him and receive eternal life”(NLT). Paul realized that God’s patience was amazing; God didn’t let him continue on his anti-Jesus path, but turned his life right around. God is patient even with His enemies. And God is patient with you. “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2: 4 NLT)

Since Valentine’s Day is coming, I’ll ask – how does patience play a part in your marriage? You chose your life partner because he/she was the perfect one for you … and then you lived with them for a while. I first met Wayne while we were at university, and to get his attention, I started going to the university library to study at a desk not far from where he sat. I can remember being so impressed with how focused he was while studying, and with how smart he was

What I didn’t realize, until after we were married – he was a very focused person all the time, and doing an excellent job was a priority thing for him. So, when we bought our first home and started painting and decorating, I found out that there were perfect ways to do the job that I had never heard about. I discovered that taping the baseboards and trim was a great job for me, and then he did the rest of the work. If we invited someone to come over on short notice, I discovered that I shouldn’t ask him to tidy and vacuum the living room. When he vacuumed, all the furniture got moved and he found things that might even need to be fixed. That’s not good when the company is arriving in a few minutes. Living with a perfectionist is … interesting … and that required me to develop some patience. BUT wait a minute! I know he needed patience too. Would you like to live with someone who said “that’s OK with me” all the time when you knew it was not OK?

Love is patient, and we’re not perfect, so patience is something we all need to work on in a marriage. All couples are made up of two very different people. In fact, there is a saying that “opposites attract”. But those opposites together make a great team if they are patient with each other. The funny thing is over the many years Wayne and I were together, we moved more to the centre on that perfectionist issue. He became a lot more relaxed, and I tried to do things well.

In this pandemic time, I suspect that being patient is even more challenging. We don’t have the opportunity to just get out of the house and visit with friends. Or have an evening out at a restaurant, or at the movies, or a concert – doing something we really enjoy. We have kids at home doing their schoolwork online, and that can be very frustrating. A lot of students don’t do well with this type of learning. I think that sets us up for being more impatient.

I want you to think about the patience issue with your partner/your family. What is the thing that irritates you most? Do you need to look more carefully at your own expectations? Do you have to decide that “whatever it is” is just who they are, and it’s something you need to be patient about and accept? Maybe you need to figure out a compromise which means YOU have to do some changing. Take a deep breath and remind yourself of how patient God is with you. Think about it.

Proverbs 25: 15 “Patience can persuade a prince, and soft speech can break bones.”

Psalm 40: 1 “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.”

Romans 12: 12 “Rejoice in confident hope. Be patient in trouble and keep on praying.

Our song for today is Everlasting God (We Will Upon the Lord) by Chris Tomlin

February 9 – Our God is Love

1 Corinthians 13 NLT

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

We’re going to start a series on this chapter of 1 Corinthians. Valentine’s Day is coming soon, so we’ll look at how God defines love. Today, I want to look at the ideas in all the verses except for verses 4 through 7. Those verses specifically describe the qualities of love, but the rest of the chapter talks about the importance of love. Tomorrow we’ll start looking at those often-quoted middle verses that give us a standard to see how we’re doing in the “love department”.

I can’t think of anyone who would say love is not very important; however, in our culture I’m not sure people would consider it as the most important thing. It would definitely be up there if you could rank important things. But look at the comparisons this scripture gives us to emphasize how important it is.

Just think about how famous you would be if you could literally speak every language known on earth. You’d certainly be paid big bucks for your translation ability, and likely be consulted by the UN during any global negotiations. What if you were the smartest person on the earth – so smart that you actually knew what God was doing? (Bill Gates – move on over!) What if you could foretell the future (prophecy) accurately? I mean, if you knew God’s secret plans, you’d know the future for sure. What if your faith in what you were doing was so great, it actually could make huge events happen – like moving mountains? If you could do any of those things, you would be one of the most sought-after persons in the world. We admire intelligence and the ability to get things done in our culture.

But to love extremely well? You might be famous and admired, but you wouldn’t have much influence on global affairs. I think perhaps Mother Theresa would be an example of someone who loved extremely well. She was definitely admired and anyone who can read or follow media reports would know about her, but I don’t think many people would want to follow in her footsteps or encourage others to do so. Sacrificial love is admired, but in our culture, we really don’t want to go there. BUT, that’s where God asks us to go.

God tells us that we could be the most linguistically fluent person ever, the smartest person ever, or the most powerful person ever, but that would mean nothing if we weren’t a loving person. Right now, we live on earth as humans, and we have limited intelligence and power. But there is a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful, and someday in eternity, we will see things from His perspective. When we do, we’ll understand just how important love is.

And God proved it to us already. John 3: 16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. The one being in this entire universe and in universes beyond ours, who has all knowledge and power, loved us so much He became a human with all its limitations, and died for us so we could have a loving relationship with Him. Is that not important? Really important?

Our devotions today focuses on the foundation of the Christian faith, not so much on how to apply it to our lives. Application will come, but I think it’s really important for us to stop and realize how important love is, and how important it is to our Heavenly Father. Because that is what will give us the inspiration to love others well when it’s personally difficult to do so.

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

Our song for today is Without Love by Stacie Orrico

February 5 – Love, Humility, Patience

James 5: 19 – 20

“My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.”

The Book of James has been a very practical guide to Christian living. James hasn’t wasted any words telling us how to live. Looking back over the past month as we’ve read through James, he has told us so many things. We don’t have to be considered important in our world for God to use us. God often grows us by helping us through difficult situations. We need to learn to act practically because of our faith; it’s not just something we believe in or think about. It requires action. We need to listen before we speak. When we speak, we need to be careful about what we say. We definitely shouldn’t be criticizing or speaking ill of people in our faith community. We shouldn’t be prejudiced – more willing to associate with people we think are okay, and avoiding people we think aren’t as good. In fact, we need to be careful that we don’t value monetary or fame success more than our relationship with God. We need to realize that we should seek God’s plans for us, not our own. Three words that stand out as we read through James are love, humility and patience.

Now James closes with a request for us to lend a helping hand to fellow Christians who have turned away from the faith in some way. I don’t think he is telling us to be judgmental and confront people with what we think they are doing wrong. That totally goes against all his advice in James which is accomplished by being loving, humble and patient. It is sad when we see a fellow believer disappear, and perhaps with this pandemic, we will discover once church gets back to a more regular routine, that people have disappeared. I’ve talked with so many people who have mentioned this feeling of disconnect with their churches, and I wonder if that means returning to church may not happen. Whatever the reason for “wandering” is, we need to reach out in a loving, patient way.

Occasionally, we hear about Christians being very critical, quick to condemn the actions of others. Although God wants us to speak the truth, we need to realize that God is a loving and patient God with us personally. As we seek to put God first in our lives, and listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, we develop these characteristics:

“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians: 22 – 23)

James gives us high standards for being Christ followers. We can be so thankful that the Holy Spirit works with each of us to bring us into alignment with our heavenly father. As we reach out to others, we do it in gratitude and humility because of what God has done for us.

Our song for today is Humble Heart by Matt McChlery

February 2 – What Is My Focus in Life?

James 5: 1 – 6 NLT

“Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you.”

These are super strong words. You may have read them and thought “Wow! That’s not me!” And you are right. It likely isn’t you. James is targeting people who put wealth first in their lives. The person for whom making money and living a luxurious lifestyle ranks first – all the while cheating those who work for them – judgment will come someday. These verses don’t seem to be aimed at Christ followers, but rather people who have no concern for, or connection to God.

But before, you turn your mind completely off, let’s take a closer look at what James is talking about. Remember how James often reflects Jesus’ teaching? Let’s look at the Sermon on the Mount. First at Luke 6: 22 – 26:

“What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. 23 When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.

24 “What sorrow awaits you who are rich,
    for you have your only happiness now.
25 What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now,
    for a time of awful hunger awaits you.
What sorrow awaits you who laugh now,
    for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow.
26 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds,
    for their ancestors also praised false prophets.”

How does Jesus define joy and sorrow? In verses 22 and 23, Jesus assures us that joy comes from following Him. Sorrow comes to those who concentrate on wealth and fame in this life. They may think they have everything now, but it won’t last. People who have been in the news lately come to my mind: Harvey Weinstein in the film industry, Jeffrey Epstein in the finance industry, and Peter Nygard in the fashion industry. All of these men have paid a high price, even in this life, for their focus on self-indulgence.

Matthew also tells us about Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon of the Mount in Matthew 6: 19 – 21. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” There again, is that warning about where our priorities should be.

We can ‘fluff off’ James’ warning in these verses because we don’t think we qualify as these wealthy, unscrupulous people. But we can learn that ‘getting ahead’ is not what should be the primary goal in our lives. Most of us likely put ourselves into that comfortable middle-class designation, financially okay but not greedy. I thought I’d look up some information about incomes around the world. The following information comes from a website called worlddata.info using 2019 statistics. Canadian income ranks as #21 in the world at $46,370.00 per household. The lowest incomes were in Afghanistan and the Congo at $530.00 (#78 and 79) Just stop and think about that for a minute – $530.00 to live on for a year?

Paul writes about what our focus in life should be in comparison to concentrating on acquiring money. 1 Timothy 6 has a few verses that speak to this:

“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.

But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” (6: 6 – 10)

“Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. 19 By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.” (6: 17 – 19)

So, here are some questions that I’m quoting from Francis Chan’s study guide on James 5 to think about:

How can we use the resources we have, such as they are, to help the poor?

What can we do to make sure that poor workers are not exploited, that they get a fair wage for their work?

As we participate in our word economy, how can we advance the cause of justice?

Where are we storing our treasure? How can we break free from the idolatry of money and the things it buys? How can we centre our hearts on God rather than wealth?

Our song for today is Give Me Your Eyes by Brandon Heath

January 20 – Great is Thy Faithfulness

Lamentations 3: 19 – 26 NLT

“The thought of my suffering and homelessness
    is bitter beyond words.
20 I will never forget this awful time,
    as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
    when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”
25 The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.
26 So it is good to wait quietly
    for salvation from the Lord.”

Lamentations – I looked it up in the dictionary. Here are some synonyms for it: expressing grief, complaining, moaning, wailing, mourning, sorrow. Does that sound how you feel in this lock-down, stay-at-home pandemic time? This book in the Bible reflects the feelings of the Old Testament Jews who were in exile from their land.

Here is some historical background to the Book of Lamentations. This information came from the introduction in The New Inductive Study Bible. “Lamentations is a book of wailing’s that are read annually by the Jews as a reminder of the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple. They serve as a reminder of an avoidable tragedy caused by sin – and of a God who judges, but keeps His covenant forever. These expressions of grief were written sometime between the destruction of Jerusalem and the return of the remnant after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. (likely during Daniel’s time: 574 – 538 BC)”

Although Lamentations is all about repentance for sin and ignoring God, I don’t think we’re wrong in looking at these verses from today’s perspective. Do I think the Coronavirus is God’s punishment on us? No, but I do think it’s one more piece of evidence of our fallen world. Sin, starting in the Garden of Eden, has warped God’s beautiful creation, and we continually suffer the consequences of that brokenness.

The first three verses do describe life today as we live in social isolation or lock-down. We do grieve the loss of interaction with family and friends, especially at holiday times like this past Christmas. Most of us will agree that this is an awful time we will never forget. It will definitely be included in the history books. Many of us are worrying about the health of those dear to us, and are also worrying about the financial hit we’re taking. How long before Canada recovers and life goes back to something we might call normal? In this scary time, we can remember this:

22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”
25 The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
    to those who search for him.

We can depend on God’s love and mercy for each one of us – for you, for me. I love verse 23. “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning”. That is so true! Each morning as I wake up, I am so thankful for my health, my home, my ability to talk with friends and family over the Internet, the extra time I have for writing these devotions, the chats with neighbours while we stay 6 feet apart, time to get things done I’ve been putting off for ages – and the list goes on.

“Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning”. I want you to take a few moments right now and thank God for specific things you are thankful for. Remember to repeat that prayer of thanksgiving tonight as you climb into bed.

There is one more thing we can take away from these verses. “So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” (v. 26) We need to be patient. We may be in social isolation for a long time yet. When I hear predictions on the news of how long it will take to get most people vaccinated, I shudder about the 8 months ahead. I need to stop all my worrying and comprehend that “the Lord is good to those who depend on him” (v. 25). Are you a worrywart? Take as many times as you need throughout your day to remind yourself of these truths. God is good to us and we can wait patiently for him.

One of my favourite hymns over my lifetime addresses this issue. Is God faithful?

Great is Thy Faithfulness by Thomas Chisholm in 1923

January 19 – Alive or Dead?

James 2: 14 – 26 NLT

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.”

Once again, today’s verses give us explicit instructions. “Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (v. 17)

Some people think these verses tell us that we are saved, accepted by God because we do good things. They think that Paul and James disagree about how we become Christ followers. So, we’ll look at that argument first. Paul says in Romans 3: 28:

“So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”

Remember that the Jews thought that obeying the Mosaic Law was the most important thing they needed to do. Jesus’ death and resurrection changed all that. Paul stresses that faith in God is more important than rule keeping. That argument was a big deal in the early church because it made such a difference to the way the Jews had always thought about their religious practices. Do you remember the verses in Acts 15: 13 – 21, where Paul and Barnabas came to a church council in Jerusalem to discuss whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved? James made the final announcement at the end of the meeting, and stated that the Gentiles were saved through faith in Jesus, not in ‘being Jewish’/following the Law. So Paul and James do agree that faith is the key to acceptance by God.

Charles Swindoll in his commentary, Living Insights, writes about what appears to be a difference in theology between Paul and James. Here is a summary of what Swindoll wrote:

Paul says ‘we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.” (Romans 3: 28) and uses the word ‘justified’ or ‘made right’ to say that God accepts us by faith. James says, “we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.” (v. 24). James is saying that what we do proves/demonstrates our faith in God. Paul is talking about how an unbeliever becomes a Christian. James is talking about how Christians live their lives. Paul is talking about the inward change in a believer; James if talking about the outward demonstration of that belief.

These last verses in James 2 talk about how we live our everyday lives. Could someone tell you are a Christ follower by the way you live? What you say? How you talk? What you do? The way you treat your family, your wife/husband? What your priorities in life are? James is not impressed by the person who has lots to say about Christianity, but their life doesn’t show it. I remember a staff member at a school where I taught who talked a lot about church and the Bible, but “cheated” by stealing school supplies for his personal life. That was talked about by other teachers behind his back. That kind of thing is what James is talking about – living out your faith, doing what you are saying.

James starts out by giving us an example. “Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” (v. 15 – 16) James mentions a “brother or sister”, another Christ follower, someone you know.

Charles Swindoll says, “My guess is that everybody reading this has experienced something like this from so-called brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe you haven’t missed meals or clothing, but perhaps you’ve endured pain and desperately needed comfort, or you’ve had a specific need that required at least a caring ear and a shoulder to cry on. But instead, you felt a pat on the head and you heard a hasty platitude. Instead of reaching out with real help, those who could (and should) have stepped up did nothing to meet your need. … Let me put this in very practical terms. Suppose a member of your adult home group has lost his job and can’t buy school clothes for his family. You just got a big raise. But instead of opening your hand to your brother, you just pat him on the back and say, “We’ll be praying for you”. (pages 57 and 59, Living Insights: James)

James ends with two extreme examples. Abraham and Sarah were beyond child-bearing age when their only son, Isaac was born. They had been waiting for years for God to keep his promise to them that they would be the beginning of a special nation of God’s. Then God told Abraham to take his son Isaac up the mountain and sacrifice Isaac on an altar that the two of them would build. Hebrews 11: 19 says that Abraham “considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead”. As he raised the knife, God stopped him and provided a sheep caught in a nearby thicket. Can you imagine what was going through Abraham’s head as he followed what God wanted him to do? That was an example of extreme faith.

Then James gives us the example of Rahab, who was not an Israelite, a member of God’s chosen people. In fact, she was a prostitute – the other end of the social spectrum. Yet she believed that those people surrounding Jericho served a true God and she was willing to protect the Israelite spies from her own people. She put her faith in God into action. She even ended up in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1: 5) – another extreme example.

You can be the most important and admired person – like Abraham was by the Jews. Or you can be the most lowly, underestimated person by your society’s standards. Or you can be anyone in between those two extremes. But what God wants is you to live out your faith. Trust him, and also show it to those around you.

This really makes me think and pray. If you were to question the people who know you in some way, would they say you are loving, generous person? Would they say that you lend a hand readily? Good questions for all of us to think about.

“Faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (v. 17)

Our song for today is I Will Follow by Chris Tomlin

January 18 – Prejudice, Bias

Let’s do a little “supposing” before we read today’s verses. Suppose one Sunday, our mayor showed up at LSA. On the same Sunday, a rather ragged looking man came on his bicycle to the service. Which person do you think people would talk to the most? To which person would someone say, “Please come back again. We loved having you.”?

You are in Best Buy hoping to buy a new computer. You see two salespeople chatting in an aisle close to you – a young white man and a young possibly Arabic man. Which one would you approach for help?

You are an automotive engineer just hired in Windsor, and you buy a condo closer to the downtown since there are a lot of classy condo renovations going on there. It’s close to the border where your job will take you to Detroit a few times a month. Which church would you choose to attend? One that’s near the downtown or would you drive further to the suburbs where other professional people live?

A single mom and her 3 children starting attending your church. She begins coming to MOPS, and as she begins sharing her story, you realize this mom has huge problems – lack of money, emotional and mental health problems, a child with some kind of disability that makes her life more difficult … would you want to get involved or would you say kind words, but tend to back away?

I hope you took some time to really consider those “supposes”. I wrote them as I thought about my own reactions. I’d like to think I would be the most loving, kind person in the world, but frankly, I’d struggle with those questions.

Now here is what the Bible says about each one of those situations:

James 2: 1 – 13 NLT

“My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favour some people over others?

2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewellery, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonour the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Leviticus 19: 18 “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”)

But if you favour some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

10 For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws. 11 For the same God who said, “You must not commit adultery,” also said, “You must not murder.” So if you murder someone but do not commit adultery, you have still broken the law.

12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. 13 There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.”

James couldn’t be more blunt. We sure don’t have to consult commentaries to figure out what James was saying. We need to treat everyone we meet the way we would want to be treated. Jesus tells us the same thing. Look at what Jesus told one of the Jewish leaders:

Mark 12: 28 – 31 NLT

“One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

Jesus not only told us that loving others – every single ‘other’ person – is crucially important, he demonstrated it completely himself. Read these verses in Colossians, and think about how the God who created this universe treated YOU.

Colossians 1: 13 – 22 NLT

“For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom[a] and forgave our sins.
15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.]
    So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
21 This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”

Is there any other example as amazing as Jesus’ example? Think of the huge difference between Jesus and you. What was he willing to do for you? How can we not love others as we love ourselves? How can the church not be known for its love and care?

Our song for today is If We Are the Body by Casting Crowns.

January 14 – Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

James 1: 19 – 27 NLT

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. 27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

As we read through James, I find many of these verses make me uncomfortable, and I expect you will too. These 8 verses today make me stop and think. Sometimes I hesitate to write about Bible passages like this one because in commenting it sounds like I have my Christian life all together – but I know I don’t. James is very direct with his instructions to me, to you

“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (v. 19) You can’t be more direct than that. Listen and shut up. With social media today, we have a tendency to want to be heard. We make comments about others’ posts. We make comments about articles posted on Facebook. We come up with our own opinions on what is going on in our world and post them. Last week, in the United States, we saw the terrible result of angry words and social media egging people on. It is so easy to think those people were just dreadful, but we need to stop and think about what we say. How quickly do we respond? During this pandemic time, my Facebook page is often filled with opposing views on so many issues, and I understand the frustration that life today brings. Are politicians making the right decisions? Are the local medical people getting the vaccine out fast enough? And on and on we go …

Was Jesus a patient person? Think of all the crowds pressing around him as he travelled through Israel over his 3 years of ministry. Think of all the broken people who wanted his attention. Think of all the times he faced the Temple leaders who were out to “trip him up” and kill him. The only time we see Jesus angry was when he knocked over the tables full of merchants making a profit on people looking for God’s forgiveness in the Temple. Righteous anger.

“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” How well do I listen? When people start expressing their opinion about whatever, how quick am I to jump in with my viewpoint? When I realize I’ve made a mistake, how quickly do I admit it, or do I get angry and upset? “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires”. That is quite blunt – God doesn’t want us to be angry people.

“Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says.” (v. 22) Another arrow straight to the heart. Do I read my Bible, close it and feel good because I’ve made time for personal devotions? Just happy that I’m doing what is expected of a Christian. Do I attend church every Sunday, and come out feeling I’ve done the right thing – and now, on with my week. If the non-Christians in my life looked closely at me, what would they be thinking. Am I just like them – except for going to church? James compares that to looking in the mirror and ignoring what we see – or even forgetting what we’ve seen. If we’d stopped and looked carefully, we might had seen something that needed to be fixed. As we read our Bibles, or attend meetings at church, or listen to religious programs on TV, do we think about what we’ve heard? Do we listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting that maybe we should do something, change something?

“If you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. … Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (v. 25, 27) Have you ever experienced God nudging you to do something, and you’ve hesitated because you knew it would be difficult, or would interfere with your schedule, or would put you in a situation that made you nervous? I have. Sometimes I’ve ignored that prompting. Sometimes I have followed it, and when I have done so, I’ve never regretted it. That makes me wonder why I tend to want to ignore those promptings so much.

God wants us to be “doers”. He wants us to care for all those around us. In preparation for this devotion, I listened to Francis Chan’s comments on James on RightNow Media. When he talked about areas where we could be ‘doing’, he mentioned a situation in the US that made me look up the data for Canada. Chan talked about the number of children in foster care, and said that if 1 person in 2 churches in the US took in a foster child, there would be no children in foster care. According to Stats Canada (2011), there are 47,885 children in foster care. Ontario has 11, 375 of those children. In Windsor alone, there are over 120 churches of various kinds. Now, I’m not encouraging you to run out and take in a child from foster care, but this is just one example of hurting people in our country where Christ followers could make a difference.

There are so many people who are struggling in our world, our country, our city. God wants us to do something! God loves each one of us, and cares for us. We need to share God’s love to those around us. So … that has me thinking and praying. Is there something God wants me to do? Is there something God wants you to do?

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

Our song for today is Do Something by Matthew West

January 12 – When Troubles Come Your Way

James 1: 1 – 12 NLT

“This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.

Greetings!”

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honoured them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.

12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

Testing, troubles! In 2020-21, we can relate to those words. Some of us have lost family to Covid19, and the worst part was that we were separated from them during those last precious moments. Some of us have lost jobs, and are struggling to figure out what comes next. Some have a reduced income because the hours have been cut. For small business owners, things may have closed with debt piled up.  Most of us don’t like social distancing that keeps us from family and friends. Life is lonely! We miss the emotional health we get from gathering in our Sunday morning services or from small groups at our church. So many community opportunities are not there – no community centres are open, nor health clubs, nor sports activities, etc.

The people that James was writing to also experienced huge troubles. They had to leave Jerusalem and its surrounding area because of persecution from the Jewish leaders and community, as well as persecution from the Roman government. They had lost their jobs, their houses, and had to flee to some area unknown to them. As James wrote this letter, he was not talking to people who were just having a bad day. Every day was difficult; life was very hard.

When you are feeling depressed and frustrated, would you want to hear these words?  “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.” Yet that is what James writes. Why would he say that trouble brings “great joy”? Here is James’ answer. “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

God wants us to become more like him, more like Jesus. For a moment, think of God as a sports’ trainer for a hockey team. The trainer wants each athlete to become better, and so he thinks of various exercises to assist that growth. Each person on the team is unique, and so they all don’t have exactly the same exercises. Some strengthening exercises are for everyone: some are for individuals. But in the long run, all that hard and sweaty training results in better athletes. But likely there are a couple of athletes on the team who “cheat” a little on the workouts. They find them rather hard, and don’t think it’s really all that valuable or they don’t think the trainer knows what he is doing, so they don’t put in their best effort. Would you expect those athletes to be the “stars” of the team?

James tells us that God knows what we need to grow in our relationship with him. When we feel like life is falling apart around us, we can go to God and ask him for the wisdom to deal with our difficulties. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” But God does ask us to trust him completely, to understand that God will provide what we need. Sometimes, we think we know what we need; we have our own plans. But James tells us that we definitely need to trust God.

I’ve used this example from my own life before, but it is such a good example of how God provided what I needed even though I didn’t think it was the answer. When my husband required a liver transplant, I needed to go back to work since one couldn’t count on a transplant coming when needed. I knew from my previous experience in teaching what I was qualified for, but when the only opportunity that was given was teaching in alternative education, I was sure that was not what I should do – but I had no other option at the time. But God knew I needed that job to bring me out of my cozy middle-class world to understand and love people who were struggling big time. Yes, God provided the income I needed in case of my husband’s death, but he also provided a job that grew me in so many ways that I needed to grow. God knows each one of us, and he knows what we need.

James gives the example of poor versus rich people. God knows that people who are needy in some way need encouragement, and God will provide that. God also knows that people who think they have everything under control need to understand that they don’t. God knows exactly what each one of us needs, no matter how successful or pathetic we think we are. We can trust God completely when life goes smoothly, and we can trust God completely when hard times come our way.

Sometimes our difficult times don’t last too long. For others, life is hard for a long time. For us now in 2021, the vaccines are a sign of hope. Many may feel that they will be able to get back to being with family and friends – a social life; but, for others the results of the pandemic may continue with financial or emotional hardship. Quite apart from the pandemic troubles, some may continue going through hard times with ongoing health issues, or dealing with a family member whose health problems makes life more difficult. James continues with this advice: “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” God doesn’t necessarily promise happiness in this life, but there will always be a reward for those who patiently endure testing and temptation.

Our song for today is God Help Me by Plumb.

January 11 – You Don’t Have to be Important for God to Use You

James 1: 1 NLT

“This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.

Greetings!”

Today we begin reading through the Book of James. It’s a very practical book telling us how to live well. But, before we get started, I thought it would be interesting to know a little more about James, himself. Most of the information I’m going to share is from Charles R. Swindoll’s new testament commentary, Living Insights: James. For the most part, I am summarizing what he has written. If I directly quote him, I’ll use quotation marks and include the page number.

Just who is James? There are several James mentioned in the New Testament. The first one I’ll mention is James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John. He was part of the three men who Jesus seemed to rely on for leadership – Peter, James and John. They were the three men who experienced the transfiguration of Jesus, and were also asked to accompany Jesus while he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. That James was the first of the disciples to be martyred around AD44. However, most Bible scholars think the Book of James was written by Jesus’ half-brother James, the natural son of Mary and Joseph.

“No second-born son or daughter can possibly fathom what it must have been like to suffer second child syndrome with an older brother who never sinned. But James did. Can you even imagine? Jesus always came when his mother called him the first time. He always washed his hands properly before supper. He always did his chores quickly and with delight. He always obeyed. Then there was James, born with a sinful nature like the rest of us., living in the shadow of a big brother who was God in the flesh. Being far from perfect, younger brother James had a built-in problem right from the start.

I suppose James would have been happy to see Jesus leave home when he did. But then his already ‘strange’ older brother came back to their hometown claiming to be the long-awaited fulfillment of messianic promises (Luke 4: 16 – 21). How do you think James felt toward his older brother then? We don’t have to wonder. John 7: 5 says, “Not even his brothers were believing in him.” And Mark 3: 21 tells us that his family “went out to take custody of him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost his senses’”. (pages 8-9)

I expect as you read what Swindoll wrote, you were agreeing with what he said. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in a family with a perfect person. Do you? So, when did James decide that Jesus was really the Messiah? The Apostle Paul gives us a clue in 1 Corinthians 15: 3 – 8:

“I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.” NLT

It appears that Jesus saw James personally after his resurrection. The Bible doesn’t record that conversation, but I imagine it was very special for James. James is then mentioned several times in Acts 1 through 9 when he experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and then the growth of the early church during persecution.

From that point on, James was a dedicated follower of Jesus, and led the church in Jerusalem. James would have been there when Saul, the young man who had been zealously persecuting the church, was brought by Barnabas to assure the church that Saul (later known as Paul) was a true believer. Can you see what might have been going through James’ mind as he had to decide whether to accept this ‘scary’ person into the church? James knew he hadn’t believed Jesus either, so now he needed to accept anyone who turned from unbelief to accepting Jesus. Bible scholars think that James wrote the Book of James, the first book to be written in the New Testament, about 10 to 15 years after Paul’s conversion.

The church in Jerusalem tended to follow the Old Testament Laws. They did believe that Jesus died and rose again, and was the Saviour. They didn’t believe that following the Law was what saved you; however, they did think that following many of the laws were appropriate. When Gentiles, especially those who were reached during Paul’s missionary journeys, became Christians, many of the Jews felt they should also keep many of the laws of the Old Testament. There was a big meeting in Jerusalem when Paul pled the case for the Gentiles. James was the one who eventually spoke the final decision of the church. Acts 15: 13 – 21

“When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. 15 And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written:

16 ‘Afterword I will return
    and restore the fallen house[b] of David.
I will rebuild its ruins
    and restore it,
17 so that the rest of humanity might seek the Lord,
    including the Gentiles—
    all those I have called to be mine.
The Lord has spoken—
18     he who made these things known so long ago.’ (Amos (: 11 – 12)

19 “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. 21 For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”

James continued to lead the church in Jerusalem until he was martyred around AD66. There was a lot of persecution from the Jewish leaders who wanted to stamp out this new religion. It was also a time when Claudius, the Roman Emperor, also wanted to keep the Jews under control, and definitely this new church that had sprung up. “Jewish businesses were boycotted. Jewish children were mocked and thrown out of schools. Time was harsh and life was grim. So Jewish Christians … seem to have been living under a double diaspora. Not only were they subject to Roman ire because of their Jewishness; many had been driven out of the Jewish communities themselves because of their faith in the Messiah! More than any others, Jewish believers lived without roots and traveled outside Judea looking for a place to call home. Many of these men and women found themselves in a social and religious limbo.” (page 13)

When James wrote this book, he didn’t spend a lot of time explaining the doctrine of Christianity. He wanted to help this struggling new church understand how to live well in the middle of all this uncertainty and hard times. You see that in this first verse – “I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.”

I also find the way he introduces himself interesting – “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. He could have introduced himself as James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem. Words to make sure they knew he was “the boss”. But instead, he introduces himself as the most lowly of people in that Roman culture – a slave. As we read through James, we’ll see how he encourages us to be humble in the way we think and in what we do in our everyday lives.

God chooses the most unlikely people to represent him in our world. Jesus chose 12 disciples who were not the most educated, influential people in their country – fishermen, a tax collector … God chose James, Jesus’ half-brother who had issues with Jesus for a long time, to lead the church in Jerusalem and spread the gospel to thousands of Jewish people. Sometimes, we think we are not that important. We expect our pastors and other leaders to speak for us. James realized that God uses everyone, no matter how unlikely we think we are. In our devotions over the next while, we’ll see how God wants each of us to live and influence those around us in ways we never thought possible.

(Charles R. Swindoll, Living Insights: James, Tyndale House Publishers, 2014)

Our song for today is Make Me a Servant sung by Maranatha Singers.

January 7 – Getting Together

“When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.” Romans 1:12 NLT

If there’s one major thing that this pandemic has drummed into my mind and heart, it’s the importance of getting together with friends and family, of being able to be with my church family, even getting together with my neighbours. I am on the introverted side, but even I find this social isolation very difficult. Once vaccines are widely distributed, life may seem more normal, but that is still months away. What do we do in the meantime? Stay alone?

Today, I want you to start thinking about how to start a small group where you can encourage each other in your faith and life. NO – I don’t mean to ignore the guidelines set by our medical and political leaders. But there are ways, if we start being creative enough, to connect with others. We can use Zoom, Facebook’s Messenger chat room, Google Meet, etc. Once LSA is open to the public again, we can reserve classroom space to meet in small numbers that allow us to distance. Once the warm weather begins, outside get-togethers will work. The Apostle Paul said meeting and encouraging one another was important as he wrote to the Christians from Rome.

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10: 24 – 25 NLT

The author of Hebrew’s fear is that Christians will neglect connecting, and that they will allow that distance to cool their love for God. God knows we need each other. God is a Trinity of three; even God is not a ‘solo’ being. He created us in his image, to need him and each other. So how can we connect during a pandemic?

First of all, just what is a small group? It’s a group of people who enjoy each other’s company, and who study the Bible, or a book written on some faith topic, together. They take time to pray for one another, and when tough times crop up, they help each other out. Small groups have been the major encouraging influence in my life over many years. I started to realize how much they meant to me while I was in university and belonged to a small group then. Ever since, I’ve looked for, or started, small groups because they’ve been my lifeline.

Who leads a group like that? One of the group members may take a leadership role, or the group may divide up the various responsibilities. One can make sure group members know what is happening. One may host the group on Zoom (or whatever method) in their home. One might lead the study, or leading the discussion might be switched up among the members. You can be creative in those areas and rotate the various leadership responsibilities. But somebody has to take the initiative to get started – to ask their friends if they’d like to join in a small group. Is God prompting you to be that person?

Who do you ask to join the group? It could be friends you’ve had over the years. You could start thinking about people you’ve met at LSA (or even in your neighbourhood) who you’ve thought might be good to get to know better. What about people in your area of the city or county who you know attend LSA – they could be people of any age group, married or single. Start thinking and praying.

What do you study? Again, usually the group decides what they want. What you want is to encourage each other in your faith and how you apply your faith to your everyday life. So that guides your choices as a group. Or if you are the initiator, you may want to suggest the first study yourself, and get the group’s input later. Look for something you think would go over in the group you’ve gathered.

LSA provides an amazing resource in RightNow Media. You can access it on your own computer. Many of the studies come with their own questions and guidelines for the leader. If you don’t already have access to this resource, contact Dave Francis at LSA (dfrancis@lsachurch.net), and he will get you set up for free. There are so many exciting studies available in that resource – even ones to help you cope in a pandemic. Get that resource and start looking. When you’ve chosen a study, ask your group members to look at the session on their own before you meet, and then talk about it in your online meeting.

Let’s get creative and figure out a way to be connected in a meaningful way. So many people are feeling isolated and frustrated these days. They are more likely to say ‘yes’ to someone who contacts them and asks if they’d like to be part of a group that encourages one another.

Think! Pray! Don’t ignore God’s promptings!

“When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.” Romans 1:12 NLT

Take that challenge!!!!!

Our song for today is Made to Worship by Chris Tomlin