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 4 – The Power of Prayer

James 5:13-18

Prayer. What a beautiful thing it is. Prayer is a gift from God to us. He welcomes us to communicate with Him directly and personally. Jesus and the Holy Spirit also pray on behalf of us. Take a moment and think about the last time you had a long conversation with our Heavenly Father. How did you feel while you were praying? How did you feel after?

James encourages us to pray about everything.

13 Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.14 Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
James 5:13-18 (NLT)

James is telling us that no matter where we are in our lives and what we are experiencing, to pray. How often do we only pray when we are in times of struggle? Or when we want something from God? It is so important to pray, and praise God at all times – in sorrow, in joy, in sickness, in health.

God wants to be connected with us in everything, not just when things are falling apart. Think of the close relationships in your life, whether they are family, friends or both. Don’t you share everything with them? Don’t you tell them about the good and the bad?

God wants us to share everything with Him, even more than we share with our closest friends and family. He knows our every thought and what is in our hearts, but He still wants us to come to Him in prayer.

In verse 16, James tells us to confess our sins to one another and pray for each other.

16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (NLT)

How often do you ask someone to pray for you? Asking for prayer and praying for each other is a beautiful experience. It brings us closer together as brothers and sisters in Christ. It creates vulnerability, deep relationship, and intimacy among our Christian family.

In the youth online Bible study I lead, we talked about prayer last week. I questioned the teens how often they ask others to pray for them. The majority of them said they don’t ask others for prayer. They were either too shy or didn’t want to trouble people with their prayer requests.

Do you ask others to pray for you? Are you ever afraid to ask for prayer?

Praying for each other is a joy and a privilege. I can honestly tell you that I love when people ask me to pray for them. I am honoured to pray for others and I sincerely enjoy it. Most Christians feel the same way I do. Never be afraid to ask someone to pray for you.

In this verse, James also instructs us to confess our sins to one another. I think that is much harder than asking for prayer. No one wants to admit to the shameful things they have said, done or thought. Confessing to God is hard enough, but to each other? That seems beyond difficult.

Why is confessing our sins to each other so hard?

Because we fear judgment. We fear that people will look at us differently. We fear we will lose respect. We fear we will lose relationships. We are ashamed.

Confessing our sins feels like a huge risk. We’d rather keep our secrets buried and deal with our shame privately. But we need to confess our sins and release the weight of the burden of our guilt and shame. We need to share honestly with each and experience in return, not judgment, but love and compassion. We need others to pray for us, especially when we are not sure how to pray for ourselves.

Confess your sins to each other and let your fellow Christians give you a glimpse of the incredible compassion, love and forgiveness that God offers us all.

Since James is so practical, he gives us an example of the power of prayer from a faithful person in verses 17-18:

17 Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years!18 Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. (NLT)

What faith Elijah had in our Lord! He prayed earnestly and God answered His prayers.

God hears every one of our prayers, and He does answer all of them. Some He takes longer to answer than others, but He does answer every single one. However, we often think that God does not hear us when we don’t get what we prayed for. We assume He hasn’t answered our prayer.

This is not true. God hears and answers every prayer, but He responds in His wisdom, not in our desires. God is not here to give us everything we ask for. We often think we know best, but God knows better. He knows the past and the future, and He answers our prayers according to His plan, not ours.

Prayer is incredibly powerful. It is also beautiful. It is our personal connection with our Heavenly Father. I encourage you to turn to God in prayer with all things. There is no bad prayer, no prayer too short, no prayer unheard. Pray often. Seek out others to pray for you. Witness the power and love of our amazing Lord.

February 3 – Patience and Endurance

James 5:7-12

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”
-Joyce Meyer

Today’s verses focus on patience, something we all need more of, especially during these unpredictable times. For nearly a year we have been living in a global pandemic, and I think we have all had times of extreme impatience. Impatience with our home-schooled children, impatience with our families as we isolate, impatience with the restrictions placed upon us, impatience with mixed message & uncertainty, impatience with wearing masks everywhere we go. Yes, it is very hard be patient these days.

James, in chapter 5, verse 7, advises us to be patient as we wait for the Lord’s return, using farmers as an example of patience:

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. (NLT)

How many of us are patiently waiting for the Lord’s return? How many of us are impatiently waiting for the Lord’s return? How many of us are not ready for the Lord’s return?

I am in the second category – impatiently waiting for the Lord’s return. I admit it, I can’t wait for Him to return to this earth, and I pray it will happen in my lifetime. However, I must not remain only focused on His return, but on my own attitude and behaviour as I await it. Here, James gives us further instructions:

Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!

10 For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.11 We give great honour to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.

12 But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned. (NLT)

James is giving us specific examples of how to remain patient. He tells us not to grumble about each other. How many of us are guilty of that? I know I am. I have sinned through impatience and anger towards friends, family, and strangers many times. I have complained about others and spoken poorly of them. It is something I am continually working on and praying about to be become more patient and kinder with those around me.

Those who know me well know that patience is not one of my strengths. My ability to be patient has improved over the years, as well as my attitude during times where patience and endurance is required. However, I must actively work at daily and be fully self-aware of the times when I am failing at it.

I have struggled with patience and endurance throughout the pandemic. But in those times of struggle, God has drawn me close to Him. He has taught me more about endurance and patience during this season than in previous trials in my life. And He has pointed me to Biblical examples of those, like Jesus, who endured unimaginable suffering.

James also points us to those in the Bible who have faced immense struggle, like Job. Job suffered so much, as God allowed Satan to test him. He lost everything – his wealth, his health, his family – yet his faith never wavered. He grieved deeply, accepted his suffering and never once blamed God, but continued to worship Him.

Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship.” Job 1:20 (NLT)

What an incredible example of faith Job was. In the end, the Lord, who is full of love & mercy for us all, blessed Job greatly.

Do we, like Job, turn to praise God when we suffer? Is our faith on solid ground despite terrible things that happen? Most of us are quick to praise God when something good happens, but we need to be just as quick to praise him when the bad happens too, just like Job. It is important to note that Job didn’t stop himself from mourning his losses. He grieved greatly. We need to grieve when we experience loss and suffering, and God grieves with us. He doesn’t expect us to be indestructible or unaffected by pain, but He does want us to turn to Him in our sorrow.

Do you turn to God first in times of struggle? Do you praise Him even as you grieve? Are you finding strength in Him during suffering?

James has a final instruction for us in these verses: never take an oath by heaven or earth. He tells us to simply say yes or no. I believe this is applicable to our daily language as we have so many common phrases that involve swearing to the Lord or taking His name in vain. James is asking us, as He has before, to watch our tongues and speak in simple truth.

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

February 1 – A Mist That Appears

James 4:13-17

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

It’s rather funny now to think about the email I sent out in the beginning of March 2020. It was an invitation to a combined Sunday gathering on March 15th of all seven locations of our church in Prague, Czech Republic, with a service at 10 am, potluck lunch at noon, and an annual meeting at 1 pm. A few days later we had to cancel those plans, and plenty of other plans in the ten months since then. How many of your plans, meetings, and trips were changed in an instant? It’s a striking reminder of the truth of the words we find in James 4:13-17.

Among the people that James was writing to were businessmen, builders, and financiers. They could be heard to say in verse 13: “Let’s spend some time in this place! Let’s make some money in that place!” Does that sound like anything we might do? We plan our trips. We expect to arrive at our destination. We schedule a certain amount of time to be away. We choose what we’re going to do while we’re there. And we expect certain results from our time away.

But wait – is it wrong for us to travel? Should we not try to plan ahead? Is it a sin to make a profit? Certainly not. It’s just that an important perspective was missing from all of these plans. When we have the proper perspective in place, it changes everything. We need a proper understanding of our life, and we need a proper understanding of God. Then we see everything in a different light. Then we have gained the proper perspective.

James describes our life as a mist or vapour that appears and then vanishes again (v.14). When King Solomon uttered his famous words, “All is vanity!” (Eccl. 1:2) it had the same meaning in Hebrew – everything is a mist or a vapour. Life is so fleeting and elusive; it’s really just a breath and then it’s gone. Why should we ever want to pin our hopes on this life? We need to realize that our life is so much more than just what we can experience with our five senses. Ultimately, we should always live our lives with the perspective of eternity in mind. Only what’s done for Christ will have eternal value.

Our life is such a precious gift from God. Job realized this when he said, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Whether we live or whether we die is ultimately up to God. James reminds us of this truth in verse 14: “If the Lord wills, we will live.” Every heartbeat is a gift from God. Our next breath is by His grace. Our internal organs continue to function by God’s sovereign will. We were created to glorify God with our lives!

Not only are our lives in God’s hands, but our plans as well. So how should we preface our plans, our travels, our business proposals, our decisions? James gives us the answer also in verse 14: “If the Lord wills, we will… do this or that.” All of our plans should always subject to the will of the Lord. The people described in verse 13 gave no thought to their lives in light of eternity, and they gave no thought to God as the sovereign Lord of the universe. They were consumed with themselves.

James concludes in verses 16-17 with some strong words for those who give no thought to the fragility of life and the sovereignty of God. Boasting about our plans, dreams, goals and aspirations, without considering the shortness of life and the greatness of God, is what James calls arrogance and evil boasting (v.16), and when we know what we should do and we don’t do it, the Bible calls it sin (v.17). In Proverbs we read, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. (Pr. 27:1)

For me, the last ten months has been a distinct reminder how utterly dependent on God I truly am for my life, my breath, and for my future. Let’s receive every new day as an amazing gift from God. Let’s lay our heads down at night in gratitude to God for the day he has given us. Let’s praise Him for the life he is allowing us to live and the body he has given us to glorify him. Let’s count the cost, let’s seek God’s will, let’s set a course, and let’s rejoice in every step of the journey as we follow Christ our Saviour every day.

January 29 – What Did I Say?

James 4:11-12

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbour?”

In James 4:11-12, James brings up these two touchy topics of speaking evil and judging others. For most of us the first topic seems clear enough: speaking evil is wrong! But for many of us, the second topic, judging others, is not quite so clear. Is judging others the same as speaking evil? Or is it in a different category? Can we be guilty of one and not of the other?

Here’s what’s clear: slander, gossiping, lying, and verbal attacks are not what should come out of a Christian’s mouth. The ninth Commandment tells us not to testify falsely against our neighbour (Ex 20:16), and Jesus told us that we should treat people the way we want them to treat us (Mt 7:12). Then Jesus went on to say: that’s the Law! James says in this verse that speaking evil against one another is the same as speaking evil against the very law of God.

Here’s what’s not so clear: “Don’t judge others.” Jesus also warned us not to judge; otherwise, we’ll be judged. (Mt 7:1). So often we hear this Bible verse twisted from “Don’t judge others” to “Don’t judge me!” Not all judging is wrong or sinful. In fact, Jesus told us not to judge by appearances, but to judge with right judgment (John 7:24). And the Apostle Paul calls for judgment when sin has crept into the church (1 Cor 5:12).

When faced with challenging moral issues, we should not stay neutral. We should take a stand. We should be ready to defend our convictions, follow God’s commands and live honourable lives. “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Pr 31:9) So when should we “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) and when should we be “slow to speak” (James 1:19)?

We are so often fooled by outward appearances, but it is God alone who judges the heart (1 Sam 16:7). We so often love to pick out faults in other people when we’ve got even bigger problems of our own! (Mt 7:5) Our sinful human nature is so prone to selfishness, pride and hypocrisy that we can so easily cross the line and sin by judging others.

When have we crossed the line? When has judging others become a sin? Obviously, when we use slander, gossip, lying, and attacks to judge others, that is sin. It is also wrong to think that we can judge because we ourselves are above the law (Rom 2:12). We condemn ourselves when we do the same things that we judge others for (Rom 2:1). We should never try to become the enforcer of God’s law, thereby usurping God’s authority.

Missionaries like us, working thousands of miles from home, with people from a different ethnic group, speaking a different language, need to be especially careful. Our task is not only to learn a new language; we need to also learn a new culture! And it can be so easy for us as missionaries to be judgmental of mannerisms, customs, or even national characteristics that are different than our own. Over the years, we have learned how important it is to be careful not to pass judgment on the citizens of our host country, whether they are not yet believers or whether they belong to the household of faith.

So let’s not be quick to condemn, criticize, or be harsh with our words. We don’t have the right to pass judgment on a fellow servant (Rom 14:4). Judging is such a dangerous mine field that if we can’t be sure about someone’s motive, we should avoid judging them altogether. The point of verse 12 is clear: There is only one lawgiver and judge, and that is God. He’s the one who is able to save and destroy. When we put judging in that perspective, as James says, who are we to judge our neighbour?

Let’s take some time to do a personal inventory of the times when we have passed judgment upon someone through our words or actions. Any regrets? If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that the times that our judging of others crossed the line into sin far outweigh the times we acted righteously and brought restoration. Let’s resolve to speak graciously, by the Holy Spirit’s power, to encourage and build others up as we minister to them (Eph 4:29).

January 28 – Relationships

How would you answer the question, who are the most important people in your life? If I were to make a list, the people on it would be my wife, sons, daughter in-law, and granddaughter. If I expanded my list, it would include my siblings, extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins), and close friends. Your list may be slightly different but, more than likely, it would include some of the same people.

Another question related to the first is, who are the most valued people in your life? These two questions are connected because we usually value the people who are most important to us. I mention “usually” because there are times we speak and act in ways that devalue the very people who we would identify as most important to us. I know that is true for me. How about you?

Mark 12:28-34 says,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.”32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other.33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbour as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mark was aware that the teachers of religious law, known as Pharisees and Sadducees, asked Jesus their questions with deceptive motives. This religious leader’s motive was to trick Him into saying something that he could use against Him (Matthew 22:35). The first part of Jesus’ answer relates to a person’s relationship with God while the second part is focused on how a person relates to others. Jesus clearly stated that loving God must be the most important priority in a person’s life while loving others should be a very close second. He concludes by saying that these two commandments are more important than all other commandments. Therefore, we are to pay special attention to them.

Then the religious leader responded with praise, maybe even flattery. He wanted Jesus, who he referred to as Teacher, to know he understood God’s Law by referencing 1 Samuel 15:22. This verse tells us, “What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”This cuts to the core of the conflict. Jesus came to earth to live as an example to follow and to ultimately sacrifice His life for all mankind. This encounter can be compared to two university professors, going head-to-head in a debate or like two heavy weight boxers fighting it out in the ring. Both Jesus and the religious leader were exchanging blows to make their point and get the upper hand. Then, in response, Jesus trumps the conversation by letting him know he wasn’t far from the Kingdom of God, meaning, he had not quite made it with all his efforts to get there. Heaven was out of his reach because he hadn’t done what was most important, place his faith in Jesus and follow Him.

So, here’s my point. Relationships matter to God but He want us to have Him as the priority in our life and he wants others to be close behind. So, so close, that they are inseparable. Where are you at in your relationship with God? Is He number one in your life? That is God’s desire. And where are you at in your relationship with those most important to you? How are you valuing those most important to you? Since relationships are a part of our whole life, how are your relationships going to be today and in the future? We can’t change the past but we can seek forgiveness from God and those we love most. What will you do to improve your most important relationships? My prayer is that you will obey God and His challenge to love Him and others.

This is a song from a gifted musician who was committed to singing praise to God and helping the body of Christ grow in their faith. I hope it encourages you as it has encouraged me.

To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice by Keith Green

January 27 – Humility

James 4: 6 – 10

“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

James is a wise and also compassionate shepherd, so after a string of probing questions, he has a list of ten commands that show how to move forward rather than staying stuck feeling bad about ourselves. But notice first that these ten commands are sandwiched between two promises which he draws out of the Old Testament: God gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34) and God will lift us up (Job 5:14). Undoubtedly, James is remembering that Jesus also promised that whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matt. 23:12). When God makes a great demand, he gives great grace so that we can do it.

We can group the commands into three characteristics: godly humility (submit to God, resist the devil, come near to God, humble yourselves), godly purity (wash your hands and purify your hearts) and godly sorrow (grieve, mourn and wail). If you’re trying to put on those characteristics without God’s involvement, they will be just an ugly counterfeit. I read Charles Dickens’ novel David Copperfield when I was in high school. I don’t remember much about the story except the man named Uriah Heep who was always claiming to be “umble”, but he was probably the most distasteful character in the book. Purity that is not from God reminds us of Pharisees, and sorrow without God’s touch looks more like self-pity. Even as I was writing this, I had an incident where my over-reaction to an unwanted question turned into an apology that sounded like humility, but was more like a cover-up for continued indignation mingled with self-pity for good effect. I’m thankful God showed it to me and kept the situation from escalating.

Just as grace comes from God, humility and purity and sorrow are initiated by God because they come as responses to His greatness and His glory. Practically speaking, this is always going to involve reading His word and obeying what it says and talking with Him in prayer. Our responses to other people are a lot more likely to be godly when our minds and hearts have been intentionally engaged with God. And even in the times (which happen more often than we like) when we are less engaged and more just going through the motions, it’s better to be defaulting (including on our screens, radios, phones) to God’s words than to the world’s. Before James started giving people advice and diagnosing their problems, he had spent a lot of time in the Scriptures and a lot of time with Jesus. His words, even his short and pointed one-liners, had the weightiness of God behind them. They didn’t come across like a bumper sticker slogan or a meme, a zinger, witty comeback. Before saying (or posting or forwarding) something, we would do well to pause and think first about whether it is wise or merely clever.

In the church where I grew up, there was an older gentleman whose words always made you listen and stop to think. He had been a pastor and missionary and served as a consultant evaluating Christian organizations. I remember someone saying that pearls of wisdom rolled off his tongue. At that time, there were a lot of Christian “bumper sticker” slogans going around such as “Keep lookin’ up.” As Mr. Bower was going out the door after church, he would often say good-bye with the encouragement to “Keep looking down,” and coming from him, you knew it wasn’t a slip-up. He would go on to explain, “Paul wrote in Ephesians that as believers we’re seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, so keep looking down!” And seeing how he (and his wife) lived and hearing his words, it wasn’t hard to picture him there.

Here is a prayer written by Warren and Ruth Myers in the book 31 Days of Prayer that sums up James 4:1-10. “Holy Father, enable me to live out what You have already done deep within me. May your Spirit of holiness empower me to grow in righteous thinking and living. I pray this also for believers in my church and neighbourhood. Make us quick to confess our sins and rely on You to forgive. Make us clean and pure in every part of our lives. Deliver us from the evil ways we used to cherish when we didn’t know any better. May we feed daily on Your holy Scriptures, letting you use them to cleanse our lives and remove our blemishes and wrinkles and defects. I worship before You as the God of peace and well-being who is committed to making us holy. I count on You to do this day by day, giving us grace to cooperate with you.”

January 26 – James Quotes Jesus

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to two more devotion writers – Mark and Gretchen Potma. Mark and Gretchen are church planters who minister in Prague, Czech Republic. They are currently on home assignment in Windsor (Mark’s home town), living with their four young adult children. LSA first sent a summer team to help with their English camp in 2008 and has been partnering with them ever since.

Mark and Gretchen will be taking us through chapter 4 of James. The next two days are written by Gretchen. (Mark will do the final two days.) – Audrey

James 4:1-5

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?” 

You might have started to notice by chapter 4 of James that there are a lot of commands and not as much explanation of doctrine as there is in some of the other epistles. Maybe it’s starting to feel like a “to do” list that you can’t ever get done. It might be helpful and heartening to think about the context and setting for the letter. Picture that you are a new believer in Jesus, in the first century, meeting with other believers. You want to know how God wants you to live and how to handle different problems that have come up in your fellowship. Perhaps there have been some tensions between the richer and poorer people in your congregation, or discussions about the church’s responsibility to take care of widows and orphans, or what to do about people whose tongues are stirring up trouble. Looking at the first few verses of chapter 4, it’s obvious there has been some quarrelling going on in the churches scattered around. Where would you turn for help?

It’s worth repeating that James was a pillar of the early church in Jerusalem, with the apostles like Peter and Paul coming to him for advice and approval. He would have been respected by those who were receiving this letter as a wise elder. It’s also worth thinking about where his wisdom came from. We can assume from his background as a Jew in the first century that he would have been memorizing the Old Testament Scriptures all his life. He was Jesus’ younger brother, and even though we know he didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah all along, he would have spent a lot of time with Jesus and we can imagine that he heard him teaching many times (And just a side comment, we can also imagine the regret he must have felt for all the time he wasted not listening to Jesus with the ears of a believer). Do any of the words of James sound like something Jesus said? When you read James does it sound like he had spent time with Jesus?

On the subject of fights and quarrels in the church, James writes, “You desire and do not have, so you murder”. Remember what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount? “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.” (Matthew 5: 21 – 22)

James writes, “You do not have because you do not ask”. What did Jesus say? “Ask and you shall receive.” (Matt. 7:7)

James warns that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24)

James says to “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Do you think he might be remembering what Jesus told him about his forty days in the wilderness? And when James writes those pessimistic-sounding commands “Be wretched and mourn and weep,” does it help us swallow them a little more easily to think of Jesus saying, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”? Matt. 5: 4)

One commentary on the book of James (TheBibleProject.com) points out that the goal of James isn’t to teach new theological information, but “to get into your business and challenge how you live.” We’ve already felt that in the first three chapters. His frequent rhetorical questions make us—or should make us–stop and look in the mirror (and not at once forget what we are like):

Verse 1: What is causing quarrels and fights? In my home and extended family, in my church or Bible study group. There are plenty of possibilities for differing opinions these days.

Are my desires at war within me? I want to stand up for truth as a Christian, but I also don’t want my neighbours to think badly of me.

Verse 4: Do I really comprehend that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Media choices and how I use my time are obvious areas of soul-searching with this question.

Verse 5: Has it sunk into my inner being that the Spirit which God has made to dwell within me jealously yearns for the full devotion of my heart? James used the word adulterous purposely. The commentator William Barclay wrote, “It reminds us that to disobey God is like breaking the marriage vow. It means that our relationship to God is not like the distant relationship of king and subject or master and slave, but like the intimate relationship of husband and wife. It means that when we sin, we break God’s heart, as the heart of one partner in a marriage may be broken by the desertion of the other.”

January 25 – Looking Ahead

I have come to give you everything in abundance…”
John 10:10

Marking an almost year anniversary of this pandemic, it feels lately that more is being asked of us. The constant stream of news and updates makes you wish you never had to hear of this again! I received a wedding invitation in the mail the other day, and I thought of years gone by that I’ve attended various gatherings. I asked myself if things will look different this June- needless to say my friend is hoping so! Some say our lives will never look the same again, but it’s hard to entertain that thought. Perseverance is what is being asked of us again, and planning for uncertainty is becoming extremely waning. Although, I hope our summer starts to look a bit more normal, in the times that we wait, perhaps we can ask ourselves different questions. Questions that are not centered on what we do, or what we may plan, but who we truly are. Who will we be once out of the pandemic? It is easy to fall into cynicism, and disbelief. I hope to rise above pettiness and believe that our perspective can win over any negativity. I hope you choose to focus not on the bitterness of politics, or contribute to the hamster wheel of defeat, yet rise to the abundance of what is already in front of you and within you. Because the physical isn’t all that we are.

Abundance is what happens when you stop needing more and you wake up to the all that you are.”
The Practice Co.

We have lost control in things that have created happiness in us this year, (time spent with others, significant gatherings, and extra-curricular activities), but we haven’t lost the control of our minds and emotions. Our power is found in gratitude and the foundation of who we are, and the knowledge of who God created us to be. Our abundance is found by living in the present, and feeling the emotions as they come.

We’re going to be busy again. We will have more time with our families, and friends. I simply would like to encourage you this week, that as difficult as some moments can be, we have made it this far, and although it feels at a loss, our power and courage is being stretched. We all feel as though we are living in survival mode, with the hoping that each week would bring something new. Our stretching is developing in us a deeper character and perseverance that we never thought we had to walk through. I’m praying that you’d hold onto hope, and focus on the good. As the pandemic heals, know that we’re all in this together.

If you carry joy in your heart, you can heal any moment”
Neale Donald Walsch

[God] lifted me out of the miry pit, the slimy clay, and set my feet on a rock, steadied my legs.”
Psalm 40:2

January 22

James 3:13-18 NLT

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable 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 favoritism and is always sincere.18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”

In my NLT Bible, the heading for these verses is ‘True Wisdom Comes from God’. That, I believe, is undeniable. We can read books, take classes, and talk to experts about any subject, but ultimately, true wisdom is gained from our Father in heaven. With the current state of our world today, we need His wisdom now more than ever.

To me, it feels like everyone across the globe is arguing, debating, one-upping each other, and lashing out. I see it in the news, on social media, and in daily life. Everyone is fighting – politicians, scientists, doctors, talk show hosts, and Christians. We have all been directly affected by a global pandemic. We are all facing fear, confusion, isolation, anger and illness (both mental and physical). But what are we doing about it?

Verse 13 says we show our understanding of God’s ways in how we live. So, how are we living right now? Are we living selfishly? Jealously? Are we spreading lies and propagating the ‘fake news’? Or are we offering hope, compassion, and patience?

I understand the many emotions people are feeling these days. I feel them too, especially living alone in a foreign country while our world is in chaos. However, each time I’m tempted to get angry, or wallow in self-pity, or feel jealous of those who are close to family, I ask God for help. I ask for wisdom in how to respond to the current situation.

When I was young, it was popular for Christians to wear bracelets with WWJD – ‘What would Jesus do?’ I never had one, and they are much less common now, but it’s a question I still ask regularly.

What would Jesus do? Would He get angry and march in protests, demanding that church be reopened because it is essential? I know He believes, as I do, that church is essential, but church is so much more than a place to go on Sunday morning. The church is not a building. We, Christ followers, are the church.

So, how do we be the church at a time where we can’t gather together in person? We can call a member of our church who lives alone just to chat and see how they are. We can deliver groceries to the doorstep of the elderly couple down the street, so they don’t have to put themselves at risk by going to the store. We can start an online Bible study or prayer group that meets via Zoom/Skype/Google Meet. The options are endless.

Are we truly seeking God’s wisdom during this tumultuous time, or are we giving in to the world around us? Verse 17 says wisdom from above is pure, loving, peace-keeping, gentle and merciful. Are we loving our neighbours as Jesus commanded us? Are we being gentle to those we disagree with? Are we doing our part to bring peace, and to protect those around us?

True wisdom comes from God. Let us not forget that. Always seek Him first. Let Him be your guidance and your way. Bring love. Bring peace.

And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:18, NLT

January 21 – Controlling the Tongue

“Spiritual maturity is evidenced by the use of the tongue… Tongue-mastery is the fruit of self-mastery.”
– Sinclair Ferguson 

James 3: 1 – 12 NLT

“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.”

The focus of James 3:1-12 is controlling the tongue. Various analogies are used throughout this segment to teach the hindrance and downfalls of using your voice incorrectly. Perhaps you’re familiar with the quote:

“If speaking kindly to plants helps them grow, imagine what speaking kindly to humans can do.”
– Anonymous

We’re all told to be nice, to be kind to others, but I found this passage refreshing as I thought of some of the freedoms of speech we have today. Thinking on our media outlets, before the invention of social media, our media was primarily one way. You’d watch the news, or read the paper. Our current reality, is a user interaction – a two-way dialogue. The comments that pile up on chat forums, Facebook pages and news headlines on social media are pretty horrible at times. Reading this first part of James chapter 3 reminds us that our words, whether in person or typed, have weight. They have the ability to hinder or to grow. It’s the basic principle of kindness. I’m not sure lately, why speaking out especially about serious issues has to be so harsh. Our relationships, our world, relies on the encouragement of the tongue. James quotes “blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth”. Our mouths have been given the ability of doing either, it’s what we are putting our efforts into. I challenge you to stop your train of thought, ask God how to say something, perhaps in a better way. Even the way you word something can have all the difference. Because at the end of the day, that is what spiritual maturity looks like — or better, sounds like — because of the transformation of our use of the tongue.

A careless word may kindle strife;
A cruel word may wreck a life.
A bitter word may instill;
A brutal word may smite and kill.
A gracious word may smooth the way;
A joyous word may light the day.
A timely word may lessen stress;
A loving word may heal and bless.
– Author Unknown

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 15 – New Beginnings/Priorities

We have a new member of our devotions team today – Dave Francis. Dave is our Family and Congregational Care Pastor at LSA. Welcome him, and we can all look forward to his messages in the coming year. Here’s his first:

Have you set any New Year’s Resolutions for 2021 yet? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t; maybe you’ve given up on making them, or maybe you’ve never made any; but, however you answer this question, it’s important that you first establish clear priorities. Why? Because it will improve your chances of achieving your resolutions since they can be difficult to attain. A resolution is defined as “a firm decision to do or not do something”. Determining resolutions are not supposed to be a whimsical, light-hearted decision but rather a “firm” calculated one. Today I want to focus on how setting priorities can help you accomplish your resolutions in the most beneficial way. To help you accomplish this, I want you to take some time to ponder and answer 2 questions. The first question is, who matters most to you? And the second is, what matters most to you?

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 says, “These are the commands, decrees, and regulations that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you. You must obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy, and you and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life. Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (NLT)

These 9 verses draw attention to the priorities God wants us to have in our life and I want to highlight 5 truths that will help prioritize what or who is most important.

  1. Obey God and His word your whole life (v.1)
  2. Teach your children and grandchildren to obey and fear God (v.2-3)
  3. Love God with all your heart, soul, and strength (v.5)
  4. Commit wholeheartedly to following God’s instructions (v.6)
  5. Take responsibility for being the spiritual leader in your home (v.7-9)

Now, keeping these 5 priorities in mind, I encourage you to revisit or establish your resolutions for 2021. Pray for God’s wisdom and trust Him throughout the year as you attempt to achieve your resolutions. When you become weary and ready to quit, ask God for strength and be encouraged that He is able to do more than you can ask or imagine. Finally, remember to “Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”Psalm 37:4 (NIV)

Hoping you have a God honouring year as you pursue your resolutions.

Let the music and lyrics of Every Beat by North Point InsideOut motivate you today and throughout 2021.

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 13

James 1: 13 – 18 MSG

“Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.
So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.”

As we continue through the first chapter of James it’s inspiring to revisit these familiar verses. In this segment, James begins by warning us about the downfalls of temptation and lust, how temptations look enticing at the time, but as James quotes “could be the death of us”. I’m reminded, whether you want the pain of restraint now? Or the pain of your repercussions later? We all can relate to this as a human being, but James writes this to protect us. Yet, as James warns us of our sinful actions, he takes no time to recap the beautiful blessing of who we were created for. God created us for his pleasure, even though he knew we’d give into our temptations, and failures.
We are God’s gift, and we are a gift to this world. Everything good and perfect around us is from God. Plans that turned out for the better, people that have changed our lives, these are from God. Simply put, God is good, and gives goodness. He never changes, he chose to create us, to give us life.
When we are in the battle it is hard to believe that it will ever come to an end. When we are in a period of blessing we sometimes expect it will go on forever. But life is not like that. There are battles and blessings.
Pastor Rick Warren says, he used to think that the Christian life was a succession of battles and blessings, whereas now he thinks of life as being on two tracks. At any given moment in life there are usually blessings, but also battles to face.
So, even though there are trials and temptations in life, yet we are surrounded by God’s presence and light. We are not defined by our shortcomings, but are loved for who we are. A great takeaway from this chapter in James.
“God was delighted to give us birth by the truth of his infallible Word so that we would fulfill his chosen destiny for us and become the favourite ones out of all his creation!”

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.