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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

January 2014

Blessed…

As we transition from our readings of James and as we prepare ourselves for Hebrews, we thought it might be a good idea to change things up for a week or so…each day we will introduce an example of each of the Psalms (Wisdom, Royal, Prayer of Lament, Song of Praise, Confession of Trust, Thanksgiving, Pilgrim Song, Penitential).  We begin with Psalm 1 – a Wisdom Psalm.

Today’s Passage:  Psalm 1 – A wisdom Psalm

The introduction to the Psalter…simple yet straightforward…it summarizes the two ways open to people, the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. It may be classified as a wisdom psalm because of its emphasis on these two ways of life, the use of the similes, the announcement of blessing, and the centrality of the Law for fulfillment in life. As you read the psalms you will see the themes in this psalm recurring over and over.

Like a tree planted by a stream…bearing fruit…even in a brutal environment…prospering. Beautiful words of encouragement.  One of the benefits of looking to the original Hebrew language comes through in this psalm.  The Hebrew word used for “blessed” doesn’t carry the same understanding we give it today but is very important for a deeper meaning of this psalm – this word “blessed” is not a state of being but means  a journey toward what an individual can become – sort of like a work in progress to use a current day phrase.  The blessed do not stay in place but walk forward in a particular way – those whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night”.

We do not know how long the journey will be…how long our individual work in progress will take and, as subsequent psalms reveal, we must trudge on through dark days and terrifying nights, surrounded by evil and confronted by opposition. We can only do so because we know that God “watches over the way of the righteous” and that Gods judgment of the wicked will come at its appointed time.

Simple…straightforward…transforming…like a tree planted near a stream bearing fruit!  Psalm 1 invites us to take up a spirituality pilgrimage…it places before us an itinerary of behavior as a map to guide our way.  The destiny of the righteous in this psalm is to know, and be known, by God…drawing life from God and bearing fruit for God.

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James 5:13-20, Say Your Prayers

James 5:13-20 NIV – The Prayer of Faith – Is anyone among – Bible Gateway

The theme of this section is prayer.  If you’re in trouble or sick pray.  If you are happy then worship God and sing songs of praise.  We often pray when life is difficult and can certainly understand James writing that people of faith should pray when they are in trouble or are sick.  But, sometimes, it is tempting for us to celebrate our happiness as if it came from us and not from God.   It is easy to forget to give thanks to God when life is good.

The early church experienced a variety of troubles: favoritism (2:1-4), exploitation and litigation (2:5-7; 5:1-6), lack of the physical necessities of life (2:15), slander and cursing (3:9-12; 4:11-12), and community disharmony (3:13-4:3).  There are many troubles in life.  The first response to all of these troubles should be prayer.  Why? Because God is good and desires to raise his people up, bring healing, wholeness, health, and redemption to all.

Confession of sin leads to forgiveness and wholeness and there’s healing in sharing that confession with other people of faith.  Confession is good for everyone.

Helping anyone who wanders from the truth return to Christ brings new life and overcomes many sins.  James ends his letter in 5:19-20 by encouraging God’s people to remain faithful to the truth and to love others enough to help those who wander return.  Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

James 5:1-12 – I Opress

James 5:1-12

This passage outlines two different groups of people; the oppressors and the oppressed.  In James context, the oppressors were the rich people but that obviously need not always be the case.  They’re accused of four sins in the passage; hoarding wealth, failing to pay wages, living in luxury and self-indulgence and murdering the innocent.  The second group is the oppressed.  James encourages the oppressed by telling them to be patient, to stand firm and persevere.  Why?  Because one day Christ will return and right the wrongs.  The oppressed need not fight back, God will do that for them.

I used to read passages like this assuming I was a neutral party, neither oppressing nor oppressed.  I grew up blue collar just outside of Detroit so I was hardly raised by socialites.  On the other hand, I haven’t really experienced a whole lot of oppression.  A few years ago I learned something, my American context isn’t normative.  In our economy, no one could accuse me of hoarding wealth or living in self-indulgence.  But around the world, where 1/3 of people live on less than $2 a day, my warm town house probably looks pretty self-indulgent. A checking account with some extra funds might look like hoarding wealth to someone who just lost one of the 1.5 million people who die of starvation every year.

If we look at self-indulgence or hoarding as a number or an income level then we’ll just have created another form of  legalism; another way to stand in judgement of each other.  I would rather we examine our motives and attitudes.  Is my attitude toward money focused on my own desires or is my primary to desire to help my fellow man?  Do I hurt for the starving and abused in the same way I would hurt if these things effected my immediate family? Am I willing to make real sacrifices in my lifestyle so others can live? Fortunately, as some of the most wealthy people on planet earth, there’s a lot we can do to make a difference.

This is one of my favorite organizations, take a look at their website.

For the second day in a row, you get a video as well:

James 4:13-17 – Cocky Christians

James 4:13-17

Truth be told, I’m really going to miss football.  I suppose loving football is cultural to some degree, but I’ve never played a game I love more.  One thing I will not miss is post game interviews.  It doesn’t always happen, but too often they end up being a stage for self-aggrandizement by extremely talented but apparently equally insecure fully grown men. The question I always wish I could ask the person spouting about their greatness is the same questions James is asking in the passage.  Essentially the question is: “did you make yourself great?” For professional athletes (no matter how much they may protest) the answer is no.  They are people who have been given massive amounts of physical ability by God.

No matter how hard I work, I’ll never beat Usain Bolt in a footrace, knock out Floyd Merriweather, out-think Bill Gates or out-preach Tim Keller. They’re all extremely talented but still have no reason to boast; they’re talent comes from God. James is clear, you might be a successful business person but its only because God blesses your plans. Pretending that you don’t rely on God for everything is just boasting, plain and simple.  Anyone who has ever had a serious illness, lost a job, experienced a natural disaster or even had house fire knows better than to think that they’re in control.  Instead of feigning our ability to control our futures, we should humble ourselves before the one who actually holds the future: God.  Ask yourself, where do you see this pride in your life?

I normally wouldn’t do this, but the Super Bowl is coming up and this is just too funny to not share.

James – the overly practical book

Today’s reading

I love when somebody stops me at church and talks about the blog. Especially when it leads to a good observation like: This book is way too practical, there is not much that you can get around when it comes to interpretation.

7-10 So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.

James calls us out for the games we play, for the back and forth, for walking the thin line between our own self-centered lives and surrendering fully to God. The encounter of God, is about changing, is about rebuilding the brokenness that rules us from birth and keeps us anchored in a cycle of self indulgence  and destruction. That encounter is about the realization that there is a hope for each and everyone, that encounter is about emptying one self, and making a decision to mature. 

So today we are challenged to do a quick review of our lives, draw that line in the sand and take a step towards being a mature christian. Sometimes that requires a little more work than we would like to do, and maybe even a challenge to reach out and get some help. It might start with a prayer or talking to somebody that walk that road before you.

I pray that today can be that day when each one of us can encounter God in a new way.

Be blessed,

Bo M.

 

Wisdom that cultivates our life…

James 3:13-18 (NLT)

In this passage we find James telling us there are 2 kinds of wisdom: that which is based on experience and education (i.e., of the world) and the wisdom that is from above.  James does not fully condemn what I would call life experiences, instead, he continues the theme from the beginning of the book…in whom do we trust?  Ourselves?  Or, the wisdom from above – do we wholly trust God and his perfect gift…the word of truth because it supplies the wisdom necessary for life that is “mature and complete” (v1:4).

When I worked for Exelon, a common phrase then, and in corporate America, was “walking the talk”…interestingly, I think this is exactly what James was pointing out to his readers then and us today – only the talk is not corporate talk but CORPORATE talk – God’s Word in our lives by the Holy Spirit.  There are 2 wisdoms and each has its own outcome James tells us.  Chapter 3 began with the influence of the tongue and vv13-18 provide the summation on cultivating thought – the key to right thinking is right thought.

Did you catch the metaphors for the tongue in Ch. 3 yesterday? Here’s another one…the tongue is contained in a cage of teeth and lips and James provides that it isn’t our intelligence that keeps the cage locked…it is wisdom – wisdom from above.  Wisdom that is characterized by humility, grace and peace…hmmmmm, I don’t know about you, but I realize the cage is sometimes unlocked – makes me pause…James is a practical book, putting it into practice is hard.

So, I keep by my desk something given to me by Will Miner – I was visiting him in the hospital in his last days and he gave me a “homework assignment”.  I was still in seminary and this wonderful man who was dying gave me the following – maybe you will find it a source of daily encouragement as well as together we cultivate our lives in wisdom from above:

Click this link:  http://sofinesjoyfulmoments.com/quotes/sermon.htm

James 3:1-12 Taming The Tongue: Speech and Wisdom

James 3:1-12 NIV – Taming the Tongue – Not many of you – Bible Gateway

“James now shifts to his second subject: wisdom. This discussion will extend from 3:1 to 4:12.  In this first section he examines the connection between speech and wisdom.  In particular, he focuses on the tongue, that organ by which we produce words, the vehicles of wisdom.  Words, he says, are not insignificant.  Words can be wise but they can also be deadly.  The tongue is such a small organ and yet it has great power.  It can control the very direction of one’s life.  The mature person is known by his or her ability to control the tongue.” (Serendipity House 301Study Series, James)

“Not many of you should presume to become teachers,…because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  Thanks James for the encouragement.  Those who teach may have a greater influence and with that influence there is a responsibility.  It was thought that in Jerusalem, at this time, that there were teachers who were using their words to criticize.  They had a critical stance towards others and received criticism in return.  Teachers were highly esteemed in that day and time and thus had a lot of influence.  Some led the church astray by teaching their opinions instead of the truth of God.  Some were hypocritical and did not practice what they preached.  And then, there was a problem with some people who were eloquent and persuasive but they only pretended to be a teacher.  So James says be careful if you are a teacher in the church.

The bigger take away in this passage is the use of our tongue; the words we choose to speak.  Extraverts, like myself, who like to talk and talk and talk can gain a lot of wisdom from James here in the beginning of Chapter 3.  Words are powerful and life-shaping.  We can build up, connect, care for others, support, and be loving with what we say: OR NOT.  Some self-control, thoughtfulness, and kindness can go a long way in influencing what we say and do not say.  

This day speak to bring life, hope, faith, and love wherever you go.  Speak well and live well for Christ Jesus.  I am going to work at that today.  God bless you!

James 2:14-26 – Legitimate Faith

James 2:14-26

For context sake, don’t view this as a separate passage from yesterday. Remember, James has just told them how they need to treat everyone equally.  Right after that, James dives into todays passage by pointing out that good works (like treating everyone with dignity) reflect vibrant faith.  In First John we saw that sin is incongruous with fellowship with God.  Here we see the flip side; faith is always congruous with vibrant service and obedience. James reminds us that talk is cheap by pointing out that bidding someone to keep warm is pretty easy and worthless compared to giving them a coat. James even gets sarcastic in verse 18 when he essentially says: “You think your perfect theology will save you? Great.. but remember that the demons have pretty great theology too.”

The summary of James whole point is in verse 26.  James doesn’t say we earn salvation by works, he simply says “faith without works is dead”.  There’s no argument in this, we all know it to be true.  That’s why it’s so neat to see a church full of servants.  It’s cool to see our deacons deliver meals, our students raking leaves for our elderly, our Sunday School teachers serving our children and Project Linus tying blankets.  These are all things to celebrate.  That said, I have never been so convinced in my life that there is much more to do.  One need only walk into one of Joliet’s high schools, a grocery store or the next cubicle over to find an enormous mission field.  It seems daunting, but it really isn’t. After all, we have an entire church full of faith ready to be proven by good works, right?

James 2:1-13 – What Does Christ See?

James 2:1-13

James starts with a pretty simple statement: no favoritism. Then he illustrates it. The same example can be used for us; what if our favorite author, band, or athlete walked into church?  What would we do?  My current favorite NFL player (of those remaining) is Russel Wilson.  He’s a Christian guy with great character. If he walked in the door of Sunday, you better believe I’d be over there shaking his hand in a second. The question we have to ask ourselves, would we do that if a homeless guy walked in? Even if he hadn’t showered in weeks and had whiskey on his breathe?  What about a group of guys tattooed head to toe?  Would we all be fighting to be first in line to welcome them?

Its not shocking that favoritism is an issue for us.  We like being around funny people, attractive people and people who can afford to pick up the tab.  James probably wasn’t surprised either, but he’s firmly against it. He goes on the offensive first in verse 5.  He essentially says, even the guy who is broke can have infinite spiritual riches; you can’t tell that by a mans clothes. His second argument is stronger than first.  James points to the “royal law” as the standard. He says that even if we disobey God in a small way, like favoritism, we still have broken God’s law.  The idea is that God isn’t sitting in heaven dismissing little white lies and favoritism as if these are insignificant.  Quite the opposite.  God takes all disobedience seriously.

In light of this passage, reflect on these questions: Do I see people the way that Christ sees people?  Do I treasure other people because of what they can offer me or because they’re created in the image of God?

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