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First Pres Joliet

A Daily Devotional from our faith community @ firstpresjoliet.org

Month

January 2014

To act or not to act – That is the questions

James 1:19-27

The Message (MSG)

Act on What You Hear

19-21 Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow-up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.

22-24 Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.

25 But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.

26-27 Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.

Another Sunday, another sermon we hear and another challenge for our lives. After we hear it we feel empowered, convicted and feel God is pushing us to change who we are, what we do and how we go about day-to-day living out that very message. But then there is Monday morning the moment when we the message we have heard the previous day faces the mundane, the temptation of day-to-day, the temptation of conformity and fitting in. 

And there is where James makes a case for what is important to us as believers: If you caught a glimpse of God, of heaven of godly living that can change your own world and the world around you there is only one thing to do – ACT ON IT!

Act on the heaven, the godly principles that have the power to transform, act against the cancerous world around you, bring change and bring hope by sharing that love you just received. Extend it to those around you, the homeless and loveless, those that do not know what finding refuge in God is, to those that do not comprehend the love of God.

Be Blessed,

Bo M.

Trials…temptations…growth

James 1:1-18 (TNIV)

We begin our look at a new book…James…a wonderful and powerful witness to both the diversity in the early church and Christianity and the moral imperatives of Christian identity then and throughout the ages.  Said to be a most practical book for the Christian, James lifts up to all Christians our God who is the source of all reality and who calls people into a life shaped according to the gifts given and a community of gift-giving and support rather than of rivalry and competition.

The New Testament mentions at least 4 individuals named James and the best candidate for the one named James in this book is “James, the brother of the Lord” and the one who was prominent in leading the church in Jerusalem.  Think about it for a minute…the brother of Jesus…brought up in the same home as Jesus but one many think did not become a believer until after Christ’s resurrection.  This James brings to us in the opening verses of his book a glimpse of what he will discuss going forward in the letter.  Of prime importance we find James telling us to rejoice in our trials (vv 2-12) and to resist temptation (vv 13-18) while creating a tension between the reality that comes from God and that associated with the world.

James challenges a longing for a faith that is secure from trial and test, by presenting to us that faith matures by what it endures.  James does this by ensuring we know that God is the One who is most real and defines reality…so, if God defines reality and not the world then we are not in competition with each other – instead, we can gift each other as God gifts us.  James is practical…it is demanding…and throughout we will see a question as to whether we really believe this and, more importantly, if this is the reality to which we are committed.  Let us begin our look into this practical yet challenging book and, together, may we grow in our faith!!

I John 5:13-21 Affirmations

I John 5:13-21 NIV – Concluding Affirmations – I write these – Bible Gateway

Verses 13-15; “to you who believe…so that you may know that you have eternal life.” “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us -whatever we ask- we know that we have what we asked of him.”

It’s good to be reminded that we have eternal life in Jesus; in fact all who believe in him are given the life that is truly life.  What a great way to start the day by focusing on the kind of life Jesus wants for us, for everyone, for all the world.  We can ask ourselves, are we living that life, the life that Jesus graciously gives and longs to see in us?

We can approach God with confidence because of Jesus.  We can ask anything in prayer; anything?  We are, too easily, attracted to “anything.”  But it’s “anything according to his will.”  Such a promise is understood to have a qualifier, according to God’s will.  Jesus prayed as much in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Take this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).  Authentic prayer, discipleship, service etc. for the Christian is about submission of oneself to God’s will.  We are to seek to lift, bend, or shape our will to God’s will rather than try to bend God’s will to ours.  We ask in faith but seek the will of the Lord.

Verses 16-17; (How did I get this passage? Ask Micah) “There is a sin that leads to death.”  I think the IVP Online Commentary is most helpful here.  “Sin unto death is sin that carries a person into death’s clutches, into the grip of the evil one (vs. 19).  And a child of God does not sin that way, because one who is truly born of God will rather manifest that in confession of sin and dependence for forgiveness upon the atoning work of Christ.  But ‘sin unto death’ is already evidence that one lives in the realm of death, in the world, under the control of the evil one, and not in the sphere of life and righteousness granted by God to those who trust in Christ’s work on their behalf.” Some embrace the way of death, the way of the evil one; they do the work of the devil.  They choose death.  How sad.

Verses 18-21; “Anyone born of God,” anyone who lives in Christ does not make living a sinful life the goal; instead they seek Jesus’ will and way.  It’s good to know that God keeps his people safe from the evil one.  We can live in confidence of God’s preserving power and presence.  Jesus has come to give us understanding, new life, grace, his presence, etc. so we can know the truth and follow him.  We live in this hope rather than anxiety.  All we need to do is live in him.

1 John 5:1-12 & A Review

A Review of What We Know

Since we are coming to the end of this significant letter, this writer has determined that it would be good to review the things we know and have learned thus far:

  • It is very likely that the Apostle John wrote His gospel and these (1, 2, 3, John) letters based on their common literary style.  The letters were written to a group of “home churches” in the vicinity of Ephesus, Greece.  It seems that a single letter was penned and walked from John’s residence, who may have lived in their general vicinity, to the nearest “home church”, was recited and debated, then the letter was simply walked to the next “home church” on their circulation listing.
  • The subjects of this letter are ordered  “ABA.”  For the first 2-1/2 chapters, the meaning of the “knowledge of Christ” is developed.  The next section has John issuing warnings to “beware of false teachers” and “prepare for the last hour.”  For the last 1-1/2 chapters or so, John develops further what the “knowledge of Christ” should mean and do for a follower.
  • The interior dynamics of a Christian, being driven by the Holy Spirit, should enable right and good exterior actions.

Read: 1 John 5:1-12

Today’s passage needs to be split into two pieces for the sake of clarity.

The first five verses speak to the faith of the believer and Divine Love.  In verse 2, the “love” mentioned is agape; that is the same kind of love one has for one’s self.  Remember the golden rule (Matt. 7:12)?  The idea presented in 1 John 4:7 where faith and love are brought together are developed further to “overcome the world” (v.4).  Faith is the substance necessary for the Christian to have victory over darkness (John 12:31, 16:33, Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:6, 12, 21).

For the last 7 verses, John writes about the Triune reality he personally witnessed during his time with Christ.  God manifested Himself in Jesus Christ.  John, an eyewitness, has no doubts about who He is.  In every way, Jesus completed His mission (Is. 42:1, 49:1, Matt. 3:17, Jn. 19:30) and accepted its solidarity (Is. 53:4-5).  Christ’s life and death played out God’s plan to redeem humanity.  Finally, our faith (v.11, 12) is the sign that we possess the life of the Son (1 Jn. 1:2).

Your comments are welcomed.  All I can do is ask.

Craig Randolph

1 John 4:7-21 – Outrageous Love

1 John 4:7-21 + 1 Corinthians 13

If you get a chance, read 1st Corinthians 13 along with our passage from 1st John.  I feel like there is no better passage that can help us understand the depth and unconditional nature of God’s love for us and our responsibility to love others in the same way.  At the risk of oversimplifying the passage; on a basic level it says that those who are God’s children will love the way that God loves.  If you look at the 1st Corinthians passage, you see just how difficult that can be.  If we’re loving the way God loves then there is no room for personal vendetta’s, only room for forgiveness.  There’s no room for envy or bitterness, but instead looking after the interests of others. There is no option to simply wash our hands of another person, instead we persevere. Instead of judging or gossiping, we extend to others the same grace that God has extended us. Who does the author promote as the example for this love?  Christ of course.  God incarnate who suffered a brutal death and separation from the Father so we could have a relationship with God. God loved our enemies so much that he died for them! Who are we to decide that they’re unworthy of love?  Just when it seems like the passage could not possibly get more convicting, John ends the passage by writing: “Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”  As believers, our call is to extend the love God gave us to a lost world. May we give others the same love and grace that God gave us.

A challenge for the modern world

1 John 4:1-6 (The Message)

Today’s reading brings a challenging message to the modern reader: search and test the things you hear and build your faith foundation.

Let me try to frame this in a practical way: Everyday we are bombarded with information, that comes from various sources news outlets, daily blogs (such as this one), Facebook feeds and shared content that makes the rounds as real, fact based content. Now here is where the challenge comes: how do we decide which of these are news or thought worthy?

When it comes to Biblical interpretation we are given a very simple process: Is it Biblical? Does it follow the Biblical tradition of preaching in according to the whole narrative story? And does it follow the apostles’ teaching and the witness of the church throughout history?

This framework it is important to us as we try to live out our lives in accordance with the word we receive as guidance for our lives. Dear friends study the scriptures, love the scriptures and be knowledgeable of them, because they are the source of a good godly life worth living.

Know what you believe, why you believe and know what is at stake as you live out your beliefs. Quite a simple message for a complicated world.

Be Blessed,

Bo M.

“Hearing the message we’ve heard from the beginning…”

Today’s Passage:  1 John 3:11-24 (NLT)

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning…”  The overall theme continues and, today we have two thoughts interconnected reassuring the church then and us today…of our indestructible life with God.  The 2 themes?  Love for one another (3:11-18) and the criterion for truth (3:19-24).

Throughout this passage we see ἀγάπη (agápē) or unconditional love as it is most often used biblically.  Using Cain and Abel, we see what happens when love and hate become contenders in a family…the bonds of fellowship between brothers (and sisters) are broken and, by association, the breakdown in mission and ministry of the church…our author equates hatred in v15 with indifference to need in v17 – considering them equivalent to murder.  But, rather than seeking revenge or retribution, our author focuses attention on the responsibility of love that members of the church owe one another and to all children of God…unconditional love.

The community of faith is not to be bogged down by bitterness or self-interest but solidified and strengthened…energized for compassion toward others.  And it is here that the 2 sections are connected…not with a focus on hate but on love and we know this by the truth pointed out to us in vv 19-24.  The “heart” of the matter…biblically, the heart is most often the seat of moral and religious conduct by us humans.  Here we see again contrasts – having us remember Cain and Abel – hearts that condemn and those that do not.

The truth then?  “We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another” just as Christ loved us…unconditionally.  But what does this mean practically?  As Children of God, we are, as our first priority, to be concerned with pleasing God.  In the context of today’s passage this means pastoral care for others.  Today, many believe pastoral care to be the sole function of the pastor(s)…yet biblically and in our beliefs as Presbyterians is the understanding that all Children of God are responsible for pastoral care.  And, so, 3:17 stands out like a beacon for us – to share our abundance with others in need…our author’s practical example of self-sacrifice.

The key is understanding our abundance(s) and their use – in love toward one another or its opposite?  By God’s grace, each of us has abundance in our lives – abundance that is different for each.  So, “hearing the message we have heard from the beginning”…may we each strive, in unconditional love for each other and all the children of God in whom we have contact, to find a way to use our abundance and in so doing know and live our indestructible life WITH God!!

Great Love Makes Us Part of God’s Family- I John 3:1-10

I John 3:1-10 NIV – See what great love the Father has – Bible Gateway

We belong to God in and through the Lord Jesus Christ who demonstrated his great love for us on the cross; dying for our sin and rising again to bring us new life.

We are part of the family of God; we are children of God.  Some day we will be raised to eternal life and shall be like Jesus.

 When our hope is in Christ we seek to live as he calls us to live.  We desire to do what is right and live in the light, love, and righteousness of Jesus.  We do not seek to live a sinful lifestyle, keep on sinning, or doing whatever is displeasing to the Lord.

 The Good New is that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.  Someday, Jesus will return and usher in the New Heavens and New Earth.  All sin will cease.  Sorrow, suffering, and death be no more.  God will wipe away every tear.  The life, love, and light of Christ Jesus will reign forever.

As you go through this day celebrate being a child in the family of God, remember that Jesus came to destroy all the devil’s work, and imagine what Jesus’ return will be like.  Know that the transforming love of Jesus Christ is for you.

1 John 2:18-29 – Hang On To Jesus… Really Hard.

1 John 2:18-29

This passage, like most of the book, has enough to keep us discussing for weeks. John’s addressing a church conflict; as a result of the conflict there were people who left.  This doesn’t sound like a big deal to us; people come and go from our churches all the time.  In our culture people do a variety of things that force them to find a new Christian community.  In this time, that really wasn’t the case.  Most cities had one church.  If you were a Christian, you worshiped in that community. Going to another community where the thermostat, carpet color, music or pastor’s facial hair was more pleasing wasn’t really an option.

When John says “They went out from us..” it probably meant that there was a massive doctrinal disagreement.  The undertone in John’s language suggests that these people that left weren’t actually believers at all. If people left then the rift had to monumental. John is combating the heresy of those who left in verse 20 through 23.  He encourages them by telling them that they are indeed in the truth because they hold to the fact that Jesus was God come in flesh.  In essence, it seems like those who left debated the divinity of Christ.  There are a lots of things in church that aren’t worth arguing about; the divinity of Christ is a hill to die on.  This is a core Gospel issue.  If Christ wasn’t God, then how could He be the perfect payment for sin?

The point I’m going after here isn’t that we should be paranoid about anti-christs or go on a theological witch hunt.  All the problems John is pointing out in this passage are diffused if we do one thing well: Hang on to Jesus… really hard.  Hang on to Christ crucified for our sins after living a perfect life so we could have eternal life.  Hang onto the Jesus that is an equal member of the Trinity; God incarnate, born of a virgin two thousand years ago.  If we hang on this John has some encouragement for us: “you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.And this is what he promised us—eternal life.”

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