The prayer of the righteous…

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James 5:13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

Yesterday I went to visit one of our parishioners whose health has been deteriorating for some time. Part of her struggle is that she feels useless. It’s true that her capacities have been compromised as a result of her health challenges, but she’s certainly not “useless” to God. Or to her church. And so I asked if she would be willing to be a prayer warrior for our church. I was delighted when she agreed.

“The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

My dear friend is not perfect anymore than I am, but she has been made “righteous” according to the grace of God given to her through Jesus Christ. As such I believe she will be a powerful asset to our ministry, bringing down strongholds and advocating for God’s kingdom to be unleashed on earth as it is in heaven.

Lord, let it be so. Amen.

If I were a rich man (think Fiddler on the Roof tune)…

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James 5:1 Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. 

Reading this passage you might get the impression that James has a problem with wealthy people. Reminds me of 1 Timothy 6:10, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil”. Some take this to mean that the rich people are necessarily evil, but that’s not the case. That said, having wealth and power provides great opportunity to abuse wealth and power. That’s what James is naming in this passage. Some people of means commit fraud and steal from their laborers.

Of course, when I’m reading about “rich people” my initial reaction is to exclude myself – but I’m not sure that’s correct. I may not be considered rich in America, but certainly from a global perspective I am. So this morning I’m thinking about how I use the resources God has given to me. Am I using my resources for good or not?

Lord I am so grateful for your amazing generosity to me and my family. Teach me to use what you have given me wisely and give me grace to be generous to others. Amen.

Looking at vanities…

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Psalm 119: 33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain. 37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways. 

The writer of Psalm 119 is committed to responding to adversity by pursuing “the way of your statutes”. The part that most gets my attention this morning is, “Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways”.

We don’t know what vanities the writer has in mind, but life is full of them. It seems the older I get the more fully aware I become of how some of the things I’ve pursued in life are of questionable value. One specific thing I’m thinking about today is time I spent away working when my children were school age. I spent six years traveling – a lot – when my kids were in elementary, middle and high schools.

Now that they’re young adults I realize the times I missed are gone forever. 

I did my best to be present for them while I was on the road during those years, but there’s no substitute for being physically present. I learned that the notion of “quality time” with children which can be scheduled is a myth. Important things in life happen when they happen, and you’re either around to participate in them, or you’re not. I’m not saying I was an absentee dad, but I see now, in hindsight, that I could have made different choices.

But the past is the past isn’t it? We can learn from it, but we can’t fix it. What we can do is learn from the past to live our present and future better. That’s what I’m thinking about today.

Lord turn my eyes from looking at vanities. Amen.

Hitting “send”…

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James 3:5 How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8 but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.

Interesting how James speaks of tongues as if they have minds of their own. Of course, that’s not the way it works is it? We are responsible for what comes out of our mouths, good or evil. James warns us of this, of the great responsibility we have in guarding our speech.

Yet today some of the most damaging words aren’t spoken with the tongue, but are sent via text message or twitter or Facebook or any number of social media platforms. As a result careless words can do far more damage today than in ancient times. Back then reach was limited to those in earshot. Today we can hit “send” and literally reach millions of people instantly. James’ warning couldn’t be more timely for you and me.

Lord give us grace to use good judgment when we hit “send”. Because our words, spoken and otherwise, matter. Amen.

Betrayal…

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Psalm 119:23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. 

We’re not sure who wrote this psalm, but most of the psalms were not written by ordinary people. Many were written by King David or other kings/nobles of ancient Israel. Chances are this writer was a big deal in Israel of one sort or other. The situation is an interesting one.

We’re told in v.23 “princes sit plotting against me”. This could be a king whose own sons are wanting to assume his throne, or it could a lord of some kind who is being persecuted by other nobles. Either way doesn’t sound like this is a threat from outside of Israel, but from within.

Conflict is hard any time, but it’s particularly hard when it’s with someone close. Someone who is supposed to have your back. Someone you love and trust. Lord, guard our hearts from the heartbreak of betrayal. Amen.

A heart for the poor…

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James 3:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2 For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3 and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7 Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 

We read in this passage a continuous theme in scripture, both Old and New Testaments. A key concern of God is how his people deal with those living in poverty. The apostle James is calling the church to account for affording special treatment to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. He’s also pointing out the irony that the wealthy receiving special treatment are often the very people in positions of power who are making life hard for the church (v.6-7).

The church I lead is in a relatively affluent suburb of Dallas. There aren’t many people living in poverty in our area because, among other things, they can’t afford to live here. That said Rejoice does quite a bit to support people struggling economically who live in greater Dallas/Ft. Worth – and beyond. I’m grateful for the faithfulness of my church, it’s willingness to be generous with others and to give of their time for the sake of those in need.

Lord Jesus give us hearts that join your love and concern for those living in poverty. Amen.

 

Welcome with meekness the implanted word…

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James 1:19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 

There have always been believers who have been well versed in Christian teachings but failed to practice what they’ve known. I’m certainly included on that very long list. I expect you are too, at least some of the time. The longer I’ve been a Christian the more I see the wisdom of God’s ways – and the more aware I become of my inability to follow God’s ways all the time. If I’m honest it can be deflating. But this morning I’m paying particular attention to v.21:

“…welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls”. 

The words “with meekness” reflect a posture of humility that I find it so important for me. I receive the Word of God by grace alone, in full knowledge it is the power of the Word that saves me, not anything I bring in my own strength or will. It is “power made perfect through weakness” (as the apostle Paul likes to say) through which God makes me of any use in his Kingdom.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your grace which has given life to this poor sinner. Continue to do a work in me. Never let me forget my complete need of you in all things. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.