Together and Prayer

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:13-20 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how much more effective a group is in solving a problem than one individual is alone? Bringing a variety of perspectives together often results in a solution which one perspective alone could not have achieved. In addition, having many hands and heads working together increases the rate of outcome and lessens the burden of the individual. This view has led to sayings such as, “two heads are better than one,” or “many hands make light work.”

In the letter of James we hear a discussion of community and prayer. The writer impresses upon the receivers the importance of turning to one another when they are experiencing troubles. There is an understanding that when someone turns to others, the response will be to join with the troubled one and use the power of prayer. The letter clearly emphasizes how powerful prayer can be to bring about healing and restoration. A reader gets the sense that believers in Christ are to care for the needs of one another.

As we read this passage written a few thousand years ago, we see reflections of the role the church is to play in people’s lives. The church is to pray for those who are troubled, sick, or fighting sin. These prayers are called intercessory which occur corporately as part of worship services and individually through prayer chains or during home visits. The church is to also be engaged in bringing those who have wandered from the truth back into the fold. This is the role of reaching out, hearing confessions and providing assurances of forgiveness.

An important reality which we all must remember is that while this happens on a corporate level, usually in the midst of a worship service, each of us have a responsibility to make sure these things occur as part of our daily life. We are supposed to reach out to other believers when we are dealing with challenges in our lives. We are to be available to one another when there is a need. The power of prayer is to always be utilized as a tool of response. We are the church, individually and together.

Behavior Guidelines

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 (NIV)

Human relationships can be challenging. Our behaviors toward one another are not always positive in nature. At times, our self-centeredness, greed, and anger can prompt us to act in ways which are harmful towards others. These behaviors create a negative environment for all people. Our society has developed rules and laws to manage the most destructive of these behaviors. Throughout civilizations and religions in all of recorded history, there have been acceptable and unacceptable ways to behave and interact with one another.

In the letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul writes about the behaviors which are acceptable and unacceptable among followers of Christ. He provides a list of unacceptable behaviors with contrast behaviors scattered within the list. Some of the unacceptable behaviors are found in the commandments which God gave the Israelites through Moses. Clearly there is instruction here in regard to building one another up and not tearing one another down. Attitudes are addressed here as well. Attitudes lead to actions.

As we consider how we interact with one another, Paul’s instructions are beneficial in guiding us. Lying to one another, being angry, slandering others, expressing rage are seen too often in our public discourse and among neighbors. These happen as well in communities of faith. Paul tells us that we are no longer to engage in these behaviors. We are not to cause grief for the Holy Spirit by behaving in these ways. Instead, we are to practice kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and building one another up.

Comparison

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)

Many individuals spend a large amount of time and energy comparing themselves to others. When a person engages in this type of activity, it results in one of two outcomes. The first possible outcome is the individual finds the self inadequate in the comparison. This can cause feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger. The second outcome could be the person feeling superior and judgmental towards others. Neither of these outcomes is beneficial. Only a comparison by a neutral party using measurable objectives has any benefit. The best way for a person to improve is by doing comparisons with self. Compare your actions, skills, and efforts today with how you performed the previous day, week, or month. Work for improvement in these comparisons.

In our reading today, Jesus encounters some people who have compared themselves with others and determined they were more righteous. Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee and a tax collector going to the temple to pray. The Pharisee compared himself to others and told God why his actions made him so much better than others. The tax collector humbles himself, acknowledges he is a sinner and seeks God’s mercy. Jesus says the humble one is justified before God.

We need to learn from Jesus’s lesson. First, we should avoid comparing ourselves with anyone else. We do not know another person’s life or spiritual journey. We know only what we perceive on the surface and what they choose to share with us. Second, we must humble ourselves and acknowledge we are unworthy to receive God’s forgiveness and grace but that is exactly what we need. If we spend any time and energy upon improving ourselves in our daily walk with the Lord instead of trying to be better than someone else, then we have learned from Jesus’s story.

Confession

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 51 (NIV)

One of the most challenging actions for most people is admitting when he/she has done wrong. There is not a person alive who has not taken an action or said something which impacts another in a negative way. As humans we make bad choices, act in hurtful ways, and say hurtful words. How we handle conversations with others afterwards, especially someone we may have wronged, speaks directly to who we are as a person. It has been said that confession is good for the soul. The reason for this is by not honestly admitting our shortcomings a burden is placed upon us which impacts us emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. Relationships can be harmed when we do not own up to our negative behaviors. The well-being of others can be strongly impacted by our silence or lies used to cover up. Confession releases all the negative and allows for reparations and healing.

The psalm for today is a confession. It has been attributed to David. He seems to have written it after Nathan confronts him regarding Bathsheba. This is a confession to the Lord with a request to be forgiven and cleansed of sin. It is a psalm where most of the words could be said by almost all of us at various times, or possibly daily.

Let us follow David’s example. With contrite hearts, come before the Lord and acknowledge any sin. Request forgiveness and cleansing. Receive the Lord’s compassion which comes for unfailing love.

Freedom Responsibilites

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Galatians 5:13-15 (NIV)

As children mature, they make efforts to establish their independence. This is first noticed around the age of 2 when they enter the “me do “phase. Once they reach the milestone of legally driving, this striving for independence increases in leaps and bounds. No longer dependent on parents or older siblings to chauffer them from place to place, they begin exploring the world and its offerings on their own. Graduating from high school marks another turning point in their goal for personal independence. Each stage of new found freedom increases the level of responsibility to use these freedoms without causing injury to self or others.

Today we hear Paul’s words in regard to responsible use of freedom. He has been writing to the Galatians concerning confusion over their living under the Law. Paul points out that by believing in Christ, they no longer are bound to the Law. They have a new freedom. He expresses to them that this freedom should not be used to obtain their own wants and desires solely but it should be used in service to one another. Paul reminds them that they are to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If in their freedom they attack and steal from each other, it will be mutually destructive.

The nation in which we live provides many freedoms that are not available in other countries of the world. We are able to share our thoughts aloud without fear of being restrained, tortured, or put to death. We choose where we live, what we purchase, and how we live without a government dictating any of that to us. These freedoms have some restrictions placed upon them in the interest of public safety. There are still steps which need to be taken to ensure these freedoms are available to ALL people within our borders. Yet we remain one of the nations which affords its citizens more freedom than others.

As Paul points out, we also are free of retaliation by our God when we do not adhere to the Law of the Old Testament. Because of the grace shown to us through Christ, the punishment of the Law no longer hangs over us. We live as ones who have been freed.

However, as mentioned in regards to children obtaining independence, with our freedoms come responsibilities. Whether talking about our civic freedoms or our spiritual freedoms, we must exercise them in light of how our neighbors might be impacted. The words we use or the actions we take should not have us as the sole focus. In light of human advances, we are more connected to each other in much broader ranges than ever before. If we use our freedoms in ways that negatively affects others then we will begin a path of mutual destruction.

Be grateful for the freedoms which have been obtained for you, but be responsible and loving in how you exercise them.

Amazing Grace

Music has a powerful way of communicating a message. Today I invite you to take a moment to watch this YouTube video. The song is Amazing Grace (MyChains are Gone) by Chris Tomlin. Toumlin has blended the message of the old hymn, Amazing Grace, with lyrics he has written to remind us how the Lord has broken the chains of sin by God’s amazing grace.

After watching the video, consider these questions:

  • What is so amazing about God’s grace?
  • What chains have bound you?
  • How has the Lord’s mercy impacted your life?
  • Is there anything from which you still need the Lord to set you free?

God’s grace is truly amazing. The Lord wishes to set you free from anything which prevents you from fully experiencing the love and life God continually gives you.

Forgiven

Today, I have decided to introduce a different type of devotion.  I want to walk you through a process to hear a message that the Lord intends for you today.  Below is a copy of a painting drawn by artist Thomas Blackshear.  He entitled this piece of art, “Forgiven.”  You may have encountered this painting previously.  Today, I want you to spend some time with it and reflect upon it.

Start by looking at the image for five minutes.  Observe what details stand out to you.  You may wish to take time to write some of these details down.  

What do you notice about the man who Jesus is holding?

What does the hammer and spike communicate to you?

Is there anything about the man’s jeans which stands out?

What about the flowers in each of the bottom corners of the painting?

Notice anything about the ground on which they are standing?

Why is Jesus holding the man in this way?

What contrasts exist between Jesus and the man?

Is there anything missing from the painting which you would add?  What and why?

How does Blackshear use light and what does that communicate to you?

What is the overall message you receive from this painting today?

What do you wish to say to the Lord at this time?

A Recognition

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

John 1:1-13 (NIV)

All of us enjoy when our work is acknowledged and we receive kudos because of that work. Receiving a pat on the back encourages us to continue in our efforts. If we are the supervisor or manager of people or volunteers, taking the time to stop and express our recognition of extra effort by one for whom we are responsible is vital. A person who feels unnoticed and underappreciated will only do the minimum amount of work which is required. There is no motivation to go beyond if the efforts are not acknowledged.

The Gospel of Mark opens with the introduction of John, the Baptist. John tells of one who is coming and this one will be greater than John. Jesus then arrives and seeks baptism just as so many others have. In the midst of this baptismal rite, Jesus sees the heavens appear to open, an image of a dove descend upon him, and then hears a voice. The voice affirms Jesus as the Son followed by an acknowledgment that Jesus has pleased God. This occurs before Jesus has even begun the work of his ministry. Jesus has received a pat on the back before entering the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for a large number of days. It appears that God knew how important it would be for Jesus to hear recognition prior to undertaking a very difficult challenge.

Imagine hearing the words recorded here from a heavenly voice, from God. Realizing how motivating recognition from a human is to us, receiving similar kudos from our Creator would have to build us up in tremendous ways. The truth is that we already have received such recognition. Scripture tells us that God knew us before we were even born. God has already affirmed us as God’s daughter or son. God’s demonstration of love and grace has already told us we please God solely by being who we are. So we respond and are motivated to daily make the effort to be who God already sees us to be.

A New Year Prayer

This New Year’s Day, I have chosen to share a prayer as today’s devotion instead of using my normal format. My understanding of the Gospel is that it all is about love. The problems between people can be traced to an absence of love demonstrated in action and not solely in emotions and/or words. So I found this prayer which shares my hope for this new year.

A NEW YEAR PRAYER FOR LOVE

Dear God, thank you that you are a loving, gracious God. Thank you that you’ve offered us forgiveness and the gift of new life in you. Thank you that your love is perfect, it never fails, and that nothing can separate us from your love.

We pray that our lives would be filled and overflowing with the power of your love so we can make a difference in this world and bring honor to you. We ask for your help in reminding us that the most important things are not what we do outwardly, it’s not based on any talent or gift, but the most significant thing we can do in this life is simply to love you and choose to love others.

Help us to love as you love. Fill us with your Spirit so that we can choose what is best. We are weak Lord, but we know also, that even when we are weak, you are strong within us. Thank you that it is not all up to us. Thank you that you equip us to face each day with the power of your love, your forgiveness, and your grace. We love you Lord, and we need you today, and every day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Source: Christianity.com

This is my prayer for each of you and the world. May 2021 be filled with the love from the source of all love, God.

The Old Becomes New

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2 (NIV)

As we sit on the eve of the new year, many of us hope for a better year. We once again are ready to celebrate a new beginning. The imagery used to symbolize a change in years is the image of an elderly man and a baby. Historians believe using a baby’s image to symbolize a new year can be traced back to the Greeks around 600 B.C.E. The elderly man is thought to be Father Time. Legend says that Father Time (the Old Year) hands over duties of time to the Baby New Year at midnight. In some ways, this can be seen as the passing of the old creation to a new creation.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth regarding the change of an old creation into a new creation. Due to God’s grace, the old, sinful nature of humanity is replaced by the righteous image before God. Christ is the one who assumes our sin so that we can become a new creation and reconciled to God. The old is gone and only the new remains.

Just as the old year fades away, our sinful selves can fade. God no longer takes notice of the sin which existed prior to our reconciliation through Christ. Paul tells us at the start of this passage that we should view each other in the same way. Having been reconciled, we now see only the new, righteous self who God has brought into being. The old no longer exists, only the new remains.