Watch the Words

Read James 1:19-21

A cornerstone to a healthy relationship is communication. Whether the relationship is an intimate one or more casual in nature, communication is significant. Whenever we interact with another human being, we have initiated a relationship, brief or in length. The relationship might be between two people on a sidewalk, between a customer and clerk, or between two people on a date. The setting can be a rally event, in our home, in a store, or on the commuter train. Anytime we interact with one another, some form of relationship occurs. In all of these situations, how we communicate influences the relationship and the outcome of the encounter.

As we read the passage today, we engage in advice regarding communication. The words were written to a group of believers in the first century but have value even today. First piece of advice is to be quick to listen. This indicates to us the importance of listening before beginning to speak. Defer to the other person to hear their information and/or perspective. Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said,” We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This is echoed in the advice from James which continues by saying we should be slow to speak.

The third piece of advice is to be slow to become angry. Anger does not fit what God wishes to see in human relationships. The usual outcome of anger is the expression of damaging words. Anger does not build up a relationship. While the emotion of anger is unavoidable at times, managing and controlling it is a valuable skill. Many difficult situations can be avoided if we do not rush to anger and the harsh words it produces.

Finally, the advice states to remove moral filth and evil from our thoughts and communication. Instead, we are to focus on the words planted in us by the Spirit. These are words which build one another up. These are words which communicate the love of God into our relationships. By focusing on and using these words, we save ourselves from destructive communication which destroys relationships.

Temptation

Read Matthew 4:1-11

All types of temptations confront us in life. When a person is on a diet, there seems to be endless opportunities to eat foods which are packed with unhealthy calories. If you are trying to conserve or save money, advertisements on social media surface attempting to entice you to buy something you want badly. When in college, the availability of credit cards tempted me to spend money which I did not have. Temptation comes in a variety of forms from a variety of sources. How a person responds to temptation has a strong impact on one’s ability to overcome the temptation.

In today’s passage from Matthew’s version of the gospel, we witness Jesus going to the arid area near the Jordan River. Prior to this passage we hear of Jesus being baptized by John. This is the starting point of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The transition from growing up while working with Joseph and his mobile ministry of healing and teaching is marked with these two stories. While in this barren area without resources of food and water, Jesus is tempted by the tempter, or devil. The three mentioned temptations are taking care of the physical needs of food and water, testing if the Father’s protection is real, and obtaining controlling power by worshiping someone other than God. Jesus’s response is always to rely on his understanding and following of God’s directions. This response allowed Jesus to overcome the temptation.

Each of us encounter the same types of temptations as presented here. There are times when we are tempted to place our perceived needs ahead of everything else. We are tempted to take matters into our own hands to satisfy our need instead of trusting in God to provide.

The temptation to want to challenge God to see if the promises are real can surface occasionally. We may make reckless choices and say to ourselves, “if God truly loves me, I will be kept safe.” The expectation that God will get us out of perilous situations is best illustrated with the moral story of the man who drowned in a flood because he kept refusing the help God was sending.

A hunger for power and authority along with all the earthly benefits associated with them can easily creep into our everyday life. We place people and objects in the center of our lives to obtain that power, authority and benefits. These items take the place of God who deserves to always be in the center of our lives.

Jesus again provides a way to respond when these, and other temptations, confront us. Relying on the directions of the Lord is the way to overcome temptation. We can obtain this direction by understanding and applying Scripture. The fellow believers and faith leaders which God places in our lives can assist in providing God’s direction for us. Being in communication with the Lord through the Spirit also opens this direction to us. Temptation will always come our way but if we seek God’s direction as our response when it does, we will overcome it.

Opening the Eyes

Read Mark 8:22-26

In the story of Jesus healing a blind man near the town of Bethsaida, we see the power of Jesus to open that which has been closed. Jesus takes the blind man who has been brought to him outside of the village. The man is taken out of his comfort zone, his familiar. Once outside the village

Jesus touches his eyes and then asks the man to describe what he sees. The man’s description indicates to us that his sight is only partially restored. Like Paul describes in 1 Corinthians, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly…” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NRSV) Jesus touches the man’s eyes again and the man’s eyesight is fully restored.

We are spiritually like the blind man. We are unable to see Jesus in a spiritual way. We remain in the familiar because we are unable to navigate safely in the spiritual realm. Then someone brings us to Jesus. Jesus takes us out of our comfort zone. Our spirits are touched by the Lord’s Spirit. At first we can only partially see the fullness of Christ and only partially understand the grace and magnitude of the Lord’s love. There will come a day when our hearts will be touched by the Spirit again and we will be open to see the completeness of our Lord. 

For now we pray this…

For Our Good

Read Romans 8:26-28

Socrates was considered to be one of the wisest philosophers and teachers of Ancient Greece. He created a method of teaching and discovering which was based on a series of dialogues between himself and his pupils. A subject is chosen and the dialogue commences. As wise as Socrates has been purported to be, he is quoted as saying, “The more I know, the more I realize I know nothing.” This humility seems to indicate that Socrates understood his limits.

Humans have limits. This truth is evident in Paul’s words found in the letter to the believers in Rome. Paul indicates the human weakness and inability to even pray correctly. But Paul states this is not a point of despair for us because the Spirit intercedes for us. The One who intimately knows the will and thoughts of God also knows us intimately. Where we are unable to utter, the Spirit communicates in ways beyond us. This is done because God desires all aspects of life to work toward the good of us who love God and are called by God.

Much like Socrates, when we take an honest inventory of our knowledge and abilities, we are deeply aware that as gifted as we are in these areas, we have so much farther to go. Paul’s words to the Romans bring comfort to us in the midst of such a revelation. Having the assurance that we have God constantly working on behalf of us even to the point of interceding in our weaknesses and prayers, provides us a boost in life. Our God, who is powerful enough to create all we see and cannot see, is tirelessly working to bring good to us. What amazing love is this?

Spirit Fruits

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:22-25 (NIV)

This is the time of the year when many fruits and vegetables are ripening and bring enjoyment to our tables. The melons, tomatoes and other garden vegetables enhance our meals. On a hot, summer day, a watermelon can seem to be a refreshing treat. The fruits add a nice, sweet taste as a snack or part of an after-meal dessert.

In the letter sent to Galatia, there is a conversation about fruits. The fruits here are not apples, grapes, or plums. The fruits discussed here are what the Spirit produces in human lives. These fruits benefit society and all people so there are no prohibitions restricting us from exhibiting these behaviors. Living within the Spirit, we are to practice these behaviors regularly instead of the selfish behaviors and desires we exhibited prior to our knowledge of Christ. We experience the fruits of the Spirit in our lives just as we practice them towards others.

A Rising

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:9-11 (NIV)

The process of making food which includes a rising element has always been fascinating. Mixing together the correct ingredients which leads to the food item rising either before or during the baking process contains an element of mystery. Whether it is a type of bread or a cake, the rising is necessary for an enjoyable outcome. As an adult, I understand the chemical process which results in the rising but as a kid I was amazed by it. The key is that the right ingredients must be in the batter to make this possible.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he speaks of having the correct ingredient to produce a rising, the rising of our own mortal bodies after death. Paul tells the Roman followers that if Christ is in them, they are now in the realm of the Spirit and no longer the realm of the flesh. The body is still subject to death but the Spirit gives life. Because the Spirit is in us, we will have a bodily resurrection just as Christ had one.

The key ingredient for us is the Spirit living within us. This Spirit moves us from living just in the physical realm into the spiritual realm. It is the Spirit which is necessary for our physical bodies to be raised after death like Christ was raised. The Spirit lives in each of us, when we believe and acknowledge this, we accept the gift of the promised resurrection.

The Unseen

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Hebrews 11:1-12 (NIV)

As the gift of science has advanced, we have learned fascinating truths about our world, nature and our very selves. The discoveries have not been limited to just our world but have included understandings about space, planets, and our universe. We have come to gain insight into neutrons, protons, electrons, microscopic animals, amebas, germs, parasites and an endless list of objects which are undetectable with the naked eye. Aspects of the air we breathe, the air which moves the trees and the weather around us are all not visible to us but science has helped us understand these in deeper ways. What once was invisible and unknown to us has become familiar.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of the unknown. Here the unknown is in regards to spiritual matters and humanity’s relationship with the Lord. The passage starts with a definition of faith. Then the writer gives examples of faith from the forming of the universe, to Abel, to Enoch, to Noah, to Abraham. Faith is required of us to trust in that which we cannot physically confirm.

The definition of faith provided here is not unlike the mindset a scientist must have. The role of a scientist is to prove a theory based on assumptions or witnessing the effect something has on something else. At the start, the scientist must have confidence that there exists an element which may not be visible at first. When it comes to our faith in the Lord, we must begin with a confidence that the Lord exists and is responsible for what we experience. Then, like the scientist, we witness the evidence that what we believe is true. Until the day we see the Lord face-to-face, we find assurance and hope in our faith.

Spirit Birth

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

John 3:1-8 (NIV)

One of the aspects of growing older for many adults is the changing of their eyesight. When my parents reached their 50s, each of them ended up having to wear glasses due to a deterioration of their eyesight. Both of my siblings experienced the same need at about the same age as my parents. When I also crossed this age threshold, I joined the rest of my family in needing glasses some of the time. An optometrist explained that the reason for this was as our eyes age, the flexibility of our lenses reduces which impacts how we see. Since wearing glasses, I have noticed a change which allows me to see where before I struggled. The glasses have brought new life to my eyesight.

In John’s recording of the Gospel, we hear of a late night encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the night. Jesus tells him that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. Nicodemus asks how an adult can be born again. Jesus explains that this would not be a birth of the flesh but of the Spirit. Jesus explains that only through a spiritual rebirth can a person see spiritual things such as the kingdom of God.

At times, our vision of the world and God can become inflexible like the lenses of our eyes. We need something to help us with our vision. Glasses provide that for our physical sight. The Spirit provides that for our spirit. We must be born again in the Spirit so that we can see the spiritual things of our God. Only by the Spirit can we see the true spiritual realm of the Lord.

Come Spirit

On this day we remember the amazing events which occurred on the day of Pentecost centuries ago. The Spirit of the Lord was made known in spectacular ways. Our focus today is on the presence of the Spirit and how the Spirit continues to do spectacular things in and through us.

1. How do you invite the Spirit into your life?

2. Where do you experience the Spirit in the world today?

3. What has the Spirit done in and through you?

Released

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)

The amazing work of the organizations which rescue and rehabilitate animals is something to be celebrated. When a television show broadcasts stories including the moments one of these animals are released back into their natural habitats, it is heartwarming to watch. As an observer, a person can only imagine the sense of freedom and exhilaration the animal must experience at the moment of release.

The passage from the letter to the Roman believers speaks of being released. This release comes through the actions of Jesus Christ. Christ releases us from the law of the flesh, the law which we who are flesh could not fulfill was fulfilled when the Son became flesh and offered himself for all sin. This law of the flesh is fully met in the flesh of Christ. We are released from any condemnation and placed within the law of the Spirit. We are set free from the law of sin and death. We now live according to the Spirit.

Having the truth in this passage revealed to us should cause a feeling of freedom and exhilaration within us. Like the rescued and rehabilitated animals mentioned above, we have been given a new lease on life. The fear of being condemned had been removed. What has held us and created a deadly situation for us was destroyed by Christ. Let us live our life in the Spirit, free from the power of sin and death.