No Favortism

Read James 2:1-9

Throughout a person’s life, each of us experience some level of favoritism. Favoritism manifests itself in large and small ways. The first encounter which a person may have is in elementary school at recess time. A friendly game of kickball may be forming and two captains are choosing who will be on each of their teams. Eligible candidates line up while one by one, names are called out alternating from one team to the other. Those viewed as best players are chosen early while lesser players are left standing until the last. Favoritism is part of the winnowing process.

Today we see a warning against favoritism among believers. The writer of the letter of James warns that believers in Christ must never show favoritism in welcoming others into their fellowship. The writer lifts up a commandment from the early law which Jesus states is the second greatest commandment, “Love your neighbor.” The author says that if favoritism is found among believers, it is a violation of this commandment. Also pointed out here is the often experienced reality that the preferred often bring hardship to the fellowship while the unfavorite bless the fellowship.

Favoritism frequently raises its ugly head in our world. Those who are not considered or treated as favorites feel the sting of rejection. A sense of worthlessness often shrouds the individual. These experiences can impact self value in negative ways. There is, and never has been, any place for favoritism in the fellowship of the Lord. Jesus made this abundantly clear in his ministry. In this epistle, it is made clear once again. Yet from the start of the church until this very day, favoritism continues to be witnessed in every aspect of the church way too often.

Let us take a stand against this type of behavior. We each must work every day to eliminate any favoritism within the fellowships in which we actively participate. The church should be a place of welcome and safety for every and all individuals. Living out the commandment to love your neighbor should have no preferential treatment associated with it. We may all be surprised how we may be blessed by the least favorite.

Act Now

Read James 4:13-17

There is a famous English proverb which has an origin that is difficult to trace: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This proverb is an attempt to communicate the idea that an intention is meaningless unless it is acted upon. How many of us are guilty of saying something like “I will visit with my elderly aunt when my life slows down in a bit.” Often we make such a statement with some desire to act upon it but unfortunately something leads to the aunt dying and we never make the visit. Each of us can think of other examples of situations when we claim we are going to do something but we do not follow through and the opportunity is lost.

The writer of the letter of James is speaking about such a situation. Here it is pointed out that we can earnestly make future plans but there is no guarantee the future will come to be. The Lord is the only one who knows our future and where the next day will take us. The writer clearly communicates the finality and brevity of our existence. Anyone who proclaims the future plans which will occur is acting as if the future is in the individual’s control. This attitude is described here as arrogant.

The Lord does not have an issue with us making plans. Where we run into a problem is when we see those plans as guaranteed and under our control. This is why we are reminded here that we are not to put off to tomorrow the acts of love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. Each day we are given opportunities to show these expressions as we act upon them. The good which we can do for one another should be carried out at the time the opportunity is presented instead of planning to get around to it another day.

Act Upon

Read James 1:22-25

Many parents and spouses often make comments about hearing deficits in regard to their children and/or spouse. These individuals usually do not have a hearing issue but instead they are not responding to what their parent and/or spouse deems as appropriate. This creates frustration within the relationship. The frustration is expressed often by using such a question as, “Do you have a hearing problem because I just told you (fill in the blank) and yet you (fill in the blank)?” The person has heard but chose not to act upon whatever was said to them.

In his letter, James cautions the followers of Christ not to just receive the Word but to act upon what they have received. James provides imagery which shows the pointlessness of listening to what the Word says but not putting it into action within one’s life. Instead, James tells the reader to find in the Word the freedom which is given and to live within the Word. Acting upon what is learned from the Word will provide blessings in life.

How often are we like children who are given guidance and direction but ignore this? We have been given the Word of God, and seen it demonstrated in the life of Christ, as a pattern and guide for the way in which we live. This gift can only be a true gift if we act upon what we learn. The value of the Word is not found in the writings but in how we apply these writings daily in our lives. When we grasp the life application of God’s Word, we discover blessings which would allude us otherwise.

Spend time in studying God’s Word but do not stop there, apply what you have discovered in your daily life.

Lord’s Prayer – Part 9

Read Matthew 6:9b-13

We come to the final petition in the short prayer which Jesus provided as a model. In the Roman Catholic worship liturgy, this is where the prayer ends. That is also true when we read the passage from Matthew and Luke. As we have done with other petitions, we will examine this one in two parts. The first phrase in this petition is, “Lead us not into temptation.”

The wording of this phrase is odd. What is troublesome about this wording is that it gives the impression that God would tempt us. This stands against what we find inJames where we read, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” (James 1:13-14) Instead, our own desires entice and tempt us.

If God is not the one tempting us, then what does this phrase mean? The usual interpretation of this phrase has come to be that it is a request to help us resist temptation. Being tempted is inherent to being human. We know that Jesus was tempted at the beginning of his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11). Being tempted gives us a since that he was fully a part of the human experience. (Hebrews 4:15)

Jesus includes this phrase in the prayer since he understands the human struggle with the temptation to sin. Making the request to God for help with this struggle is a natural result from experience.

True Source

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

James 1:13-18 (NIV)

Growing up there was a comedy show on television which brought laughter into our home. It was on the air in the early 1970s and starred comedian Flip Wilson, so was called “The Flip Wilson Show.” The show was a full hour in length and consisted of a series of short skits. Popular actors, comedians, musicians and public features would be a part of each week’s show. Many phrases were made popular within American society after they were said on this show, often by headline comedian Flip Wilson himself. One such catchphrase was, “The devil made me do it.”

Today’s passage from the letter of James places before us the question, “What is the source of temptation and sin?” Here we are told that the source is definitely not God. God cannot be tempted and God does not tempt. Instead, the source is our own evil desire. This desire leads to sin and the full outcome of sin is death. The writer then tells us that God is the source of good gifts for us. One of the greatest of these gifts is making us the first fruits of creation. God is the source of good and perfect gifts, not temptation and sin.

We are a people who want to blame someone or something else for our bad behavior and choices. Flip Wilson taught us to blame the devil. The contemporaries of James blamed God. The truth is that we, ourselves, are the source of evil desires which lead to sin. Only the love and goodness of God’s grace can overcome those desires and defeat sin and death. Instead of blaming God for the temptations, we should be thanking God for defeating the effect of those temptations.

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.

Pieces of the Picture

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:1-13 (NIV)

Jigsaw puzzles have always been an enjoyable pastime in my family. My father used to spend hours putting puzzles together on our dining room table. He passed his love of working on puzzles on to me. Recently, my oldest son has also begun putting puzzles together. There is something satisfying about the process of working on jigsaw puzzles. Taking the time to look at each of the pieces in order to see how the piece might fit with the others helps to slow life down a bit. When you put the final pieces into the whole, you gain a sense of accomplishment. Each time I work on a puzzle, I am amazed how the final picture turns out after combining hundreds or thousands of pieces.

In the passage which we read today, we see the putting together of pieces to give a picture of Jesus. Jesus decides to reveal the picture to three of his closest disciples. When Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain, they see the light of glory encompassing Jesus. This provides a piece of the picture. Jesus is more than a teacher, healer, and compassionate person, there is something divine here. Then they see Moses and Elijah standing beside Jesus. Why Moses and Elijah? They are two pieces of the picture of Jesus. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. Both the Law and the prophets point us, and the Jews, to the Messiah. Next the disciples hear a voice which indicates, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.” The voice, attributed to the Father, provides another piece of the picture. The voice affirms Jesus as God’s Son. Combining these pieces and understanding how they fit together gives us a picture of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.

Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle takes time and patience, constructing our picture of Jesus is the same. Scripture provides us with pieces which we must examine and determine how they fit together. When we are able to witness the picture coming together, excitement quickly fills us. We can also share the picture with others and encourage them to put together the pieces for themselves.