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There are no short-cuts to maturity

James doesn’t mince words about suffering. He begins his book urging his readers to rejoice whenever they experience trials. And he wraps up his book with today’s Bible reading, urging his readers to be patient in suffering. (James 5:7-11) He fills in the gaps about suffering in between. In fact, James never refers to suffering and trials as a remote possibility. He always refers to it as a given. One can only wonder how the Prosperity Gospel flourishes given the enormous weight of consistent Biblical teaching against it.

In Western Society, we don’t like to wait. The coming modern conveniences promoted on commercials in the 1950s only left us cramming more into our days rather than the promise they made that life would be easier and we would have more free time. I’m still waiting for that.

Take the microwave oven for example. With a microwave oven, you can boil water in a matter of a couple of minutes and make a nice glass of good Southern Sweet Iced Tea in half the time compared to boiling water and steeping your tea on a cooktop. But how often have you impatiently screamed at your microwave oven, “Hurry!”? Personally, I’d rather not answer that question!

Application

James seems to indicate that suffering produces patience. And you won’t gain patience without having to wait, oftentimes experiencing some level of discomfort or suffering. Is it any wonder why some Bible translations use the word longsuffering instead of patience.

The bottom line is that there are no short-cuts to maturity in the Christian life. Enduring hardship develops patience and other positive character qualities. So take James at his word when he tells you to rejoice whenever you encounter various trials. (James 1:2-4) Trust that God will use those trials for your good: That you would become more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

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hold your tongue

In today’s Bible reading, James warns his readers against being an arsonist by not controlling their tongues. He argues that although it’s very small, the tongue can create a great deal of damage. Perhaps James has Proverbs 18:21 in mind.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)

James spends a great deal of time talking about the tongue. It’s a good thing. The can easily create havoc in a church setting. Perhaps it’s “sharing a prayer request”. Actually, it’s slander, gossip, or backbiting. Perhaps it’s “speaking the truth in love”. Actually, it’s demeaning or berating. Perhaps, it’s “stretching the truth” or — a preacher’s favorite — “ministerially speaking”. Actually, it’s lying. There are other ways Believers sin with our tongue, but these may be the most “innocent”. Either way, it’s not using our tongue to edify and bless.

Application

The tongue can get you in a lot of trouble. The wise person who wrote the proverb was correct. Words can heal or words can kill. You get to choose how you use your tongue.

Before you say something, before you “share” something, before you post something on Social Media ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is it true? Have you personally verified it?
  • Is it helpful? Is it encouraging?
  • Is it the right time to say it?
  • Is it said in the right tone? Is this the best way to say it?
  • Does it involve the person(s) talked about? The person you’re telling, are they part of the problem/solution? (If not, don’t share it; it’s gossip, plain and simple)
  • If it’s a corrective word, have you confirmed with someone else (in confidence) if it needs to be said? Have you confirmed with them that now is the time to share it? Do you need to bring that person along to be present when you deliver the word?

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Pure and undefiled religion

I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.

In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.

In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.

So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?

Application

James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.

Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.

Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.

Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.

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Tomorrow, I’ll be preaching from my home. In an effort to protect our church members and guests from exposure to Covid-19, we won’t meet at our church building until Emergency Management officials feel that it is safe to meet in groups of more than ten.

To be honest, I’ve been amazed at the responses I’ve seen on Facebook regarding the canceling of church services. Some have said, “We’re going to meet like we always do. God will protect us.” Others have said, “The government can’t shut us down!”

My response is the same as when we talked at church last Wednesday. Given the average age and health conditions of our church members, it would be irresponsible to insist on “services as normal”. Protecting everyone from possible exposure to a deadly global pandemic is the “new normal”. Yes, I think that the panic-mongers in the mainstream media are hard at work. And they are succeeding. I mean, just look at the TP shortages. What could be more illogical in the face of a global pandemic of an upper respiratory virus than hoarding TP?! The two are utterly unrelated.

Ok, I’ll step down off my soapbox now.

If you’re available, please join me at 11:00 am CDT for my Sunday Morning sermon. Because we don’t have a license to stream copyrighted music, we’re following the law. Who knows how long this will last. God does. And He is stretching the church to do things differently.

Click this logo to join me on Facebook Live on Sunday Mornings at 11:00 AM CDT

We finish reading through Acts with today’s Bible reading. We find Paul and his companions shipwrecked on the island of Malta. To keep the prisoners from swimming to shore and escaping, the soldiers considered killing the prisoners, but the Centurion wanted to save Paul.  Everyone survived; even those who couldn’t swim made it to shore by holding onto parts of the ship.

The people of Malta welcome the survivors and built a fire so they could warm themselves. Paul collected a stack of sticks to add to the fire. A venomous snake latched onto Paul’s hand. The Maltese believed that Paul was guilty of some kind of heinous crime and the snake bite was his punishment. But Paul shook off the snake and didn’t swell up; he didn’t suffer any ill effects from the bite so the people believed he survived because he was a god.

The chief man on the island was Publius. His father was suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul visited Publius’ father and miraculously, instantaneously healed him. Dr. Luke then tells us that others on the island brought their sick relatives and they were cured.

Dr. Luke’s description of what happened is very important for us. He distinguishes between the instantaneous, miraculous healing performed by the Apostle and the curing that he did as a physician. The Greek word Dr. Luke employed is the basis of our English word, therapy.

Application

The strong application from this story is that when we are sick, we should seek God’s healing. We should also seek medical help if God sovereignly chooses to not heal in a miraculous way. Many Believers choose to only pray, believing that God is obligated to heal His children. Many Believers choose only seeking medical help because they don’t believe that God heals in miracles anymore.

Both of these extreme positions are wrong. Nowhere do the Scriptures tell us that God will cease using miracles. So we can assume that we should pray for God to miraculously intervein. At the same time, God has given us foods and medicines as well as medical professionals who can use these to bring about therapy for restored health.

There should be no shame for seeking a miracle. And there should there be no shame for seeking medical help. If a doctor prescribes medicine or medical devices, take them and thank God for His provisions.

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