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”?
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.
Today’s Bible reading is in direct contrast to the message of the Prosperity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel can be summed up with, “Name it. Claim it. Blab it. Grab it. Believe it. Achieve it and receive it. Or live in doubt and do without.” “God wants you to live a prosperous, healthy and wealthy life.” “You can live your best life now!”
The message of the Prosperity Gospel preachers is that if you have enough faith, you too can drive a Bently and fly in your own private jet. OK, they may not spell it out that blatantly, but if you take their message to its logical conclusion, you can control your destiny. The Prosperity Gospel preachers will tell you that if you have any type of illness or if you have financial problems, you just lack faith.
The world is filled with Prosperity Gospel rejects. They’re the ones who sent their “seed money” to the TV Preacher, trusting that God would make good on the promise of the preacher. It is essentially a transactional religion. If you do this, God is obligated to do that. If you’ve ever bought a candy bar from a vending machine, you know that if you put the money in, the machine will give you what you want. The Prosperity Gospel ignores the plain teachings of Scripture that you will have trouble in this life. (John 16:33)
The problem with the Prosperity Gospel and transactional religion is that God never makes the promises the Prosperity Gospel peddlers do. God never obligates Himself to anything or anyone. The bottom line is that God is God. And you aren’t.
Hebrews 12 says that God disciplines His children. The writer urges his readers to take heart when they experience God’s discipline because God disciplines His children. One of the proofs that you are a child of God is that God disciplines you. The flip side of that has tremendous ramifications: if you aren’t disciplined by God, you may not be a legitimate child of God. (Hebrews 12:5-8)
The next time you encounter God’s discipline, take heart! You’re one of His! And He loves you too much to leave you where you are. He wants the best for you. He wants you to look like Jesus. And to do that, He has to break off everything that doesn’t look like Jesus.
Sometimes He may discipline you as you read His Word. Sometimes He may discipline you as you listen to a sermon. Sometimes He may discipline you as you listen to Christian music. Regardless of how He does it, press into Him and ask Him to use this to make you more like Jesus. Ask Him to draw you closer to His heart during this time.
The primary lie of the Prosperity Gospel is that Jesus isn’t enough to satisfy you. It appeals to your pride. The truth of the true Gospel is that Jesus is more than enough to satisfy you. And the true Gospel requires humility.
Things continue escalating in today’s Bible reading. Seven angels pour out seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.
First Bowl: Painful Sores
Second Bowl: The sea turned to blood and all sea life died
Third Bowl: Rivers and springs became blood
Fourth Bowl: People are scorched by the sun. They blaspheme the One who has power over the plagues. They do not repent.
Fifth Bowl: The Beast’s kingdom is plunged into darkness. The people are in intense pain and blaspheme God and do not repent.
Sixth Bowl: The Euphrates River dries up, paving the way for the eastern kings to march to Armageddon.
Seventh Bowl: The greatest earthquake ever occurs. God pours out His wrath on Babylon the Great. One hundred pound hailstones fall and people blaspheme.
Once again, we see people refuse to repent of their sin when they’re face-to-face with God’s wrath. They don’t cry out for mercy. Instead, they blaspheme. They curse God.
We’ve seen this before. God brings hardships in order to call people to repent. And yet they don’t. Their hearts have grown so hard, they don’t see a need to ask for God’s help. Instead, they call down curses on God, the only One Who can stop or give any relief from the plagues.
So what does this say about God? It says that God is holy. God is righteous. God is just. And God is justified in pouring out His wrath on sinful, rebellious humanity. God is patient. But a Day is coming when He will no longer hold back His wrath. He will pour out His wrath and punish sin. He will punish those who pursue their sin. And that Day will be the worst day ever.
Are you ready for that Day? If you repent of your sin, God will credit the righteousness of Jesus to your account and His wrath will be satisfied in the punishment Jesus bore on a cross almost two thousand years ago.
You can face God’s wrath on your own. Or you can have Jesus to deal with God’s wrath for you. Turn to Jesus and repent of your sin today!
In today’s Bible reading, we see more trumpets blown and more calamities sent to earth. Each is worse than the previous one. One-third of the people died. (Revelation 9:18)
And yet, those remaining two-thirds of the people do not repent.
If you’ve ever read 2 Chronicles 7:14, you’ll remember that God promises to hear from heaven, forgive sin, and heal the land if His people will simply humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their evil ways.
That’s a tremendous promise! But the promise comes in the context of a response to God bringing calamity on His people because of their wickedness. Before this verse, God promises to bless His people. But if they turn away from Him, He will bring hardship. If they respond with humble repentance, God promises to act.
In our reading, God brings calamity, but no one repents. (Revelation 9:20-21)
How incredibly sad.
Indeed, God’s promise to answer the prayers of His people, forgive their sin and bring restoration to their land is a tremendous promise.
As I type this on Tuesday Night, the US House of Representatives has handed down two Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States. I’m not going to go into my feelings about this other than to say that the Articles — even if glaringly true — do not qualify as treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors, the only provisions in the US Constitution for impeaching the President.
The United States is in a crisis. It’s (past) time for God’s people to cry out to Him in humble repentance, to pray, to seek God’s face, and to turn from our wickedness.
Nothing short of this will restore civility to our beloved nation.
This is not a Left vs. Right political problem. This is a spiritual problem. And spiritual problems can only be remedied with spiritual solutions.
Spend a few minutes right now, asking God to bring conviction of your sin. As He reveals areas where you have sinned, confess those sins (“God, I am a sinner. I was wrong. I did ___.”) and repent (something like, “God, forgive me. Give me a renewed heart and fill me with your Holy Spirit that I might follow you.”) If God leads you to periods of extended prayer and/or fasting, don’t delay. Obey Him immediately!
Ask God to unite His people and draw us to Him. Ask God to raise up a mighty army of men and women who are committed to following God’s prescription in 2 Chronicles 7. Ask God to bring another Spiritual Awakening and revival to our country.
The big application here is to repent whenever God brings correction.
Last week, we looked at what happened when the seals were removed from the Scroll and God’s judgment began to be executed.
It was bad.
In today’s Bible reading, angels blow trumpets and more calamity is hurled at the earth. Without the context of the rest of the Bible, these actions sound cruel, both to mankind and to the rest of creation (sun, moon, etc.)
We tend to think that Adam’s choice in a garden so long ago wasn’t that big of a deal. It was just a “missing the mark” moment. A mistake.
But when taken in the context of the rest of Scripture, much more happened that day in the garden. So much more!
When taken in the context of a representative — THE representative head — of creation choosing Creation over Creator, the enormity of the offense comes to light.
When Adam bit into the forbidden fruit, he snubbed The Cosmic Benefactor.
When Adam bit into the forbidden fruit, Adam raised his middle finger at God.
And the book of Revelation records the Cosmic, cataclysmic effects of that seemingly innocuous act of satisfying a hunger. The hunger Adam was trying to satisfy was more than an empty stomach. Adam was trying to fill Adam with Adam. And Adam was created with a hunger for His Creator.
Sin is in our DNA.
Each of us inherited sin from our first father. Each of us inherited lostness. Each of us inherited alienation. Each of us inherited an inclination to tell God where He could go with His plans for an eternal relationship.
And there, but for the grace of God go all of us.
All of us.
All. Of. Us.
Praise God for His grace! Praise God for His mercy! Praise God for His patience. For His second chances. For His 8,000th chances.
If you haven’t turned from your sin and turned to Him, please do it today! Don’t wait, because once The End begins, there are no 8,000th chances.
There are no second chances. And eternity is a long time.
So turn from your sin and turn to God. Stop trusting yourself and your plans. Trust God and His plans. Come to know Him. Spend time getting to know Him better. And fall in love with Him.