Psalm 34:8

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If you watch movies or TV shows about exorcism or hear people talk about their thoughts regarding spiritual warfare, you might think that there’s always a loud, violent battle and you never know who the winner is going to be.

However, in today’s Bible reading in James 4, spiritual warfare sounds pretty simple. Straight-forward. And not loud and violent.

Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7 (CSB)

As with other passages, we need to not just “rip and read” this verse without noting its context, otherwise, we’ll miss the point. James has told his readers the root of their warring passions is that their hearts aren’t right and their priorities are wrong. He quotes Proverbs 3:34 (James 4:6) and delivers the two-step simple solution. Then he concludes the chapter talking about yielding our plans to God.

Application

temptation

I can’t talk about anyone else, but I know that my approach to spiritual warfare isn’t always this two-step method. I suspect I’m not the only one who tends to either submit to God, but not to resist the devil or to not submit to God, but try to resist the devil. Neither single-prong approach will net a “win” in spiritual warfare. Both submitting to God — wholeheartedly — and resisting the devil — wholeheartedly — are required if you want to win a spiritual battle. A friend of mine rightly points out that you will never win a spiritual battle with a fleshly weapon. But how often do we try!

Paul adds that when we’re tempted, God will always provide a way out. You will never be forced to give in to a temptation.

No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB)

The next time you find yourself facing a temptation — regardless of what you are being tempted to do — take a step back. Ask yourself if you are wholeheartedly submitting to God. If you are, then wholeheartedly resist the devil.

If James is right — and he is — this battle, for this time, is over!
You won!

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Today’s Bible reading is James 3. Like I said a few days ago, James is one of the most applicable books in the Bible. And this chapter is one of those that — if you let it — will “get all up on your business”, showing you that you aren’t all that you think you are. And that’s a good thing because we all stumble in various ways. (James 3:2) All too often, we’re so full of ourselves that we can’t hear the voice of God cautioning us. Encouraging us. Convicting us. Challenging us.

James says that if someone can control what he says, he’s a mature person. He points out that in every other part of nature, something is either one thing or another. A spring flows either sweet or bitter water. (James 3:11) A plant produces only one kind of fruit. (James 3:12) And yet, the tongue can both curse and bless. It ought not to be this way! (James 3:10)

Paul adds that believers should only speak edifying words, words that build up others (Ephesians 4:29). Jesus tells us that the basis for how well we speak to other believers is the condition of our hearts. And the condition of our hearts depends on our relationship with God.

A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Luke 6:45 (CSB)

OUCH!

Now, James, Paul, and Jesus aren’t talking about using what we would call “cuss words”. No, they’re talking about something far more sinister.

It could be cutting words. Wounding words. It could be outright gossip. It could be gossip that masquerades as “sharing prayer requests”. It could be “over sharing“.

They’re talking about any words (and any tone of voice!) that would be hurtful to a person, especially if you’re talking behind their back. It’s speaking the truth, but not speaking the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

Application

It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who struggles with this paradox. (James 3:2) But that doesn’t excuse it.

I often find myself paraphrasing Paul, that I find myself [saying] what I don’t want and I find myself not [saying] what I want. (Romans 7:18–19)

Paul says that everything we say should be gracious, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6) so that we would know how to talk with other people. When you add salt to a dish, a lot of the flavors can emerge. Salt also causes thirst. And as we talk with other people, we should be ready to give people more grace with our words.

How about you? Are you like me in the way that you know you should only build up other people, but yet find yourself not doing it all the time?

Join me in repenting of this sin of the tongue, of not building up others. And let’s lean on the Holy Spirit of God to produce in us a new speech pattern that flows from an ever-freshly redeemed heart.

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In twelve hours from now, our son will be at one of the busiest airports in the US. By himself. For the first time.

A couple of hours later, he will hop on a plane bound for Sydney, Australia. By himself. For the first time.

He will stay in a Sydney hostel, recovering from jetlag and tooling around the city for a few days. By himself. For the first time.

From there, he will take the train to Newcastle, Australia. By himself. For the first time.

In Newcastle, he will spend the next three months taking discipleship courses with YWAM (Youth with a Mission) with other young people from around the world.

In three months he will go somewhere else. We don’t know yet where he will go. He doesn’t yet know yet where he will go. All he knows is that he will be with other YWAM students on the mission field. He could be in a first-world country. He could be in a third-world country. He could be in a country where he can’t tell us where he is until he returns. In September.

After he returns to Newcastle and stays a day or so, he’ll hop on the train bound for Sydney where he will stay in a hostel for a few days before flying back home. By himself.

My son is a Rockstar.

I’m so proud of him. He spent two years at Abilene Christian University. For the past three summers, he has served at two separate Christian Summer Camps, one only an hour and a half away from home and the other (last summer) in the Texas panhandle.

After his second summer at Camp, he told us that God had told him to move home and not go back to ACU. We asked what else God had told him. He said God had told him to move home and for a year he was to pray, study his Bible and work, learning to make and serve coffee. He said God had called him to Coffee Ministry. Now, at this point, he has never worked in the foodservice industry. And at this point, to my knowledge, he has never drunk coffee.

A few weeks after moving home, he got a job at a local Starbucks, working for a longtime friend who is the best manager he will ever have. We have repeatedly told him so and that Jessica has spoiled him. Although we have known Jessica for over ten years, Micah got the job. By himself. We never said anything to her, asking for a favor.

As a Christian parent, you pray for your kids. A lot. You try to teach them to listen to, and to follow the voice of God. And when they tell you that God told them something, you really can’t tell them that they heard wrong. Especially when they hear as well as Micah does.

When he told us that God told him to not return to ACU, he was emphatic that this was his decision. He said the same thing when he told us that God was calling him to Newcastle.

I don’t know of anyone his age who is more sold out for Jesus than Micah is. He hears well. When the Holy Spirit tells him to do something, he does it. With all of his heart.

For the past couple of months, he has prepared for this discipleship training and the mission field. He has renewed his passport. By himself. He has scheduled his plane reservations. By himself. He has collected every piece of required paperwork. By himself. He has gathered everything he will need in Sidney. By himself.

He has all but emptied his bank account. God is faithful and has orchestrated everything and has provided above and beyond what he could hope or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

His parents, grandparents, and friends have helped. But he knows God has spoken. And he is willing to give it all. And risk it all.

Please join Amy and me as we pray for Micah, the other young people who will be with him at YWAM Newcastle, and the YWAM staff, that they will all listen well.

You can follow Micah on Instagram and Facebook.

I couldn’t be prouder. My son is a Rockstar.

repent

In today’s Bible reading from James 2, we see the issue I mentioned yesterday about a supposed contradiction between James and Paul on the basis of our justification before God. Paul says that we are justified by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and James says we are justified by works (James 2:24). So which one is right? And isn’t this just proof that the Bible is full of contradictions?

On the second question, no. No, the Bible is not full of contradictions. It may have differences in the way it presents things (like this topic), but if something seems like it’s contradicting something else, there’s more you need to dig into.

On the earlier question of whether James or Paul is correct, the answer is that they are both right. Huh? Their statements are complementary, not contradictory. Paul is looking at how we have been saved, James is looking at how we prove/demonstrate that we are saved. There are different aspects of our salvation: believers have been saved, believers are being saved, and believers will be saved. Paul is looking at the first aspect, James is looking at the second aspect.

Look at what they say: Paul agrees with James that our salvation will work itself out (Ephesians 2:10). And James agrees with Paul; even demons believe (“believe” [verb] and “faith” [noun] are the same word), but they aren’t saved.

Application

Believer, look at your life. Is your life any different than when you were lost? Assuming you weren’t saved yesterday, your life will experience some changes. It may be behavior, it may be attitudes, but your life will be different if you are really saved. And if your life hasn’t changed, you need to revisit the question of whether you are really saved. Walking down the aisle of a church doesn’t save you. Praying a prayer doesn’t save you. Being baptized doesn’t save you. Saying you believe doesn’t save you.

Putting your trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for your sin
and turning from your sin to embrace a relationship with God
does save you.

Have you done that?

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olympic garland

James is one of the most practical books in the Bible. And yet, it is one of the hardest books in the Bible. In fact, Martin Luther didn’t think it belonged in the Bible. He felt some of James’ teaching seemed to contradict Paul’s assertions that we are saved by grace alone. We begin reading James’ letter in today’s Bible reading.

James urges his readers to have the right attitude about trials: Rejoice in your trials (James 1:2) because when you complete the trial, you’ll receive a crown. (James 1:12)

But this is not the kind of “crown” that we think of. When we think of a crown, we think of a diadem, the kind of crown a king wears. However, the word James chooses uses imagery of athletic contests, where the winner receives a garland to wear on his/her head. One of the symbols of the Olympics is this kind of “crown”.

Application

James says that we should rejoice whenever we encounter trials. Not if we encounter trials, but whenever we encounter trials. And he is very clear in the way he describes these trials: they are various kinds or multi-faceted. Nowhere in Scripture are believers promised an easy life!

You’re going to encounter trials.
And God intends for you to face these trials with joy.

James says that God brings trials into your life to test you. Not to see if you’ll pass the test, but to burn off impurities, (Proverbs 17:3) things that don’t look like Jesus.

Paul says that God works out everything for the good of believers, and the “good” He works these things is that we would be more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

Believer, you will encounter various kinds of trials. These trials will make you more like Jesus. So don’t resist the trials. Rejoice!

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