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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 8 ~ Do What It Says!

Day 8 ~ Do What It Says!
James 1:22-25  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-- he will be blessed in what he does.
The law that gives freedom?  What is James talking about?  After all, isn't the law that word from God which reveals our sin to us?  Isn't it the law that condemns sinners?  The law cannot free us, it is by its very nature a slave driver!  How can James tell us to look intently to the law that gives freedom?

It must be remembered that the Law of God is always at work in three ways.  First, it is warning us that, if we break it, there will be penalties to pay.  For fear of punishment we then try to keep the law.  For example, the law says, "Don't speed or else you will get a ticket."  So, we don't speed to avoid the ticket.  God says, "If you obey my commands perfectly, you will live.  If not, you will die.  Eternally."   Second, then, the law always, ALWAYS, accuses us because we know that we have sped!  We have broken the law by sinning against God's commands.  The law crushes us and kills us because we know that we cannot live by keeping it.  Here the law reveals to us our need for Christ and, in a sense, serves the Gospel as it causes us to despair of our righteousness and goodness and to cry out to God for mercy.  God's answer to the law, and to our cries, is Jesus.  Jesus kept the law on our behalf, perfectly, so that He does not have to die.  So that, when He does die, it is on our behalf, taking our sin, our guilt, and the punishments of the law away from us onto himself.  Here we are set free from having to obey the law for our salvation!

Now we are free!  But here is the ironic part: we are free to keep the law!  What does that mean?  It means that since the law no longer condemns us we no longer have to fear it.  Instead, God uses it as a guide to show us how to live in the freedom of the Gospel towards our neighbor.  We look to the law to see how it is we can live as those who have been given a new life of freedom in Christ Jesus.  We are not free to sin (that would be a return to slavery), we are free from sin, and therefore, free from the condemnations of the law.  We can look at the law to see who we are in Christ Jesus.  We can see it as a description of how our lives can now be lived.  We don't just hear what we are to be, by being possessions of the Holy Spirit, we can actually live it out!  We do what it says!

Confession:  Mighty and gracious Lord, have mercy on me.  I confess that I have despised your law.  I have even used your promises of forgiveness as an excuse to break your law, as if you sent Jesus to die so that I could sin however I want.  I have abused your grace.  I plead before you, for the sake of your Son's holy, innocent, and bitter suffering to have mercy on me, a sinner.  Graciously grant me your Holy Spirit so that I might live my life according to your will, loving you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself.  AMEN!

Challenge:  Find a Small Catechism and memorize one commandment and its explanation.  Pray for an opportunity to act upon this commandment this week.

Pastor Bob

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 7 ~ Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

Day 7 ~ Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak
James 1:19-21 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
Read this text again closely.  Ask yourself this question: Are you quick to listen or quick to speak?  When you are having an argument or are in a debate with someone, do you take the time to listen to the other person's side or are you trying to win for the sake of being right?  We are always ready to prove ourselves right at the cost of someone else's pride.  Especially when we are upset do we set out to win, not to love.

This is the world's way of arguing.  Win at all costs!  But, Jesus has placed His Word in us in baptism so that we are no longer "of the world" (John 17:16).  We have a God who has spoken a different Word to us.  James says He has planted it in us!  This is the Word is Jesus Himself!  Jesus, our God, who forgives our sins and trespasses.  Jesus, our God, who does not seek to belittle us with His righteousness, but to clothe us in it.  His Word of forgiveness and grace actually brings about  the righteous life that God desires.  We are to be quick to listen to God's Word so that it shapes the way we speak and act.

We should not be impressed by quick-witted talking heads who make their opponents look like fools.   We have been born to a new life which is shaped by God's Word of grace.   The way we speak is a reflection and  outgrowth of the Word God has spoken to us.  Words of grace find themselves on our lips as the Spirit works through the Word implanted in our hearts. "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Confession:  Father of all mercies, by your mighty Word you created this world, and by that same gracious Word you have created a new heart within me.  Forgive me for when my words do not echo your words.  I confess that I care more about being right than loving my neighbor.  Forgive me and use my mouth to declare your praise.  AMEN!

Challenge:  Next time you are in an argument, lose.

Pastor Bob

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Monday, February 27, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 6 ~ Good Gifts

Day 6 ~ Good Gifts
James 1:17-18 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.
In the midst of trials and temptations, it is hard to remember that God is our Father who gives all good gifts! In the midst of trial and temptation, suffering and persecution, our faith may waiver. As the band, Caedmon's Call, sings in Shifting Sand, "My faith is like shifting sand, changed by every wave." Like a boat on the waves our faith is up and down. At times we feel like we are thriving and other times we feel like we are failing. The song goes on, "My faith is like shifting sand, so I stand on grace!" Our faith may shift, but God does not "change like the shifting shadows!" He remains the God of good gifts.

Every good gift comes from above, James says. That is the movement in our relationship with God: from God to us. In the incarnation, God gives Jesus to us in human flesh to preach His saving message. On the cross, Jesus gives up his life as a sacrifice for our sins. He gives Himself to God for us. Because Christ has done this, the Father gives us new birth by giving us the Holy Spirit through the Word of truth. He gives us a new life so that even our Christian living is a gift from Him!

The entire life of a Christian: new birth and maturation, justification and sanctification, the promise of resurrection beyond trials, all of it is a gift from God. All of it is ours because of the greatest gift God has given us: His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the gift of the Father and the giver of salvation. God is a giver, and that never changes!

Confession: Dear Father, all good gifts come from you. I confess that I have neglected your Son and not lived the life of faith you have given to me. Forgive me for the sake of Jesus, and strengthen me to receive your gifts with faith and joy! AMEN!

Challenge: Go to a coffee shop, restaurant, or someplace where you must stand in line for food and pay for the person behind you in line as a pure gift.

Pastor Bob

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 5 ~ Temptation

Day 5 ~ Temptation

James 1:12-16 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don't be deceived, my dear brothers.

"The devil made me do it!" We are often prepared with such excuses when we find ourselves sinning. We are a people all to ready to play the victim card when we are caught up in sins and trials. Some go so far as to blame God for temptations they face, justifying their actions with foolish thoughts like, "Well, if God didn't want me to commit this sin, He wouldn't have allowed the opportunity to arise." But James is very clear to us today. Sin comes from the inside of us. It is our fault. Our own "evil desires" are all too ready to answer the sweet, deceptive call of temptation.

Temptations are trials that sinners will inevitably face. Christian sinners will especially be attacked. Though we fight and struggle, we will find ourselves giving in to the trials that seek to draw us away from Christ. As we have seen, the church to which James is writing is being tempted to abandon Jesus so as to avoid persecution. Though our physical lives may not be at stake when we are tempted, every temptation is an enticement of Satan to drag us away from our Savior. How can we hope to endure difficult trials and receive the crown of life when we find ourselves so weak?

Psalm 1 says that one whose delight is in God's Word is blessed. "He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leave does not wither. Whatever he does prospers" (Psalm 1:3). In the midst of the temptations that scorch us like the desert sun, Christ's Word comes as refreshing water which refreshes us and strengthens us to face the trials in our lives. It is the Word which says Jesus has endured the trial of the cross to forgive our sinful weakness, or as James calls it, our evil desires. It is the Word that tells us that God has raised Jesus from the dead and "crowned" Him with authority over all of creation, and He rules over you in love and mercy. To cease from hearing this Word is to venture into the desert of temptation without water. But to regularly hear this Word is to plant yourself next to life giving streams and receive refreshing from the One who has conquered your temptations.

Confession: O Gracious God, who blesses parched sinners with the refreshing water of your gospel, forgive me, for I have given into temptation. I have prayed that you would not lead me into temptation, and yet I confess to you that I have put myself in places that appeal to my evil desires. For the sake of your Son's blood, which was shed to grant me victory over Satan and his deceptions, give me perseverance in the face of trials so that I will receive the gracious crown you promise your people. AMEN.

Challenge: Today's challenge will be one that leads to repentance. Take the 10 commandments and read through them. Write down which of these you are most tempted to break. Pray that the Lord would give you forgiveness for your sins and seek ideas in how you can fight against this sin. (A Small Catechism will prove helpful in this challenge)

Pastor Bob

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 4 ~ Fading Riches

Day 4 ~ Fading Riches

James 1:9-11 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

James is writing his letter to a group of persecuted Christians. These were people who had no need to practice a Lenten fast or a self-imposed suffering because their livelihood was likely taken from them for their unwillingness to abandon their faith in Jesus. By simply confessing Jesus as Lord and God, these people risked losing house and home. Those who were wealthy risked losing their financial security.

In the face of such a possibility, it would seem from James' words, the wealthy may have been considering avoiding persecution for their faith in favor of keeping their livelihood. The reality was that money was their god and they were prepared to choose worldly wealth over persecution for their faith! Bottom line: they loved money and security more than Jesus!

James gives us a stark contrast here between the exalted poor and the humbled rich. In the kingdom of heaven it is better to be poor and persecuted for the name of Jesus than it is to be wealthy, comfortable, and faithless in the world. The brother or sister who is poor but has Christ has great cause to rejoice, for they are the last of all, which makes them the first in the kingdom of heaven! (Matthew 19:28-30) Wealth is fleeting and it matters precious little on the day of judgment.

If we are honest, we will admit that the prospect of losing our position, status, or comfort terrifies us. To be sure, we would truly struggle to stand by Jesus if it meant losing our lifestyle. And yet, this is a reality that many Christians do face in our world today, and we too may one day have to deal with. When such temptations to wealth over Jesus arise, we must cling to the promises of heaven God makes to those in humble circumstances. We must remember our Lord Jesus, who for our sake became poor, hung as the least of all on the cross, so that we would be exalted with Him forever.

Confession: Almighty Father, I confess to you that my love for wealth and comfort very often trumps my love for you and your kingdom. I honestly do not know how I would respond in the face of persecution. I praise you for your Son who endured humiliation on my behalf. Grant me the same Holy Spirit who gave Jesus his resolve in the face of the cross. Make me steadfast unto the day of resurrection. AMEN

Challenge: St. Paul tells pastor Timothy to exhort the wealthy to "be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share." By yourself or with your family, pray about and begin searching for a ministry that supports persecuted Christians. Find ways you can help them in their efforts.

Pastor Bob

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Friday, February 24, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 3 ~ Faith & Doubt

Day 3 ~ Faith and Doubt

James 1:5-8 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Yesterday we heard James teach us that trials are inevitable in the life of the Christian. These trials are used by God to strengthen our faith. But, let's be honest, it is hard to trust God in the midst of trials. When we are suffering and struggling the reality is that we begin to question God and doubt His love for us. We wonder where He is and if He really is working through this trial with us.

In this way we are much like the apostle Peter when he saw Jesus walking on the water. If you don't know the story, you can read it in Matthew 14:25-33. In the midst of a storm, Jesus is walking on the water. This terrifies the disciples. But, Jesus speaks words of comfort to them saying, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." This calms them all down. But not Peter. He is not convinced. He wants proof and demands as much from Jesus. So, Jesus tells him to get out of the boat and walk to Him on the water. Peter looks to Jesus and starts walking! But then, he takes his eyes off of Jesus and focuses on the storm and the waves at which point he starts sinking. In his doubt, Peter finds himself being "blown and tossed by the wind." He is drowning in his doubt.

The danger of being in a trial is not so much the trial itself, but where our focus is directed in the midst of the trial. We are either listening to the wind and the waves or we are listening to the words of Jesus, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Through it all, notice where Jesus is in the midst of Peter's doubt: standing above Peter, picking him up, and putting him back in the boat. Jesus doesn't leave us in our trials. The trials are real, the wind and the waves are strong. But Jesus walks on water and lifts us out of our doubt.

Confession: Lord God, I admit to you now that I do not fully trust you as I should. Like Peter, I find myself doubting your love, mercy, and presence. Amidst my trials I focus more on the storm than your Son. In your mercy, pull me out of the water, forgive my sins, and place me in the boat of your security. AMEN!

Challenge: Find someone you know who is facing a trial or struggle right now. Pray with them or for them as a reminder to them that the Lord is with them. Next week, follow up on the prayer you prayed.

Pastor Bob

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 2 ~ Joy and Trials

Day 2 ~ Joy and Trials

James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Joy and trials. These are two words you don't typically put together. When I think of trials, I tend to think of long-suffering, frustration, endurance, and pain. But joy? joy is what I feel when I get what I want for Christmas. And you know what I didn't ask for? Trials of any kind.

But notice James does not tell us to feel joy in the midst of our trials, rather, he tells us to consider our trials pure joy. We are to get to know trials in a new way, as joy. How is this possible. James is telling us to look at our trials from a different perspective. We look at our trials from their end point or their goal: perfection in the presence of Christ forever. Our suffering now can be endured with perseverance because we know that our trials are leading to maturity. God is going to take this trial and perfect us through it!

As Christians, we should expect trials of any kind. The trials of life test our faith, and God uses such trials to strengthen our faith. Through his life, Jesus endured many trials. He was tempted by Satan in the desert, attacked for loving and forgiving sinners, conspired against for preaching the truth to the religious leaders, and ultimately he was crucified for our sins where he suffered the wrath of God. His faithful suffering and death lead to His resurrection and the salvation of the world. So, as we endure trials, we do so knowing that Christ is our example in that since we suffer trials with Him, we will rise with Him as well. And that is pure joy!

Repent: Dear Father, I confess that I have a hard time finding joy amidst my trials. Grant me the faith and the hope I need to see that you will use my trials to strengthen my faith. I thank you that Jesus suffered for me and promised me eternal joy and that these trials are preparing me for that! AMEN

Respond: Think of one person outside of the church who is struggling with a trial at this time. Find a way to give them some joy today. Say a prayer for them, buy them coffee, listen to them complain. Whatever you can do to bring some joy to them, do it!

Pastor Bob

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 1 ~ Servants of Jesus

Day 1: Servants of Jesus

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.

I grew up with one brother. If there is a rule that exists between brothers it is this: defeat the other at all costs. Older brothers must win in whatever battle is being waged lest they suffer the shame of losing to their younger brother. For the younger brother, there is no greater prize than conquering the older. It is constant, intense competition. Loving competition? Sure, I guess. But competition nonetheless. One must never admit defeat!

James, the author of the letter we will be living in the next 40 days, was the brother of Jesus. And not just in the spiritual sense. It is quite likely that they both had Mary as their mother (though, Joseph was not Jesus' father). To be sure, she raised the both of them. Can you imagine growing up with the perfect, sinless Son of God? You couldn't blame him for anything! You couldn't get away with anything. Every "tattle" he told would be the truth! There would be no winning with this one! It would be constant defeat.

So, it is rather remarkable to read James' introduction to his epistle: "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ." He is a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, his older brother! It is almost as though he is claiming defeat. "He is my Lord, I am His servant. He wins!" But, oh, what a joyful defeat!

In this life we'll have one of two masters: Satan or Jesus. You are a servant of one or the other. There is no middle ground. You cannot be neutral. You may say, "But I am my own master." Bear in mind that is exactly what Satan would have you say. Anything that gets you away from the gracious rule of Christ is fine by him. His rule is one of sin, pride, accusation, and guilt. His reign leads to death. To be a servant of Satan is to be a slave to sin bound for death.

We are born under such tyranny. But here is the problem, we grow to love it. The darkness becomes comfortable. So that, when the light of Christ breaks in with the announcement of freedom, we may recoil in fear, perhaps even rebel against the light. Such a rebellion is what put our Liberator on the cross. Our Savior himself suffered defeat on the cross, but in that defeat, won victory over sin, death and Satan! He rescued the rebels (us) from the wicked slave owner and brought us into the kingdom of His marvelous light, where there is redemption and the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).

James, the brother of our Lord, actually encountered Jesus after He had risen from the dead (I Corinthians 15:7). In that encounter Jesus demonstrated to His brother that He had defeated death and had been given dominion over all creation. James' heart of sin and doubt was replaced with a heart of faith. He was now more than happy to be known as a servant of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, his brother.

Repent: Heavenly Father, I confess to you that I have not always lived as a servant of your grace. I have tried to be my own lord and run my own life. I have failed to recognize the authority of your Son over me. Have mercy on me for the sake of His holy death and grant me a spirit of joy in knowing that Christ is my Lord and my friend. AMEN!

Respond: Find a way to show someone in your family that you love them. Write them a note, do a chore for them, or call them up and tell them you love them.

Pastor Bob

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February 2012

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-17

February 22nd is Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a season that is marked by repentance and sacrifice as we meditate upon our depraved sinfulness and the sacrificial mercy of God in Jesus Christ. We mourn over the fact that we do not love God with our whole heart nor our neighbor as ourselves and we sit in humble amazement at the Savior who loves us so much that He shed His blood to forgive us. Our lack of love for God and neighbor flow from our core sin of selfishness. We are always turned in on ourselves, seeing how we can use God and our neighbor for our advantage. Even our love, at its best, is tainted by the search for self-satisfaction.

God loves differently. God loves selflessly. God loves sacrificially. God loves with only His beloved (you!) in mind. Consider the life of Jesus. He served God perfectly as one of us, loving His Father's will above all else. He loved humanity perfectly by healing, forgiving, and reconciling us to God, even though we sinned against Him and tried to use Him. Both His obedience to God and love for His brothers and sisters leads Him to the cross, where God punishes Him for our disobedience to the Law, and Jesus hangs as our sacrificial substitute. "This is love," St. John says, "not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).

And so, with this in mind we come to Lent. How do we typically celebrate Lent? By giving something up, right? Historically, the church has practiced making sacrifices during Lent to cause us to focus on our sin and God's mercies. However, I think in our day and age we have gotten off track here. We have turned the 40 day Lenten fast into an impetus for self-help. Our focus is on dieting or self-improvement, not the bloody death of Jesus and the needs of our neighbor. Our efforts and sacrifices are "me-centered" and not focused either on God or on our neighbor. We find ourselves using this season of repentance and self-denial for improving our health or fixing our bad habits.

So what if we did Lent differently this year? What if, instead of using this season for our own self-projects, we let the Lord use it to teach us repentance and love; self-sacrifice and worship? To that end, this Lent, I am going to be providing the church with a 40-Day devotional which will challenge us to look outside of ourselves and to focus our eyes on Jesus and our neighbor. With the Epistle of James as our guide, we will be convicted by the Law of God, driven to repentance, and guided by the love that is ours in Christ Jesus. Every day we will be challenged to express our faith in repentance and acts of service. Our Wednesday evening services will focus on the major themes in James' letter.

It is my prayer that this Lent will be one of repentance and service where our hearts are fixed on Jesus and our hands are serving our neighbors. Such an effort is bound to cause conviction over sin, so we take up such an effort confident in our baptisms, that Christ has chosen us, forgiven us, redeemed us, and empowered us to carry out His will! As we seek to love God and our neighbor, may our weak efforts be laid at the foot of the cross, where Christ's weakness is our strength!

Pastor Bob

Faith Lutheran Church • 123 Park Lane • Moorpark, CA 93021 • (805) 532 1049 • Send Email