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Saturday, March 31, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 39 ~ Prayer and Healing

Day 39 ~ Prayer and Healing
James 5:15-18   And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.  Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
These are hard verses to believe.  Are God's promises to answer prayer as good as James makes them sound?  Will our cries of faith really move God to heal us and forgive us?  Yes!  As we said yesterday, it is not because our faith is so strong or because our prayers are so inspiring.  It is  because He is so gracious that God will answer our prayers!

We must be careful when we read these passages, however. Too often they are read with a "fast-food order" mentality.  We live in a fast-food culture where we want our food to be given to us within minutes of making the order.  We  sometimes bring this mentality to our prayers.  "Lord, I am sick.  Please heal me...NOW!" Or, "Lord, my loved one is dying.  Please restore their life...NOW!"  When we pray these prayers we don't necessarily say "now" or "immediately," but we certainly imply it.  We've made our order to God for the healing, now we simply need to pull forward to the second window and have Him give it to us in a timely fashion.

But then our prayers seemingly go unanswered.  Prolonged sickness, suffering, and death do their best to convince us that God is, at best, not listening or, at worst, not keeping His promises.  James words to us today seem almost insulting.  We worry that perhaps our faith isn't strong enough and that is why God has not answered us immediately.  Our culture of immediate gratification struggles with the patience required by prayer.  It is often surprising to us when we realize one of the most popular prayers we find in the Bible is, "How long, O Lord?"

God's timing seems slow to us, especially in difficult times.  Prayer can often be a hard lesson in patience.  But, as we saw a few days ago with Job, God's answer to the "how long?" question is full of great hope.  For, though we will endure much pain and hardship in this life, Christ will return to grant the very healing we have prayed for.  Forgiven sins will be abolished, bodily ailments will be healed, and dead loved ones who died in the faith will be raised to everlasting life with Christ.  Our short time of suffering will lead to an eternity of joy in Christ.  Our prayers will be answered.

Jesus himself knew such suffering as He sweat blood in the garden at the prospect of the cross.  God called Christ to endure the cross and often He will have us face hardships which drive us to prayer.  But the worst such hardships can do is drive us to death in Christ, which is actually victory since death was conquered by Christ when He rose on Easter morning.  The answer to your prayers is found on Easter morning at the empty tomb, where Christ has promised to meet you when He returns.  The promise is true: "Weeping may remain for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).  So, with the church we cry, "Come Lord Jesus! AMEN!"      

Confession:  Father of all mercies, I praise you that you hear my prayers and answer them in love.  Forgive me for my impatience and lack of trust in your will.  Help me to look to Jesus' empty tomb with great anticipation knowing that, when He returns and raises me up, all my prayers will be answered.  AMEN

Challenge:  In your prayer time, learn to pray the Lord's Prayer.  Use each petition as a guiding outline for your whole prayer.  (If you need to know what the different petitions are, pick up a Small Catechism.)

Pastor Bob

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Friday, March 30, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 38 ~ The Language of Faith

Day 38 ~ The Language of Faith
James 5:13-15   Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
Prayer is the language of faith.  Prayer is the recognition that we are not self-reliant, autonomous beings, but in fact, in all things we are dependent upon God.  With good intentions, some have misquoted the Bible as saying that God will never give us anything we can't handle.  Prayer is recognition that this is not the case.  It reminds us that we are dependent upon God for everything: salvation, provision, oxygen, etc.  All good gifts come from the gracious hand of a loving Father.  He handles everything.  Prayer is not an aimless crying out to some greater power in the sky, but the humble, reverent approach of a sanctified sinner towards our Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Prayer believes that Jesus was graciously correct and good in letting us call God our Father and it acts on that belief.

We run into trouble when we begin to think that prayer is a command given to God instead of a gift given by Him. Prayer is not a demand we make on the Almighty.  There are some false teachers who say that faith is a power we have and prayer is the exercising of that power.  So, they say, if you have enough faith, God will give you what you want.  That is the kind of faith the devil would have us desire. The prayer of faith doesn't test God saying, "If you are really there, prove it by answering me."  The prayer of faith is not self-seeking, "God, in Jesus' name I pray you give me a bigger house and a fancier car."  We cannot think of prayer as the means by which we get God to do what we want.  So Jesus teaches us to pray, "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Faithful prayer is prayed with eyes fixed on the cross, knowing that the God we pray to has loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die for our sins and give us eternal life.  There we see that God is for us, He is on our side.  So that, when we are in trouble, we can trust He will hear our prayers.  When we are happy, we know He alone deserves our prayers of thanks.  When we are sick, we know He will hear our prayers and the prayers of our brothers and sisters who cry out on our behalf.  When we sin and cry out for mercy, we know we'll be forgiven for Jesus' sake.  Faithful prayers are prayers formed and shaped by a gracious God.

Confession:  Merciful Father, forgive me for my misguided and self-serving prayers.  Teach me to trust you more and to pray in faith.  Like the disciples of your Son, I need to be taught to pray by Jesus.  Thank you for graciously hearing my prayer, Father.  AMEN.

Challenge:  For the next week spend 15 minutes a day in prayer.  Try and develop a regular habit of prayer beyond that week.

Pastor Bob

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 37 ~ Yes & No

Day 37 ~ Yes & No
James 5:12  Above all, my brothers, do not swear-- not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.
The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, was once caught up into God's heavenly throne room.  One glance at the glory of God drove him to despair because of his sinfulness.  Isaiah said, '"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty"' (Isaiah 6:5).  The sin that caused Isaiah the most fear was a dirty mouth!  His lips, and the lips of his people, were unclean.  Here is the almighty God who speaks creation into existence, who declares judgment on all sin, who kills and gives life with the Word of His mouth. He is seated in glory before lowly Isaiah, a man whose lips have known lies, blasphemies, cursing, and gossip.  Seeing this heavenly vision causes Isaiah's unclean lips to cry out in despair!

The words we find on our lips are an expression of what is in our hearts.  If our lips continually pour out praise for God, then the heart has received the gift of faith.  St. Paul says, "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved"  (Romans 10:10).   But, if our lips continually pour out gossip, slander, and bitterness, then our hearts are shown to be sinful.   "Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction" (Psalm 5:9).  If our lips constantly boast of our righteousness, but our lives boast of sin, then our lips are unclean.  But, if our lips are found repenting, then our heart is shown to have faith in the Word.

We need to have our mouths washed out and our hearts renewed.  As Isaiah sat in the presence of the Almighty, God sent an angel to touch Isaiah's lips with a burning coal.  This coal was God's means of purifying Isaiah's lips and preparing his mouth to preach.  The Lord has purified our hearts by washing us in Baptism and placing His very body and blood in our mouths every Sunday.  Our unclean hearts have been purified by the forgiving Word God has spoken through Christ.  Our hearts have been cleansed, so our mouth may bring forth praise!

With purified hearts and lips, our speech to others should reflect that of the one who has purified us.  Our words should be trustworthy, our promises fulfilled.  Our "yes" should be yes and our "no" should be no.  This is, after all, how God speaks His promises of forgiveness and mercy to us in Christ Jesus.  "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ.  And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 1:20).   Yes!  You're forgiven and made pure through the blood of Christ!  Amen!
Confession:  Forgive me, gracious Father, for I am a person of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips.  My words to not always reflect your glory and your grace .  Teach me to train my tongue to sing your praises and speak the truth in love to my neighbors.  AMEN.

Challenge:  Fulfill at yet unfulfilled promise. OR, if you have not unfulfilled promises that you can think of, make a promise and carry it out before next week.

Pastor Bob

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 36 ~ The Patience of Job

Day 36 ~ The Patience of Job
James 5:10-11  Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.  As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
Job's story is not an unfamiliar one.  It is the story of "why?"  Why would God allow/cause suffering?  Why won't God make the pain go away?  Where is God in the midst of all this pain?  Job's life was a good life.  He had family and friends and a good job.  God had granted him a seemingly unshakeable faith.  That is, until Satan came along and tested God.  He told God that if God would just remove Job's blessings, Job would curse God and reject his faith.  God allowed Satan to pretty much do everything to Job but kill him.  Job, from the pit of despair, cried out to God for an answer.  "Why would you allow this, oh Lord!"  Job, it seems, was putting God on trial!      

Job may be the oldest book in the whole Bible which means that this questioning of God is nothing new.  Job may be one of the first to ask "why" of God,  and he is certainly not the last.  In fact, the very same cry is found on the lips of our dying Lord while hanging on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34, cf. Psalm 22:1)  Jesus received no immediate answer.

We desperately want to know why.  Why do we suffer?  Why is there evil in the world?  Why would a good God not intervene?  Maybe we are not meant to know "why."  Maybe even if we knew "why" it wouldn't solve our problems.  Perhaps if God wanted us to know "why" He would have told us and He hasn't told us because He knows better.  Though we may not get the answer to the "why" of forsakenness, we do get a response.  And the response is far better than we could ever hope or imagine!

Job attempts to put God on trial when suddenly, God shows up!  God comes to Job and turns the tables on Job, "Brace yourself like a man, I will question you, and you shall answer me!"  (Job 38:3)  God goes on to show Job that there are just some things beyond our comprehension.  Job repents and the Lord has mercy on Job.  "The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first" (Job 42:12).  Job went through hell and cried out to the Lord, and the Lord answered with a new life.  This is a picture of what is accomplished for us through Christ on the cross.  He is forsaken by God, taking all of our sin and shame away, and three days later He rises again to eternal life. With that resurrection He promises that He will raise us with Him on the Last Day.

We will face suffering, pain, and death in this life.  Why?  Who knows.  But, what we do know is that this does not lead to eternal death or God forsakenness.  For Christ is risen for you!  We may never get at the reasons for our pain, but the one thing we do know for certain is that, in Christ, we are redeemed and He is making all things right.

Confession:  Heavenly Father, your thoughts are not my thoughts and your ways are not my ways.  Forgive me for not trusting your thoughts or your ways.  Teach me to trust in you through my trials and struggles by keeping my eyes fixed on your Son Jesus who endured the cross for me and will raise me up with Him on the last day.  Give me the perseverance of Job.  AMEN.

Challenge:  Pray today for all those suffering from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.  Ask the Lord how you might help the people who suffer in such tragedies.

Pastor Bob

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 35 ~ The Judge

Day 35 ~ The Judge

James 5:9 Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

If there is one thing we fear it is judgment. We get very defensive when we are judged by others. Just consider how you feel when you go in for a job interview. Typically, if we really want the job, we go in with some level of nervousness because we are about to be judged. So, we dress ourselves up very nicely, we put on our best behavior, and we present a resume which makes us look like we will be of great benefit to this would-be employer. All of this is carried out in an effort to be judged worthy of getting the job. There is just one thing we can't control: the one carrying out the interview. We cannot control the judge. That is why we fear judgment, it is beyond our control. We can dress ourselves up as nicely as we'd like, but we cannot control the judge!

If this is how we feel going into a job interview, how much more nerve-racking is it to stand before the Judge of the universe? The Second Coming of Jesus is immanent. It has been so for roughly 2000. We confess every Sunday that when He returns He will judge both the living and the dead. This is a very intimidating prospect for us because God knows our hearts, He knows our thoughts, He knows our deeds. All that stuff we thought was hidden and that we've gotten away with is known to Him. No matter how much we try and cover our sin and shame before God with good works and religious activity, we cannot tip the scales in our favor. Trying to use our good works to cover our sin is like a man with 10 DUIs on his record wearing a suit to an interview for school bus drivers. The suit is a weak attempt to cover the guilt.

The judgment seat of Christ could be a terrifying place for sinners, not just because of our guilt, but especially because we cannot control the Judge! It is His decision as to whether or not we are declared guilty or innocent. He has given us the standard in the Law we are to follow, and we know we've failed. So, no matter how much we dress ourselves up, we cannot control the Judge's decision.

We cannot control what God knows about us. We cannot control His judgment of us. We simply receive the verdict: "Not guilty." Wait...not guilty? The verdict is declared by a gracious Judge who forgives sinners for the sake of Christ's death on the cross. We could never cover our sins, so Christ covers them in His blood! We could never dress ourselves up enough to hide the truth of our sin, so Christ clothes us in His righteousness! We cannot control how the Judge will reach His verdict, but He who is in control forgives! As we await the immanent return of Christ, we do so in great anticipation, knowing that God's verdict has been declared on cross. We have been judged forgiven.

Confession: Father, forgive me for my lack of faith in your grace. Forgive me for trying to earn a place in heaven. Forgive me for trying to cover up my sins instead of confessing them. Forgive me for trying to control my fate instead of trusting your Son who has promised to save me. Teach me to trust in you and to look forward to your Son's return with confidence. Help me to forgive, just as you have judged me forgiven. AMEN!

Challenge: James says we are not to judge, lest we be judged. The flip side of that is to forgive as we have been forgiven. To repeat a challenge we've already done, tell someone that you forgive them out loud today. Do not hold their sin against them.

Pastor Bob

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Monday, March 26, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 34 ~ The Waiting

Day 34 ~ The Waiting

James 5:7-8 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.

Perhaps the hardest day of the year for children is December 18th. Why? It is one week before Christmas! You are so close to the most exciting day of the year! But, oh, that next week seems like it will take an eternity! Or, how about the last day of work before you go on vacation? It takes forever for 5:00 to come around, doesn't it? As Tom Petty once sang, "The waiting is the hardest part!"

Often this is the feeling in the church when it comes to the return of Christ. We look at the world around us falling apart, we grow older and our bodies begin to fall apart, our struggle with sin just won't seem to go away, and we may find ourselves looking at the clock and crying out, "How long, oh Lord?" Think of how much the anticipation must have been felt by the church James is addressing. They had fled their homes to avoid persecution for their faith. They were never sure if they would live through another day or be killed for confessing Jesus as their Lord. They had no security and no home. One wonders if we can comprehend the depths of their desire to be at home with the Lord.

In the midst of struggle and trial it becomes easy for us to grow frustrated and anxious towards God. We may even begin to question His love! When things are really rough and it seems as if we are in the pit of hell, we find ourselves crying out with the Psalmist, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1).

God's gracious answer to the "how long" question is found in the mouth of Jesus, "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am " (John 14:2-3). We don't know how long the Lord will allow our world to continue to run like it is, but we can persevere no matter what may come because we know that our dear Lord Jesus, who suffered on the cross, also rose again. In doing so, He prepared a place for us in eternity. We can cling to this promise because we know that Christ is clinging to us with His nail pierced hand. No matter how long we must wait we know that Christ is holding us the whole time.

Confession: Heavenly Father, I confess to you my impatience. In my weariness with the strains and trials of this life I find myself doubting your promises and giving in to sin. Forgive me for not trusting you through my trials. I thank you that Jesus endured the cross for me, taking my sin and my shame. I pray that your Holy Spirit would empower me to endure my trials and I praise you that you will never let me go. AMEN!

Challenge: Shut off the TV tonight and talk to someone for one hour.

Pastor Bob

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 33 ~ Rotten Wealth

Day 33 ~ Rotten Wealth

James 5:1-6 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

It is not a sin to be rich. To be sure, wealth can be the cause of many problems. St. Paul tells Timothy, "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (I Timothy 6:9-10). So, it is not a sin to have money. But, money can easily become a god to us, the worship of which causes us to wander from the faith.

Today in our reading, James is not talking to rich Christians. He is talking to those whose god is their belly (Philippians 3:19). They worship money. James is proclaiming, in harsh and frightening terms, the end result of such false worship: impending misery. Money and wealth is fleeting. The riches and the glories of this world are passing away and are doomed to destruction. Clinging to idols bound for destruction will lead idolaters to destruction. This is true, not just for the faithless rich, but for anyone who clings to any kind of a false god.

What is more, this group of people James is writing against is attacking the church of God! They have lived in luxury and self-indulgence at the cost of the lives of God's "workmen." They have condemned a murdered innocent men. Incidentally, a better translation of "innocent men" is "the Righteous Man." It is likely that James is associating their persecution of the church with the crucifixion of Jesus himself (see also Acts 9:4)!

Thus, the sins that James is dealing with here are not only those that come from the love of wealth, but false worship and the persecution of Christ and His church! The church of God can expect persecution and suffering, just as her Lord endured. The world will hate the church just as it hated her Lord. But, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). True wealth and riches are for us found in Christ. But, let us not miss James harsh condemnations today. God will deal justly with those who have rejected His grace for wealth and persecuted His family.

Confession: Heavenly Father, I thank you that you have rescued me from darkness and brought me into the kingdom of the Son you love. I confess to you that I am often tempted by the luxuries of this world. I cling too tightly to earthly possessions. Forgive me for being drawn to such false worship and teach me to rejoice in your boundless, merciful gifts, especially your dear Son Jesus, my Lord. AMEN!

Challenge: Next time you are out, leave a very large tip.

Pastor Bob

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 32 ~ Love the Law?

Day 32 ~ Love the Law?

James 4:17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.

In this short verse James gives a brief summary of the letter. The main argument of James' epistle is finished. Chapter 5 will constitute other matters James seeks to deal with. But what he has been discussing up to this point, the idea that the life of faith produces good works, is summarized here.

One thing that has been made abundantly clear in this letter is that we who are declared to be saints through the blood of Jesus are still sinners. We will be 100% sinners and 100% saints until Christ comes again. God's Law always accuses us of our lack of righteousness. So, if we are sinners, even as Christians, how can we ever do the right thing? How can we do the good we ought to do if we are still sinners?

There is a tension in the Christian life that we must be aware of: We who are forgiven for our sins by God have also been born anew. At the same time, we who are baptized into the faith are also going to battle sin for the rest of our lives. We have been raised to a new life wherein we are enabled, by the Holy Spirit who is at work in us, to do the good God wants us to do. As we have said ad nauseam , such works don't produce salvation, but they come from the saved. The Law of God, which always accuses the sinner in us, also guides the saint in us. We can actually hear the Law of God and rejoice in its directing effects! As it says in Psalm 119:47, "I delight in your commands because I love them."

Knowing that God has graciously and fully saved us through the righteousness of Christ drives us to ask, "What do I do now?" Since salvation has been completely accomplished and God needs nothing from His creatures, God directs us with His Law in how we should serve and love our neighbors. His Law which cannot save us does direct us in acts of righteousness. It no longer condemns the saint in us so that we are free to do the good we ought to do. Will we find ourselves sinning? Of course. Read Romans 7 to get a good picture of what the Christian life will look like. But the reality of sin is not an excuse to not seek the love of our neighbor. As Martin Luther said, "It is impossible for [faith] not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them." Faith without works is dead, but you have been raised to a new life with Christ!

Confession: Almighty God, your Law is good and wise. I know the good that you have called me to do. But, I confess, that I do not find my hands doing the very things my heart knows are right. In this, I sin. I thank you that through your Son's death and resurrection, you have rescued me from this body of death. AMEN!

Challenge: Everyday for the next week, pray that God would show you how to express His will towards someone you love. For example, pray that God would show you a new way to love your spouse every day this week.

Pastor Bob

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Friday, March 23, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 31 ~ What About My Plans?

Day 31 ~ What About My Plans?

James 4:13-16 Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.

For some of us, this may be the most terrifying scripture in all the Bible. We are scheduling freaks! Some of us have our next six months scheduled to the minute. We have a calendar on the wall, a day-planner in the car and on the Blackberry which has been synced up to the calendar on the computer in the office. We schedule meetings, business trips, vacations, family time, etc. Sports for the kids keep us on a demanding schedule. And, I think we love it!

Why? It sounds so demanding to be so scheduled. Yes, that is true. However, it gives us a sense of control over our lives. The future, which is so uncertain and so unpredictable is suddenly in the palm of my hand (on my iPhone) and under my management. I am the master of my destiny!

But what happens if, God forbid (!), our plans get changed? What if I lose my Blackberry in the toilet? What if the airline we bought tickets on goes out of business? What if tragedy strikes? What if I lose my job? What if the economy crashes and I can't retire like I had planned? What if someone dies or gets cancer? Our plans would be ruined. Our calendars would be exposed for the shams that they are. We cannot plan our future, we do not control our destiny.

"Instead," James says, "you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.'" This is not an easy thought for us. It is not comfortable to leave our lives in the hands of Someone so unpredictable, so unmanageable, so holy. What if God doesn't do things they way I want Him to. What if our calendars don't sync? What if tragedy strikes? Can I still trust Him in the midst of that?

This is an uneasy thought to be sure. But remember the God who holds your future is the God who has promised you eternity. This is the God who has loved you enough to send His Son to take your sins and prepare a place in the heavenly kingdom for you. His will is certainly unpredictable, unmanageable, and holy. In other words, it is gracious, whether we like it or not! God's grace just doesn't fit into our schedules! It is too good. Hear and believe that He who controls the future controls it graciously, for you!

Confession: Heavenly Father, I confess that I work very hard to control my future. I have a hard time letting go of my plans and trusting you to care for me. Yet, with the events of my life I am daily reminded that you are in control, even when it seems like everything has lost control. Teach me to trust in you grace. Carry me through whatever comes my way in your grace, all the way to eternity! AMEN!

Challenge: Plan a day where you make no plans (how ironic!). Don't be upset if things come up to ruin your planned unplanned day!

Pastor Bob

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 30 ~ Judgmentalism

Day 30 ~ Judgmentalism

James 4:11-12 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you-- who are you to judge your neighbor?

Television is turning us all into judges. This struck me as I was watching "American Idol" this past week. I sat there and judged each singer, as the show has been designed to let me do. But, then, after Steven Tyler said something that made no grammatical sense, Jennifer Lopez began to praise a singer that I thought was awful. I said, "What is she thinking? That was terrible!" Suddenly, I was judging the judges! When Randy rightly said (in my judgment) that it wasn't the best of the night, the audience booed. "Why do they always do that? They don't know anything!" Another judgment! The worst part? I know nothing about music except what I think sounds good. But, since I have a remote and an opinion, I am able to cast judgment in my living room like I am a record producer!

Judgmentalism is an epidemic in our society. We judge everything. We even judge our brothers and sisters in the church. We look down on them and gossip about them. Sometimes, in our self-righteous "benevolence," we give "godly" advice on how this person can improve themselves, you know, become a better Christian...well, a better Christian by our judgment anyway. In our worst moments, we'll find ourselves thinking, "Why are they here? Are they even a Christian? If so, they certainly aren't as mature or sanctified as I am!"

We spend a lot of time trying to see around the planks in our eyes so we can stare at the specks in the eyes of others (Matt. 7:3-5). Judgment may be funny when watching American Idol, but it is deadly in the church. It causes despair among those who worry about their faith and pride among those who think they have this whole Christian life figured out. To be sure, we are to lovingly correct one another when we fall into sin. But, it is not ours to judge the faith of our brothers and sisters. That belongs to God! He is the one who is able to save and destroy.

When we find ourselves being judgmental towards our brothers and sisters, we find ourselves opposed to God. His judgment towards sinners took place on the cross. The guilty verdict against sinners was declared against Jesus as He was condemned in your place and in the place of all your brothers and sisters in the church. God has cast his judgment on all of us in Christ. God has judged us holy for Christ's sake.

Confess: Heavenly Father, gracious Judge, you have had mercy on me for the sake of your Son Jesus who took my guilty verdict and died in my place. You have declared me, a sinner, righteous. Please forgive my constant judgmentalism. Teach me to let your judgment stand for my brothers and sisters. Help me to love and not judge. AMEN.

Challenge: Once again, go an entire day without saying something negative about anyone.

Pastor Bob

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 29 ~ Humble Yourselves

Day 29 ~ Humble Yourselves

James 4:9-10 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Lent is a season of repentance. Throughout this season, James has demonstrated to us why it is we need to repent: our sin! Sometimes, however, the true meaning of repentance is lost on us. We view repentance as nothing more than a password that gets us out of trouble with God. But repentance is not merely saying the right words with our mouths, as if God could be fooled by a false confession. Rather, repentance is the faithful response to the preaching of God's Law. To put it another way, repentance is what happens when we believe that what God says about us is true: we are sinners. Repentance isn't something we conjure up inside of ourselves. We don't just try and make ourselves feel bad enough to say sorry. Repentance is what happens when we hear about how God feels about sin, and worse, how He feels about sinners!

The Law, that is, God's will for how His creatures should live, is like being told by your doctor that you have cancer. You know your body should be healthy, but it isn't. Such news produces fear and response: "What can I do? What's next?" Thank God we live in a day and age where there are many treatments for cancer and the doctor will typically have a plan to move forward. Things aren't so hopeful when it comes to the Law of God. Under the proclamation of the Law we have no hope, no path forward. The Law kills us. It leaves us dead. The Law tells us that God loves the righteous and hates the wicked. The wicked will suffer his wrath (Psalm 11:1-7). The Law reveals to us that, according to its standards, we are not the righteous we so presumptuously presume ourselves to be. We are the wicked for we have transgressed God's righteous will. The Law diagnoses us with wickedness and leaves us for dead. Such news causes grief, mourning, and wailing. Laughter turns to mourning and joy to gloom. It causes us to despair of all righteousness inside of ourselves. We are humbled. We are killed. But God is not finished talking.

The Law leaves us without hope. But the Law is not the last word. Christ is! When we find ourselves in despair under God's law, we cry out for mercy, and God responds by being born of a virgin. In fact, it was Mary who sang, "He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble" (Luke 1:52). Jesus comes to fulfill what the Law demands of us: both its commands and consequences. He lives it out perfectly and yet dies under its condemnations; a death we sinners deserved. "He was born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law" (Gal. 4:4-5). The Law kills us and leaves us with no hope, nowhere to turn. But God turns towards us in Christ Jesus and removes the condemnation of the Law, giving us new life! All that God demands of us in the Law is given to us in Christ! He lifts us up!

Confession: I repent, dear God, for all of my sins with which I have offended you! I deserve your wrath and condemnation. I hear your will and I am brought low and made humble. Forgive me for the sake of your Son Jesus who was made low to the point of death on the cross. I thank you that His blood was shed for me. I pray that your Law and Gospel daily fill my ears so I have a life of repentance and rejoicing. AMEN!

Challenge: Pray for the sick in our church. Write a note with an encouraging Bible verse or note to someone who is sick or injured.

Pastor Bob

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 28 ~ Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

Day 28 ~ Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

James 4:6-8 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

The last two days James has shown us the dangers of falling in love with the world. Today, with one simple phrase, James proclaims how God is greater than all the empty promises that the world spits at us: "But He gives us more grace." God gives more grace. The world gives more demands, more expectations, more vain promises. God makes promises full of grace and mercy. The gifts the world gives never satisfy. Worldly pursuits always leave us unsatisfied, desiring more. God graciously gives us all we need in Jesus Christ!

The world and the devil are working together in this. The devil will promise you the world! But he is a liar and cannot give what he promises. He won't do it. He tells you he has your best interests in mind, but really he hates you and wants you dead. So, the devil will never let you arrive anywhere, he will never let you find satisfaction. It is no accident that the same Rolling Stones who sang "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" also sang "Sympathy for the Devil." Satan will always tell you that you could have more, do more, be more than you already are. He says, "You are worthless. You aren't living life to the fullest. You aren't even doing enough for God. How could He love you if you can't love him enough?" The devil is our accuser who is always looking for our destruction. He is always trying to distract us from the sufficiency of Christ, who gives more grace!

But Christ has silenced the devil. When John wrote the Revelation and was describing the victory of Christ's cross, he said this of the devil, "Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: 'Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down'" (Rev. 12:10). Satan has been defeated, hurled down, by the blood of Christ. His accusations against you have been silenced as Christ's death paid for your sins and has removed your guilt. The death of Jesus is sufficient. He gives more grace. We have God's gracious smile always upon us because Christ has sufficiently done everything to save us. We can approach God with clean hands and a pure heart because Christ's nail-pierced hands and spear-pierced heart satisfied God's wrath! Let us resist the devil and his accusations and submit to God in Christ! For he gives more grace!

Confession: Heavenly Father, I confess that I often times feel as though Christ is not enough for me. I fear that I have sinned too much to be saved. I fear that I haven't done enough to get to heaven. I believe the lies of the devil that would distract me from your promises that tell me Jesus has taken away all of my sins and his righteousness has been granted to me as a gift. Forgive my doubt and grant me faithful trust! AMEN.

Challenge: Throughout this series, you may have begun to feel guilty because you have not completed all the challenges. You may have even worried that you weren't a very good Christian because of your lack of effort. Your sufficiency is in Christ! Whatever challenges you have not yet fulfilled are cancelled for you. Today's challenge is to forget the challenges you have not yet completed.

Pastor Bob

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Monday, March 19, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 27 ~ Adulterous People

Day 27 ~ Adulterous People

James 4:4-5 You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?

Adulterous people? Geez, James, ease up! Why the strong language? This is a verse loaded with language that we must be very careful to understand. To understand the language of "adultery" James employs, we must spend some time in the Old Testament where the term is used to describe idolatry (Read Hosea 1-3). God loved Israel like a husband loves his wife. He rescued here, protected her, provided for her, and cared for her with tender mercy. Israel responded by worshipping false gods, breaking God's law, and indulging their sinful desires with the very gifts God had provided for them. (Incidentally, adultery was a very appropriate analogy as worship of false gods consisted of fornication in the temples that belonged to those "gods.") God loved Israel with all His heart and she abused that love with other suitors who treated her shamefully. God was thus righteously jealous for Israel. He loved her, wanted to provide for her, and give her all things. But she sought pleasure in the world. Israel was cast off into exile as a result.

The people of God never learn. The church, as the new Israel, is called the bride of Christ in the New Testament (Eph. 5:21-33, Rev. 19:7, 21:2, 9). Yet, like our ancestors in the faith, we find ourselves seeking "friendship" with the world. Do not think that James is saying here that we should not enjoy goodness of God's creation. We are certainly to enjoy what God has made and rejoice in it. However, we are not to worship it. The creation is not supposed to replace God. When the gifts of God begin to replace God they become idols. When turned into idols money produces greed, sex becomes pornography, rest becomes laziness, gifts become trash. In our sin we turn the gifts that God gives-which are supposed to result in worship of God-into gods themselves, something to distract us from God. We do so because we love the immediate gratification they provide more than the grace of God! If we act this way, we are like the woman who marries a man for his money and not because she loves him.

Such a life will produce sorrow, frustration, and bitterness. Our idolatrous/adulterous eyes wander away from our heavenly Bridegroom who loves us and has given all things for us. As Paul says of Jesus when instructing husbands, "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Eph. 5:25-27). We are a sinful, adulterous bride. But we have a Bridegroom who has washed us clean of our stains by giving Himself up for us. His love is all we need for in this love we lack nothing!

Confession: Dear Jesus, for the sake of your holy, innocent, and bitter sufferings, have mercy on me. I confess to you that I have wandered from your love in thought, word, and deed. Forgive me, again, and teach me to cling to you in faith, to trust your love, and to realize that you are all that I need. AMEN.

Challenge: Read Hosea 1-3 and memorize 2:19-20. Rejoice that this is what Jesus has done for you on the cross and in your baptism!

Pastor Bob

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 26 ~ Asking

Day 26 ~ Asking

James 4:1-3 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Here at the beginning of chapter 4 we see that the love of worldly pleasure is giving cause to sin. James is speaking to a specific situation where greed and base desires had lead to fighting (and even murder!) in the church. The pursuit of worldly pleasure produced sin.

We also live in a pleasure-driven world. We are told that we can have all the lustful, covetous desires our hearts desire...if. If, you just have enough money, if you just have enough power, if you just have enough success then all of your wildest dreams will come true! Sure, we hear the stories about the devastating fall the rich and famous have endured, but that won't change our goals. We will be able to handle our fame and wealth. We will be just fine indulging the desires of our heart if we could just get a little more money, success, etc.

But "if" never seems to come. At least, it doesn't come easy. So that we grow frustrated and angry. We find shortcuts to the "if" life. Shortcuts that may not be on the up-and-up, but put us on the fast track to success. We hurt our neighbor, undercut our coworker, spread rumors, and so on just to get what we want. A little lie never hurt anyone (or will hurt someone only a little bit) but it certainly will help me achieve my goals!

All of this selfishness flows from a heart of sin. Such activity demonstrates a lack of faith because it shows we believe true happiness to be both defined by the world and dependant upon my success. Such an attitude comes from a heart that does not believe that God is a good Father who gives good gifts. The problem is that we don't want just our daily bread from God, we want power, success, and money. Our goals are defined by the world, our lives are defined by our goals and not by God's gifts!

Our God is a good Father who hears our prayers and answers them in love and wisdom. He does not hear the prayer for selfish, worldly greed because such a prayer is sinful. You see, God is better and more gracious than that. He won't cater to our sins. Rather, Jesus says, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?" (Matthew 7:9-11) This is true even of forgiveness! God forgives us even when we let the world set the agenda. We can trust God our Father to provide our daily bread. After all, He has given us the greatest gift of all: Jesus Christ crucified for our sins!

Confess: Heavenly Father, I confess to you the sinful desires of my heart. I confess that I don't trust you as I ought. I confess that I believe true contentment is found in power and success. Forgive such selfish desires. I praise you for Jesus who set aside power and glory and chose a cross to forgive my selfish desires. For Christ's sake, I pray that you would teach me true contentment and joy in your Son Jesus. AMEN.

Challenge: Do a random act of kindness in secret. For example, bring in your neighbors trash cans, anonymously leave Starbucks on your coworkers desk, pay for the person behind you at the drive-thru, etc.

Pastor Bob

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 25 ~ Making Peace

Day 25 ~ Making Peace

James 3:18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Jesus comes as a peacemaker. Peace comes to those who are at war or who are opposed to each other. We are born at enmity with God, as the King David once said, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5). We are born as His enemies, dead in our sins and trespasses (Ephesians 2:1-3). Apart from Christ we live in constant anarchy against our divine Lord and Creator. We always talk about humanity's "fall" into sin like we tripped over a branch and just "fell" into a hole we call sin. But, as theologian Gerhard Forde says, that fall was upward. It was a treasonous act of rebellion against God. We sought to overthrow the throne of heaven.

Sin is not an accidental slip-up, it is war against God. We turn on God and become His enemies! Such action places us under God's wrath. In this war, God will win. We have the weaker, smaller army. He is God. He is like the unstoppable army of Alexander the Great. We are like a box of arrogant toy soldiers. All hope is lost for the rebels.

But, in an unbelievable act of mercy, the offended God makes peace. The Lord of hosts (that is, of the angelic armies) makes an offering of peace. He Himself is the offering! He is the offering of reconciliation who creates peace! "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). This work of peace-making has raised a harvest of righteousness. In other words, in offering His life as a sacrificial peace offering and dying in our place, Jesus has also given us the gift of His righteousness. So that, through the death of Christ, God sees us as saints clothed in the righteousness of Christ and not as treasonous sinners.

We have been reconciled to God through Christ, our peacemaker. And now, Paul says, "He has committed to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:19). We go as those clothed in the righteousness of Christ, at peace with God, and proclaim His peace to those still at war. The God they fight against Has forgiven them for Christ's sake! Let us be the ones to proclaim this peace to them!

Confession: Heavenly Father, what gracious work your Son has done so that I no longer need to fear you, but can call you my Father. Forgive me for my rebellious sins and use me to bring peace with your Word, just as it has been brought to me. I thank you for your grace to sinners like me. AMEN

Challenge: Write three letters to soldiers and bring them to church to be mailed.

Pastor Bob

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Friday, March 16, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 24 ~ Selfish Ambition vs. Humble Love

Day 24 ~ Selfish Ambition vs. Humble Love

James 3:16-17 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

I once had a conversation with someone who worked in Washington D.C. She said it was a very depressing place to work. Young adults looking to change the nation for the better would naively come to Washington ready to act on their ideals. She said within a year they will have learned that if you want someone to scratch your back you have to scratch someone theirs, even if that meant compromising your ideals. It almost always means compromising your ideals. Ideals become selfish ambitions and suddenly the only thing that matters is winning, no matter who you hurt in the process. It becomes a game of kill or be killed.

Such wisdom does not come from heaven. Life in the kingdom of God is not one of will power and selfish ambition. Here the mentality is not kill or be killed, but sacrificially die for the sake of loving your neighbor! After all, that is what our Lord and God has done for us! Christ did not become our Lord by exerting His power and authority over us. But, Jesus, "being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name." Christ's glory is found, not in His exertion of power (which is rightfully His) over His creatures, but in dying in the place of sinners.

With the sacrificial Lamb serving as our Lord, life in the kingdom is radically different from that of the world. Wisdom here does not say that we should win at all costs. Wisdom here says that we should love at all costs. Pure, heavenly wisdom grants us lives that are "peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." Such lives may not get a bill passed in Washington, but they certainly glorify our Father in heaven and bless those around us. Just ask Jesus!

Confession: God of all grace, forgive me for my pride and selfish ambition. I have not reflected the humility of your Son in the way I treat my neighbors, rather, I have used them for selfish gain. Teach me to lead a life of humility and service. I pray this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who humbly died in my place. AMEN.

Challenge: Next time you must stand in line, let two people cut in front of you.

Pastor Bob

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 23 ~ Selfish Ambition

Day 23 ~ Selfish Ambition
James 3:14-15  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.
When Jesus walked among us He did so fixated on the glory that was set before Him (Phil. 2:5-11).  He resolutely set His course towards the cross, knowing that it was the place where He would shamefully suffer the wrath of God in the place of sinners so that sinners would receive His righteousness.  Jesus came humbly and selflessly.  He did not seek glory or fame.  He sought sinners, all to the glory of God.  God's glory, saved sinners, this is what mattered to Jesus.  That is why He came from heaven.

To lose everything and suffer great loss for the sake of others seems foolish to us.  Especially if the others are our enemies.  Yet, "when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10).  God's glorious Son set aside His glory and chose shame and a cross to save His enemies.  That is the wisdom from above.  That is love.

The world does not seek to glorify God or love the enemy.  Rather, we have an entirely different motivation for living in our world:  selfish ambition.  As rock icons Queen once sang, "I want it all!  And I want it now!"  We want to be on top of everyone else.  If in the process of realizing our selfish goals someone else hinders our efforts, we grow angry, even bitter.  Hatred wells up inside of us and we seek to harm the other person, just as they have harmed us.

Such bitterness and selfishness is wicked, James says.  It is earthly, that is, concerned only with this world and having no regard for eternity.  It is unspiritual, that is, not produced by the Holy Spirit, but, our own selfish hearts (Matt. 15:19).  It is of the devil, that is, carried out with no concern for God, much to the devil's delight.  Add it all up and this equals foolishness.

The wisdom of the world entreats us to live for today, care only for yourself, get the biggest toys, have the most money, etc.   It is utterly selfish.  It is utterly foolish.  Christ is our wisdom.  Christ suffers for the sake of His enemies.  He loves them so that they might be saved.  True wisdom is found in Jesus who loves at all costs.  Jesus who is found dying on a cross in a way that is utterly foolish to this earthly, unspiritual, devilish world.

Confess:  Father of all mercy and grace, hear my pleas for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.  I have lived in rebellion and sin.  At one time, I was your enemy.  But, through the blood of Christ, we have been reconciled so I can, by your grace, call you Father!  Teach me, oh Father, to so love my enemies.  I pray for those who persecute me and anger me.  Help me to love them and remove all bitterness from my heart.  I ask this in Jesus' most precious name.  AMEN.

Challenge:  Every day for the next week pray for a person you don't like .  Ask the Lord to teach you how to love them and to forgive them if necessary.

Pastor Bob

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 22 ~ The Way of the Wise

Day 22 ~ The Way of the Wise
James 3:13  Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
One Sunday a pastor encourages the congregation to invite people to join them at church the next Sunday.  Two members go out that week intent on bringing their neighbors to church.  The first goes out with his friend and boasts about how wonderful the church is. He boasts about how everyone gets along and no one ever fights.  He talks about how every sermon is life changing and the pastor is practically flawless.  He waxes on about all the programs and events they have taking place and how everyone involved really has gotten their lives put together.  He even begins to talk about how a lot of his problems have gone away.  His life has become wonderful because of this church.  He tells his friend that he should come next week.

Unfortunately, for some reason, the friend was not convinced and didn't attend.

The other person went out and invited her friend over for coffee.  She asked her friend about her thoughts on church and why she didn't attend.  She listened intently and didn't attempt to correct or change anything her friend said.  She asked her about her thoughts on Jesus and, again, simply listened.  Then, after pouring more coffee, she asked her friend if she would be interested in coming to her church where they were going to be talking more about Jesus on Sunday.  They could ride together and sit together.  Afterwards, she would take her friend out for lunch to discuss further what was went on at church.

The friend wasn't sure but was certainly interested.  The church member will call her on Saturday for an answer.

Both church members had great zeal for their neighbors, their church, and their Lord.  But, whose deeds came with humility and wisdom?

Confession:  Heavenly Father, forgive me for being quick to act and slow to think.  Give me a heart for those who do not know you and give me wisdom to speak faithfully with them about you.  Grant this for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord.  AMEN!

Challenge:  Have coffee with someone who doesn't attend church or doesn't believe and ask them about their thoughts on God, Jesus, and the church.  Simply listen.

Pastor Bob

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 21 ~ Salty Tongues

Day 21 ~ Salty Tongues 
James 3:9-12  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.  Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Hypocrisy is one of the major criticisms leveled by those outside of the church against us Christians .  There may be a great deal of truth to that criticism.  A hypocrite is a person who claims to have some great belief or virtue but then lives in such a way that is out of sync with the claimed beliefs.  That is to say they talk the talk but don't walk the walk.  There are many Christians in our world who are just this way.

Today James warns us against such hypocrisy.  The mouth that is found singing God's praises in the worship service should not be the same mouth that is gossiping about their brothers or sisters in the fellowship hall.  The mouth that praises God for His beautiful creation should not be the mouth insulting God's creatures.  The mouth that cries out for forgiveness should not be the mouth cursing fellow sinners.  Fresh water and salt water cannot flow from the same stream.

The words we use in worship (the liturgy) should actually be shaping the way we talk.  If we believe the confession of sins to be true then no one will be able to claim we are hypocrites.  Why?  Because when they see us sin, we can freely confess that it is because we are sinners, probably worse than they are.  We can say that confidently because we know what our God does with sinners: He forgives them us the absolution.  When we hear that our God forgives us for the sake of Christ, it shapes the way we treat those who sin against us.  As beggars fed with the body and blood of Christ, we are led to give of ourselves to others.  The words we hear and pray in worship are like a fountain of fresh water that is continuously poured into our hearts that overflows into the way we live our lives.

Confession:  Heavenly Father, again I find myself confessing my sins to you.  Though my confession demonstrates my sinful weakness, my life is a poor effort to prove how strong I am.  I live to exalt my own righteousness and I am not humble in word or deed before my neighbors.  Forgive me.  May your Word of grace in Jesus shape the way I live and speak.  AMEN.

Challenge:  Go out of your way to complement three people today.

Pastor Bob

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Monday, March 12, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 20 ~ Words Matter

Day 20 ~ Words Matter
James 3:7-8 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man,  but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  Children will often employ this little rhyme in an effort to stave off mean-spirited words.  Words can hurt.  Insults and put downs have a way of getting into our heads and eating away at us.  We wonder if they are true, if the insult is an accurate assessment of who I am.  Even if it isn't true, what is wrong with me that someone would be driven to use such abusive language towards me?  Words can hurt.

We have tried to take away the impact of words in our culture by suggesting that words no longer mean anything.  They are just sounds. As Madonna once said,  "Today is the last day that I am using words. They've gone out, lost their meaning, don't function anymore... Words are useless, especially sentences. They don't stand for anything. How could they explain how I feel?"  Leaving beside the irony that Madonna's quote comes in the form of sentences, it is worth noting how we try to tear down the importance of words.  Why would that be?

Perhaps it is because, despite what playground rhymes say, words can hurt.  So often the spit out of a poisonous tongue and cause us great harm.  So, in an effort to ease the pain of such deadly poison, we just pretend like those words meant nothing.  We try to make words meaningless.

As much as we try to convince ourselves of this, we know deep down that it isn't true.  Words do matter.  Hurtful words do make a negative impact on us, just as loving words have a positive impact.  James would have us be very careful in how we speak about God and to each other.  He knows the damage words can cause.

Let us keep in mind that there is good reason to emphasize the importance of words.  God Himself is a God who deals with us by means of words, even the Word made flesh.  He is a speaking God who created the world by speaking it into existence, "God said, 'Let there be light'" (Genesis 1:3).  This same speaking God who created the world by His Word has also created faith in your heart by the same forgiving Word.   "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).  When the pastor baptized you and said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," those were not empty words, but promises from God Himself.  His baptismal promise matters.  His Word which declares you righteous on account of Christ matters, so that, no matter what anyone else says, God's word to you in Christ stands forever.   His Word matters.  It is a promise!

Confession:  Forgive me, dear Father, for when my words are not shaped by your word of promise in Jesus Christ.  I have hurt others by what I have said to them or about them.  Forgive me for the sake of Jesus who used his words from the cross to say, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."  Have mercy on me and teach me to use my words to your glory and for the benefit of my neighbors.  AMEN.

Challenge:  Go a whole day without saying something negative about anyone.

Pastor Bob

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 19 ~ It Only Takes a Spark

Day 19 ~ It Only Takes a Spark
James 3:2-6  We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
It doesn't take much to start a forest fire.  All you need is a small spark in the midst of some dry sticks and suddenly the whole area is aflame!  Living in Moorpark we are familiar with how quickly a fire can get started with only a small spark.  One must be very careful when lighting matches in a field!

James says that a loose tongue, though small, is much like a firecracker in the woods-it can quickly start a fire and do a lot of damage.  James is not just speaking of any old conversation, however.  He is speaking of words that are spoken about God.  False talk about God can cause big problems.  History has demonstrated this truth time and again.  Small misunderstandings about God become big heresies that damage the church. In the second commandment we are told, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name" (Ex. 20:7).  To speak where God has not spoken or to misrepresent God with our words will cause all kinds of problems, not only for our faith, but for the faith of others.

When we speak of God we must speak of Him only where He has spoken.  God speaks to us in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, whom the Spirit reveals to us in Scripture.  To talk about God apart from Christ is to speak where God hasn't spoken.  It is to take God's name in vain.  But, oh, what a joyful Word we have to speak!  In Christ we speak of a God who loves, forgives, and saves.  We speak of a God who sacrifices Himself for the sins that were committed against Him.  We speak of love and reconciliation with God.  Such words flow with refreshing waters that douse any destructive flame of false teaching. Why would we want to talk about anything else?

Confession:  Gracious and almighty God, forgive me for my loose tongue.  I have not spoken of you faithfully and I have used your name for my own personal gain.  Because your Son, Jesus Christ, spoke words of forgiveness from the cross for my sake, have mercy on me.  Put your words in my mouth so that it would be filled with praise!  AMEN.

Challenge:  Memorize a psalm or a hymn in an effort to train your tongue to sing God's praises.  

Pastor Bob

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Saturday, March 10, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 18 ~ Judging Teachers

Day 18 ~ Judging Teachers
James 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
It is no small task to preach and teach the Word of God.  Those who have received a call to do so find themselves under a holy scrutiny.  It is the Lord who has called pastors to deliver a message for Him.  Pastors are merely ambassadors of the heavenly embassy, proclaiming the message of their Lord (2 Corinthians 5:20).  In sending His ambassadors, Jesus gave them this to declare: "The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,  and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:46-47).  Repentance and forgiveness because Jesus was the crucified and raised.  That is the message.  That is the only message that pastors are to teach and preach.

Pretty simple, right?   Not so fast.  Pastors are sinners and are given to temptations just like everyone else.  There are many things the devil sends to the preacher in order to get them to talk about anything but Christ from all of Scripture.  Their own pet agendas creep in from time to time.  Sometimes the sheep of God's flock desire to hear something beyond Christ.  They want to have their "ears itched," as Paul warns pastor Timothy (2 Timothy  4:3).  So, they seek out pastors who will suit their own desires.  In an effort to keep the flock, pastors may find themselves watering down the message.  And, frankly, our sinful hearts want to hear about something besides Jesus all the time.  Pastors find it easier to discuss our idolatrous desires than it is to preach, again, that God is for us in Jesus Christ.

What we, pastors and parishioners alike, must be reminded of is that preaching and teaching the Word of God is not meant to help us get to know our pastor better, it is not meant to make us feel good about ourselves, it is not even to make us more happy with this idolatrous world.  No, preaching is to deliver a message from God.  Pastors are called to call comfortable, obstinate sinners to repentance with God's Law and to heal, restore, and forgive the broken, repentant sinners with God's Gospel.  Paul instructs Timothy, "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-- with great patience and careful instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2).   On this basis teachers and preachers of God's Word will be strictly judged.  They will not be judged by how funny, engaging, or insightful they were.  Rather, did they preach Christ crucified for sinners?

Confession:  Gracious Father, forgive me for my itching ears.  I confess that I have not hungered to hear your Word of grace because I have not taken my sin seriously enough.  Have mercy on me, teach me to repent and believe the good news you have given to be proclaimed in your church.  Raise up faithful pastors who boldly, faithfully, and stubbornly preach your Word alone.  AMEN  

Challenge:  Commit yourself to pray for your pastor every day for one week.  Find a day every week to pray for him, that he would faithfully deliver God's Word to you and God's church.  Pray, finally, for God to continue to raise up faithful pastors.

Pastor Bob

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Friday, March 9, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 17 ~ Living Faith

Day 17 ~ Living Faith
James 2:25-26 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
These last few days James has made it abundantly clear that, when it comes to how the Christian lives their life, faith is not an excuse to abandon love.  Faith without works is dead.  In a shocking illustration, he compares a loveless faith to a dead body.  It just isn’t doing anything.  Quite frankly, if you let it stay around too long it becomes disgusting.

So, are you getting the picture of how our Lord feels about loveless faith?  I hope so.  James is good to us today, then, by giving us a beautiful example of what an active faith looks like in the person of Rahab the prostitute.  You may not be familiar with her story so I suggest reading Joshua 2:1-24.  The Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land, but many of God’s enemies stand in their way.  Amongst those enemies are the inhabitants of Jericho.  When the Israelite spies go to scope out the city, they are taken in by Rahab, a prostitute who protects them from those who seek to kill them.

To be a prostitute in those days was not quite like one thinks about prostitutes today.  These weren’t ladies standing on seedy street corners.  Rather, they worked in the temples of pagan gods.  It was believed that if you slept with the temple prostitute, it would entice the gods to cause the crops to grow.  Not exactly what you learned in earth science club, I suppose.  Suffice it to say, Rahab was an awfully sinful woman according to God’s law.  She made a living of committing adultery in worship of a false god.

But she had heard about the saving work of the God of Israel.  She had heard and believed that He had conquered the Egyptians and rescued the Israelites.  Such news had born in her a healthy, faithful fear of God.  So that, when she encountered the people of this saving God, she was ready to help and support them in their time of need.  She believed in God and her faith prompted her to act.  Rahab’s was a lively faith!

Let us not, however, miss the amazing grace of God in this story.  Look at who it is that James says was considered righteous: a pagan-temple prostitute!  God had mercy upon her, He forgave her, and He used her to accomplish His purposes for His people.  She was graciously included in God’s work.  As we close this section on the relationship between faith and works, let us be encouraged by the example of Rahab.  She was a poor sinner saved by a gracious God.  Knowing God’s gracious power drove her to work.  So it is with us.  A living faith comes not from trying to work harder, but by the work of the Holy Spirit, who through the Word grants us Christ and all of His benefits.  It is from the gracious work of Christ on the cross that we are given a living faith.

Confession:  Heavenly Father, forgive me for I am a poor sinner like Rahab.  But like Rahab, I have received life and salvation from your gracious hand.  Jesus has taken my impurities and washed them in His blood, making me clean, and renewing my life.  I pray that your daily forgiveness for my daily sins would empower me to daily walk in newness of life.  AMEN.

Challenge:  After a heavy number of days in our study, today is an easy challenge.  Just as Rahab opened the door for the Israelite spies, open the door for someone you don’t know.

Pastor Bob

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 16 ~ Dead Faith, Part 3

Day 16 ~ Dead Faith, Part 3
James 2:20-24   You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend.  You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
"Aha! I knew it," you say.  "I knew it was too good to be true: all of this saved by faith alone apart from works business.  There it is, plain as day, James says it: We are justified by what we do and not faith alone!"  Could it be?  Have we been wrong about the free gift of salvation all along?  Do we really have to work in order to be justified before God?  Are we saved by grace plus works?  Or, is something else going on here?

How are we to understand this along with what St. Paul says, for example, in Galatians 2:16, "[We] know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified."   (See also Rom. 5:28 and Eph. 2:8-10).  Which is it?  Are we justified by observing the law (what we do) or by faith alone in what Jesus has done?  Is it James or Paul?

Before we all flee from the "faith alone" church to one teaching works righteousness, it is worth our time to review what has gone on so far in this chapter.  (Take a moment to reread 2:1-19.) As we have seen, James is addressing a group of Christians who apparently do not believe they have to be a reflection of God's love.  They got their salvation for free, and since they didn't have to do anything to get it, they no longer have to do anything in light of it.  This is dead faith.  This is to remain in slavery to sin.  The gospel is not an excuse to disobey God's law, rather, it frees us from the condemnation of the law so we can freely live according to the law, without fear of condemnation.  That is what faith does, and if your faith isn’t doing that, James says, you are not saved.  Wow!

Both Paul and James are saying the same thing.  Context is critical here.  Paul is addressing Christians who believe there is something they must add to their salvation.  These are people who don't believe Jesus is sufficient for salvation.  So, Paul tells them, Jesus is all you need.  Don't trust your obedience to God's law, trust Jesus.  It is faith alone.  James agrees that it is faith alone that saves us.  But, he is addressing people with the opposite problem.  They are using the truth of faith alone as an excuse to not love God and neighbor.  So he must remind them (and us!) in the starkest of terms that faith is never alone. It is always working in love.  In this sense, faith alone cannot save because “alone faith” is dead faith.  As Paul himself says in I Corinthians 13:2 , “If I have the faith that can move mountains, but do not have  love, I am nothing.”

Salvation is a free gift from God to sinners.  Faith alone in Christ alone because of God’s grace alone saves you.  Salvation is all His doing.  This faith that looks to Christ is not a dead faith, but a living faith that does not excuse sin, but trusts Jesus and actively loves the neighbor.  Faith alone saves you.  But saving, living faith is never alone.

Confession:  Heavenly Father, I confess that I have used your grace as an excuse to sin.  I have tried to make myself feel better for sinning by saying, “Well, at least I have faith.”  Forgive me for not expressing my faith in love.  Forgive me for not reflecting your love for me.  Grant to me a heart of active faith.  AMEN

Challenge:  Consider signing up for a service event with the church.  Consider going on the next Habitat for Humanity build, sign up for a ministry (Sunday school, ushering, reading, etc.), ask how you can help Centro Cristiano, or organize your own event.

Pastor Bob

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 15 ~ Dead Faith, Part 2

Day 15 ~ Dead Faith, Part 2
James 2:18-19  But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-- and shudder.
Yesterday we learned that faith alone in Christ saves us, but that faith is never alone.  It is always active in love.  At this point it may seem as if James wants only to talk about works.  But, upon closer examination of the reading it would seem that James is primarily concerned about faith!  The issue of works comes up here because those who claim to have faith have no works to prove it.  It is great that folks show up to church and confess the creed and say that believe there is one God.  The demons have no problem doing that, even with fear.  But faith is not merely a matter of knowing facts.  It is a matter of believing promises.  Such a belief is recognizable to others through the way a Christian lives.

Here is an example of what I mean:  Every Christian will readily say that they believe it is God who provides them with their daily bread.  We pray for it in the Lord's Prayer and believe that God answers that prayer faithfully, right?  We say we believe that, but then how do we live?  Do we give of our means as if we believe God will provide for us again the next day?  When charities call and ask for money, how much do you give?  Do you give in a way that, shall we say, stings a little?  Or, do you throw a couple bucks their way knowing that you're going to get a tax break?  I am not saying tax breaks are sinful, but I am saying that the way we give rarely reflects our confession that God will give us daily bread.  It's like telling your spouse you love them but doing everything you can to ignore them.  Inactive love is not love.

We do not actually think it is safe to act on our faith and that is what causes us to hold back.  This demonstrates that we don't believe that God will do what He said.  We do the same thing with salvation.  We confess that salvation is a gift from Jesus and there is nothing left to do to be saved, but then we come up with all kinds of legalistic practices to make sure we are in.  Typically, those practices are very self-serving with no regard for the neighbor.  We do good things, not to demonstrate love, but to make ourselves feel saved.  

Faith is not a knowledge of mere facts.  Faith is not merely knowing who God is and what He has done.  It is believing that He has done it for me.  The demons fear Jesus and want to flee from Him (Mark 1:24).  But faith believes that Jesus has come for me, to love me and grant me all things by His grace.  Such certainty, wrought by the Holy Spirit, enables and empowers us to act on our faith in love, knowing that we have all things in Christ and Christ has us.

Confess:  Merciful Father, I believe that you have loved me with an everlasting love because Jesus shed His blood for me.  But, I confess, that at times my faith is found lacking.  I cling to the securities of this life more than the promises you make.  Forgive me, dear Lord.  Do not permit me to have a mere knowledge of the truth, but teach me to trust the truth and live in accordance with it.  I ask this in Jesus name.  AMEN

Challenge:  Write a check to a charity for an amount that makes you uncomfortable.

Pastor Bob

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 14 ~ Dead Faith, Part 1

Day 14 ~ Dead Faith, Part 1
James 2:14-17  What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Can a faith that has no deeds be a saving faith?  This is the question that will engage us for the next few days of our study.  We work very hard to teach that faith alone, apart from works, saves a Christian. We don't do enough to save ourselves, our sin is too great, so Christ comes purely and solely by God's grace to save us.  He does not look to see if we are holy enough or if we are worthy enough.  God saves sinners by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone.  It is faith alone in Jesus, apart from works, that saves us (Ephesians 2:8-9).

James is not disagreeing with this truth today.   What He is saying, is that, though faith alone does save us, saving faith is never alone.  In other words, Jesus saves us, not our works.  But faith in Jesus is never without works of love for the neighbor.  Faith is always working, always loving.  The question is not, "Can a faith with no deeds be a saving faith?" rather, the question is, "Can a saving faith have no deeds?"

Martin Luther said it this way, "Faith is a divine [that is to say, God's] work in us and makes us to be born anew of God.  It kills the old 'Adam' and makes us altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and all powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.  O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith.  It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly...Thus, it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire."

Faith is loving all the time.  Faith trusts God for all things and loves the neighbor with all things.  It is not this love that saves us, but it is love that comes from those who are saved by God's grace.  If such love is absent, the question becomes, does faith even exist?  

Consider Luther's illustration of the heat and light that come from fire.  If I took you into a cold dark room and said, "Look at how beautiful that fire is!  Isn't it magnificent?"  you would look at me like I was crazy.  The room is clearly without fire because there is not heat and no light which always come from fire.  So it is with faith.  James says that if we go about boasting of our great faith but are not loving our brothers and sisters in the church then we are boasting of a great fire in  a cold, dark room.  If there are those among us who are poor, hungry, and naked and we say, "I hope that works out for you.  Oh, I'll pray for you," and leave them poor, hungry, and naked our faith may be dead.  God has graciously saved us poor, wretched sinners out of the abundance of His mercy and grace.  Faith trusts this promise for salvation.  That faith saves.  But that faith also works, it loves just as God has loved us.  

Confession:  Gracious, heavenly Father, have mercy on me for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ.  I confess how much I struggle to exercise my faith in love towards those around me.  I love my things and my comfort so much that I don't share with those in need.   You have given me faith in Jesus, now give me an active love for my neighbor.  AMEN

Challenge:  Next time you offer to pray for someone who is hurting, don't wait to pray.  Pray for them there on the spot.  Then, offer to help them with their problem in a real, concrete way.      

Pastor Bob

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Monday, March 5, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 13 ~ Judgment and Mercy

Day 13 ~ Judgment and Mercy
James 2:12-13  Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,  because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!
Mercy is everything for the Christian.  Mercy for the sake of Christ's death is the basis and the sustaining principle in God's relationship with His children.  Mercy is the language of repentance and prayer, "Lord, have mercy!"  Mercy not only characterizes God's love towards His children, it also forms the lives of His children in their relationships with one another.  We are a people of mercy.

But what if it is otherwise?  What if the children of God begin to take His mercy for granted and start to withhold mercy from one another?  In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus tells a parable about a servant who was forgiven an enormous debt by a gracious king.  The debt was too large and so he begged the king for mercy.  The king graciously forgave the debt.  Later that day the servant went out and found someone who owed him a couple of bucks. He began choking the man, demanding his money.  The man with the small debt fell to his knees and begged the servant to have patience, he would pay him back.  The servant refused and threw the man in jail.  Hearing the news about the servant, the king, in his anger, threw the wicked servant back in jail to be tortured until he could pay back everything.

God is eternally and incredibly merciful.  He has cancelled the debt of your sin with the blood of Jesus.  He has forgiven you and set you free from condemnation under the law.  But too often we use His mercy as an excuse to sin.  "I don't need to forgive that person who has hurt me so much.  God will forgive me no matter what."   If there is one thing we must never say about God's mercy is that it is an excuse for us to withhold forgiveness and mercy towards those who have wronged us.  God's mercy triumphs over judgment, it doesn't excuse it.

Confess:  Heavenly Father, I fall on my knees before you and plead for your great mercy.  I beg you for the sake of your Son Jesus, whose death has removed my great debt of sin, to forgive me for my lack of mercy.  As I leave this time of confession today, do not let me be like the servant in Jesus' parable who used his freedom to condemn his brother.  Rather, teach me to forgive others trespasses, just as you have forgiven mine.  In Jesus name I pray, AMEN.

Challenge:  Forgive someone who has wronged you.  If you cannot do this, repent again, and beg the Lord to give you a heart of mercy.

Pastor Bob

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 12 ~ The Whole Law

Day 12 ~ The Whole Law
James 2:8-11  If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself,"  you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.  For he who said, "Do not commit adultery,"  also said, "Do not murder."  If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.
We have a great way of downplaying our sin.  We will call our sins "mistakes" or "accidents."  We tend to view some sins as worse than others.  Conveniently, the sins we see as being the worst are the ones "they" are committing.  Not me.  My sins aren't that bad.  They are just, you know, mistakes.  But James has no time for such word games.  Stumbling against God's law at just one point-one measly, little point-makes you a lawbreaker.  You who stumble are guilty of breaking the whole thing.  Period.  The big theme in James 2 thus far has centered around  the sin of favoritism.  James says it  breaks the law of God.  We may well ask, what is the law that is broken?  I don't recall any of the commandments that says, "Thou shall not show favoritism."  So, how can James tell me I am a lawbreaker here if that law isn't exactly one of the top ten?

To show favoritism is to break commandments four through ten, summarized in the royal law, "Love your neighbor as yourself!"  These commandments teach us how God wants us to treat one another.  Favoritism is always selfish because with it we are always favoring ourselves.  We show favoritism when we think we can get something out of someone else.  So why are the rich exalted over the poor?  Because the rich are better?  No, because we can get something out of them.  We use them for our own ends.  It is the same with the example James gives of adultery.  No one commits adultery because they love someone, they do it because it makes them feel good, or alive, or young, or free, or something stupid like that.

Favoritism is self-love.  Self-love breaks the commands of God.  Breaking the commands of God means placing yourself above God (I know better than He what I should be doing with my life).  Thus, every sin committed is a breaking of the first commandment -You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)- because we are putting ourselves before God, thus making ourselves out to be our own gods.

Our sins are deadly.  They are the evidence that our hearts are not as right as we think they are.  Such a realization sends us fleeing to the cross for mercy.  Christ does not come to help guide those who make mistakes to make better choices.  He comes to forgiven sinners.   Though He never broke the law once, He comes to stand as though He was the lawbreaker before God on behalf of the true lawbreaker: You!  He takes your place.  Lest we think our sins small, let us look upon the cross to see what happened to the One who bears our sins.  Fellow lawbreaker, you are forgiven for His sake, because He was the sin bearer on your behalf.  

Confess:  God of all mercy, I confess that I have shown myself favoritism over you and your people.  I have lived as if I mattered most, without love for others or you.  I pray that you, because of your infinite mercy and for the sake of your Son's holy, innocent, and bitter sufferings, would forgive and renew me to love you with my whole heart and my neighbor as myself.  AMEN

Challenge:  Revisit the commandment you were supposed to memorize a few days ago.  Have you had a chance to act on it?  How did it go?  Continue to work on that today.  

Pastor Bob

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

40 Days with James ~ Day 11 ~ Choosing the Poor

Day 11 ~ Choosing the Poor
James 2:5-7  Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?  But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
I recently heard about a sermon a friend of mine preached at the congregation where I served as a vicar (that is, as an intern pastor).  Just before the service started, a homeless looking man walked into the large sanctuary and sat right in the midst of the well-kept congregants.  He smelled bad.  He was constantly making little noises.  During the service, he took out a sandwich and started eating.  As the service progressed, those sitting in his vicinity slowly and slyly moved away.  By the time the sermon began, the man was sitting by himself.  The pastor then began to preach on how we treat those who come into our church and make us uncomfortable.  The "homeless" man was actually a local actor hired by the pastor to prove a point.  And it worked.

In our world we tend to categorize people in order to keep ourselves safe.  We stay away from those who fall in a different category from us.  In fact, we'll even demonize those in other categories just to justify our avoidance of them.  We'll leave the poor on their side of town and only associate with those who are in a similar socio-economic category as us.  For as loving as we like to think we are, we still avoid certain neighborhoods with "those" kinds of people.  We stay on our side of the tracks.

Such a worldly attitude has no place in the church.  Our God, after all, has chosen the poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith!  Faith is true wealth.  To try and turn the church into a place where the rich are honored and the poor are marginalized is to deny baptism, or as James says, to slander the noble name of Him to whom you belong.  We all share a common baptism where we are all marked with the name of the triune God.  We are all made co-heirs with Christ.  Here, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).    To insult the poor is to insult the One who baptized the poor alongside of you.  Here social status means nothing.  Christ is everything.

Repent:  Heavenly Father, I praise you that you have placed your name upon me in the waters of baptism and united me to your family, the church.  I confess, however, that I have looked down on my brothers and sisters for proud and self-righteous reasons.   I have not loved my neighbor as myself, and therefore, have not loved you with my whole heart.  Keep me in my baptismal grace, forgive me for my pride, and teach me to love all my brothers and sisters just as you have loved me in my poverty.  AMEN.

Respond:  Write a note to someone at church (besides the pastor) whose work you appreciate.  Thank them for their hard work.

Pastor Bob

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