Glory in Frailty

10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away (James 1).

Some people are rich through inheritance, others through their own hard work. Either way, they are all humbled by the one fact that they, “like the flowering grass” will “pass away … and wither … and fade away” along with everyone else. They can use their wealth to purchase the finest clothes to cover their aging bodies, or to hire the best physical trainers to get them in shape, or to find the best doctors or medicines to boost their health, or to acquire the newest beauty aides which give an appearance of youth—yet, in the end, just like everyone else, death will find them too. Wealth may indeed delay our demise, or at least the appearance of it—but it can never deter it.

It might be helpful to take note of the percentage of TV commercials persuading us to buy something that will either delay our death or at least distract us from its inevitability. Yet, rather than fight the aging process, we should “glory in” it and embrace it. For it is the one thing that binds us all together.

Lord, help us This Day to glory in our physical frailty—knowing that when the time comes to leave this earth, we will be more alive than ever. Amen.

Titles

9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position (James 1).

The phrase “humble circumstances” comes from one word in the Greek, which also described Jesus as “lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29), thus giving the imagery of the lowly who “glory” (“boast”) in their “high position.” And just what is this high position? Why, it is that of being a “brother” of Christ!

I’ve had many titles in my life: as an adult male I am called Mr.; as a teacher I have been called Dr. or professor; and as a member of the clergy I am called pastor. Yet, the greatest title I will ever know is “brother” because through the blood of Christ I have been brought into kinship with Him and all others who follow Him in faith.

I worked hard to achieve the respect of bearing these lesser titles of Mr. or Dr. or professor or pastor—but the greatest title I bear, being a brother, was given to me through no merit of my own.

Lord, thank You for our high position in Christ! Help us This Day to walk in such a way that shows our boasting is in this and in this alone. Amen.

The Wisdom of Faith

6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1).

The words “doubting” and “doubt” can also be translated “discerning” and “discernment,” which carries the idea of reasoning. Thus, faith and reason do not always go together. Reason supports faith, but it will not always get me there. These verses in James are the fulfillment of Proverbs 3:5—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” Being “double-minded” is asking God for wisdom while at the same time trying to figure things out on our own—and that is when we become “unstable” and fall.

Wisdom begins in the understanding that we must first ask God for it. Whenever someone approaches me for counsel about a problem they are having, I try with one ear to listen to them and with the other ear to listen to God. That is, I use my reasoning to understand their story, while using my faith in God to receive understanding of their problem. The vast majority of the time God gives me wisdom and discernment to help them, but when He does not (and I remain in the same fog as they), I simply tell them I’m sorry but I’ve got nothing to help them at the moment, and that more prayer is needed. I refuse to throw out empty platitudes and tell them just to “have faith.”

Lord, thank You for the wisdom You give when we ask in faith. Help us This Day to be wise enough to ask for wisdom, believing You will give it when we need it. Amen.

Just Ask!

5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him (James 1).

God glories in our asking Him for things—especially wisdom. For it is in the asking that we must admit both our lack and His abundance, both our dependence and His sovereignty. It is in the asking that we realize that we have no wisdom of our own, and that we can never conjure it up through our own reasoning powers. 

If we have any wisdom at all, it is because He has given it—whether or not we have even asked for it. Such is the manifold grace of God upon all men, that for the sake of at least some measure of goodness and peace in this dark world, He gives wisdom (and how many other things) even when lost mankind does not ask Him for it. But how much more wisdom will He lavish upon those who humble themselves and actually ask for it!

Lord, there is not a one of us who does not need more wisdom. Thank You for that which You will give us This Day—even when we do not ask—but Lord, please help us to ask. Amen.

Trials and Time

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1).

The final proof of true faith is endurance, for endurance is what faith is made for. And endurance requires two things: trials and time. The trials may be heavy or light, but the time must always be longer than we think we can bear. The greatest faith is proved through the heaviest of trials through the longest periods of time. This is when we truly are “lacking in nothing” because we have discovered that all we have is Jesus—yet He is all we need.

Every believer wants great faith, but none of us much likes paying the price for it. We would prefer it come cheap, with little pain with short duration. How sad when the best our faith can endure is but a small inconvenience on the way to work. How sadder still is when such easy trials cause us to fall flat on our face.

Lord, should any trials come our way This Day, help us to endure. Should we fall flat on our face, may it not be because we have failed the test, but because we are seeking Your help to pass it. Amen.

Proof of Faith

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials (James 1).

The word “encounter” means “to fall into as to be encompassed” and was the same word used to describe the man who “fell among robbers” in our Lord’s parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30). The word “consider” (hēgeomai—from which we get our word “hegemony,” meaning “dominance” or “mastery”) means “to lead” or “go before.” Thus, the idea is this: when “various trials” encompass us, we need to let “joy” dominate our attitude. Why? Because “trials” (meaning “proofs”) are meant to do just that—show proof that we indeed have faith, and not that we do not have it.

When The Moody Church in Chicago was built, a new design was used to create a balcony with no pillars (which would have blocked people’s view down below). The trouble was, however, no one would sit in the balcony because they couldn’t see how it could support them. So Moody had 200-lb. sandbags placed on each chair—not to make the balcony collapse—but to prove that it would not.

Lord, we thank You that trials sometimes encompass us—not to bring us down—but to prove our faith. Help us This Day, should any trials come, to remember this and let joy fill our hearts. Amen.

Sweet Greetings

1 James … to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings (James 1).

This word “greetings” is the same word Gabriel used to greet Mary. It is also used many times in the sense of “being glad” or “rejoicing”—which is an emotion they, who as refugees from persecution, definitely needed to feel. James wanted them to know they were not forgotten. In fact, he was dispatching this letter especially to those who had been “dispersed abroad.”

The Lord never forgets those who are His. He will always send them greetings, gladness, and rejoicing of some kind to lighten their hearts. These Jewish Christians, representing “the twelve tribes” of Israel, needed encouragement, and James was ready to give it. Indeed, seeing that he had become the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem, it is likely he knew many of them by name and face.

Lord, we thank You that You know us by name and face and heart and soul and mind—and that You do not forget us. May we rejoice with gladness in You This Day. Amen.

Transformation

1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ … (James 1).

James was one of four half-brothers of Jesus: “James and Joseph and Simon and Judas [Jude] (Matthew 13:55). He and one other brother, Jude, wrote letters that are in our Bible. They obviously changed their thinking about Jesus, no longer believing He had “lost his senses” (Mark 3:20-21). One can only wonder when that transformation exactly took place.

At some point James quit seeing Jesus as just his big brother in an earthly family, and recognized Him as The Big Brother in a heavenly one. His devotion to Him as “Lord” and “Christ” became equal to his devotion to “God,” in that he was “a bond-servant” to them both, that is, bond-servants to the Father and to the Son. Well do I remember when that transformation took place in my life, when I discovered that to know and love God meant to know and love Jesus Christ, the one and only Savior and Lord of all. How about you?

Lord, we thank You for the transformation that took place in our lives so that we became bond-servants of Jesus. Help us This Day to keep on surrendering all to Him. Amen.

All That Matters

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love.  Peace be to you all who are in Christ (1 Peter 5).

Most scholars agree that “She who is in Babylon” most likely refers to the church in Rome, where persecution had begun shortly after the great fire (“while Nero fiddled”), thus prompting Peter to write this epistle in the first place. His “son, Mark” (son by endearment, not biology—much as Timothy was to Paul) is definitely none other than John Mark, the Gospel writer who earlier had accompanied Paul and Barnabas briefly on their first missionary journey. That he is close to Peter so many years later attests to his continued faithful work in the kingdom.

The word for “kiss” is derived from the word, “phileo,” the term for “brotherly love.” Peter couples this with “love”“agape”—which is God’s unconditional love. What a beautiful picture of both brotherly and godly love mixed together. Thus, both the “peace” that we enjoy together through brotherly love, as well as “peace” with God, comes because of our being “in Christ” through the unconditional and gracious love of God.

Lord, it is sweet to see the very last words of this letter by Peter are the words “in Christ.” For, when all is said and done, this is what and who we are—a people who are “in Christ”—and who will remain so forever and ever and ever. This is all that really matters. Help us This Day to be a people of peace and brotherly love. Amen.

All of Us Martyrs

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

12 Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God.  Stand firm in it (1 Peter 5)!

Yet another word used only by Peter is this word for “testifying,” where he takes a common word and adds the preposition “unto” to it. The root word is “martureo”)—the verb form from which we get our word for “martyr.” When Jesus stood before the Sanhedrin, the High Priest asked, “What need more do we have of witnesses” (Matthew 26:65)? Matthew’s word for “witness” here is “martyr.”  

I’ve always liked this word. To testify, or to be a witness means to be a martyr—certainly not wishing to die, yet being willing to die for the testimony one is giving. Thus, in the biblical sense, every follower of Christ must be a martyr. Peter ends with the exhortation to “stand firm in it”—that is, in this “true grace of God.” I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s final words of testimony at the Diet at Worms 495 years ago, when He stood firm (at least in part) upon the doctrine of salvation by grace alone: “Here I stand, I can do no other.  God help me.” Not a bad example for us.

Lord, help us stand firm This Day upon Your grace, willing to give our lives, if necessary, as true witnesses of it. Amen.