Your motives are all wrong ...

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. [James 4:1-3 NLT]

These three verses scream motives to me - bad ones and good ones. On the bad side they speak to me of hedonism, the idea that is encapsulated by the phrases "if it feels good do it" and (on the religious side) "God wants you to be happy". This adventure in selfcenteredness is replete with jealous and envious motives. Interesting how James calls these "evil desires at war within you". Perhaps the first step in winning this war is to acknowledge our bad motives?

In contrast to these wrong motives is the God motive - love. Most of us can quote Jesus when he speaks of God so loving the world that He gave his one and only Son but I wonder if any of us really understands this sort of love? Perhaps, as James indicates, our prayer life can be viewed as an accurate barometer of where we are at with regard to motives. Are our prayers reflective of a deep love for others or are they more about ourselves? Food for thought.

Lord, I pray so much for myself and my needs. Help me to love others and pray more for the needs of others.

Humility that comes from wisdom ...

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. ... the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. -James 3:13,17-18 NLT

I believe that these two words, humility and wisdom, are inextricably linked. Firstly they are both qualities of the heart - you cannot have one without the other. One must have wisdom to be humble and many err by thinking that they can be wise apart from humility. In my life both of these have come with much difficulty because I did not understand the nature of wisdom or humility. Sadly I confused wisdom with intellect and humility with a gentle demeanor.

I love how James describes wisdom. He does not say that it is about your IQ but about your ability to yield to others and find common ground. Perhaps this is why the Lord Jesus called peacemakers blessed. It takes humility and wisdom to find peace - achieving it often means that one has to compromise. To make peace in small and great ways one must be full of the kind of mercy that results in good deeds. And such peace will one day reap a harvest of righteousness.

Dear Lord, we are proud. Help us to humble ourselves. We are foolish. Help us to be wise. Teach us the ways of peace.

A flame of fire ...

A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. ... Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! -James 3:5,6,9,10 NLT

James goes on from here to speak of how "you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring." In saying this he acknowledges that our words are often mere products of something that comes from deep within. In a sense, this tiny spark of fire comes from a raging fire that is burning within. I have witnessed such flames coming from my mouth. It reminds me of how the scriptures speak of reaping what we have sowed in the soil of our hearts.

Seeds sprout when we least expect it. Wounds buried in the depths of our beings surface with minor provocation - and people are burned with our flames. It speaks to me about how I need to keep my innermost being strong. To keep my spring clean I must acknowledge and confess my sins to God. To insure that fiery bitterness does not spew from my mouth I must forgive offences before they grab hold of me. It is an issue of being strong on the inside.

Lord, please show us how to keep our inner waters fresh and fit for others to drink.

Every time we open our mouths ...

We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you’d have a perfect person, in perfect control of life. A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything — or destroy it! -James 3:2-5 MSG

Describing 18th century Irish Parliamentarian Sir Boyle Roche a person remarked: "Every time he opens his mouth, he puts his foot in it." I sometimes feel that way. Sadly, I have said many things that I wished I could take back. The tongue, when provoked, can sometimes reveal things that we wish stayed hidden. Once the words leave our mouth we are helpless and unable to retrieve them. Many times I have had to ask forgiveness for my careless utterances.

I love the way that James likens our tongue to small things, like rudders and bits, that control big things. If he were living today he might describe the ways that steering wheels in the hands of pilots and bus drivers can affect many people. Our words have much power. The self image of a young child is molded by the things that parents say to them. The encouraging words of a friend can give courage to press on. Our words can accomplish great things.

Help us Lord to only speak words that bless. And when we sin with our words give us courage to seek forgiveness.

His actions made his faith complete.

Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone. Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works. -James 2:21-26 NLT

That last verse speaks to me about the nature of faith in the life of a believer. Faith is the air that we breathe. It is what made Abraham, Rahab and everyone else right with God. Yet this kind of faith is not invisible in the sense that actions always accompany it and make it complete. The truth is that actions always follow faith or a lack of faith.

Consider those who Jesus considered great in faith. He called the centurion's faith 'great' when he believed God would heal his servant before Jesus even came under his roof. Or think about how he called 'great' the faith of a gentile woman who would not be refused when she asked for her daughter to be healed. Sometimes just the act of prayer is evidence of faith within. God called Abraham his friend because he acted in faith. We are his friends when we act in like manner.

We come in need of courage Lord. Help us to respond in the faith that you have planted deep within us.

Faith by itself isn’t enough ...

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless? -James 2:17-20 NLT

Interesting how James speaks of faith not being enough when, in essence, it really is when it is the real thing. The issue that he speaks to here is counterfeit faith. Fake faith has always been with us. Many religious people know all the right things to say - they assent to God with their head but their hearts are simply not engaged. Sometimes knowing something with your head is simply not enough. Genuine faith is a matter of the heart and not of our own understanding.

The absurdity of demon-like believing reminds me that people often engage in religious activities for reasons other than faith. For sure many of these may have assented to a "Higher Power" and might speak of the "Man Upstairs". And often people with a bankrupt faith do good deeds. It speaks to me of how faith and works cannot stand alone. In truth, we are unable to know if another person has faith by simply looking at what they do. Only God can see our hearts.

Cause our hearts to embrace genuine faith today dear Lord. Transform us into people who are moved by compassion.

You have faith but don’t show it ...

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? -James 2:14-16 NLT

Interesting how James pivots from judging how a person treats the wealthy and to judging that person's faith by their actions. In these beginning chapters he seems to be interested in telling his readers what it really means to have a relationship with God. He tells us that having "pure and genuine religion" means having joy in trials, praying for wisdom, enduring temptation, caring for the helpless and keeping oneself unstained from worldly and ungodly thinking.

Now he appears to be distilling this genuine religion down to one word - faith. I love it how he defines the word as a force that has the ability to change the way we act. Instead of defining faith as something that causes us to love church services he tells us that it is something that causes us to love our neighbors. I think that genuine faith always produces love - and love is always shown in what we do. In essence James is speaking to us about both faith and love.

Help us Lord. It is so easy to keep our faith hidden. Lead us to be moved by compassion and to love our neighbors..

Hasn’t God chosen the poor?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law. -James 2:5-9 NLT

Money and the seduction of wealth is a consistent theme throughout the scriptures. With money comes power and the powerful usually accumulate much wealth. Consider Solomon, a truly wise king, who received over twenty-five tons of gold every year - in the end he was disillusioned by it all. Perhaps the saddest example was the rich young ruler who Jesus advised to sell all he had - this man walked away from God in the flesh because wealth had a hold over his heart.

Interesting how James speaks about the command to love each other. I wonder if people back then were using love as an excuse to rationalize their discriminatory practices? Ironic because God's kind of love is the sort that loves people who cannot do anything for us. When we show favor with a hope of getting something in return we are not loving but manipulating. It is why God has called us to love the poor - the ones that He has chosen to be rich in faith.

Lord, open my heart to love those who cannot do anything for me. Help me to be a friend to the friendless.

This discrimination ...

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn't this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? -James 2:1-4 NLT

I so wish that these verses were no longer applicable to the church universal. Looking back it is so hard to grasp how masses of people have been discriminated against by church people. In our own country people with dark skins were once forbidden to worship with lighter skinned religious people. It is as if church leaders had never read verses like these. And even today, there still seems to be a divide along racial lines in Sunday morning services.

Beyond race and ethnicity James speaks to his readers, and us, about the power of money in the church. I wish that his rebuke was no longer relevant today. I so long for a day when we really believe that wealth is not important to sustain the church. Unfortunately inflated salaries and ornate edifices require religious leaders to cater to wealthy people. The bottom line, for James and for us, is that we must not be guided by evil motives of discrimination.

Examine our hearts Lord Jesus. Shine your light on our motives. Help us to accept all people in our churches.

Pure and genuine religion ...

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. -James 1:26-27 NLT

The word 'religion' comes with all kinds of negative connotations. The religion of Islam was dragged through the mud when terrorists flew planes into skyscrapers in New York City. The Christian religion was slimed by the extramarital affairs of televangelists in the 1980s. In my own life I have steered away from being a 'religious' person even though I did all the things that one associates with being religious. I guess there is just something Pharisaical about the word.

In these few sentences James tells us what it means to be religious and what genuine religion looks like to God. He begins with a full-on assault of our self-righteousness when he tells us how worthless our religion is when we speak things that embarrass our religion. The last sentence of this passage reminds me that pure and genuine religion is wrapped up in one word - love. When we love we do not hurt others with our tongue but bless them with our deeds.

Help us Lord. We have been corrupted by the world. Lead us in ways that bless the ones who need love the most.

Like glancing at your face in a mirror ...

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. -James 1:22-25 NLT

The bible is not a book meant only for theologians. It is not a book only understandable by deep thinkers. It is not an ancient book that is all about revealing the mystical secrets of life. It is a book that is meant to show us how to live. In it we read about people who made big mistakes. We also read about how many of those people found forgiveness and power to live a life of faith. The bible is one of the most practical books when we, in faith, simply do what it says.

Interesting how James speaks of doing God's word. I wonder if, as he writes, he remembers how Jesus confronted the Pharisees because they did not obey the scriptures. Perhaps James is warning his friends, and us, to not become religious hypocrites who deeply know the scriptures but do not do what it says? Perhaps he recalls how those religious folks studied and prayed so hard but did not love their neighbors? We also do well when we remember the Pharisees.

Help us Lord to daily examine ourselves in the mirror of your word and the One who reflected your glory on earth.

Quick to listen, slow to speak ...

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. -James 1:19-21 NLT

These words are hard to walk out. This New Yorker has always been quick with a response. My mouth has gotten me in so much trouble. You think that I would have learned by now. What is it about us that finds it so hard to simply listen? I wonder if we confuse the word 'hear' with 'listen'. Hearing is something you do with your ears but listening is something that you do with your heart. To listen requires us to engage a part of ourselves that is often hard to access.

Perhaps if we really listened and engaged our hearts we would not be so angered. Paul tells us in the book of Galatians that self control and patience are fruit of the Holy Spirit. When we are following His lead in our hearts we find the ability to hear past the words and the emotion of the moment. In truth, many disagreements escalate to fights simply because we only hear with our ears. What is needed most in these times is the patience and self control to listen with our hearts.

Place a guard over my mouth today dear Lord. Help me to listen with my heart instead of with my ears.

Whatever is good and perfect ...

So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession. James 1:16-18 NLT

I absolutely loves these words. These are the words that I think of when I read about Jesus in the gospel accounts. He was good and perfect. Full of light and life. He was the true Word of God given to us to show us what God is like. In his life, teachings, ministry and death he gave us a picture of the good and perfect God of love. As the writer of Hebrews puts it, Jesus in the flesh was "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being".

In contrast to these words from James some choose to see God as an entity that casts a shifting shadow. These offer us a God who at times he is angry and lurks in the shadows waiting to trip us up. These see the Lord as the see themselves - divided and inconsistent. These forget about Jesus and present an image of the Father which is very different from the Son. When I hear such things I simply remember what James says here - good comes to us from a good God.

Lord, we are thankful today that you are consistently and perfectly good. Help us to radiate your glorious goodness today.

Temptation comes from our own desires ...

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. -James 1:12-15 NLT

I once heard that the ideas of testing and temptation are dependent on the point of view. A test is often a temptation and vice versa. In essence temptation can only be overcome by faith. So when an enticement is set before us it can be viewed as both a temptation to sin or a test of our faith. What James says here is that we must not see God as the one who places that allurement before us. I do not believe that testings and temptations are divine in nature.

In my own life I have found that these enticements are very subtle and each time I give in to them I become weaker spiritually. Yet when I exert self-control, a fruit of the Holy Spirit within me, I proclaim the power of God to overcome temptation. And like any test, when we pass it we are encouraged by the success to overcome other temptations. In a sense each time we overcome our heart becomes stronger and more able to resist temptation and fight the fight of faith.

Lead us Father, not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom both now and forever.

The rich will fade away ...

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements. James 1:9-11 NLT

Isn't it interesting how James writes about the lack of connection between the blessing of God and wealth. I am not sure that many believers in the Western World have taken his words to heart. So many times we speak about how God has blessed us with this house or with that car. It is like we do not understand the nature of true blessings. In contrast the apostle speaks to us of how divine honor rests in the lives of the poor and humiliation in the lives of the rich.

This reminds me that Jesus told his disciples that they should store up treasure in heaven because what they valued would indicate where their heart was at. When we focus on, and value, temporal things we testify that our heart is here on earth with our things. Yet when we our heart is enraptured by heavenly things we find ourselves rich in God even though we are poor by the world's standards. These words help me to remember that this life will one day fade away.

Help us to value what you value Lord and call blessed what you call blessed.

A person with divided loyalty ...

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. -James 1:5-8

Other translations render "divided loyalty" as "doubled minded". I like both concepts. James is basically telling us that we cannot have it both ways when we pray. At it's core the word trust embodies the idea of loyalty and being of one mind with God. Even so, it is not about perfection - some of my most heartfelt prayers have been peppered with questions and doubts. I believe the apostle is not advocating purity of faith but purity of love and trust in God's character.

I think that our beliefs about God come greatly to bear when we pray. I liken it to the way that some approach their Father. If they feel safe in his love towards them they will be singled minded in that respect. Yet if they do not feel safe they will come tenuously to their dad. Such is the reason that the writer of Hebrews says that we can come boldly to God in prayer. We who are single minded in the love of God exhibit confidence when we come to his throne of grace.

Help us Lord to get past our earthly images of the word father. Open our eyes to your unending love for us.

If you need wisdom ...

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. -James 1:5 NLT

I once watched three pastors explain this verse by praying about something and believing that the first thing that popped into their mind (they might have said spirit instead of mind) was the wisdom that they were seeking. Hard to believe that anyone would pass that off as wisdom. Here is the way that James describes it later in his letter:
The wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.
I think that such wisdom is not the ilk that one gets by rubbing a magic lamp. Such wisdom does not come from the mental gymnastics of supposed prayer but from a deep connection with God. Often it comes through the scriptures and sometimes through a person. In most cases wisdom is something divine that resonates in our innermost being.

Help us Lord to understand the wisdom that you have given us by the Holy Spirit. Teach us to hear your voice.

When troubles come your way ...

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. -James 1:2-4 NLT

James seems to echo Jesus when the Lord tells us: "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world." The trials, pain and heartaches of life often makes no sense at all. These things do not create joy or make us happy - to be glad about them is to misunderstand what James is saying. Yet to experience joy in the midst of pain, sorrow and trials is an indication that our heart is connected to heaven.

I think that trials have changed me more than anything. I once wrote that pain has influenced me more than love. When James speaks of growth through endurance, he is basically saying that we must not lose heart when bad things happen to us. When he points to being complete and lacking nothing he reminds us that life is all about the state of our hearts. By trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts, and not leaning on our understanding, we can tap into the joy of the Lord.

I am hurting Lord. Open the eyes of my heart that I might see You in my pain.

Daily Devotions from James

I have so enjoyed reading through and sharing my thoughts on the book of Romans. Beginning tomorrow I will be sharing daily from the book of James. One of the oldest books of the New Testament, it was written around A.D. 45, before the first council of Jerusalem in A.D. 50.

James is written to Jewish Christians scattered among all the nations and tells us how to walk in faith through genuine religion, genuine faith and genuine wisdom. It is believed to have been penned by the brother of Jesus who was the head of the Jerusalem church.

I invite you to read with me as I share daily devotions from James.

Able to make you strong ...

Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed his plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey him. -Romans 16:25-26 NLT

In these last sentences of his letter to the Romans Paul ends by restating what he has written in much of this long letter. Specifically that God loves the whole world and not just Israel. Once upon a time Paul believed that no one but a Jew could be saved. He embraced an ethnic form of salvation that embraced the idea that God accepted people based on their ancestry. That message was flawed and the Father sent His only Son to show us the error of that message.

The gospel of the Kingdom of God is a message that is able to make a person strong. This Good News can do what Mosaic Law could not. In a sense the law made one weak. For the Pharisees it brought hypocrisy. For the ones known as "sinners" it brought shame. In contrast the message of forgiveness and healing that Jesus preached made a person strong. This gospel message is able to make one strong in faith, hope and love - and that is really Good News!

All glory to you Lord, the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.

Crush Satan under your feet ...

And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. -Romans 16:17-20 NLT

As Paul pens these last words he follows up glowing commendations and greetings with a dire warning to the believers in Rome. It reminds me of Paul's warning to the believers in Galatia when he wrote: "If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed." In these admonitions we see the heart of a shepherd protecting the flock from wolves those who would drag believers back to the bondage of law and ethnic salvation.

In the context of such warnings the apostle speaks of God crushing Satan under their feet as they do right and stay innocent of any wrong. This again speaks to me of a shepherd protecting his flock from wolves. When we listen to the smooth talk and glowing words of false teachers we wander from the sheep fold. But when we obey Christ, and stay in the fold, we are not only protected from attack but realize that God is crushing the enemy of our souls.

Help us Lord to be wise in doing right and innocent of doing wrong.

One who is worthy of honor ...

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea. Welcome her in the Lord as one who is worthy of honor among God’s people. Help her in whatever she needs, for she has been helpful to many, and especially to me. Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. In fact, they once risked their lives for me. I am thankful to them, and so are all the Gentile churches. ... Greet each other in Christian love. All the churches of Christ send you their greetings. -Romans 16:1-4,16 NLT

I love how Paul singles out several women in Rome as he commends Phoebe to them. I think that it is sad how some religious groups have rejected the ministry of women using the words of Paul to disenfranchise them. Interesting to note that this discrimination does not exist in the Kingdom of God. Even those who reject women in "church" leadership accept their leadership in the corporate world. Women like Phoebe must be honored in every part of God's Kingdom.

As Paul ends his letter to the Romans he mentions many by name - in between verses four and sixteen he mentions dozens. This speaks to me of how close Paul's relationship to these Romans was. He speaks of Jews who were in prison with him and he greets several house churches. He mentions hard workers and people who even risked their lives for him. This fellowship that he has with them seems so alien to the ones that I have often encountered at churches.

Help us Lord to know how to acknowledge and bless the ones who have meant so much in our spiritual life.

Join in my struggle by praying ...

But before I come, I must go to Jerusalem to take a gift to the believers there. For you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. ... Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me, given to you by the Holy Spirit. -Romans 15:25-26,30 NLT

Thousand of missionaries over thousands of years have been inspired by the travels of the Apostle Paul. Many who preach the gospel in other lands solicit donations for the work that they do in those places. I support several friends in other lands. That said, it is interesting to note here that the offering given to him was for "the poor among the believers in Jerusalem". I so admire this kind of love and care for distant believers, be they workers or those needing care.

I must admit, I find it easier to support those who serve overseas with money and often neglect to support them in prayer. Sometimes I think that is because I do not see their lives all that different than I see mine. Unlike Paul, these do not seem to struggle with enemies who try to kill them and thwart their ministry. That said, I believe that we are called by God to join in the struggles of others by praying for them. In this we show our God given love for those both near and far.

Open our eyes to the ways that other struggle Lord. Help us to join those struggle by praying for them.

You are full of goodness ...

I am fully convinced, my dear brothers and sisters, that you are full of goodness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about them. Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these points, knowing that all you need is this reminder. For by God’s grace, I am a special messenger from Christ Jesus to you Gentiles. I bring you the Good News so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit. ... My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. -Romans 15:14-16,20 NLT

Paul is beginning to wind down his letter to the Romans. He has spent much of his message speaking about the equality of the Gentiles and the Jews with respect to salvation. In a sense he is imparting his ministry to the ones that he himself has ministered to as he reminds them that he knows first hand that they are full of goodness. I love the way that Paul's ministry resembled the ministry of Christ. Like Jesus he made disciples by pouring himself into others.

I think that the apostle is calling the Romans to a similar process of disciple making. He builds them up by saying that they know his teachings so well that they are able to teach them to others. In these few words he seems to be inviting them to join him in the mission of pouring themselves into the lives of others. It reminds me that teaching is not enough unless what we have learned is shared with others in the context of a loving, disciple making, relationship.

Help us to make disciples the way that you made them Lord. Help us to follow the example that Paul writes of.

Christ came as a servant ...

Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors. He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for his mercies to them. -Romans 15:7-9 NLT

Ever think about the way that Jesus came to the earth? Who could have ever imagined that the Messiah would come as a servant and not as one who is served? The image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the last supper challenges every concept of leadership that most people embrace. I think that this is one of the reasons that people did not recognize God when he came in the flesh. Most were expecting a warrior lion and not a servant lamb.

And as much as the Jews were amazed by this, I think that even more were amazed when the gospel began to be proclaimed to the Gentiles. Spiritual life had always been a purview of ethnic Israel and many had trouble believing that salvation extended past their borders. I wonder if we, like ancient Jews, are guilty of embracing a gospel that is too narrow in scope? Perhaps we would do well to heed Paul's admonition to accept each other as Christ accepts us?

"I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit." -Romans 15:13 NLT

Just as Christ has accepted you ...

Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors. He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for his mercies to them. -Romans 15:7-9 NLT

One of the greatest misunderstandings that believers labor under these days is that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. The commandment to love God and love our neighbors is often promulgated by some as the Great Commandment. In the gospel of John, we read that the Lord Jesus gave a new commandment to love as He loves. Paul seems to echo that sentiment here when he says that we should "accept each other just as Christ has accepted you".

This kind of love and acceptance is the kind of love that glorifies God. Jesus said "If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much." Before anyone ever confessed their love for God, He loved them first. When we were alienated and hostile towards Him, he pursued us in love. We would do well to examine the way that we love and determine whether our love life is the kind that glorifies the Lord.

Glorify your name in all the earth. Pour out your Spirit again that we might love in a way that glorifies your name.

We who are strong ...

We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ didn't live to please himself. As the Scriptures say, “The insults of those who insult you, O God, have fallen on me.” Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled. May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. -Romans 15:1-5 NLT

These verses remind me that peace comes at the hands of the strong. Those who are confident in the Lord do not feel a need to constantly defend themselves or attack the beliefs of others. People who are spiritually strong demonstrate God's love for others in patience and encouragement. These who pump spiritual iron do it for others and not for themselves - their prayer and study of the scriptures is not to help themselves but to help those who struggle.

Corrie ten Boom was a woman who was strong in the Lord. Her faith was refined in the death camps of Nazi Germany. In such a place she watched her sister die. Years later Corrie was speaking at an event when her strength in the Lord was tested. One of her old prison guards approached her asking for forgiveness. What would she do? In an act of faith and courage Corrie reached out her hand in forgiveness. Only the strong in the Lord can forgive.

In my weakness make me strong Lord. Lead me in ways that strengthen my love for you and for those in my life.

Following your convictions ...

It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. -Romans 14:21-23 NLT

When I hear the word conviction I think of being fully convinced about something. It reminds me of this great Charles Hodge quote that my blogging friend Mike shared this week: "Christianity is equally opposed to superstition and rationalism. The one is faith without appropriate evidence, the other refuses to believe what it does not understand, in spite of evidence which should command belief." Having a conviction does not require superstition or rationalization.

I drank a lot when Christ first came into my life - part of my conversion was a call to abstain. For thirty years after that day I drank no alcohol. Then I began to gradually sense a liberty to occasionally drink a glass of wine. That was about eight years ago and it has been a joy since then to occasionally taste of the fruit of the vine. My point is that convictions often change and we would do well to not only follow our own but to not judge the convictions of others.

Help us Lord to discern the differences between superstitions, rationalizations and convictions.

Let us aim for harmony ...

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. -Romans 14:17-19 NLT

Have you ever, for the sake of harmony, let the other person have the last word on an issue? Can you recall a time when you chose righteousness over rightness? Sometimes it is so difficult to let go of something when we know that we are right! Yet the issue that Paul has been speaking to us about in this chapter is just that. You see, the kingdom of God is not about being right. It is about sacrificing our rightness on the altar of love.

I love how the apostle speaks of serving Christ with the right attitude. To do that I think that it requires us to escape from our petty theological boxes and see the bigger picture. God is wooing all of creation to himself and we must not allow minor things like what we eat or where we worship to get in his way. For when we determine to live in harmony we proclaim his love to the world. And in building each other up we give His love legs to run.

I confess Lord that my desire to be right often trumps your desire for me to love. Help me to love like you love.

No longer walking in love ...

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. -Romans 14:12-15 ESV

In a sense these verses seem contradictory. Is it not loving to tell a person that they are wrong about the ways that they worship? Was not the law of Moses trumped by the gospel of Jesus Christ? Should we not help people who are clinging to law and not embracing grace? What Paul is speaking to is the issue of judging what people do just because they do not do it like us. Issues like food and holy days should not be opportunities for judging each other.

Life seems to be filled with hindrances. I think that judgmentalism is one of the biggest stumbling blocks that people have in life. Many unbelievers see it and are turned off to the gospel - what we do speaks louder than what we say. My thinking is that we must find a way to embrace this idea: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity". In the words of Christ, all people will know that we are His disciples, if we have love for one another.

Lord Jesus Christ, please help me not to judge. Teach me to walk in love and not be a stumbling block to others.

None of us lives to himself ...

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. -Romans 14:5-8 ESV

I read these verses, look at the current state of the Church, and understand that we are not called to walk in lock-step with regard to the way that we worship the Lord. It makes sense that churches are different because we are all different. I think that this sort of diversity is a strength and not a weakness. God has called us as individuals and also as friends. Even large religious organizations have much diversity in their make-up. How could they not?

Our call as believers is unity in mission and not uniformity of style. Whatever we do we do it as unto the Lord and not to ourselves. That said, I think that we often stray when we imagine that we can honor the Lord in isolation. The church was never meant to be a monastery or nunnery. Our message is one for the world and not for the church. Somehow we must find a way to embrace the diversity of other expressions of worship and stop fighting amongst ourselves.

Make us one Lord. Heart by heart. Mind by mind. Help us to see each other as you see us.