James 2:14-17 – A Living Faith

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,”’without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” – James 2:14-17ESV

When I was in high school, there was a senior named Shawn who went to my school and was also in my youth group. There are a lot of things I could tell you about Shawn after knowing him for awhile: he was good at basketball, he was funny, he was well-liked, and he was kind to everyone he met. But the thing I remember most about him is something you could know from the first time you met him: Shawn loved orange. I remember one time seeing him without any orange on and not even recognizing him at first, and I’d known him for years at that point. He must have had every type of clothing in orange. I remember even an orange pair of dress shoes and an orange suit. His backpack was orange. His wallet was orange. I wouldn’t be surprised to find him today driving an orange car and living in an orange house (regardless of resale value)! Living in Colorado, even his favorite sports team was orange (go Broncos!)

The point to all this is Shawn didn’t even have to tell people what he was passionate about. To know Shawn was to know he liked orange. You didn’t even really have to know him to pick up on that preference. It was obvious to everyone what he was about.

In James 2:14-17, it’s easy to read the words “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” and hear the shattering news faith in Jesus alone is not enough for salvation. It’s easy to think this means God is still the angry judge, evaluating if we’re good enough to get through the proverbial “pearly gates.” A perspective like that brings little comfort or peace when we fall short. It’s rather like walking into class in high school and finding out the teacher is giving you an unplanned final you could never have prepared for. You could pass, but you’re pretty sure you’re going to crash and burn. After all, each of us has at least one story we’re not proud of.

Praise God, salvation still stands in Christ alone. Romans 3:23-25NLT makes that clear:

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood.”

So how do we understand the James passage in light of what Paul wrote in Romans?

Remember Shawn? It was easy to tell he loved orange. It was probably one of the first things you could know for sure about him. What James is saying, here, then, is good works are not something that gives salvation. Rather, good works, like a heartbeat and breathing point to a living body, point to a living relationship with Jesus Christ. They are a symptom of an underlying reality people can see and get a picture of what’s going on inside of us. We know and live in the incredible reality the God of the Universe loved us enough to become us and die for us and lives in us as we live in the world. Those good works are His incredible love overflowing from our souls into the world around us, bringing his scarred hands and feet into the lives of others to mend broken hearts and celebrate the truth.

Those good works come out not just in the missionary in 3rd world countries, or the pastor in the pulpit, or the believer at the soup kitchen. Those love-centered good works come out when ordinary believers live out their every day lives in love and glory to God. When you follow the speed limit driving to work. When you give your best to your family. When you do your work to the best of your ability each day (or night). When you pay your taxes. When you are kind to your waitress. When you do your homework. When parents are patient with their kids and kids respect their parents. When you smile at someone who looks like they’re hurting or even change a diaper! These are all good works.

And the best part about these good works? Philippians 2:13NLT states, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Good works are not something we can make ourselves do, but something God makes us able to do as we grow in our faith, learning to love and trust Him more and more as we know Him more and more.

  1. When you hear the term “good works” in a Christian context, what comes to mind? (For me, it’s nuns.)
  2. Why do you think the idea of doing “good works” is so intimidating to Christians?
  3. When you think of good works in the simple way described in this blog, what good works do you see God already doing through you in your life?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Each morning, before you begin your day, ask God to reveal to you how you can live out your faith in some small way that day. When the opportunity arises, go for it!

 

 

Luke 5:1-11 – An Illogical God

“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” – Luke 5:1-11ESV

It was the summer of 2002. The Hayman Fire was raging across Colorado. Colorado summers were already boiling hot, but we were also in the middle of a significant drought. The sky was orange with ash, the sun a bleary eyeball of fire peering through. To top it all off… the United States was in a brutal recession. My father’s company, prior to eventually collapsing, finally laid him off. Jobs were scarce and unemployment…time limited.

Leading up to this, my family had been saving for years to build a barn. I had inherited a love of horses from my mom, but we wouldn’t get a horse without proper shelter. We were supposed to start building, but I was sure my dreams of a barn and horse had vanished along with my dad’s job.

Against all logic, my dad started building. He had been praying to find time to build the barn, and he maintained as the months progressed this time unemployed was God providing the time. It made no sense, to be spending savings when we didn’t know when he would get another job, but despite soil so dry it crumbled at a touch and days so hot we could only work an hour at a time, the barn rose. And within days of finishing the barn and unemployment ending…my dad had a job again.

In Luke 5:1-11, Jesus asks Peter to do something that went against all logic as well. The time to fish was over. Peter had been fishing all night, and his fishing crew was already pulled to shore cleaning their nets. As you may know, broad daylight is not the time when you’re going to catch a lot of fish. What is more, Peter, a professional fisherman, had failed to catch anything all night long. Yet to this, Jesus (a career carpenter I might add) tells Peter in verse 4, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Now, from reading we can tell Peter wasn’t just any fisherman. He had a team of fisherman who worked for him, and being a small business owner wasn’t a dream many ever achieved in the ancient world. He was undoubtedly a respected professional, already stinging from failure at his chosen trade by coming in empty-handed from the night’s fishing. If we’re following logic, Jesus telling this knowledgeable professional to go out in front of a crowd of his neighbors, employees, and more to fish at the absolute wrong time of day was a sure path to social humiliation. Yet in verse 5, Peter replies to this illogical request, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

And what a result! Luke 5:6&7 tells us, “And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.”

We live in a world that celebrates doing what is logical. Doing what is practical. Doing what “makes sense.” But sometimes what is wise and logical and “makes sense” to our culture does not take into account what could be wise, logical, and “make sense” to a God Who crafted the universe with merely a flexing of His will. Sometimes, to our limited reason, the logic of an infinite God seems like none-sense and a sure recipe for disaster. Yet this is the God who tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9ESV, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Obedience to God is not always logical to our limited reasoning. Where it will lead can seem frightening and uncertain and even dangerous. It may even be costly. But as you dare to step into obedience to what God has called you, remember this: the God who has called you also, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8ESV) out of love for you…to be your hope and your companion every step of the way.

  1. Have you ever had to do something your were scared to do that ended up working out? Describe what it was and how you felt.
  2. Why is it so hard to trust God to be faithful, despite what we know about Him from the Bible?
  3. Think about the deepest relationships with people you have in your life. What has created the strong trust and connection you have with them?
  4. Challenge for the week: Strong relationships come from spending time together and getting to know one another really well. This week, spend a little time each day reading about what God has told us about Himself in the Bible. Stuck on where to start? Check out some of these online options or call the church office at 303.424.4454 for more ideas!
    1. Lutheran Hour Ministries Daily Devotions
    2. Portals of Prayer LCMS Daily Devotions
    3. Group Publishing Jesus-Centered Daily Reading Plans

Isaiah 9:6 – Christ Goes With You

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6ESV

The day started out like any other; the alarm went off at 6AM, followed by my morning devotions, and all the self-preparation a morning requires before beginning the inevitable struggle through Denver commuter traffic. I was a little more alert than usual for a night owl caught in an early bird’s lifestyle, so I was pulling together the ingredients for a slightly more ambitious breakfast than my usual coffee and meal bar when the text message came in. It was a text message that ended up defining 2017 for me.

My husband had collapsed at work and was headed to the ER. What followed was a tense hour-and-a-half drive to the ER, a transfer to a hospital, IV fluids and blood transfusions, and test after test. We had this delusion the week would end with a discharge and prescriptions. Instead, it ended with a diagnosis and transfer to yet another hospital because my healthy, vital, young husband had leukemia.

It didn’t take us long to realize he should have died at work and nearly did in the ER; to understand he’d been dying all summer and we didn’t know. Like the cancer cells tainting his blood, the knowledge poisoned every good memory of that summer with the revelation of what had been going on, hidden and unseen beneath the surface the whole time. Like a thief, this diagnosis in those closing months of 2017, often stole our energy, our happiness, our plans, and our time.

Yet 750 years before Jesus would be born, Isaiah prophesied in this passage that Jesus, the God we follow, would be known as the “Prince of Peace.” What peace? There has been nothing but war and strife all the way up to Jesus’ birth and long after His ascension back to Heaven. My husband and I have given our lives to Him, yet my husband has cancer in the prime of his life. It’s easy to say that very little around us, and even IN us, looks like the Prince of Peace reigns.

Yet Jesus is still the Prince of Peace. In these last six month, I have watched my husband’s strength melt away. The man who could leg press 1000lbs. can now barely climb a flight of stairs. A former record-holding sprinter, now he gets tired going for a walk. I’ve watched his full beard and hair grow patchy and fall out in hours. I’ve sat through the darkness of night with him through agonizing bone pain and throwing up from chemo. We are tired and sorrowful…and yet in some way, despite our circumstances…joyful.

The joy flows from a deep well of peace. Peace knowing God has not abandoned us but is actively thwarting Satan’s intentions of evil through it to accomplish beauty in our lives. Peace knowing the hardship of this disease is peeling away the influence of our fallen world to set us free to become even more than we would be capable of otherwise. Peace knowing the absolute Truth of the promise of Jesus in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

He is with us, and His Peace does not come because of our circumstances but in spite of them. This same Peace allowed the Apostle Paul to fiercely proclaim the gospel before Emperor Nero, the Caesar of Rome, who would bring about some of the most brutal, sadistic persecution of Christians history has ever seen. This Peace allowed the Apostle Peter to walk the road to Jerusalem, knowing he walked to his death, to proclaim the life of Jesus to the lost. This same Peace has allowed the millions of Christians throughout history to proclaim Jesus’ name in the face of certain death, social censure, and even “simple” fear of rejection.

We may not see perfect peace around us, but the Prince of Peace is with us. With YOU! He has drawn near. He has revealed His true self to you in the Bible, in the loving hearts and hands of His people, and in every “good and perfect gift”(James 1:17ESV) you experience in this life. In 2018, go into storms or fair skies, go into the great unknown of what will be, and go boldly! For Christ and His Peace go with you.

  1. Describe the most peaceful you’ve ever felt. Really try to dig into what that felt like.
  2. Have you ever felt peace in a situation that was anything but peaceful? Describe the situation and where your peace came from.
  3. Where do you wish you were experiencing more peace in your life?
  4. Challenge for the week: look up the word “peace” in the bible. Pick one passage that stands out to you and write it on a sticky note. Put it where you’ll see it every morning and spend some time focusing on it periodically throughout every day.

Luke 2:8-12 – He’s Not Santa

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” – Luke 2:8-12ESV

When you think of symbols of Christmas, if you live in America there are a few things that probably universally come to mind: Christmas lights, Christmas trees, presents, and of course, Santa Claus. He has become so synonymous with the Christmas season, he has even found popularity in countries with little historical connection to Christmas, such as India and Japan.

In America, this red clad, jolly man slips into homes on Christmas Eve, via the chimney, to deliver brightly-wrapped Christmas gifts to good girls and boys. But for the disobedient children, Christmas morning provides something different from the joy and hope of the season. For them, rather than presents under the tree and overflowing stockings, Santa leaves only a lump of coal – a reminder of the ways they have failed to meet his expectations over the last year.

Isn’t it horribly ironic the figure also known as “Father Christmas”, a figure so tied into the season we celebrate Christ’s birth, should have as part of his very nature the very opposite intentions of God come as the baby in the manger?

In Luke 2:8-12, the angels appear to shepherds outside Bethlehem to announce the birth of the long-awaited, Jewish messiah: Jesus. In the dark, star-lit fields, the night was split by the shining “glory of the Lord” as an angel appeared, joyously announcing God’s message “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 8:10b-11ESV).

Now the angel could have stopped there. Lights out. Show’s over. Back-to-Heaven-we-go. He had announced the fulfillment of God’s millennia-old promise fulfilled. He had done his job. God surely didn’t need to prove Himself trustworthy to these men. God had done that over-and-over to the Jews throughout their history. Not to mention, God has every reason to demand the trust of humanity. He created us and everything we’ll ever perceive. Everything belongs to Him. His will and power are the last word on reality.

Yet God knows His creation. He knows what we are…our limitations…our fear and weakness and doubt. And unlike Santa, He doesn’t demand our obedience in order to experience His goodness. So… the angel had more words from God for the shepherds that night: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 8:12ESV).

The God of the Universe bridges the gap between our doubts and His faithfulness. He draws near to us, saying, “Come! Look at this! Hold me! Know me! Look into my face! I am here!” God offered the stunned shepherds not just words, but proof His promise had finally been fulfilled. This long-awaited Messiah could be known and seen in a newborn, wrapped and lying in the most unlikely place: a manger.

And He still invites us to see and touch and know Him today, in every day. Not just in the sharing of the Last Supper of Jesus at Sunday worship. Not just in the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism. But in our love for one another. In the wonder of natural creation and the brilliant creativity of the human mind. In the thousands of tiny whiffs of miracle spilt from God’s hand in every day, overflowing around us. May we have the eyes to see His fingerprints in every day, the ears to hear His delighted laughter. This Christmas, may we feel Him draw near to us, not because of our own hard work, but because of His declaration of endless love over us in the person of His son: Jesus the Savior.

  1. The Christmas season is full of “busy.” How has some of the “busy” commandeered your heart’s attention away from Jesus?
  2. It’s easy to view God as the critic-in-the-sky. If you’re being honest, what is one area in your life you are constantly (and maybe secretly) trying to prove you’re “good enough” for His love?
  3. Thinking back over the last month, think of one “whiff of miracle” God has provided. Thank Him out loud for it!
  4. Challenge for the week: once each day, pause and write down one way God might have “drawn near” to you during the last 24hrs. At the end of the week, look back with joy on all the little “I love you” moments from God!

Matthew 1:18-23 – God With Us

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
– Matthew 1:18-23ESV

When I met my husband, he had already been an avid roller skater for eighteen years. And unlike my dedication to walking for some twenty-odd years, which had shown little improvement in avoiding embarrassing moments of clumsiness, he had put his years of skating to good use. He didn’t just skate… he could breakdance on wheels. I’m talking stalls, spins, backflips, jumps, and more. (If you’re really interested, you can find plenty of examples on YouTube.) By comparison, my roller blading had peaked in 8th grade at little more than desperately careening around the roller rink as fast as I could. I hadn’t skated since.

To watch my husband skate was amazing. Until that point, I hadn’t realized what was possible. Quickly, skating became a regular part of our relationship. Unfortunately, it was a rocky restart for me, and on roller skates this time. I wanted to do what my husband did, to learn to love what he loved and do what he did. Where he glided, I staggered. Where he stopped on a dime, I careened on. Where he easily dodged other skaters, I fell.

But every circuit of the rink, he was with me. He could have been dancing in the middle of the floor, drawing admiration, photos, and requests for coaching (which happened regularly.) Instead, he set aside himself to teach me, to help me up, to model the skills to me I needed to grow as a skater. Eight years later, there are still no backflips or rolling splits, but falls are rare, and I can skate on my toes and spin. I have a long way to go, but people now occasionally ask me for advice on how they can grow as skaters. That is all because Joseph set aside his chance for glory. He chose, instead, to be with me. And when Jesus entered into this world through Mary’s womb…He did and does much the same on a much greater scale.

In Matthew 1:18-23, Matthew highlights a prophecy about Jesus from Isaiah: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Of all the titles Jesus could claim and would claim, the one He chose to prophesy His coming hundreds of years before it would happen is “God with us.” He is the All-Mighty Creator, King of the Universe, Commander of Angels, Vanquisher of Evil, Lord of the Earth, Knower of All, worthy of all “glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:11). Yet the name from prophecy, the name by which generations of people would look forward to his coming…was “God with us.”

Jesus wanted us to know He is the God who is with us. The God who will sacrifice all He is entitled to so He can have a relationship with us…with you. He speaks love into your life by revealing His character in the Bible, by speaking through the words and actions of the people around you. He summons you back to Him and pursues you into your darkness, seeking you out to heal you…even in the darkest corners of your life. No matter how hard and fast and far you fall…the cold, scratchy, filthy cradle in a cave in poverty-stricken Ancient Israel is a testament to your “God with us”.

Fearlessly, He demonstrated how far He is willing to fall to lift you up. The God who spun out the cradles of the stars chose to be born, helpless and weeping, into a brutal world on the first Christmas. He walked in the shadow of the cross His whole life on earth…to be where you are for all your days…on both sides of eternity.

  1. If you could choose any name to be known by, what name would you chose for yourself?
  2. Jesus chose “God with us” to be the name we first knew Him by. What does that tell you about what kind of relationship He has with you?
  3. Many people view God as far-off and detached from what happens in our world. Knowing our God is “God with us”, how does that reframe how you view Him?
  4. Challenge for the Week: If God is with you always, that means there is evidence of Him at work in your life all the time. Spend some time each day intentionally looking for the little ways He is at work in your heart and in your environment. Keep notes of what they are so you can reflect on how God might be trying to speak into your life.