James Chapter 5–What Stands Out

Well, I’ve made it to the final chapter of James in my lectio divina study. Here’s what stands out to me:

You have lived on the earth in luxury and self-indulgence.” James 5:5a

When I compare my life, and the things I own, to others around me, I like to imagine my lifestyle is modest. However, the truth of the matter is:

*My husband and I own two cars

*We have a nice condo in a quiet neighborhood

*We buy pretty much whatever we want at the grocery store

*We have a tidy sum set away in our retirement accounts

*We go on vacations and other trips a couple of times a year

*We go out to eat several times a month

*We have a closet full of clothing

To most of the world, somebody like me, somebody with a pretty “average” life in the United States is living in the lap of luxury. Most people in the world live in poverty. 85% of the world live on less than $30 per day, two-thirds live on less than $10 per day, and every tenth person lives on less than $1.90 per day. In each of these statistics price differences between countries are taken into account to adjust for the purchasing power in each country. In addition, many of the consumer goods we enjoy (things like clothing, electronics and even chocolate) depend upon the work of people who are either enslaved or forced to work in horrible conditions.

I feel guilty and I should. However, I’m not sure what to do about it, or how to change things .I can only rely on the forgiveness of God and His mercy.

 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.””

 Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?

 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:25-17

For more on the book of James see:

Luther and the Book of James

James Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

James Chapter 1 — What Stands Out?

Interesting Word #3

The word paradise is used only a few times in the Bible. The most well known verse is in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus tells one of the thieves on the cross:

“Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43

The apostle Paul also uses this word to describe a vision he experienced:

“And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” 2 Corinthians 12:3-4

Finally, it is mentioned in Revelation:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:7

But what exactly does paradise mean? Is it synonymous with heaven? Well, not quite.

Paradise was originally a Persion word meaning “an area enclosed by a wall” or a “garden.” In the Old Testament, it’s used to refer to the Garden of Eden in Genesis. In intertestamental (noncanonnical) literature such as the pseudepigrapha and apocrypha the word takes on a more specifically religious meaning. Human history will culminate in a divine paradise on earth. Since there was (and still is) no immediate access to the garden of Eden, or the New Jerusalem, paradise (also sometimes known as Abraham’s Bosom) was considered the realm of the righteous dead who are awaiting the resurrection of the body. It’s this intermediate state which is probably referred to in the verses above.

For more posts about the garden of Eden see:

Back to the Garden

It Started in the Garden

What’s a Libretto?

Seven-Mile Miracle by Steven Furtick–Book Review

In this book, author Steven Furtick examines the seven last statements (or “words’) of Jesus from the cross in light of the spiritual journey of every believer. He boils each one down to its’ essential meaning:

*Forgiveness –“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

*Salvation–“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

*Relationship–“Woman, here is your son … Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

*Abandonment–“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

*Distress–“I am thirsty.” John 19:28

*Triumph–“It is finished.” John 19:30

*Reunion–“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

Seven-Mile Miracle: Journey into the Presence of God Through the Last Words of Jesus by [Steven Furtick]

Each section includes questions for journaling or group discussion. At the end there is a forty-day reading guide with Scripture selections on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This was an easy read would be a good pick to use as a spiritual exercise during the season of Lent. Since the author is not Lutheran, there were some theological statements I disagreed with, mainly around the issue of “making a decision” to choose Christ. As Lutherans, we believe Christ chooses us.

VERDICT: 3 Stars due to the theological issues.

For more about the death and resurrection of Christ see:

Martin Luther on the Resurrection

Martin Luther on God’s Victory Over Death

The Resurrection is Now

Make Room for Jesus

Christmas has recently past, and we’ve probably all read or heard the birth story of Jesus from Luke:

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

Bethlehem was a busy place at that time because of the census.  Everyone had to report to the town or city of their forefathers, and in the case of Joseph and Mary, this was Bethlehem, the city of David.  You couldn’t book ahead in those days, and when they arrived no rooms were available.

This made me think of the busy lives we all lead today.  When we’re young we have school and all those extra-curricular activities we need to fill up the college resumes, not to mention keeping up with friends via social media accounts.  We get a little older and there’s work and kids.  Even after retirement we may find ourselves caring for an elderly parent, or a spouse.  It’s easy to find ourselves in a place where we’re failing to make room for Jesus.

When we do this, we’re allowing what’s immediate to interfere with what’s really important.  A friend of mine said, “if I make time for food for my body, shouldn’t I also make time for the food that nourishes my soul?”  This is so true.

Every day we make choices, and we make time for the things that we’re most interested in   If we’re passionate about something — cooking, reading, sports or a hobby — we find a way to fit it into our schedule.  That’s okay, but shouldn’t we also be passionate about our faith?  Couldn’t we give up some time in front of the tv or computer, or even some sleep to read the Bible or pray?  Couldn’t we manage to spend an hour on Sunday morning attending worship?

If you’re not making room for Jesus, make it your priority for 2021.  It’s one investment you won’t regret, because the dividends last an eternity!

For more about making time for Jesus see:

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

Developing Spiritual Habits

 

All Times Are Uncertain

 

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” Luke 12:16-20

Yes, these are uncertain times due to the pandemic.  You or I could become ill and die from the coronavirus.  On the other hand, we could also get cancer or be run down by a bus.  The truth is, life itself is uncertain.  I recently welcomed a new grandchild.  He was due on August 14th, and at the beginning of August, my daughter was told, “It could be any day!”  But guess what — the exact moment of his birth remained unknown until the day it happened (August 6th).  Our times are in God’s hands.

Does that mean we shouldn’t plan?  Or that we should take foolhardy risks?  Of course not.  We should live reasonably.  However, we should also avoid worrying too much.  The Bible tells us that worry will not add an hour to our lives.  We should not be surprised when our plans are interrupted, because God’s plan is not always ours.  We should not put off doing good, because the opportunity may not come again.  We should live in and enjoy the present because we don’t know what’s around the corner.

We can make all kinds of plans for things that never happen, but one thing is certain.  Jesus is coming again.  Like everything else in life, we don’t know the day or the hour. It might be today.  It might be in a thousand years. Whenever it happens, we want to be ready.  Make plans for that.  Don’t be like the foolish farmer.  Prepare for the sure thing.

Looking for Lost Lambs

When my children were teenagers, they were highly annoyed that I always wanted to know where they were, who they were with and what they were doing.  I remember once our daughter, Kate, stayed after school for a club meeting without telling us.  When she didn’t come home on the bus, I called the school;  when there was no answer at the office, my husband drove there.  Her name was announced over the intercom and she came to the office, embarrassed and irate.  “Where did you think I would be?”  she asked.  “Well” we told her, “possibly abducted by a serial killer?”  We explained that although in that moment she found our concern irritating, it also assured her that if she had car trouble, got lost or truly  was abducted, her parents would not waste any time — we would be out looking for her and trying to make sure she was safe. Now, having become a mother herself, she understands.

Part of the Good News is that we all have a parent like that.  Jesus is our good shepherd and here’s what He tells us in one of the Parables:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  Luke 15:4-7

Maybe you feel you’ve strayed too far;  maybe you’re so lost you’re afraid you can’t find your way home;  maybe you think nobody cares.  That’s not true.  No matter where you are, now matter what you’ve done, the Good Shepherd cares and He’s out looking for you.  He loves you and so do I!

 

Who Me?

 

We all know that Jesus is the light of the world– He says this very plainly in the book of John.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”‘ John 8:12

However, in Matthew something more surprising is recorded:

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16

Here He is speaking to His disciples.  They are also to be the light of the world.  People should see Him through them.  That same verse applies to us today.  We are the disciples;  we are the light of the world.  Do people see us and know who we are?  Do they learn to obey and glorify God through our example?  This is a daunting responsibility.

How do you feel about yourself when you apply these verses to your daily life?  Do you live up to them or come even close?  Do most of the people you come in contact with even know you are a Christian?  Does your behavior match your mission as a follower of Jesus?  Do you realize how special you are to Him?

In the Via de Cristo Pilgrim’s Guide this statement is at the end of the examination of conscience:

“Understand that from now on, I consider you one of my faithful ones… and the infidelities of the faithful, these are the things that wound my heart most deeply.”

Christ is counting on you to be His light in the world.  He has no other plan.  It’s up to you (and me).

Why the Shepherds? Part 2

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s and was originally published in the Lutheran Ambassador, December 2008.

There is an analogy about God’s grace that goes something like this:  we poor sinners are like swimmers drowning in a pool of sin, and we can only be saved by the life preserver of God’s grace that He throws out for us to grab onto.  My husband, a pastor, like to take that example a step further.  He maintains that we should not fool ourselves — we are not swimmers, we are drowned corpses lying on the bottom of the pool, unable to lift a finger to help ourselves.  We are saved by grace alone.  As Lutherans we hear it over and over again, but we still need to be reminded.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8).

The baby Jesus was the ultimate gift of grace.  God chose an isolated, unimportant spot to reveal this plan.  He chose shepherds, some of the most marginalized people in society, to witness His glory.  They had nothing to boast about.  They were not rich or intelligent or particularly religious.  They had no resources for spreading the word.  They weren’t the kind of folks people would listen to.  But God was not looking for the most influential or the most deserving to experience His grace.  He was looking for those who needed it the most.

The joyous message of the angels was “for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  It still is.  The angels appeared to the shepherds in a cold, lonely place, in the midst of their daily lives.  They appeared during the night when the shepherds were tired and dawn seemed far away.  Into this darkness, the glory of the Lord and the fulfillment of His promise shone out like a flare at the scene of an accident.

Most of us sometimes feel like the shepherds:  forgotten, unimportant, worn down.  The glitter and bustle of the secular Christmas season may depress us if we are alone, grieving, or without resources to celebrate in a worldly way.  At these times, we need to remember what the shepherds learned that night:  God is with us wherever we are.  He breaks into our messy lives when we least expect it with a promise of hope and peace.  Jesus says, “Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.  I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

This Christmas season, and throughout the year, take time to remember the shepherds.

Give it a Rest!

My devotional reading this morning contained this verse from Luke 6:41:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

It made me realize how often we lose sleep and serenity because we are fretting over what we perceive to be the bad behavior of others.  We need to give it a rest!  According to Jesus, our time is better spent in examining and correcting our own sins.  God reserves judgement for Himself, and we can rest in His justice and mercy.  Only He knows our heart, our motivation, our burdens.  The same idea is expressed in this poem by English poet and philanthropist Adelaide Ann Proctor:

 JUDGE NOT

Judge not; the workings of his brain
And of his heart thou canst not see;
What looks to thy dim eyes a stain,
In God’s pure light may only be
A scar, brought from some well-won field,
Where thou wouldst only faint and yield.

The look, the air, that frets thy sight,
May be a token, that below
The soul has closed in deadly fight
With some infernal fiery foe,
Whose glance would scorch thy smiling grace,
And cast thee shuddering on thy face!

The fall thou darest to despise—
May be the angel’s slackened hand
Has suffered it, that he may rise
And take a firmer, surer stand;
Or, trusting less to earthly things,
May henceforth learn to use his wings.

And judge none lost; but wait, and see,
With hopeful pity, not disdain;
The depth of the abyss may be
The measure of the height of pain
And love and glory that may raise
This soul to God in after days!

Standing by the Door

The sermon this week was based on this reading from Luke 13:

He said to them,  “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.  Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

It reminded me of this favorite poem, written by Sam Shoemaker.  He was the rector of Calvary Church in New York City, where he also served as Frank Buchman’s  head of Oxford Groups in America. In his position of religious influence he helped many come closer to a moral and religious life, most notably Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you are interested in learning more about Same Shoemaker,  you might want to read the biography written by his wife, Helen and also entitled I Stand By the Door.  

I Stand at the Door

By Sam Shoemaker (from the Oxford Group)

I stand by the door.
I neither go to far in, nor stay to far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where the door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door – the door to God.
The most important thing that any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands
And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.

Men die outside the door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter.
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live on the other side of it – live because they have not found it.

Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him.
So I stand by the door.

Go in great saints; go all the way in –
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics.
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in.
Sometimes venture in a little farther,
But my place seems closer to the opening.
So I stand by the door.

There is another reason why I stand there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia
And want to get out. ‘Let me out!’ they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled.
For the old life, they have seen too much:
One taste of God and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving – preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door
But would like to run away. So for them too,
I stand by the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door.
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.

Where? Outside the door –
Thousands of them. Millions of them.
But – more important for me –
One of them, two of them, ten of them.
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.

‘I had rather be a door-keeper’
So I stand by the door.