Dangerously Fat and Happy.

Isaiah 1-2, James 5

Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. Isaiah 2:7-8 ESV

Isaiah was a prophet of God living in the city of Jerusalem whose ministry spanned the reigns of four different kings of Judah. He had unenviable task of warning the people of Judah about God's coming judgment if they did not repent of their sin and rebellion against Him. The opening chapters of this book are not an easy read, and do not paint a very flattering picture of the people of Judah. Isaiah pulled no punches in his stinging assessment of God's rebellious people. Speaking on behalf of God, he called them a “sinful nation” and the “offspring of evildoers.” He accused them of having “despised the Holy One of Israel.” He compared them to a sick body with “no soundness in it.” If God had not mercifully left a few survivors, their fate would have been as devastating as that of Sodom and Gomorrah. God was fed up with their religious rituals that had become nothing but rote exercises lacking in heartfelt conviction or true repentance. According to Isaiah, God had “had enough of burnt offerings or rams and the fat of well-fed beasts” (Isaiah 1:11 ESV). God was sick of their hypocrisy as they stormed into His holy presence all high and mighty, but filled with iniquity. He was done listening to their heartless prayers and gagging on their incense. His recommendation was a simple one: “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows” (Isaiah 1:16-17 NLT). In other words, change your behavior. Let your actions reflect the true condition of your heart.

What does this passage reveal about God?

It grieved God to look at the Israelites and His holy city, Jerusalem, and witness the blatant unfaithfulness of the city and people that both bore His name. But God was not done with either. Through Isaiah, He foretells the coming day when He would restore His people and the city of Zion. “Zion will be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness” (Isaiah 1:27 ESV). There is a day coming when God will accomplish for the people of Israel what they could not have done for themselves. He will send His Son to rule and reign. He will defeat the enemies of Israel and reestablish the Kingdom of God on earth, with His Son, Jesus Christ, sitting on the throne of David in the city of Jerusalem. God will bring peace to the earth. “The Lord will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4 NLT). But those days are in the distant future. In the meantime, God had more immediate plans for the people of Judah. He had legitimate charges against them that deserved His righteous judgment. These people, whom God had chosen and promised to bless in incredible ways if they would only remain faithful, had proven to be unfaithful time and time again. Their greatest problem was a staggering self-sufficiency that sprang from their pride. Rather than being satisfied with God, they had filled up on anything and everything. They were “full of things from the east, and of furtune-tellers like the Philistines” (Isaiah 2:6 ESV). The land of Judah was “filled” with silver and gold, treasure, horses and chariots, and all kinds of idols they had made with their own hands. During the reign of King Uzziah, the nation of Judah had experienced unprecedented peace and prosperity, and it had gone to the peoples' heads. They had replaced the worship of God with the worship of trinkets and treasures, idols and idle pleasures. And as a result, they were about to experience what it was like to try and hide from “the terror of the Lord” and “the splendor of His majesty” (Isaiah 2:10 ESV). A holy God would not put up with their sin any longer.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Mankind has always suffered from pride. It is the root of all sin. It was the cause of the original sin of Adam and Eve. They desired to be like God. Their desire for self-worship caused them to take God off the throne of their lives and attempt to take His place. But God warned the people of Judah, “the haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled” (Isaiah 2:11 ESV). In fact, God makes it painfully clear that there is a day coming when “the Lord alone will be exalted” (Isaiah 2:17 ESV). The problem of pride spans the centuries and has plagued the generations of mankind. Even in the day of James, the specter of pride hung over the body of Christ. He had harsh warnings for those who placed their hope in the things of this world. “Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (James 5:1-4 NLT). There were those in the local church who had made a god out of money. They worshiped wealth to such a degree that they were guilty of taking advantage of those around them. Like the people if Isaiah's day, they were guilty of injustice and oppression. It all reminds me of the words spoken against the church of Laodicea: “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17 NLT). Pride blinds us to the reality of our sin. Jesus Himself goes on to tell the church of Laodicea, “So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference” (Revelation 3:18-19 NLT).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

We must turn to God for help. We are incapable of defeating the pride in our own lives. God reminded the people of Judah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NLT). We must bring our pride to the cross. We must humble ourselves before the Savior and ask Him to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Peter provides us with this encouraging words: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7 ESV). We can never afford to allow the love of money to replace our love for God. We can never be willing to let our dependence on God to be replaced by a reliance upon wealth. Anything we allow to take the place of God in our lives will become an idol. Whatever we turn to for contentment, fulfillment, rescue, self-worth, our value, or confidence, will always fail to deliver what we desire. All idols prove themselves incapable of fulfilling our expectations in them. But if we place our hope and trust in God, we will never be disappointed. We should never place our trust in anything other than God – especially man. “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22 ESV).

Father, never let me get fat and happy in this world. I don't want to become content and complacent, falling in love with the plastic hopes and dreams of this fleeting world. I want to constantly remember that my treasure lies elsewhere. My hope is not found in the things of this earth, but in You. Forgive me for making idols out of so many things. Open my eyes. Help me to see them for what they are. Give me the strength to turn from anything and everything that tries to capture my affection for You. Amen

Exalted By God.

Esther 9-10, James 4

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7 ESV

The story of Esther ends on a high note. The whole intention of its author was to remind the people of God how He had provided for them during their time in exile in Babylon. While Ezra, Nehemiah, Zerrubabel and the remnant of the people of Judah had been busy rebuilding the temple and restoring the walls of Jerusalem, there had been a large contingent of Jews left in the land of Babylon. But God had not left them alone. He had been with them and had miraculously provided for them even while they had been living in exile in a foreign land. Through the lives of Esther and Mordecai, we are given a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes involvement of God as He orchestrated the salvation of His people from destruction. When the story opened, Mordecai was an obscure Jew raising his orphaned cousin, Esther. Through a miraculous chain of events, Esther because the next queen of Persia. This obviously God-ordained promotion set the stage for a series of events that would allow God to reveal His sovereignty and power, even in the midst of a godless and hostile environment. The story ends with Esther still serving as queen, Mordecai as one of the powerful and feared rulers in the land, and the Jews celebrating a stunning and unexpected victory over their enemies. When things had gotten tough, Mordecai and Esther turned their attention to the only one who could save them. They fasted, mourned and prayed. They sought God's help. They took their fears, anxieties, doubts and worries about the future to God. And He heard their cries. He answered their prayers. They humbled themselves before the God of the universe and He exalted them. .

What does this passage reveal about God?

In his letter, James writes, “Draw near to God, and he will draw hear to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10 ESV). These words could have been the perfect opening to the book of Esther. We have to remember that the people of God living in the land of Babylon were far from faithful. The very fact that they were living in a foreign land was due to their unfaithfulness to God. Their entire history as a people had been marked by rebellion against God Almighty. They had refused to worship Him alone. They had rejected His prophets and ignored His warnings. Their exile was God's punishment for their sin. They had loved the world more than they had loved God. James echoes an Old Testament theme regarding the people of God. “You adulterous people. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4 ESV). The Jews living in Babylon were still in love with the world – even in the days of Esther. The very fact that they were still there, after having been given the opportunity to return to Judah under the leadership of Zerrubabel and Nehemiah, spoke volumes. Many had likely become comfortable with their new life in Babylon. They had acclimated to their new environment and had begun to compromise their faith. So God orchestrated a series of events that would provide a wake up call and a much-needed reminder of who they were and just how powerful their God was.

What does this passage reveal about man?

It is amazing just how often we need a crisis to open our eyes and refocus our attention on our need for God. There is the old saying, “There are no atheists in fox holes.” It seems that tragedy and trouble improves the prayer lives of just about everyone. When difficulty strikes, our knees tend to bend far more easily and readily. Trials can be great reminders of our own weakness and drive us back to God in dependency and submission. Esther may have been the queen of Persia, but she knew that her position would provide no guarantee of safety when faced with a royal edict that commanded the destruction of every Jew living in the land. Her crown wouldn't protect her. Her marriage to the king wouldn't even give her access to the very man who could do something about the problem. Mordecai was a powerless Jew who had made an enemy of the second most powerful man in the land. His refusal to bow before Haman had stirred up a hornet's nest of trouble for every Jew living in the land. And little did Mordecai know that Haman had built a gallows with his name on it. The Jews, living comfortably and complacently in the land of Babylon, would wake up one day to find that their peaceful world was about to be rocked. A royal decree had ordained their complete annihilation. They found themselves in a hopeless, helpless position. But if they would submit to God and draw hear to Him, He would draw near to them. If they would humbly come before Him, expressing their need for Him and confessing their sins to Him, God would exalt them. He would do for them what they could not do for themselves.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The words recorded in the opening verse of chapter nine of the book of Esther say it all. “Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king's command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them” (Esther 9:1 ESV). Just when things were supposed to have turned out poorly for the Jews, God stepped in and turned things upside down. Rather than defeat, the Jews experienced victory. God turned their annihilation into a scene of celebration. He turned their mourning into joy. He replaced their fear with renewed faith in the power and provision of their God. He used difficulty to reestablish their dependence upon Him. Sometimes we just be brought to our knees before we will turn to God in prayer. There are times when we must be reminded just how much this world really hates us. We can so easily be lured into believing that this world is our friend and has our best interest at heart. But Jesus Himself warned us that the world would hate us just as it hated Him. We do not belong here. This world is not our home. And as long as we are here, we must constantly remind ourselves that our hope and help must come from one place – from our heavenly Father. We must submit to Him. We must humbly turn to Him in total dependence and complete reliance. We must humble ourselves before Him, acknowledging our sin and expressing our need for His help. And He will exalt us. He will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He will reveal His power. He will remind us of His sovereignty. He will turn our sorrow into celebration and our helplessness into hope. The story of Esther is the story of God's exaltation and vindication of His people. It is a real-life illustration of John's timeless truth: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV).

Father, may I never forget just how powerful and reliable You are. You have proven Yourself time and time again, in history and in my own life. You have turned tragedy into triumph, sorrow into celebration, and replaced my helplessness with hope and healing, more times than I can remember. I want to learn to trust You more. I want to live humbly before You. I want to fall less and less in love with this world and more and more in love with You. Amen

Pride Before Destruction.

Esther 7-8, James 3

For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. James 3:16 NLT

Over in Proverbs 16:18, we find the sobering warning: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” That statement could have been the epitaph for Haman. This ambitious, greedy, manipulative man had gone out of his way to secure a place of highest honor in the kingdom, and had been willing to destroy an entire people group along the way. There is no doubt that Haman prided himself in his accomplishments. At one point, he “gathered together his friends and Zeresh, his wife, and boasted to them about his great wealth and his many children. He bragged about the honors the king had given him and how he had been promoted over all the other nobles and officials” (Esther 5:10-11 NLT). Haman had it all. He had made it to the top and wanted everyone to know about it. But sadly, his rapid rise to fame was not enough. He was not only driven by pride, but by hatred and a self-destructive need for revenge. As great as his new-found success was, he desired something even more. “But this is all worth nothing as long as I see Mordecai the Jew just sitting there at the palace gate” (Esther 5:13 NLT). Mordecai was the one man who had refused to bow down before Haman and show him the honor he believed he so richly deserved. In spite of all his wealth, power and honor, Haman would not be satisfied until Mordecai was destroyed. Driven by his pride and motivated by his insatiable need for revenge, Haman was susceptible to the advice of his wife and friends. “So Haman’s wife, Zeresh, and all his friends suggested, ‘Set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall, and in the morning ask the king to impale Mordecai on it. When this is done, you can go on your merry way to the banquet with the king.’ This pleased Haman, and he ordered the pole set up” (Esther 5:14 NLT).

What does this passage reveal about God?

As has been the case throughout this story, God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating events and organizing affairs in such a way that His divine will would be accomplished. Haman prided himself in his wisdom. He was certain that his plan would prove to be successful. Not only would he have all the power and prestige his heart desired, he would be able to see his enemy, Mordecai, put to death for his insolence. But the apostle reminds us, “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’” (1 Corinthians 3:19 ESV). Haman's grand plan was no match for the sovereign will of God Almighty. The writer of Proverbs gives us a similar reminder: “No human wisdom or understanding or plan can stand against the LORD” (Proverbs 21:20 NLT). The book of Job contains another warning regarding man's wisdom and God's sovereign will: “He traps the wise in their own cleverness so their cunning schemes are thwarted” (Job 5:13 NLT). Haman was no match for God. His plans and power were futile against the sovereign God of the universe. James writes in his letter, “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. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic” (James 3:13-15 NLT). True wisdom – godly wisdom – is always accompanied by humility, not pride. Jealousy and selfish ambition are not the byproduct of godly wisdom. They are of this world. James goes on to write, “God opposes the proud but favors the humble” (James 4:6 NLT). We see the grace, mercy and favor of God clearly in this story. Mordecai and Esther experience it. The people of Judah are the undeserving recipients of it.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Haman is a picture of man without God. In the absence of God, man always worships himself. He becomes the center of his own universe. His desires become central. His plans become the focus of his life. Others become the tools to achieving his desires or roadblocks that require removal. One of the key ways in which man's pride and arrogance shows up is in his use of his tongue. Haman couldn't keep from bragging. He couldn't prevent himself from saying what was on his mind. When he mistakenly thought the king wanted to reward him for his faithful service, he brazenly offered the king the following recommendation: “If the king wishes to honor someone, he should bring out one of the king’s own royal robes, as well as a horse that the king himself has ridden—one with a royal emblem on its head. Let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. And let him see that the man whom the king wishes to honor is dressed in the king’s robes and led through the city square on the king’s horse. Have the official shout as they go, ‘This is what the king does for someone he wishes to honor!’” (Esther 6:7-9 NLT). Little did he know that his pride-fueled words would end up rewarding the very man he wished to destroy. Haman would find himself leading his arch-enemy, Mordecai, through the streets of Susa, as Mordecai basked in the glory and honor Haman had mistakenly thought were to be his. James described the tongue as “a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself” (James 3:6 NLT). Jesus put it this way: “But the words you speak come from the heart – that's what defiles you” (Matthew 15:18 NLT). Haman's real issue was a heart problem.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

James closes out chapter three with these words: “But 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 the fruit of 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 3:17-18 NLT). Godly wisdom has a different character about it. We see godly wisdom revealed in the lives of Mordecai and Esther. They were both willing to wait on the Lord. Rather than seek the destruction of Haman, they sought the salvation of the Lord. Esther appealed to the mercy of King Ahasuerus. She was willing to leave the fate of Haman in the king's hands. Her greatest desire was that her people be spared. She asked that the king reverse his decree and protect the Jewish people from the destruction ordered upon them by Haman. Mordecai, who remained a somewhat invisible character in this part of the story, seemed to willingly wait on the salvation of the Lord. He didn't rail against Haman. He didn't call down God's wrath upon his enemy. He simply waited to see what God would do. And both he and Esther reaped “a harvest of righteousness.” They would see God move in miraculous ways, not only destroying the plans of Haman, but orchestrating his death on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai. And Mordecai would find himself wearing the king's signet ring, once the property of Haman, and running the former estate of his mortal enemy. God had done a mighty work. He had accomplished the impossible. And as a result, “The Jews were filled with joy and gladness and were honored everywhere.  In every province and city, wherever the king’s decree arrived, the Jews rejoiced and had a great celebration and declared a public festival and holiday. And many of the people of the land became Jews themselves, for they feared what the Jews might do to them” (Esther 8:16-17 NLT).

Father, no one has any right to boast before You. There is no place for pride when standing before the God of the universe. The idea of any man being “self-made” is ludicrous. You govern the affairs of all men. You put kings and leaders on thrones and You take them down. You are in complete control of all human affairs – whether it looks like it or not. Help me to remember Your sovereignty whether I recognize it or not. Help me to remain humble and to understand the danger of pride and the destructive power of the tongue. May I remember the words of Paul: “If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD” (2 Corinthians 10:17 NLT). Amen

Putting Faith Into Action.

Esther 5-6, James 2

Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18 ESV

It is so easy to claim belief in God. But it's something altogether different to live that belief out in daily life. In the story of Esther, we have belief or faith in God put to the test. Esther and Mordecai had to take what they knew about God in a purely academic or cerebral sense and apply it to their circumstances. They both had to take steps of faith and learn to stand on and trust in the character and power of God. Esther knew that, while she was queen, she was under the same law that prohibited anyone from coming into the presence of the king unless summoned. The penalty for violating this law was death. Yet Esther, after prayer and fasting, determined to trust God and place her life in His hands. She boldly walked into the king's presence, uninvited and unexpected. But rather than encountering the king's wrath, she “won favor in his sight, and he hold out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand” (Esther 5:2 ESV). Not only that, the king greeted her with the shocking words, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to half of my kingdom” (Esther 5:3 ESV). As God had done so many times before in the history of the people of Israel, He influenced the heart of a king and caused him to show favor to His servant. Mordecai, the man whose refusal to bow before Haman had caused the dire situation in which the people of God found themselves, continued to show up at the gate and do his job. He didn't flee in fear or run for his life. He remained committed to His God and consistent in his refusal to bow down before a man. Under pressure and faced with the prospect of watching his people ruthlessly murdered, Mordecai didn't compromise his convictions or succumb to situational ethics. He remained firm, trusting God, in spite of all that he saw happening around him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is always at work, most often in ways that are invisible to our eyes. He operates behind the scenes and orchestrates events in unseen ways. Esther had no way of knowing that the king would show her favor. Neither she or Mordecai had any idea what was taking place behind the closed doors of the palace and in Haman's own home. Haman was plotting the public hanging of Mordecai. King Ahasuerus was having trouble sleeping. And God was behind it all. Haman, driven by pride and anger, was plotting his revenge on Mordecai. But he was unaware that his plans for Mordecai's demise would be turned against him. He had no way of knowing that the gallows he had constructed for Mordecai's death would become his own place of execution. Esther was oblivious to her husband's insomnia and his seemingly random request to have “the book of memorable deeds” read to him. In that book he would hear of the earlier actions of Mordecai, who had exposed and foiled a plot on the king's life. Haman had no idea that, when he had shown up early for work that morning, his timing was God-ordained. And when asked by the king, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” (Esther 6:6 ESV), Haman had no idea the ramifications his self-centered response would have. In this passage we see both the sovereignty and sense of humor of God. Thinking that the king wants to honor him, Haman came up with a very elaborate, over-the-top recommendation for honoring “the man” the king has in mind. Haman had no concept that the king was to Mordecai. He had no way of knowing that his words would be used to honor his mortal enemy. And Mordecai was oblivious to the fact that God was getting ready to reward his faithfulness and convictions. God was working in unseen ways, putting together a plan by which His enemies would be destroyed and His people, blessed.

What does this passage reveal about man?

As human beings, we live by sight. We are circumstantially based, and prone to focus on what we can see. We evaluate the situation surrounding us and draw certain conclusions. We make assumptions and make determinations based on the facts as we know them. But we tend to overlook what God may be doing behind the scenes. That is where faith comes in. The writer of Hebrews gives us a wonderful definition of faith: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:2 NLT). Paul told us that we are to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). The word he used for “walk” is a word that means “to conduct your life.” It conveys the idea of living your life, going about your everyday affairs, by faith, not by sight. In other words, we are put our faith into daily action, by trusting in what we can't see: the reality of God's behind-the-scenes involvement in the everyday affairs of our life. Faith has practical ramifications. Believing in God is far more than a mental assent to His existence. It is a daily reliance upon His power, sovereignty, love, mercy, and unwavering commitment to our long-term well-being. While things may not look promising, we can always count on God keeping His promises. He will never leave us or forsake us. He will not fail to keep His commitments to us. But our greatest temptation will always be to doubt God. We will always find ourselves prone to allow our faith to become compromised and our actions to be based on human reasoning. James wrote to his audience warning them of this very thing. They were showing partiality, treating those with wealth as more important and significant than those who had nothing. They were using human reasoning to determine that sucking up to the rich made sense. They had convinced themselves that associating themselves with the wealthy would have long-term benefits. But to do so, they were having to violate God's royal law of love. It made no sense to love the poor because common sense said there was nothing to be gained by doing so. But faith rarely makes sense. Doing things God's way will not always seem reasonable or practical. But the life of faith rarely makes sense from a human perspective.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

I can claim to have faith in God, but the proof is in the pudding. In other words, faith must show up in practical ways. It can't remain hidden. Esther was going to have to walk into the presence of the king sooner of later as an expression of her faith in God. Mordecai was going to have to stay committed to his convictions if he wanted to see His God act. To have compromised or caved in would have openly declared his lack of faith in God. James whole point in dealing with faith and works was to convince us that faith is not some ethereal, hidden characteristic, but a practical, visible manifestation of what we know about our God. Esther's faith in God became visible when she placed her trust in Him and stepped into that throne room, in spite of her fears and the voice of reason screaming inside her head. Mordecai kept showing up to work each day, knowing that his refusal to bow down to Haman had led to the possible destruction of the entire Jewish population. Everything in him and everyone around him was probably telling him it wasn't worth it. He had to have been wrestling with whether or not he had gone to far. Certainly he entertained ideas of giving up his hopeless crusade and was tempted to rationalize a more reasonable solution to his problem. But he stayed committed because he trusted God. He had told Esther, “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place” (Esther 4:14 ESV). He didn't know exactly how, but God was going to save them one way or the other. His hope was not in Esther, but in Esther's God. How we act in this world should be based on what we know about God. Our belief in God should impact our behavior. What we know about our God should influence our actions, regardless of what we know about the ultimate outcome.

Father, I want to be a man of faith. I want to learn to live by faith, not by sight. Help me to understand that it is my growing awareness and understanding of You that drives my behavior. It is my confidence in You that allows me to live confidently and uncompromisingly in this world. My faith has an object: You. And it is my faith in You that allows me to live faithfully in this world, regardless of what I can see or not see. Amen

Such a Time As This.

Esther 3-4, James 1

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 ESV

We sometimes forget that while Ezra, Nehemiah and the remnant of Jews who had returned to Judah were busy rebuilding the temple and restoring the walls of Jerusalem, there were thousands of Jews left behind in captivity. They had chosen to stay in Babylon, rather than return to their native land. And the story of Esther tells us what was happening to them while their brothers and sisters were thousands of miles away. Through an amazing turn of events, Esther had become queen of Persian. Four years after her coronation, another significant event would take place that would dramatically impact the lives of the people of God. King Ahasuerus had promoted one of his officials “and set his throne above all the officials who were with him,” commanding that he be shown proper honor by bowing down before him. Mordecai, Esther's cousin, refused to do so. Perhaps because Haman was a descendant of the Amalekites, enemies of the Jews. When word got out that Mordecai refused to show proper honor and pay homage to Haman, he became incensed and in his anger came up with a plan to destroy all the Jews living in Persia. He convinced the king to put his royal blessing on the plan and issue a decree to that effect. When Mordecai found out, he went into mourning and into action. He informed Esther of the situation and begged her to use her position as queen to plead with the king on behalf of the people of God. But Esther became fearful. She had yet to reveal her Jewish identity to the king. She also knew that unless she was summoned by the king into his presence, any attempt on her part to see him would result in death. Things looked bleak. The situation appeared hopeless.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But we must remember that this story was being written for those Jews who lived long after the events recorded had taken place. This book is a reminder of God's sovereign hand in the lives of His chosen people. The story of Esther is the story of God's sovereignty and faithfulness. When we read of the promotion of Haman and Mordecai's stubborn refusal to bow down before him, we can easily wonder why these things had to happen. We can question why God allowed this evil man to be given so much power and authority. We can marvel at Mordecai's hard-headed decision to dishonor Haman. We can speculate how things might have turned out if he had just swallowed his pride and bowed down before Haman. But there is something far greater going on in this story. God had a much larger plan in mind and was working behind the scenes in ways that King Ahasuerus, Haman, Esther and Mordecai could not see. It is interesting to note that Haman used Lots to determine the best day to put his sinister plan in motion. In other words, he relied on chance. But we read that “the king's scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month” (Esther 3:12 ESV), and the edict was issued. It just so happened that the day the edict became official was the day before Passover – a yearly Jewish holiday commemorating God's miraculous deliverance of His people from captivity in Egypt. This was not luck or chance. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that God was still in control. As bad as things looked, the people of God needed to always remember that their God was fully aware and fully in charge of all that was happening around them.   

What does this passage reveal about man?

Haman was power hungry. His new-found position had gone to his head. When one man refused to bow down before him, he because so angry that he determined to wipe out an entire people group in retaliation. This scene had been played out time and time again for the people of Israel over the centuries. Their history was filled with other stories of men attempting to annihilate them. But God had protected them. He had been there for them. And He would do so again. As evil as Haman was, he was no match for God. But this did not mean that the people of God were just to sit back and do nothing. It does not mean that they were to simply accept the situation as is and wait for God to act. Upon learning the news of the king's decree, Mordecai went into mourning. He fasted. But he also took action. He did what he could do to step into the situation. He went to Esther and appealed to her to use her influence as queen to beg for the king's mercy. He recognized that this young girl's unexpected elevation to her position as queen had a divine purpose behind it. He warned Esther that her silence would not save her. While she had managed to keep her Jewish identity a secret all these years, it was just a matter of time before the truth became known. Her life was in danger just like everyone else. Then Mordecai told Esther, “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place” (Esther 4:14 NLT). In this simple statement Mordecai revealed that he believed God was going to protect His people. He would act. But Mordecai also believed that Esther had been made queen of Persia for a reason. “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NLT). He knew that Esther held a unique position and believed that God had orchestrated her rise to prominence and influence for just such an occasion. She had a God-ordained role to play.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Esther was scared. She was justifiably frightened at the prospect of having to confront the most powerful man in the kingdom and beg him to counter his own decree. She knew that the odds were stacked against her. Centuries later, James would write, “when troubles of any kind 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). Trouble had come Esther's way. But James would have told her to consider it an opportunity for great joy. Her faith was about to be tested. She needed wisdom. So James would have told her, “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” (James 1:5-6 NLT). And it's interesting to note that Esther asked Mordecai to call all the Jews living in the land of Susa to fast on her behalf. The inference is that they were to take their situation before God and lift up their sister, Esther.

One of the things that jumps out at me in this story is that no one, including Mordecai or Esther, blamed God for their circumstances. They didn't shake their fists at God and question His love or wisdom. They didn't get angry and demand to know what He was going to do about their situation. In the letter of James, he tells us, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19 NLT). James was writing to people who were living under tremendous pressure and persecution. The natural tendency, when things get tough, is to get mad at God. We can find ourselves getting angry for allowing difficulty into our lives. We can demand to know why He isn't acting or why He allowed it to happen in the first place. But James would tell us to be slow to speak and slow to anger. Instead, we are to listen. Ask God what He is trying to teach us – about Him, about ourselves, about our faith or lack of it, about His power and our failure to believe in it. Esther and Mordecai had no idea what God was going to do. They had no guarantees about the outcome. But rather than get angry, they got busy. They prayed. They planned. They took advantage of their God-ordained positions and acted.

Father, You never said this life would be easy. There are always difficulties to be faced. There are always trials alone the way. But You have promised to always be there for us. You have told us that You are greater than our greatest obstacle or enemy. You have proven Your faithfulness and illustrated Your saving power over and over again. When times of trouble come, may I learn to focus my eyes on You. But may I also understand that You have me right where You want me and I must seek to know what it is You would have me do. Amen

Bad Times. Good God.

James 5

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. – Vs 13

This sounds so practical. So logical. I mean, who wouldn’t pray if he was suffering? Who wouldn’t sing praises if he was cheerful? Oh, let me think. How about ME? Yes, I confess. When I find myself going through difficult circumstances, my prayer life doesn’t necessarily see a marked improvement. On the other hand, when all is right in my world and I’m a happy camper, it doesn’t always turn me into a praise song-singing saint. But why? Why don’t I pray more in the tough times and sing more in the good times? I think it may have something to do with my perspective. James seems to be saying that the thing common to both responses is their focus. Both prayer and praise should be God-centered.

Here’s the deal. When I find myself suffering, I usually end up complaining or whining about my lot in life. Instead of talking to God about it, I’ll talk to everybody and their dog. In doing so, I’m either trying to elicit sympathy or find a potential savior. I want someone to help me solve my problem. And if they can’t do that, I at least want them to feel sorry for me. In either case, I’m expecting them to do for me what only God can do.

James says that if anyone is suffering, they must pray. Not should pray, but must.  It’s an imperative, a command. It’s a non-negotiable. If you’re suffering, talk to God. Seek Him in the midst of it. But don’t just seek God to beg Him to get you out of the circumstances you find yourself in. Don’t just pray in order to get God to solve your problem and get your life back to “normal.” When we do that, we’re just using God like some kind of glorified Genie in a lamp. We have a problem and, in our simplistic minds, the solution is to have removed, or at least changed. So we go to God and give Him our “wish.” When He doesn’t deliver, we go elsewhere. We’re looking for shelter from the real world. As Christians, we somehow expect that we don’t have to suffer through what the rest of the world experiences as a part of life: Financial difficulties, health problems, relationship issues, job loss, heartaches, rebellious kids, broken pipes, wrecked cars, or dashed dreams. We somehow think that our faith should inoculate us from trouble. But the Christian life isn’t about finding shelter from the real world as much as it is about God meeting us in the midst of it. Which is why James says we should pray. Pray to meet God, to hear from God, to share with God what you are going through. Yes, even though He already knows. He wants to hear it from you. James uses the Old Testament saint, Job, as an example of those who endure. But Job was also someone who talked with God. That is what the book that bears his name is all about – his conversations with God. He wasn’t afraid to tell God what he was thinking, and God responded. Job didn’t always get what he wanted, but he did get to know God better. In fact, the last words of Job recorded in the book are in the form of a prayer, “I have heard of You by hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:4). His knowledge of God had gone from cerebral to experiential. He had come to know God through his trials and as a result of his conversations or prayers with God. His God was a good god who could be trusted to do the right thing even when everything seemed to be going wrong.

Good times. Great God.

But what about those times when things are going well? What should we do then? James says we should sing praises. But not just some generic, run-of-the-mill praises. Our praises should be directed toward God. We should acknowledge that our good circumstances are a result of His goodness and grace. We should praise Him for those moments in our life when we find ourselves happy and content. But instead, we tend to take credit for it ourselves. Our hard work produced it. Our intelligence made it possible. We are only getting what we deserve. When things are going well in my life, I tend to forget about God. When I have plenty of money in the bank, no problems in my life, and no worries to deal with, I am a cheerful guy. But I don’t stop in the middle of it all and praise God for His goodness. I don’t thank Him for His blessings. I don’t remind myself that none of it is deserved. It is all a result of His incredible grace. The pleasure of a good meal. The companionship of a good friend. The love of a good wife. The beauty of a glorious sunset. The laughter of my children. The joys of life. They are all a gift from God. So I should praise Him. Praise is another form of prayer. It is acknowledging God for who He is and what He has done. We can sing our praises or simply say them. Thanking God is a form of praise. A simple prayer of thanks at mealtime is a form of praise.

A God for all times.

Prayer and praise. Those are our two responses. The circumstances are not the key – God is. Circumstances change. God doesn’t. If we pray to Him in the bad times and praise Him in the good times, we will be reminding ourselves that He is the God for all times. Job had that perspective. Even in after having lost everything, he was able to say, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  Job had the right perspective. He was focused on God, not his circumstances. Later on, after being “encouraged” by his own wife to curse God and die, he would say, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).  Job knew his God and he trusted Him. So in the midst of his trials, he prayed to Him. In times of joy, Job would praise Him.

I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. – Job 42:2

Father, You are a good god and a great god. Yet I do not pray to You in the bad times or praise You in the good times as often as I should. I have the wrong perspective. I somehow think You exist for ME. I am the center of the world. It is all about me and my pleasure. But it is all about YOU. Help me regain my perspective by allowing the struggles of life to remind me of my weakness and Your strength and the joys of life to remind me of Your grace. Amen


Love Of The World.

James 4

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can’t possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong – you want only what will give you pleasure. - Vs 1-3 (NET)

James ended chapter 3 talking about bearing the fruit of righteousness that is sown in peace by those who make peace. Now he addresses the opposite crowd. Those who sow quarrels and conflict. And what's the source of their quarrels and conflicts? Their own passions or sensual pleasures. The Greek word is hedone and it is where we get our English word hedonist - a lover of pleasure, a person whose life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.

These passions or sensual, self-centered desires do battle inside us. Our lives becomes war zones where each these desires for pleasure compete for our attention and demand that we fulfill them. We end up wanting things we don't have. James says you long for it. The word he uses is epithumeo, and it means to lust after, to covet, and is used of those who seek things that are forbidden. And to make things worse, we don't end up getting what we want. Our desire can become so great that we even consider murder to get what we want. Our internal passions cause us to covet. That Greek word is zeloo and it means to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred, and anger. We literally burn with desire for that thing. But James says we can't have what we want. So the frustration build. We are denied the very thing we burn after.

Then James makes an interesting statement. He says, "You do not have, because you do not ask God," and "when you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures" (Vs 2). We don't usually take these kinds of desires to God. Maybe it's because we know He will say no. Or maybe because these desires are so fleshly that our heart is twisted to believe that we can somehow get them on our own. We don't even think to ask God for them. But even if we did, He would say no, because He knows that we are asking with wrong motives. He knows that we are only interested in our own pleasures or sensual desires.

And I don't think James is only referring to evil, sexual, perverted desires here. I believe he is referring to anything that is so self-focused, that is only about me and my self-centered pleasure. I want that raise so that I can use the money on me. I want that new toy so that I can feel better about me. I want that bigger home so that others will think more highly of me. I want that new relationship so that she will fulfill me. No, James is talking about all kinds of desires. And not all the things we desire are bad. It is more about our motives. It's a heart issue. We are in love with the world. James makes that clear in the next verse. "You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with this world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God" (Vs 4). The world becomes our source for all the things we desire. It is the candy store from which all our favorite delicacies can be found. So we spend all our time with our faces pressed to the window, looking at and longing for what it has to offer. And in doing so, we take our eyes off of the one and only thing that can truly fulfill our desires: God Himself. And we become His enemy.

James' solution? "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you" (Vs 7). And he goes on. He says we should draw near to God, cleanse our hands, purify our hearts, cry over the wrong things we have done, express sorrow and grief for our love affair with the world, and bow down before the Lord and admit our dependence on Him. The result? He will lift you up and give you honor. This is serious stuff. God gives grace to the humble, but opposes the proud. So in other words, He withholds His grace from the prideful – those who stubbornly continue their love affair with the world. If grace is God's power to live the life He has called us to live, then we are powerless without it. Humility is the key to regaining it. We must humble ourselves before God and confess our ongoing love affair with the things of this world. We must admit that we are filled with pleasures inside of us that battle for our attention, drawing us away from God. We must recognize that only He can meet our needs and that anything of this world that offers to do so is a lie that will never deliver on its promise.

Father, I confess that I love the world way too much. I love what I think it can deliver. But I have found it to be a lie over and over again. Forgive me for my stubbornness and arrogance that drives me to keep going back to the world in spite of how many times it has disappointed me. I know I should turn to You. You have never failed me. Thank You for Your unfailing love and incredible patience. Amen

Belief and Behavior.

James 3

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings. - Vs 13 (NET)

Belief and behavior. Who you say you are should reveal itself in how you act. If you think of yourself as wise and understanding, it should show up in your conduct. Wisdom produces fruit. But according to James there are two different kinds of wisdom: The worldly variety and the wisdom that comes from God. The wisdom of this world "is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic" (Vs 15), and it produces the fruit of jealousy, selfish ambition, arrogance, dishonesty, and disorder. It is a wisdom that comes from the world around us. It is natural or sensual. In other words, it is controlled more by the senses than by common sense. This kind of wisdom is driven more by our natural, fleshly desires than by any kind of intelligent, moral code. We do what we do because we FEEL like it. So our conduct becomes selfish and self-centered. It's all about what's in it for us.  We become driven by jealousy and selfish ambition. Our motives become skewed and screwed up. In the first 12 verses of this chapter, James has been talking about the tongue and the difficulty we have controlling it. Verse 13 and on are just an extension of that same thought. The tongue, and the words we use to form with it, can be a destructive force in our lives. We do great damage with our tongues. Yet at the same time we can think of ourselves as wise. We can bless God with our tongue and then turn around and curse our brother. Our behavior, or in this case our speech, does not match what we say we believe. Our "fruit" proves it. Our words betray the kind of wisdom we rely upon. Earthly wisdom.

But James says there is another kind of wisdom. It comes from a source outside of ourselves – from above. It comes from God and it produces distinctly different fruit. "But the wisdom that comes from heaven 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 partiality and is always sincere" (Vs 17 - NLT). It's pure, innocent, or clean. Free from any kind of impurity or flaw. There's no hint of evil intent in it. No jealousy of pride. It is also peace loving. It's accompanied by an attitude of peace, not conflict. Its gentle and fair – all the time. It yields to others. In other words, it is accommodating, not demanding its own way. It's full of mercy for others that shows itself in positive actions. It shows no favoritism in order to gain an advantage. It treats everyone with equal respect. And it is always sincere. There's no hypocrisy. No blessing mixed with cursing. It is consistent.

The fruit this kind of wisdom produces is righteousness. James is talking about righteous living as a fruit, as the thing produced. The wisdom from above results in lives that are righteous and pure. It produces a fruit that is beneficial to all those who encounter it. When we live according to the wisdom from above, we are sowing seeds that will produce the right kind of fruit. And it will make a difference in the way we live and in our relationships with those around us. I love the way The Message interprets the last verse of this chapter: "You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor." We have the job of pursuing peace with one another based on the wisdom of God, not of this earth. And if we do, the result will be righteous lives and healthy, robust relationships with those around us.

Father, I need Your wisdom. I rely way too much on my own or the wisdom that is of this world. I listen far too much to what is passed off as the wisdom of this age. But it always fails me. Help me to hear Your wisdom more clearly. To seek it more diligently. To obey it more regularly. So that I might live a life that results of the fruit of righteousness. Amen

Faith Produces Fruit.

James 2

Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. - Vs 14 (NLT)

Back when we looked at the 11th chapter of Hebrews we asked the question, "What is faith?" It was in the context of the Great Hall of Faith chapter.  The issue was what exactly the writer of Hebrews was trying to say about the topic of faith. I believe he wasn't celebrating these people's faith or their ability to conjure up just the right amount of faith so that they could be recognized and rewarded for it. He was talking about God producing faith in us, in spite of us. The very fact that we have faith is evidence of God's work in us. So now we come to that classic chapter on faith and works from the book of James. Its content caused the great reformer, Martin Luther, to reject the entire book of James, referring to it as a "right strawy epistle." But I think Luther missed the point. James was not promoting a works-based righteousness or salvation by self-effort. He was simply saying that true faith will be accompanied by tangible, verifiable works. Behavior will go hand-in-hand with belief. To say you believe in Christ and to live a life with no visible fruit of that belief is evidence that the faith was never really there. Go back to Hebrews 11. The very fact that Abraham was willing to offer up his son Isaac on the altar was "living" proof of His faith in God. It was faith made evident. One could not exist without the other. Charles Ryrie describes the co-existence of faith and works this way: "Faith and works are like a two-coupon ticket to heaven. The coupon of works is not good for passage, and the coupon of faith is not valid if detached from works."

Faith without works is dead. If you take the spirit out of a body, you have nothing but a corpse. If you separate works from faith, you have a dead faith. It has no life. It is useless. That kind of faith is not a saving faith. Because it is missing one of the main results of faith: a changed life. James makes this point very practical in the first part of this chapter. He says, "Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, 'Well, good–bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well' – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all – it is dead and useless" (Vs 15-17 - NLT).

"I will show you my faith through my good deeds." No one can see faith. I can't judge whether someone is saved or not. But I CAN see their deeds. I can see the evidence of their faith. Now, I can't jump to the conclusion that just because someone does good deeds they are saved. But if someone says they have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and they lack any kind of visible evidence that this new relationship has changed their life, then James seems to say that that kind of faith is useless. It is without life and worthless. Saving faith changes us. It isn't just some mental assent to the reality of God or the fact that Jesus died. Demons believe in God and they feared Jesus. No, faith produced fruit. Because when God places His Spirit within us, we become new creatures. He gives us a new heart. He gives us a new capacity to live and love that we never had before. And it shows up in the way we act. It manifests itself in our deeds. Our works become proof of the very fact that we are new creations. We don't make distinctions God doesn't make (Vs 4). We don't act as judges with evil motives (Vs 4). We don't dishonor the poor (Vs 6). We don't show partiality (Vs 9).  We have been set free to live differently. "So whenever you speak, or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law of love, the law that set you free" (Vs 12). Our behavior should reflect our beliefs. Our actions should prove our faith. John makes this very clear when he says, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (John 13:35). So our works are proof of our faith. They don't save us, but they prove that we have saving faith. Real faith. God-given, Spirit-produced faith.

Father, You have changed me and it has shown up in my life in tangible ways. I do not act the same way I used to act. I do things I never used to do before. I love in ways I never could have loved before. I am far from perfect, but I am also far from the man I used to be. All because of the presence of Your Spirit within me. When I do good things, it reminds me that I am a new man. I have a new power to live a new life. My works prove to me that You live within me. Thank You. May I keep my works in perspective and never allow myself to think that I am earning favor with You through my efforts, but to remember to thank You every time I do something good that it is proof of Your grace. Amen

Pure Religion Is Practical Religion.

James 1

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us. - Vs 26-27 (NLT)

ere James seems to give us an example of what it means to be a doer of the Word and not just a hear (Vs 22-23). Religion that is free from corruption and does not have anything mixed with it that would make it unacceptable before God is a religion that is marked by obedience and life change. It is hearing God's Word followed by a willing obedience to do what God's Word says. In this case, it is controlling the tongue. James refers to someone who is of the opinion that he is religious. In the New Testament, the Greek word "religious" is never used positively. And that's the case here. James is talking about someone who takes pride in their religiosity, but who is not really right with God. It is reminiscent of the Pharisees. The had all the appearance of being religious or pious, but were walking contradictions. James says someone who has a high opinion of their own religiousness, but can't control their tongue has a religious that is worthless. They are only fooling themselves, but not God. Their hearing of the Word of God doesn't ever get translated into action. So their walk with God ends up with no value because it doesn't end up changing the way they live and the way they treat others. The way they behave doesn't seem to correspond with what they say they believe.

But if you want to practice religion that is really free from corruption and doesn't have anything mixed with it that would make it unacceptable before God, you'll be more concerned about His opinion than your own. You will want to keep His standards, not yours. You will want to do what He says is important and not try and add to His requirements some rules and religious rituals of your own. God's view on religion is pretty basic. It's simple, practical stuff. First, visit the orphans and widows in their distress. Give yourself away to those who have nothing they can give in return. Love the ones who are loved the least. Care for the ones who no one else cares about. Widows and orphans were the downtrodden of the day. They had no rights, no representation, no resources, no hope. They were typically neglected and ignored, even by the religious elite of James' day. The religious world of James' day was saying to ignore them. They had no value. They were in their condition because they had somehow deserved it. They were being punished by God. But James said to care for them in the midst of their distress. To not do so would be to allow yourself to become stained or corrupted by the world's influence. Pure religion is practical religion. True religion is selfless religion.

James sums it up best in verse 25: "But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law – the 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." Our religion isn't worthless, it is highly worthwhile because it is based on the Word of God. We do what He calls us to do. We obey what He commands us to do. We love the unlovely. We care for those who have been ignored. We feed the hungry. We clothe the naked. We love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.

Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’" (Matthew 25:37-40, NLT)

Father, I don't want to practice worthless religion. I don't want to think of myself as being religious when in reality I am only practicing some corrupted form of self-righteousness. I want what I do to be in keeping with what You have told me to do in Your Word. I want my behavior to match my beliefs. No contradiction. No disconnection. No hypocrisy. Give me the grace I need to be "an effectual doer" or Your Word. Amen