Saturday, June 30, 2012

James 5:13-20 - Part 2

Last weekend I began a series of posts on James 5:13-20. You can read Part One here. I wrote a bit about verse 13 in that post. Today, I'm moving on to talk about verses 14 & 15, which say:
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.

Before I talk about these verses, I want to make sure I'm clear about one thing: I don't want this post to become a debate about praying for healing and how it should or shouldn't be done. Nor do I want it to get to the place where we're making judgements about why someone was or wasn't healed after being prayed for. This is a subjects that hits close to home for some people, including myself, and I don't want to offend anyone. I simply want to encourage you to think about this and wrestle it through with God.

OK, with that out of the way, back to James 5:14-15. The truth is that these are not my favourite verses in Scripture. They're probably some of my least favourite. I've often struggled with what James has to say here, because I could give a list of many times when I or someone I know has prayed for God to heal someone and has asked elders and others in the church to pray for healing, yet the healing being prayed for hasn't happened. How do we reconcile those times with James' words here?

For me, I had to stop and take a look at the verses carefully first. How often do we call on people in the church - on the elders of the church - to pray for us when we're sick? Or do so on behalf of a loved one who is sick? Doing so requires that we allow people in - that we open ourselves up to more than just being a face in the crowd. Maybe that holds us back from asking for that.

I wonder if our hesitancy at times to do this is because we have experiences in the past when prayers for someone's healing seemed to go unanswered. And so we don't ask anymore. But, the way James puts it here, this doesn't seem to be something we should only do if we feel like it. For me, James seems to be saying that we should just this.

So, what do we do with the part here where James says that "the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well."? I know I've prayed for people to be healed before and I've prayed believing that God was able to do it and the person hasn't been healed. And in those situations, I've been far from the only one praying. That makes it hard to read a Scripture like this one. I often find myself questioning my faith when it comes to this. "Did I really believe God would heal that person? Did I believe enough that God would? Did I need to pray more for that person to actually be healed?" Almost as if my prayers and what I (and often others) want is all that matters.

But, I don't think James' intent was to make us feel that way. When I read these verses in the context of what is around them, it seems to me that James intended them as an encouragement that prayer makes a difference. An encouragement that when we pray God can and does act. Because we know that, we can confidently pray for God's healing in someone's life and whether He heals them or not, God heard our prayers. Even when God doesn't answer our prayers the way we would like, the fact that we prayed deepens our relationship with Him and that is His ultimate goal anyway.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

finding the good in the hard times

On Sunday night I was at my church watching a video that showed just a little bit of all that has happened in the last year in my church family. It was good to be reminded of all the good things that have happened in the midst of a challenging year in many ways for us as a church family. And I know that video didn't even cover everything. I needed that reminder on Sunday night. It started me thinking about how the same thing is true in all of life - even when it's hard, there can be good.

When things get hard, it's easy to forget the good - whether it's in our own lives or in the life of a larger group we're a part of. But, from my experience, I've learned that even in the midst of the hard times there are good things that happened. They're not always the easiest to find. When things are hard, it's usually easiest to see all the things that are making it hard. But, when we really stop to look, we can see good things in the midst of it.

Seeing the good things doesn't mean we trivialize or ignore the hard. It doesn't do us any good to do that. We need to face what is making life hard and we need to persevere through it. But, sometimes the way we get through the hard is look for the good that is happening in the midst of it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

what goes in

"Everything that we allow into our minds, hearts, and lives - everything that we spend our time and money on - has an impact on how we grow or don't grow spiritually." (Craig Groeschel, Soul Detox, pg. 16)

It never seems to really be very long between times when I'm reminded of exactly what the quote above says. Those words really are a common refrain in many Christian circles. And because of that, I've become really good at tuning them out. Never mind that Scripture tells us many times that we do need to be careful what we fill ourselves with because it will come out in how we live our lives. What we fill ourselves with has an impact on our spiritual lives.

I'm not someone who will tell you that this means certain types of music, TV, movies, books, etc. are off limits as Christians. That's a line that isn't specifically drawn in Scripture and it can be different for different people. But, even though I've often tuned out this warning, when I stop to think about it, I realize that there are questions I ask myself when making choices about things. That, I think, is what's important when it comes to what we allow into ourselves.

Does it glorify things that are obviously sinful?
Does it will my mind with things that I shouldn't be thinking about?
If someone who cares about me was sitting next to me, would I make this choice?

Those are just questions I ask myself. And some of my choices based on my answers to those questions are different than what others would have. And I'm OK with that. I'm not going to judge others for their choices and I would hope that they wouldn't judge me.

Reading the quote above got me thinking about this. Especially when I begin to think about the impact it may have on my spiritual growth. It is important that we ;re conscious of what we allow into our minds, hearts and lives.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

James 5:13-20 - Part 1

It's been a month since I finished the study I was doing on the book of James and there are still things from the book of Scripture that I'm thinking about and seeking to apply in my own life. It's a book in Scripture that calls you to act on what it is saying and that is keeping me from just moving on to the next thing and leaving James behind. I know that's how it should be with all Scripture, but it's definitely easier to finish studying some parts of Scripture and think it was good, while we just move on to the next thing. I'm finding that much more difficult to do with James.

The last few verses of James 5 have challenged me I've been unable to leave them just yet. Honestly, they talk about some things that I've really had to wrestle with as I tried to understand them. Based on my own life experiences, I haven't always like what they have to say.

James 5:13-20 says:
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Like the rest of the book, there is a lot contained in these eight verses. James just puts it out there - holding nothing back in what or how he says it. Even when he's talking about what could be touchy subjects for some people, James says it like it is.

Verse 13 of James 5 seems pretty straightforward. Pray if you're in trouble. Sing songs of praise to God is you're happy. I have no challenges with either of those things. That doesn't mean it is always easy to do, or even my first response in those times in my life, but it makes sense to me.

It's in some of the verses to come that I've read things that challenged me and left me with things to wrestle with as I sought to understand why Scripture said those things and how my own experiences fit with that. The verses to come in this passage of Scripture are things I'll write about in the coming weeks.

I'm experimenting with a more consistent number of posts each week and topics for different days of the week over the next couple of months. I have no idea if it will work, but I felt like it was time to try something different here. That means the next part in this series of posts will come next weekend and there will be a couple of other posts in between. As always, I welcome your thoughts on my posts or on the changes to when and how I post blogs. I'll evaluate the changes in a couple months and see if it's working.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Proverbs 24:16

"For though the righteous fall seven times, they will rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes."  Proverbs 24:16 (NIV)

I came across this verse (or, more accurately, was reminded of) earlier today when I was doing some reading and it's been something I've been thinking about since. It struck me that the author of this proverb assumed that everyone - including the righteous* - would stumble and fall in their lives. The difference between the righteous and the wicked is whether they get up again after the fall.

I know that's different than how I've often thought of it. I've often thought that the righteous were those who didn't fall and the wicked were those who did. I've often wondered who could really be considered righteous because all of the people I know have stumbled and fallen at some point in their lives.

But that's where a different understanding of righteous comes in - the understanding portrayed in this verse: "for though the righteous fall seven time, they will rise again." When the righteous fall, they don't stay down - they get back up and keep going.

I don't know about you, but that realization has been a bit of a relief for me. It gives me hope that life as a follower of Christ is possible. And it reminds me of God's incredible grace for us. We may fall, sometimes pretty spectacularly, but we can repent of what we need to and get up and keep going.

*Since righteous isn't a word we commonly use these days, I looked it up to help me better understand what the author of this proverb meant. According to it means: "characterized by uprightness or morality; morally right or justifiable; acting in an upright, moral way; virtuous."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

modelling a life of prayer

We all know that prayer is important. We know that prayer can change things. We know that prayer has incredible value.

I've been reminded of that again in the last few days. Just over a week ago, my church lost one of our prayer warriors. She is now in the presence of her Savior and Lord. And my church has said good-bye to a lady we loved and valued as a part of our family. This lady knew that prayer was important and made a difference in what matters in God's kingdom.

I've been challenged about the value and importance I give prayer in my own life. I say that it's important. I say I value it. But what does how I live my life say about how I really view prayer?

Honestly, not exactly what I want my life to say about that. How I pray is not what's the important thing. It's whether I make it a priority. Whether I make time for it in my life.

Maybe I need to change things to make prayer a greater priority in my life. I've been inspired in reflecting on the life of a prayer warrior from my church. That example is one I want to follow in my life.

What about you? What do you say about the place prayer takes in your life? What does your life actually say about how you view prayer? Are there changes you need to make?

Monday, June 18, 2012

when we're tempted

I've been reading in the book of Hebrews lately and as I was struck by a couple of passages that were a good reminder to me.

"Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Hebrews 2:18 (NIV)

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)

I know for myself oftentimes when I'm tempted to do something I know is sin, I feel like I'm alone in it. Yet, these verses remind us that it's not true. Jesus faced temptation when He walked on the earth and He didn't sin. In those times when we're facing temptation we can go to Him for help and He will help us. We're not alone in those times.

I don't know about you, but sometimes I need that reminder - that encouragement - that I'm not alone in facing temptation. Elsewhere in Scripture, we're reminded that no temptation is too much and one that we cannot escape from:

"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can endure it." 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

head knowledge becoming heart knowledge

"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joint and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."  Hebrews 4:12-13 (NIV)

When I read those verses yesterday, it was one those moments when something I've read hundreds of times over my years as a follower of Christ becomes something that really gets to you and becomes a part of you. Head knowledge becoming heart knowledge. An encounter with the Word of God that changes you.

"The word of God is alive and active..."
It's not something dead that I read just because I have to. The Word of God is full of life - true life - and that's a life that is like nothing our greatest dreams can imagine. God's Word is active - it's not just a head knowledge thing. Because it's active we have to do something about living it out. I needed to be reminded of this.

"...sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joint and marrow..."
God's Word really gets at what we need. Through it God gets to the point and challenges us to live our lives in a way that models Him. As it penetrates to the very core of who we are, we are transformed more and more into the image of God.

" judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart..."
Hmm, if I'm honest, sometimes the thoughts and attitudes of my heart aren't really God honouring. But sometimes I need for Scripture to reveal that, so that those thoughts and attitudes can be changed to be pleasing to God. That's something that God often does through His Word.

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from his sight..."
God sees everything that happens. He doesn't just hear about it from one the angels in heaven - He sees it. He is watching over His creation because He loves His creation.

"...everything is laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account"
My entire life is before God. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Yet, He loves me and offers me forgiveness anyway. He knows it all. He sees it all. He will call me to account for it. And His forgiveness when I repent is always available and never withheld.

When I read these verses earlier it wasn't necessarily a profound revelation of something in them, but a moment where they went deeper than they usually do - head knowledge becomes heart knowledge. That's what is meant to happen with the Word of God.

What about you? When was the last time something is Scripture became clearer for you? What really sunk in for you at that time?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

humility & conviction

I just finished reading the book Humilitas by John Dickson.. It was an interesting read and definitely challenged me in how I live. Towards the end of the book there's a chapter that really started me thinking.

In one of the chapters toward the end of the book, Dickson started talking about how humility works with our personal convictions - morally, ethically. He began by talking about the idea of tolerance that is pushed in our society today. And then went on to talk about how the idea that we must soften our own convictions on things to be tolerant of others really is illogical. As a religious person, it would be hard and illogical to believe your religion is right about something, but also say that other religions are equally right. It makes no sense. The same is true in the arenas of abortion and homosexuality. You cannot think one way about those issues and still hold that the other side is equal. You have to choose a side on them.
As Dickson moved on to talk about humility works with our convictions, he described it in a way that made his whole concept of the chapter click for me.
Humility applied to convictions does not mean believing things any less; it means treating those who hold contrary beliefs with respect and friendship. (John Dickson, Humilitas, pg. 167)
This allows for all to have their beliefs and convictions about things and to live them out, but to treat others well even when they disagree with us. There are still people who are worthy of our respect, even if we don't agree on things.

Dickson closes the chapter with a summary of what his main point was in a succinct way. He talks about how our way of defining tolerance in society today, has two directions that it can go. It can reduce people to only being lovable if you approve of their lifestyle or thinking. Or it accepts everybody and everything in terms of lifestyle. According to Dickson, there is a third way that we can hold onto our convictions and act in humility towards others:
It's where we learn to respect and care even for those with whom we profoundly disagree. We maintain our convictions but choose never to allow them to become justification for thinking ourselves better than those with contrary convictions." (Dickson, Humilitas, pg. 170)

That is the way I would desire to live my life. I want to hold deeply to my convictions. I want to live them out. But, I also want to respect and care for those who may see and believe things differently than me.

What about you? How do you want to live?

Friday, June 1, 2012

reading it for yourself

Growing up in the church I heard over and over again the importance of being in the Word regularly. I was reminded that I needed to be doing it on my own on a regular basis. But, somehow along the way, I began to just listen to and read what others had to say about the Bible. If I wasn't at church I rarely opened my Bible just to read it for myself.

There was nothing wrong with reading or listening to other people talk about Scripture. They can be incredibly helpful in expanding our understanding. I still read lots of Christian authors and listen to many Christian speakers. But, I have learned that I can't stop at that. I miss so much of the Word and what God might be trying to say to me when I don't open the Word myself. I tend to pick up books or listen to people talk about a certain selection of topics and avoid others, often unintentionally.

But, as I mentioned in my post yesterday, when I actually take the time to read Scripture for myself, I see things I wouldn't have if I had relied only on others to tell what the Bible says. Case in point would be Proverbs 31. I had always heard people talk about the Proverbs 31 woman in a way that made it seem like it was nothing more than an impossible standard to live up to. That meant I only skimmed through it whenever I came to it. But when I actually took the time to read and study it, I realized the incredible amount of good things that chapter had to say. If I had just kept listening to others talk about it, I would have missed so much there.

It's important for us to read Scripture in our own on a regular basis. We need to discover the truth in it for ourselves. Other authors and speakers are valuable resources but, from my perspective, they need to supplement our Scripture reading and studying of it on our own, not replace it.