The Book of James

The book of James was written by Jesus’ half-brother; a man who grew up with Jesus, knew him intimately, and was by his side for much of his ministry.  This book is therefore filled with the wisdom of Jesus; much of which parallels the Sermon on the Mount.  This book also leans heavily on the book of Proverbs.  The book of James is a well-crafted conglomeration of Biblical wisdom designed to point followers of Jesus Christ in the right direction.

I’ve written eleven brief blog posts on the lessons from the book of James that impacted me in my most recent reading.   Each post only takes a few minutes to read and in that time you will be connected to the Word of God through the included scripture.  I suggest you pray about each lesson and spend some time meditating on the included scripture before you move on to the next lesson.  My prayer is that this study will open your eyes in a new way when you read the book of James for yourself.  May you be greatly blessed in your effort to move closer to God.

Perseverance    (3 minutes)

The physical fitness model applies directly to our walk with Jesus.  Reaching maturity as a Christian also requires hard work and pain.

Take Control   (3 minutes)

A single decision can dramatically damage your life going forward. How you control your emotions is paramount to your success in life.

Who is Most Worthy?   (3 minutes)

Every man is the same in the eyes of God.  Every man is deserving of the same respect until proven otherwise.

Salvation is a Gift from God   (3 minutes)

It is not your good deeds that have saved you from your sin; it is your faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Your Words are Like Fire   (3 minutes)

We all need to take hold of the lessons learned in the Bible and speak in a manner that would make God proud.

The Road to Success   (3 minutes)

Stop trying to push people out of the way to get ahead and start bringing people together. That is the true measure of success.

Peace and Joy   (3 minutes)

When you turn your back on the devil and move closer to God that is when you will discover true peace and joy.

One Judge   (2 minutes)

Your total trust in God and His righteousness is that which will provide you with the strength to overcome this world.

Waiting   (3 minutes)

Only when Jesus returns will our ultimate success be fully realized.  We wait with awesome anticipation for our Savior.

Look in the Mirror   (2 minutes)

The time for complacency is over.  Jesus is standing at the door.  It’s time to look in the mirror and make sure we’re ready for His return.

Living Life   (2 minutes)

Our most important mission is to take what we have learned and put it into action.  Serving God by serving others is the path to a blessing.

Run the Race

Even many of the most committed Christians sometimes have doubts. When life seems to be a series of negative encounters rather than the joy filled life we all desire, it is a natural response to turn to God and ask why.  The truth is, our life in this world is not supposed to be easy.  Our life in this world is supposed to be hard.  That’s how we grow.  That’s how God prepares us for our eternal life to come. We are like athletes in training.  Our struggles make us stronger and ensure we will be ready for our final victory.

Run the Race is the story of two teenage boys who suffer through the loss of their mother to cancer and abandonment by their father.  Zach and Dave are two teenage brothers who have learned to fend for themselves.  They have essentially become each other’s parent providing support and love for the difficult road ahead.  Zach is a promising football player, and Dave has been sidelined by an injury that left him susceptible to seizures.   Zach’s dream is to earn a college football scholarship so that they can both move out of their working class town to a brighter future.

Everything seems to be going well until Zach gets into a fight at a local party and is left with a badly injured knee.  His chances for a scholarship are gone.  As a result, the tables turn and Dave, who can no longer play football because of his seizures, is granted permission by his doctor to run track.  Now the plan is for Dave to achieve the scholarship that will change their lives.  Through all of this, Dave’s Christian faith is solid as a rock, but Zach is the one who questions God and wonders why they have been challenged with such a difficult path.  It is Zach’s lack of faith that also threatens to derail his new relationship with the girl of his dreams.  And it all comes crashing in on Zach when Dave has a massive seizure and is no longer able to continue his race for a track scholarship.

I’ll leave the resolution to this story out of this review, but I can tell you it’s not an easy victory but it is a victory indeed.  The acting in this film is superb and the story moves along at a steady pace.  I would have liked to see a little more character development, but in the end I was completely satisfied with the overall concept.  This is a great tale about how challenging life can be and how our faith can carry us through even the most difficult situations.

Boy Erased

Not everything found in the Bible applies precisely to the world we live in today.  Some things need to be understood as proclamations for the time in which they were written.  Of course, there are many who will not agree with that point of view.  My best guess is about half of all Christians will understand the context of the experiences presented in Boy Erased and the other half will not.  Those who take the time to watch this film and learn from this true life account of actual events, may come away with a new perspective.

Boy Erased is based on the true story of a young man, Jared, whose father is a Baptist preacher.  As a teenager, Jared is tormented by same sex attraction and the desire to act on those impulses.  Of course, the traditional point of view in the Baptist church is that homosexuality is an abomination.  For this reason, Jared hides his feelings from his parents until circumstances force him to reveal the truth.  In the mind of Jared’s Baptist preacher father, there is no Biblically acceptable reason for someone being gay; it’s not possible that God created Jared as a homosexual.  As a result, the only appropriate course of action it to send Jared off to gay conversion therapy.  Jared needs to be changed back into the normal boy God created.

Over the course of this experience, Jared’s mom gradually realizes conversion therapy is in essence, a scheme perpetrated by well-meaning people who have simply lost their way.  She eventually comes to the understanding that God created Jared to be gay – and God doesn’t make mistakes.  It takes a little more effort to convince Jared’s father of the same truth, but in time he comes around as well.

The acting in this film is absolute perfection.  Every cast member is completely believable, leaving the impression you are watching a documentary rather than a fictionalized reenactment.  I have to admit that the story telling moves along at a leisurely pace and could have possibly been filled in with a little more character development; however, I personally believe this is a profoundly important story and the slower pace is worth the effort to watch.  I do not personally believe that gay people can be converted.  This film may help some realize the truth of that statement.

The Teachings of Jesus

Every word of the Bible is important; however, it could be said that the most important words are those attributed to Jesus.  What an extraordinary experience it must have been to be in the presence of the Son of God.  His many miracles, healing the blind, exorcising demons, and raising the dead back to life must have mesmerized those who had the opportunity to be in his presence.

The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John record much of the teachings of Jesus over his three year ministry.  By carefully comparing these four accounts of the life of Jesus, we can extrapolate the substance of his most important lessons.  When we pull the words of Jesus out of the Bible and focus on their specific instructions, we end up with a series of perfect compact devotionals.  By studying this chronologically organized collection of teachings, you will come away with a one-on-one experience with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a new Christian, a long time believer, or someone who is simply seeking to make a connection with Jesus.  The truth and light found in the words of our Savior will have a profound impact.  If you go through these devotionals with your Bible by your side, looking up each verse to read in context, you will likely discover many additional important truths.  And if you travel this book from beginning to end, you will be overwhelmed by the wisdom and majesty of the teachings of Jesus.

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Mike Murphy

Division

The apostle Paul ends the book of Romans with a discussion about division in the church.  Those Christians who were brought up with the Jewish traditions were concerned about those Christians who were not following the traditional Jewish religious rules and regulations.  Paul spends a lot of time trying to set the record straight.  The important point Paul wants everyone to understand is that our faith in Jesus Christ is the power of our salvation, not how we conduct ourselves in regards to religious rituals.

“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.”  Romans 14:1-2 (NIV)

Eating or drinking anything specific is not an issue in regards to our relationship with Jesus.  For this reason, we should not ascribe any ill-will to anyone who lives their life in a different manner than our own.

“The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.”  Romans 14:3 (NIV)

In the world we live in, there are many different Christian denominations – all with different rules regarding what to eat, drink, or how to dress, or when to attend worship service.  Paul wants us to understand that there is nothing wrong with establishing certain boundaries as long as you do so with your heart and not out of obedience to some human ritual.

“One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.”  Romans 14:5 (NIV)

When your heart is pulling you in a certain direction, you should follow that nudging.  At the same time, we should not impose our personal choices on others because we are each uniquely created by God.

“I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.”  Romans 14:14 (NIV)

Above all things, our relationship with Jesus Christ is of paramount importance.  When we listen carefully to the Holy Spirit directing our daily activities and seek to serve God by serving others, we can expect to always be moving in the right direction.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God.”  Romans 14:17-18 (NIV)

Finally, Paul wants us to respect the decisions of others in regards to personal restrictions.  If your neighbor has a problem with any aspect of their walk with Jesus, it is important to support them in their discipline – even when you take a different approach.  In this way, we demonstrate our love for one another through mutual respect and concern.

“All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.”  Romans 14:20-21 (NIV)

Regardless of where we go to church or how we honor God in our daily life, if we have trusted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we are all children of God on a path to the kingdom of Heaven.  We bring glory to God when we represent ourselves as one spirit, forming the body of Christ through our collective love for each other.

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”  Romans 15:7 (NIV)

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Prescription for Christian Living

In chapters twelve and thirteen of the book of Romans, the apostle Paul gives us a long list of do’s and don’ts that paint a graphic picture of a well-managed Christian life.  It would be a good idea to keep this list on your nightstand next to your bed to read every morning as you start the day.  Following this prescription will place you squarely in the footsteps of Jesus.

Romans 12 – 13

  • Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
  • Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.
  • If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
  • Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
  • Honor one another above yourselves.
  • Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
  • Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
  • Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.
  • Practice hospitality.
  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
  • Live in harmony with one another.
  • Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
  • Do not be conceited.
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
  • Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
  • If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
  • Do not take revenge.
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
  • Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
  • Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

This is probably the absolutely best summation of what it means to be a Christian.  The apostle Paul has bundled everything together in a tidy package of clear instruction.  It’s almost as though the eleven chapters that came before, were simply a preamble to this power-packed dissertation.  It really all comes down to love.  If we filter everything we do through the perspective of love for one another, we can do no wrong.

“Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Romans 13:10 (NIV)

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Mercy

You do not deserve God’s favor.  No one does.  It is not until we have fully accepted that understanding that we can even approach God.  There is absolutely nothing we can do to achieve God’s standard of righteousness.  Our only hope is that God will accept us in spite of our flawed human nature.  Our salvation is a gift from God.  It is not something we can bring about in our own power.

“It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”  Romans 9:16 (NIV)

Even if we live a perfect life, we still fall short.  What we do is not as important as who we are.  When we demonstrate a true dependency on God, and accept by faith that he sent His Son as our Savior, we have opened up the opportunity to experience God’s mercy.

“The people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone.”  Romans 9:31-32 (NIV)

It is only when we accept the fact that we can’t achieve the righteousness of God in our own power, that we are ironically given the power to achieve the righteousness of God.

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10:9 (NIV)

This is an issue of the heart.  There is no mental calculus we must decipher.  There is no physical accomplishment we must complete.  All we need to do is truly and honestly believe.

“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”  Romans 10:10 (NIV)

That honest expression of faith expressed publicly to the world is our ticket to all eternity.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (NIV)

God created us as arrogant, self-assured creatures that chase their own selfish desires.  It is that human nature that we must overcome.  God wants us to turn our attention to caring for others rather than ourselves.  When we make that transition, He will then bestow upon on us that which we cannot achieve on our own.

“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”  Romans 11:32 (NIV)

This is the way God designed our existence.  We were made to stumble.  We were made to believe that we are fully capable of anything.  Only when we realize God is completely in charge and humble ourselves before Him, are we eligible to receive His mercy.

“For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be the glory forever! Amen.”  Romans 11:36 (NIV)

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Security

Once you step over the threshold of faith and place your trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you have placed yourself securely in the arms of God.  The evidence of your transition is revealed within the confines of your mind.

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”  Romans 8:5 (NIV)

Your human nature may be pushing you in the wrong direction, but you know you are safely in the arms of God if your mind is opposed to your misguided desires.  It is the sincerity with which your spirit reacts to the world that identifies you as a true follower of Jesus.

“But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.”  Romans 8:10 (NIV)

Even though your body may be unwilling, if your spirit is willing and you remain focused on pursuing the desires of your spirit, you can safely call yourself a child of God.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”  Romans 8:14 (NIV)

There’s no question that our lives in this world are intended to be difficult.  We are essentially in a training process that will prepare us for our eternal existence with Jesus.  To be effective, training has to be difficult.  In the end, the reward for our effort will be grand.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  Romans 8:18 (NIV)

As a follower of Jesus Christ, we have an advocate sitting next to God speaking on our behalf.  Our connection to Jesus through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit keeps us safely in the arms of God.

“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  Romans 8:34 (NIV)

Once you step over the threshold of faith and place your trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, nothing can take away your connection to God.  Your eternal life in the world beyond is safe and secure.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Sin

In chapter seven of the book of Romans, the apostle Paul takes us on a journey through our transition from unbeliever to believer, saved by the blood of Jesus.  Before trusting Jesus we were slaves to sin.  Sin is the act of going against the moral laws of God.  The Old Testament of the Bible is filled with hundreds of laws that establish the boundaries of sin.  Paul wants us to know that by trusting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we have been released from the shackles of sin.

“For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him.”  Romans 7:2 (NIV)

As symbolized through baptism, believers have died to sin and have been raised again as slaves to righteousness and followers of Jesus Christ.  As a result, it is no longer the letter of the law that we live by.  Going forward, we now live by the spirit of the law.  What is in our heart is more important than the specific actions we carry out.

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”  Romans 7:6 (NIV)

Therefore, the question then becomes, are the laws in the Old Testament no longer of use to believers?  Naturally, Paul rejects that idea.  The law remains as a guide and a clear indicator of precisely what it is that God considers to be righteous.

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  Romans 7:7 (NIV)

For reasons we may never fully understand, God created us with a sinful nature.  Sin is part of our DNA.  The apostle Paul had a hard time dealing with sin.  We all do.  Obviously, our struggle with sin is an important part of God’s plan.  God has created us in such a way that we will need to constantly wrestle with sin in order to develop our ability to thrive in the eternal world to come.

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”  Romans 7:18 (NIV)

Praise God for sending His Son to rescue us from sin.  By placing our faith in Jesus, we have been given a new life free from the death sentence imposed by sin and we are now guaranteed an eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  Romans 7:24-25 (NIV)

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.

Baptism

As a Christian, you have left your old life as a slave to sin, and transitioned into your new life as a slave to righteousness.  Baptism symbolizes that death and resurrection.

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  Romans 6:4 (NIV)

As believers, our sins have been forgiven, and it is our mission going forward to avoid those impulses.  Because we remain in our human bodies, we are still subject to the temptation of the devil.  Before becoming a Christian, we lived for those sinful desires, but now in our new life we live for Jesus.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”  Romans 6:11-12 (NIV)

Our human nature makes it impossible for us not to stumble into sin from time to time, but the grace of God provides us with the opportunity to seek forgiveness and avoid the death penalty previously imposed on our life.  As Christians, we have been set free.  Sin no longer has any power over our life.

“Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”  Romans 6:17-18 (NIV)

Praise be to God for the wonderful gift of salvation.  Praise be to God for sending His Son to pay the price for our sin.  Praise be to God for giving us the opportunity to leave our old life behind and be lifted out of the water into a new life with Jesus.  Our eternal existence was cut short by the deception of the devil and now as believers we are guaranteed a place in eternity.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 6:23 (NIV)

All scripture references are linked to Bible Gateway so that you can read each verse in context.  Bible Gateway allows you to change the verse to your favorite translation and compare it side-by-side with multiple translations.  In addition, you can select to hear an audio version of any verse by clicking on the speaker icon.  Keep the Bible Gateway App on your phone so that you can visit the Word of God at any time during your day.