James 4 

“Come close to God and he will come close to you.” 4:8a

There are a lot of stand-alone statements in this chapter, but I tried to zoom out and look at at the bigger concept. 

Closeness with God is what diminishes the individual sins listed. Self-motivated and letting jealousy drive you to get what you want? Come close to God. Struggling to live in this world but not be of this world? Draw near to Him. Jesus was the perfect example of how to live like that. 

Reading James can topple expectations high upon your head and weigh you down. But we are not called to any of this apart from God. 

“Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” 

The part of this chapter that stuck out to me the most is my failure to keep a godly perspective about my life here on earth. 

“Your life is like the morning fog-it’s here for a little while, then it’s gone.” 

How much of my time, energy and resources are spent on me? On my things. On my extreme comfort. On winning the world over? 

Lord, humble my heart and remind me that  this life belongs to you. 
-Carly 

James 3

“But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” (8-10)

This verse is convicting every time I read it. My whole body seems difficult to control at times, but when I practice steady discipline I can feel alright about myself. My tongue, however has never been mastered by me. Speaking before thinking, sassy comebacks, witty retorts. I’m pretty clever, and I’ve known a long time I could dismantle a person with my words, but I wish I could say I’ve never done that. 

Deadly poison. It’s way too easy to downplay the consequences of flippant words. 

I like James because he’s incredibly straightforward. There’s no need to twist around, trying to understand what he means or sift through cultural contexts. These are across the board, every place, every moment in time, universally applicable teachings.

What struck you today?

-Bethany 

James 2

“So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” 2:12-13

This verse terrifies me. I struggle greatly with extending forgiveness and mercy to people, including myself. Sometimes I imagine God reviewing my life with me, exposing every grudge held, every tangled root of bitterness strangling me. 

He is clear here, and elsewhere in Scripture, forgiveness is demanded of us. Not suggested, but expected. Forgive, forgive, forgive. I would rattle off example verses, but it’d be quicker for you to flip through the New Testament and put your finger anywhere on a page to find Jesus talking about forgiveness. 

But God doesn’t want me to live in fear of his punishment, that’s not what he’s invited me into. He’s invited me into a relationship with him, where he is strong where I am weak. I do not easily forgive, but he does. And I host his Holy Spirit, who covers me and bridges the gap between my fleshly and godly desires. 

So I ask for help. And it works. He softens my heart towards the people who have wronged me, he underlines his grace in my life, he leads me towards moments to be merciful. The biggest gift has been the people in my life who model forgiveness beautifully. It’s contagious. He’s a gracious God, he wants us to become more like his son Jesus and will offer every resource to help us do so. 

Do you struggle with forgiveness? 

If not, how can you come alongside someone who does and help them? 
-Carly 

James 1

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (5)

Thank God He gives us wisdom! I lean heavily on this verse, because I am constantly in over my head. He is wise and He is our teacher. He wants to share this with us. 

Chapter one is a sort of preview to the topics covered in the upcoming chapters. It seems disjointed, but everything eventually weaves together. 

James has traditionally been a controversial book, because it seems like a “works-based-Salvation” is preached. I think James is just asking people to test their actions to see if their consistent with truth.

Our faith will be evidenced in our conduct. The way we walk demonstrates our opinion of the path. Am I hesitant because it seems sketchy? Am I stopped because I’m unsure of where it leads? Am I running because I want to get it over with, or reach the destination as soon as possible? Am I stopping to smell the roses?

My understand of God will be evidenced in the way I live my life. Am I slow to obey His word because I’m not sure I can trust Him? Am I disobedient because I don’t believe in the benefits of obedience or the severity of consequences? Am I rushing through life, head down, zeroed in on eternal life in heaven? Am I engaging with the Kingdom of Heaven that exists here and now?

James will push our buttons and shove Biblical application into parts of our lives we’d like to keep “secular” or “separate” from faith. Money, time, favorites, speech… if we don’t, he calls us a guy who sees his reflection (good, bad, ugly) and is unphased. 

We will see all these ideas develop over the next few days, so I won’t go deep right now. It’s a preview, after all.

But I do want to highlight the quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. I’ve fallen in love with this verse this year. It is my new philosophy of ministry. I’m a woman of many words and finally, at the age of 32, I’ve discovered the incredible benefits of listening (longer and harder than I think necessary) before offering up my talkative opinion.

So with that, what principal stood out to you today?

-Bethany 

Psalm 148-150

I can’t believe we’re closing out Psalms! It was nice to take a break in the middle and come back fresh. 

I love how much these last chapters urge us to praise God. This is a known phrase to believers: praise God. But maybe we don’t always know what that looks like. 

When I was in college, I was part of a rapidly growing church plant. Our pastor regularly said “praise God”, at the end of almost every sentence he spoke. At first I didn’t know what to make of it. Was it a punchline? Are we allowed to say that flippantly? As time went on, I realized he truly meant that he was praising God when he proclaimed it. It soon became a catch phrase among us, and also a state of mind. 

“It’s been raining 34 days in a row and months since we saw the sun. Well, praise God.” The congregation would laugh. But it’s true! Praise God for the rain. Even the pouring rain. 

In each paragraph we’ve read in this book, the psalmist praised God. In sorrow, war, heartbreak, the good times, the bad times and the mundane. 

“Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord! Praise the Lord!” 150:6, the last verse of this book. 

What does praising God in our every day life look like? It’s 11am as I am writing this, and here are some ways I’ve had the opportunity to praise God (and some I’ve passed up): 

-Posturing myself towards him when I wake up. My eyes slit open, my room is light. I’m tired, I accidentally slept in my contacts and my to do list is already scrolling through my uncaffeinated mind. What an opportunity to praise God for beautiful sunshine, eyes that see because of the advancement of modern medicine, and a life full of things to do with my hands. 

-Drinking my cup of coffee and looking into God’s face before I face the rest of the day. My preschooler is on the floor playing with play dough and I drink in scripture and medium roast Stumptown coffee. Praise God I live in a country where I can freely and regularly read God’s word, with an abundance of access to it. And for coffee.

-Looking for thankfulness when I’m prone to complaining. The fridge is cluttered, ugh. Praise God for food. It’s SO HOT OUTSIDE. Praise God for air conditioning and previously mentioned fridge. I do not want to answer my son’s 456 questions right now.  Praise God for a healthy 3 year old, the gift of parenting and the humility to remember what a good father God is to me. 

How have you praised God already today? As we close on the book of Psalms, let’s move forward being intentional to give him the glory he so greatly deserves. 

Tomorrow we will start the book of James! 
-Carly 

Psalm 146-147

The LORD is the champion of the humble.

“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but He frustrates the ways of the wicked.” (‭‭Psalm‬ ‭146:7-9‬)

“The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.” (147:6)

“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.‭‭” (Psalm‬ ‭147:11)

Humility is everything. I know I keep saying this, but it’s really been sinking in these past few months. 

The contrast of humble, here, is wicked. Not even just what we would expect: proud. Pride is the human doctrine. Pride seems like something we should have.

I just checked 147:6 in the NASB and it’s a game changer. I was looking for a different word than wicked, but that’s the same. Humble is the word that’s different and it lines up more with the list of people the LORD cares for in 146: “The LORD supports the afflicted…” 

Afflicted! This word always brings me back to the Hebrew definition of my name: House of Poverty and Affliction. I know I’ve talked about this before. Suddenly right now it feels like a blessing, just as it is. Not even with the middle name Rae coming in to brighten things up. 

The afflicted get to be close to God. He upholds their cause, sets them free, gives them sight, lifts them up, watches over and sustains. Wow. That, my friend, is deeply humbling, beautiful, fantastic, glorious.

Why are so many prayers for a situation that needs God less? Don’t I want Him more? The LORD is close to the broken-hearted. Does this remove a downside to heartbreak? Isn’t intimacy with God the goal, nay, the purpose of life??

He shines in my brokenness, don’t I want people to see Him? He demonstrates His strength in my weakness, don’t I want people to know His strength.

Wow. There it is. The LORD supports the afflicted. Game changer.

I love you, LORD, my strength. Apart from You I have no good thing. Be glorified in me. 

-Bethany 

Psalm 144-145

“O Lord, what are human beings that you should notice them, mere mortals that you should think about them?” 

“The Lord helps the fallen and lifts those bent beneath their loads.” 

“The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him in truth.” 

I can’t believe how much God intimately cares for us. Yesterday, I sat through a sermon in church dissecting what it looks like for God to be our shepherd. A lowly comparison, a boys job, this is mentioned in the Bible constantly. God is our shepherd. He protects us, watches over us, fights off vicious enemies for us. He knows us well. Knows how we spend our time. And we, his sheep, sometimes hardly notice. We go about our day, often doing the exact same thing. But we know our shepherds voice. We become familiar with the one we can trust, the protector, the provider. The One who has what we need. 

Can you believe our ultimate, powerful God fusses over us this much? Lifts those bent beneath their loads. I drink this in. He’s such a hands-on God. 

Are you familiar with God’s voice? Take time to notice him today. How is he shepherding you? 
-Carly 

Psalm 140-143

“Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. (143:2)

This year I have encountered grace in a new way. I must confess, I never was sure when I was experiencing it.

I will start by saying the greatest gifts of my life are my family and Montavilla, so read this through that lense.

Our enemy is appropriately named the accuser. He whispers all sorts of garbage into our ears, twisting the well-meaning (or insecure) words of people around us. Growing up in church, as a sort of pastor’s kid, I rejoiced with people when they were radically saved. The more gnarly the story (drugs, prostitution, mafia, gangs, etc) the more readily embraced. I saw the beautiful grace of God in these moments.

However, I wasn’t always (or the accuser led me to believe) extended the same measure. I should know better, right? Instead I was often pre-maturely reprimanded for sins not yet committed, or for doing something that someone watching from the bushes could think was sinful. Avoid the appearance of evil! Also a lot of trouble for guilt-by-association. Beware of the unbeliever! On very special occasions, I was the scape goat for corporate shenanigans.

I was doing all the right things: reading my Bible, volunteering, not kissing boys, telling the truth, blah blah blah… with no payoff besides avoiding natural consequences for these things. No prizes for purity. In fact, the more good I did, the shorter the leash.

I read a statistic yesterday about how 58% of my generation raised in church left after high school, and I get it.

When Jesus expanded upon the law in the sermon on the mount, He wasn’t saying lust=adultery to raise the bar, He was saying “None are righteous NOT EVEN ONE”. Somehow we still took it as a challenge to up our self-righteousness game.

Is there grace for the pastor’s kid? Is there grace for those in ministry?

Yes.

Jesus really harped on being judgemental. Whatever standard you use to judge other people, yeah, I’ll use it on you. Christians are supposed to be united under the banner of needing the blood of Christ for redemption. Why are we still riddled with guilt and shame? Why are we expecting perfection from each other? Why do I expect it for myself?

The Apostle Paul has the audacity to rejoice in his weaknesses, saying Christ is strong in them. The best feeling in the world is having a friend, partner, teammate, etc who is strong in the ways you are weak. It is freeing and comfortable.

Wait, freeing and comfortable? Is that what is intended for me? Thank you Jesus! Then, which rules am I supposed to live by?

Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You. Show me the way I should go, for to You I entrust my life.” (143:8)

Walking daily with Jesus; remembering His unfailing love, trusting His leading, obeying, abiding, depending.

HIS righteousness, given to me.

“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬)

I am eternally grateful for this and grateful for the wonderful gift of my family and Montavilla who have put up with a LOT from me, and protected me from much more. Amazing examples of grace, empowered by their unconditional love.

Let’s soak up today’s new mercy. Let’s be people who can be strong in a friend’s weakness. Let’s look to Christ for the way we should go, and let’s give up on the whole Pharisee self-righteous garbage. Also, tell that stupid accuser of ours to back off, cause he’s a major loser. Our fight is with him, not each other, right? (Ephesians 6:12)

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”‭‭ (1 Peter‬ ‭4:8‬)

-Bethany

Psalm 136-139

Good ol’ Psalm 139. It’s the anthem for the lonely, hurting, complicated or lost. We’re promised the thing we always long for: to be known. 

Being known is such a romanticized, human concept. We like it when the barista remembers our coffee order. When friends keep track of our memories. We love receiving the perfect gift, something we mentioned in passing months before. Romance is marked by thoughtfulness. Intimacy blooms in exposure. 

And here, in Psalm 139, we read about a God who has us all figured out. He anticipates us. He arrives before we get somewhere. When we duck into darkness, he flips on the light. He thinks about us. Can you fathom that? 

What trial or joy are you facing right now? God is facing that too. He’s Emmanuel, God with us. 

He knows what you like, what you don’t. He sorts through your thoughts. He anticipates your needs. He goes with you. Arrives before you. Thinks about you. Loves you. 

I love the response the psalmist has to this beautiful intimacy with God. They want more. They posture themselves towards sanctification, asking God to reveal their sin to them so they can stomp it out. 

What’s your response to being known by God? Do you shrink back? Do you ask for more? 

Reread Psalm 139 and praise God for being such an involved Creator. Look for more ways to grow your relationship with him today. 
-Carly 

Psalm 132-135

“Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD; Praise Him, O servants of the LORD,” (135:1‬)

Lots of praising today, and building a temple of praise, and being in His Holy Habitation. No one, and nothing on earth, deserves the praise due His name. He is above all. It is lovely to praise Him.

LORD, I praise You for Your design of the earth, water cycles, season cycles, generations, families, animals, the human body. 

I praise You for Your pursuit of our hearts; loving, forgiving, redeeming, convicting, sanctifying, comforting, softening, restoring and nurturing.

I praise You for Your preservation of the Word and for always maintaining a remnant to carry Your glorious Name to the ends of the earth.

I praise You for sending Your Spirit to dwell in us, making our bodies Your new temple.

I praise You for Your grace, which so naturally qualifies as amazing; giving generously to me, the undeserving.

I praise You for laughter and beautiful moments in the face of adversity; bringing beauty out of our ashes.

I praise You for Your sovereignty, that when all seems out of control, You are still in control.

What will you praise Him for today?

-Bethany