Faith and Deeds by Pastor Dave
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead.
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
James 2: 17 and 26
James 2: 14-26
The heating element in your oven is broken; it is a fairly simple job to replace it so you buy a new one. You have an illness that can be treated so you collect the medication that the Doctor has prescribed. You do nothing further, the heating element lies on the kitchen top and the medication in your bathroom cabinet, both untouched. Pointless purchases unless you do something with them. You see where I am going here don’t you. James is building on his point in Chapter one that our faith needs to have deeds. It’s no use reading God’s Word unless we put it into practice.
In this passage we are given examples of counterfeit faith and of real faith; firstly false and empty faith. If we see a brother or sister in need and simply offer platitudes but do nothing about it we are warned that our faith is dead (vs. 14-17). We may argue we have faith and can leave the deeds to others but as James strongly warns ‘even demons’ believe there is a God (vs. 18-19). The warning here for us is that we may genuinely think we are right with God but we could be fooling ourselves; at Christ’s return we do not want to be faced with the Lord’s rejection (Matthew 25: 31-46).
James then gives us examples of real faith citing Abraham and Rahab. Both individuals vocalized their belief and faith in God, both put it into action. We see that Abraham had his belief credited to him as righteousness. James says Rahab’s actions led to her being considered as righteous though in the account itself she clearly expresses belief first (Joshua 2: 9-11). For some this section seems to argue against justification by faith, a clear doctrine of our belief. The answer to this issue can be found in the holistic biblical viewpoint, James’ key point and vs.24. The bible is clear in many places that we are indeed justified by faith (e.g. Romans 3: 28, Ephesians 2: 8-9). James’ overarching point is that once we have faith there has to be consequential changes, an authentic new life in Christ. In vs. 24 he says ‘you see a person is justified by what he does and not faith alone.’ If a person has faith, the means of justification, the evidence for such will be visible, will be seen.
In my two vocations in life I have been with people as they have passed away and I have seen dead bodies. It is clearly evident when the ‘spirit’ of a person has gone (vs. 26). James is robustly stating that true faith by which a person is justified proves itself through Christ-like conduct towards others. If the deeds are not present then that faith is no faith at all; it will be as obvious as a corpse is dead. Challenging words to say the least!
To Ponder: Read Matthew 25: 31-46 and draw connections with the challenge James puts before us. Looking at the two passages where would you say that your faith and deeds match up, where would you say they don’t?
Pray: Holy God we praise you for calling us to be a servant people and for gathering us into the body of Christ. We ask that you enable us to grasp the depth of your love and to mirror it in our lives. May your Holy Spirit develop within us the mind of Christ and so motivate us to love one another that we give honor and glory to your Name forever. Amen.
Praise: This I believe by Hillsong Worship
Trust and Obey sung by Don Moen
Mercy Triumphs over Judgement by Pastor Dave
“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement.”
James 2: 12-13
James 2: 1-13
James now focuses on one of the key issues he covered in chapter 1, that of practical love towards others. He begins with a scene that we may well have witnessed ourselves in Church. A rich man is shown preferential treatment ahead of a poor man (vs. 1-5). The thought of behaviour like this may offend us but I would guess that we may all have been guilty of it at some point albeit in a more subtle form? Perhaps towards a person who holds a view we do not agree with, who speaks differently or who is of a different ethnicity? The point that James is teaching is that practical love shows no favouritism. Favouritism goes against the Gospel and it breaks God’s law (vs. 8-9). Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) and the Lord’s summary of the law (Mark 12: 28-31) if you doubt these assertions. When we act in this way we become judges motivated by hearts that cannot be trusted (vs. 4).
Those who are poor in the eyes of the world have been chosen by God to be rich in faith and so inherit His Kingdom (vs. 5-7). There are echoes of the Beatitudes in this discourse where the Lord tells us that the poor in spirit will inherit the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5: 1-12). Returning to a theme in chapter one and an earlier blog we see again in the light of the Kingdom rich and poor both need the saving Grace of Jesus Christ. All need His mercy; we all stand under God’s judgement.
Judgement seeks to pay a person their due. Mercy on the other hand sees the need in an individual and responds in gracious, undeserved kindness. James explains that judgement falls on those who break God’s law and show no mercy (vs. 9-11, 13). However he identifies the Law that gives freedom (vs. 12) where God’s grace mercifully meets the requirements of His divine judgement in the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the repentance and faith of the believer. This is where and how Mercy triumphs over Judgement.
In the Beatitudes Jesus tells us that we will be blessed if we are merciful because we will be shown mercy (Matthew 5: 7). When we realise His love for us and the magnitude of His forgiveness we will not find it so easy to show favouritism or judgement towards others. Instead His mercy will flow out of our hearts meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters; this is the practical, self-sacrificial love that brings freedom.
To Ponder: Jesus tells us that those who have been forgiven little, love little (Luke 7: 47). Understanding God’s mercy towards us prevents us judging others and instead enables us to channel His mercy. How are these truths reflected in your life and relationships?
Pray: God of all mercy, your Son proclaimed good news to the poor, release to the captives, and freedom to the oppressed: anoint us with your Holy Spirit and set all your people free to praise you in Christ our Lord. Amen
Praise: Forgive our sins as we forgive with Allyss Haecker
Mercy is a song by Matthew West
New Covenant (By Chris Barnes)
In the Old Testament the people of Israel had the law and they knew what God was asking them to do. But they didn’t have the power or strength to obey. They knew what to do, but they didn’t have the capacity to live as God commanded and to love God as He desired. God’s commands in the mosaic covenant were essentially a life of external rules.
But the law was not God’s last word. Through his prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God spoke of a new covenant to come:
“The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31: 31-33)
I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new Spirit in you. I will take out your stony and stubborn heart and give you a tender and responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. (Ezekiel 36: 26-27)
In the new covenant, God’s law would be written on the hearts of His people rather than on stone tablets. He will put his Spirit inside His people. In this way, He would give them a love for His will and His ways, and a distaste for sin. His people would finally be able to love His will and walk in His ways because they desire to do so rather than doing it out of obligation.
The new covenant says “You’ve broken my law beyond your capacity to fix it, so I’ve done everything for you through Jesus Christ. Enter into Him and live in eternal security.” Everything God demands of us he also provides for us, freely and forever, through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Prayer – Lord Jesus, you have taken away my stony heart. Your Spirit has implanted within me a distaste for sin and a longing to please you. I pray that you write your instructions deep within my heart so I may fulfill your will for my life and follow your ways to the glory of your holy name. AMEN.
Song: Pat Barrett ~ Hymn Of The Holy Spirit
“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
James 1: 26
James 1: 26-27
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ These are words from an old English language rhyme that is intended to help children when facing bullying. The reality is that words count, they can and do hurt. As President-elect Joe Biden has recently expressed the words a President uses matter.
The Church is called to be a place where words are used wisely, lovingly and graciously (Colossians 4: 6); obscenity and gossip should not be present (Ephesians 5: 4). James has been taking us through the ‘senses’ in our life as God’s children. We are to be quick to listen, slow to speak. Our listening should result in understanding that transforms our doing. In today’s verses he moves onto the tongue; what we say. Three times in this opening chapter he talks about self-deception. We deceive ourselves if we do not understand that temptation can be found in our hearts. We deceive ourselves if we only listen to God’s Word without putting it into practice. Today he tells us that once again we deceive ourselves if we do not control our tongues. More than that though our faith, ‘our religion is worthless.’ James is truly calling for authentic living as God’s children; a life that imitates Jesus Christ.
This authentic living is meant to be pure and faultless; this is what God our Father accepts (vs. 27). As we considered on Monday obedience is not forced upon us. Obedience however IS transformational. As we listen to God and obey His Word we become more and more like Jesus, purity grows and faults reduce. This way of life has a practical outpouring of love to those in need, to the vulnerable (the orphans and widows of James’ day – the definition of ‘vulnerable’ seems to encompass many more today!). Of equal importance is the need to truly be God’s Children and not to live by the standards of the world (vs. 27).
We are therefore called to demonstrate love practically to those in need, to control our senses especially our tongue and to live as God’s children in this world without being polluted by it. In chapters 2, 3 and 4 James goes into greater depth on each of these areas.
This way of life is the calling God gives to us in Jesus Christ. It is where true freedom is found and where our lives bless others and glorifies God.
To Ponder: Do you have knowledge of God’s Word rather than obedience to it? If you look at your life, what you say and do, do you see the fruit of His Word or the ways of this world?
Pray: Heavenly Father we give thanks for the new life that you bless us with in Jesus Christ your Son, our Saviour. As we live this life transform us from our faults to the purity your ways. Keep our tongues from evil and our lips from deceitful speech. Let the words we use be transparent and honest, let the lives we live reflect your love to those in need. In your strength may we so bless others and glorify your name. Amen.
Praise: The Meditations of my heart by Elaine Hagenberg
Holy Water, We the Kingdom
Bible Verse: The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom. Daniel 1:19-20
With apologies to the Beatles, Daniel, along with Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, also know as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were the original Fab Four. When the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzer forced the Israelites into exile, he took with him the captured royal household and nobility of Judah to be trained for service in his courts if they were found to be suitable. His intention was to extinguish their identity as Israelites and make them conform to their new roles subservient to him alone. That was why he had them given new Babylonian names and trained in their new duties. It was part of the indoctrination into their new culture. As devout Israelites who followed the one true God, this would have been especially challenging. The pressure to give up their Jewish identity was intense. They were to live Babylonians, eat like Babylonians, and behave like Babylonians. But if they did, they would violate all the Jewish laws found in the Torah. So, despite the risk, they decided to stand their ground with a peaceful protest and chose obedience to God.
In staunch witness to their faith, these four young exiles did something extraordinary. Instead of rolling over and giving up in despair, or rebelling in anger, they chose a different strategy. When they were instructed to eat what the king had ordered for them, they asked for a 10-day vegetarian challenge to demonstrate their faith in their God, and let their physical health at the end of that time determine their fate. This was a faith-filled challenge to their captors and put their own lives on the line by doing so. The result? They were found to be healthier than all the other captives who were on the king’s diet, and so their jailors allowed them to honour their beliefs, and God blessed them with extraordinary insight and abilities. They became wise and capable young men and were recruited to serve in the royal palace of Babylon. God changed their limitations and challenges into leadership opportunities. They actually flourished in captivity.
What if the challenges we are facing today are not just limitations but occasions for us to exercise creative faith and put our trust in God? What if the challenges we face today regarding our health, jobs, families, or prejudices are actually opportunities for us to flourish and for God to demonstrate his power and faithfulness? What if the trials we face today are but tests to prepare us to lead others out of their limitations tomorrow? As you think of the challenges you are facing, be open to God’s creative genius to turn obstacles into opportunities for our good and for his glory! Praise be our great and faithful God!
“Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says!”
James 1: 22
James 1: 22-25
Imagine you are on your way out to an award ceremony where you are one of the recipients. You are going to be on stage, giving an acceptance speech. On the way to the front door you have a quick mirror stop. You notice that the pen you’ve been chewing whilst writing your speech has leaked onto your lips and chin, you realise you haven’t combed your hair and there’s a food stain on your collar. Having seen all of these problems you go out anyway without rectifying them (vs. 23). Wouldn’t happen would it! Yet this is what many of us, God’s children, exactly do. We read God’s Word or hear it at Church, understand it to some degree, then completely forget or ignore it. How many times have you been at Church and heard a passage and sermon on relationships in the Body of Christ. You, along with others have been nodding sagely in agreement then as soon as the service is over, during coffee time, some are found contravening the Lord’s direction. An equally common occurrence has come to be known as the sacred/secular divide. We hear the Lord’s Word on a Sunday but it does not translate into action in our lives during the week.
James has guided us on the importance of listening and hearing, now he points out that once God’s Word is heard there should be resulting action. Failure to act on God’s Word amounts to self-deceit. When we hear we are then meant to do (vs. 22).
There is real motivation for us in this. Yesterday, on Remembrance Sunday, we considered Christ’s example and Call on our lives together with the motivation to respond to and follow Him. The motivation is found in unity with Christ, the comfort of His love and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit (Philippians 2: 1). In today’s passage we find further motivation in following Christ. If, as we listen to and hear His Word, our understanding develops into action we will find freedom and be blessed (vs. 25). God’s Word directs us into the New Life we can find in Jesus Christ which frees us from the tyranny of sin and death. His Word is then full of truth, encouragement, guidance and even warnings. Metaphorically speaking, if life were a road trip, the Bible could be seen as our guide or map. There are signs directing us to places of interest, beauty spots and warnings of danger. On a road trip we could drive passed all these signs to our detriment or we could stop and be blessed. If we hear and obey God’s Word we are truly blessed in all that we do. This obedience isn’t something that is forced upon us but instead it leads to freedom because we are in a relationship in which we flourish; a relationship we were created for.
To Ponder: Do you struggle with doing what you hear in God’s Word? You are not alone. Be encouraged, God has given us His Holy Spirit to help us live as He commands. How might this truth embolden and aid you in your bible study and prayer time so as to act on what you learn?
Pray: Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, help us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your Holy Word, we may embrace and forever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given is in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. One God, now and forever. Amen
Praise: Red Letters by David Crowder
Lamp of our feet whereby we trace
Listening AND Hearing by Pastor Dave
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
James 1: 19
James 1: 19-21
A wonderful, gentleman, friend and previous Bishop of Chile would often say, “We have two ears and one mouth; we should use them proportionately.” Whenever I read today’s key verse I think of my wise friend’s knowing smile as he made this statement. So often we want to speak rather than listen, to get our point of view over rather than hearing another’s. Additionally we can listen without really hearing. We probably can all imagine ourselves on our phones, computers, watching TV or in a rush while someone is talking to us. We listen to them but we don’t really hear them.
James makes the connection between not listening and anger. When an individual is not heard or understood frustration can occur which easily spills over into anger. Relationships are harmed. In the context of this first chapter which focuses on trials and temptations we see the importance of listening AND hearing. There are many examples in our world today where trials and difficulties have occurred, people have gone unheard, anger erupted and there were consequences such as civil disobedience.
Earlier in the chapter the source of evil desires was confirmed as our hearts (vs. 13-14). In this section James warns us that this sort of anger does not make us right with God or bring God’s goodness into situations and lives (vs. 20). He encourages us to humble ourselves before God and to get rid of our ‘moral filth and evil,’ (vs.21). The way we are enabled to do this by God is in accepting the Word He has planted in us; this can save us. Here we return to Wednesday’s blog and the new birth that faith in Christ through God’s grace brings about. To receive this new birth we need to listen to God’s Word AND hear it to understand what He is saying. God speaks to us in many ways, in these verses James is referring to the written Word (earlier the living Word, Jesus Christ). His Word, the Bible, reveals God, Jesus Christ and the Gospel message of salvation. To be truly blessed we need to listen AND hear God’s Word. This takes time, commitment and the work of the Holy Spirit. Hearing God can result in accepting Him which can lead to new life.
At St. Aidan’s we are gearing up to go through the Bible in one year; in 2021. There will be a great deal of assistance, support and guidance provided as we do this (keep an eye on our website). Can I encourage you, whoever and wherever you are, to take part in this journey; to really listen to and hear God? It will transform your life and help bring about the peace and righteousness the world so desperately needs.
To Ponder: What sort of listener are you, do you hear what you listen to? How do you listen to God? Do you need to re-think how you hear Him in His Word, both living (Jesus Christ) and written (Bible)?
Pray: Merciful God, teach us to be faithful in change, uncertainty, trials and temptations. Help and enable us to listen to and hear your Word so that we may trust you, obey your will and enter into the unfailing joy of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Praise: How Firm a Foundation
Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light to my path by Amy Grant
The people of Jeremiah’s day had a king (Zedekiah) who was foolish, capricious, and wicked, and they longed for a leader who would be wise, just, and righteous. So Jeremiah’s prophecy was music to their ears:
“The days are coming”, declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23: 5-6)
While Zedekiah’s name meant “The Lord is Righteous,” Jeremiah explained that this coming King would be called “The Lord Is Our Righteousness.” He will be the opposite of leaders like Zedekiah. He will do what is just and right. He will bring restitution to the victims of theft, and he will protect the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. He will not shed innocent blood.
The people needed a righteous king not only because their king was unrighteous but because they, too, were unrighteous. And this wise King will be righteous for his people in a way that was, perhaps, beyond Jeremiah’s comprehension. The goodness, integrity, and moral perfection of the Righteous Branch will belong to God’s people. His righteousness will become their righteousness.
Jesus Christ is righteous for his people. His righteousness belongs to them. All his righteous deeds fulfill the law his people could never keep. His righteous sufferings satisfy the atonement they could never pay. “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3: 22). The only way God can accept unacceptable sinners is when we, in faith, say, “The Lord Our Righteousness will be my righteousness.”
Prayer – Jesus, you are ‘The Lord Our Righteousness” and you are my righteousness. And I know that tomorrow’s sins will not erase this reality, nor will my good works improve your righteousness. I stand trusting in your righteousness, not my own. AMEN.
Song: Lord I Need You - Matt Maher
Life and Death Part 2
Life and Death Part 2 by Pastor Dave
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”
James 1: 17-18
James 1: 13-18
The Bad News is that I spilt coffee on my keyboard! The Good News is that it’s all under control (as in the key in the bottom right corner)! How do we respond to good and bad news? Do we hear only the bad or in denial focus only on the good? We will all differ. On Monday we unpacked the bad news of sin which gives birth to death as we considered the issues of temptation and deception. We ended on hope though. This hope is the Good News of today’s focus and it is the truth of a second birth that brings new life!
This Good news is rock solid and utterly dependable because it comes from our Almighty Father. In the verses recorded above we see three reasons that confirm the reliability of this Good News: our Eternal Father is the creator of all things (heavenly lights) and so is utterly Sovereign; He does not change, nor is He fickle (shifting shadows), so we can completely trust Him; and He is so gracious, He ‘chose’ to give us this new life.
As we marvel at this Good News James clarifies how we may receive this New Life and its purpose. To add to my last point, this new life is a gift of grace, we can do nothing to earn it or justify its receipt. It comes to us through the word of truth. Jesus is that word of truth (John 14: 6) wrapped up in the Gospel message of reconciliation. We need to repent (turn our lives to God) and receive this new life in faith. If sin gives birth to death this birth brings about the firstfruits of God’s new creation in those who have turned back to Him (1 Corinthians 15: 2-23). We become children of God, destined for eternal life but with a purpose on this earth which we will begin to understand on Friday.
So, in our times of trial and temptation let us be aware of the ‘Bad News’ so as not to be deceived but let our faith point us towards the ‘Good News’ of Jesus Christ. God is Sovereign over everything, He is completely trustworthy and Gracious. Let us grow in Him and produce fruit for His Glory (John 15: 8).
To Ponder: What is your natural disposition; do you tend to focus on the bad or in denial focus on the good? How might meditating on and believing in the ‘word of truth’ change your thinking and transform your life?
Pray: Merciful God, sovereign, eternal and trustworthy, teach us to be faithful in change and uncertainty, that trusting in your word of truth and obeying your will we may enter new life and the unfailing joy of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Praise: Amazing Grace by Darlene Zschech
Grace by Laura Story
What Else Can Go Wrong?! (By Les Kovacs)
Bible Verse: “I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from?” (Psalm 121:1)
“I’m so confused.” “Man, its crazy out there.” “I just can’t keep up anymore.” And that was just the news stories from 2019! There was the Brexit fiasco; the horrific refugee migrations to Europe that caused so much hardship and turmoil; the second largest outbreak of the Ebola virus that swept through the Congo; and of course the federal election which resulted in a minority Liberal government being installed in Ottawa.
These are just a select few of the ripples in space/time that caught our attention last year, and we all began looking forward to 2020 with a weary hope and optimism. Surely 2020 would be a better year. It couldn’t possibly be worse, could it? I’m always loath to ask the question, “What else can go wrong?” because you inevitably find out.
It’s a very different world we live in from that of only a year ago. Covid-19 has certainly accelerated global shifts in culture, politics, economics, technology and their impact on our daily lives. For many people, daily life this year has become barely manageable, and it feels like a hopeless situation for many, sucking the life out of them. For millions of ordinary people around the world, mental health issues are on the rise because they feel increasingly helpless and hopeless. Who knows what’s coming next? How on earth do I navigate the way forward? We see some of the same dynamics in many of our own homes as well. So now what? Even the Psalmist asked, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3)
For some years now I have tried to read through the Psalms at least once a year, because in the face of what life brings me, sometimes actually throws at me, I need the unique gift of the Psalms to plant my feet, orient my heart, and lift my eyes. What was true for the Psalmist will always be true: The LORD is the Maker of heaven and earth, He sees everything that’s happening in it, He is able to do anything He wants and He knows what He is doing, charting the course from His beginning to His fulfillment of all things. Not only is He the Maker of everything out there beyond me, not only does He know about everything that’s going on around me, but He is my Maker, too. And so, I lift my eyes to Him.
The Psalms can be read as a prayer book. They are a guide that orients me again and again to the Lord who is in charge; to the Lord who never changes; to the Lord who is always certain; and to the Lord who is always faithful. I let the Psalm prayers inform and transform my own prayer, and I find that God can change how I see the chaos around me, and how I respond to the unsettledness within.
They remind me that the Lord is my keeper. The living God loves me and keeps me. It may be crazy out there, but we can be sure, even now in the midst of all the storms, that, “The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Ps. 121:8). Praise be to our merciful and faithful Father in heaven!
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.