Hear and Do: Pure Religion

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

The new Testament uses this word translated “religion” only 4 times. It’s not surprising. The apostles were teaching a radical move away from the rigid structure of the Law and into a greater understanding of God’s grace and how we can love and trust him more deeply and with greater freedom.

heardo_350That said, there’s nothing wrong with practicing our faith in an organized and systematic way. Religion isn’t a bad thing if that religion is built on God’s Word and our understanding of his grace. We do not save ourselves by being more “religious.”

That said, too, any system of following God that is based on His Word will include two major lifestyle choices – taking care of women and children who need family and money and not letting the world’s values water down our obedience to God.

Think: How are you “doing” God’s Word when it comes to helping the needy and shaking loose of the world’s values?

Pray: Ask God to help you grow in your helpfulness to needy people and in how you avoid letting the world’s values set the course for your life.

Do: If you don’t know, ask someone what your church does to help “widows and orphans in their distress”?

Hear and Do: Whoa Tongue

“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)

We’re fond of saying Christianity is not religion; it’s a relationship with God through Jesus. And that makes sense. We usually think of religion as man trying to reach God. Christianity is God taking the initiative to redeem humans, adopting us as his children.

heardo_350But James is writing to a religious people. He doesn’t want them to be content in mindlessly following all the rules and regulations of their practice. He wants them (and us) to ask if their worship is changing them. And the number one measuring stick for change in humans is the words that come out of our mouths.

Don’t lie to yourselves, he says. If your religion isn’t giving you control over your words – if you still spew verbal unkindness, immorality, deception, and hostility – then your religion isn’t working.

Think: Does your “faith practice” work? Are you finding yourself changed in the way you talk, in the words you choose?

Pray: Ask God to help you see how your genuine relationship with him is genuinely changing you to be more like Jesus.

Do: Listen to how the people in your life talk this week. Notice anyone whose religious faith is or is not making a difference in their choice of words.

Hear and Do: Face Work

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23-24)

Have you ever noticed that most guys look at themselves in mirrors differently than girls do? Girls – at least those who wear makeup – get a look on their faces when they look into a mirror like they’ve got a job to do, like an artist touching up a painting (or a construction worker cleaning up a job site, depending on the girl’s view of herself). The mirror is a work surface that reports back to them what needs fixing or what’s still in good shape.

heardo_350We guys are different animals. In fact, we’re a little like animals. We tend to glance at ourselves in the mirror with no more interest than we notice someone across a crowded room – or we stand there making faces at ourselves for 15 minutes. Mostly, we use the mirror to convince ourselves that we still look good or to obsess about an irreparable blemish. We don’t really expect to come away looking any better than when we got there.

James built a mirror metaphor. He said someone who hears God’s Word but doesn’t make any changes to his life is like a person (usually a guy) who is not interested enough in his reflection to remember it five minutes later. We should approach God’s Word to see what needs fixing in our lives, not just to convince ourselves we’re still okay.

Think: How does your use of the Bible compare with your use of mirrors?

Pray: Ask God to help you come to His Word with a willingness to go to work on whatever it shows you that needs changing.

Do: Watch some people look at themselves in mirrors this week.

Hear and Do: Freedom Rules

But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25)

Today’s passage isn’t meant to be a fortune cookie. It’s not a fairy dust promise that if you do everything you find in God’s Word to the best of your ability, he’ll make all of your dreams come true. God isn’t a genie you access by polishing a magic lamp called “the Bible.”

heardo_350If you’ve got a smart phone, it came with a book of instructions – or at least a link to an online support page. We would not be surprised if that page had this line: “Follow these instructions written by the maker of this product, and you will be amazed by how cool this thing is and how well it works for a long, long time.”

The Bible is a book of power because it contains direction from the designer of all of life. Living according to God’s Word results in blessing because you will then be living the way the inventor of life intended. We should see that as perfectly logical, not just a vague spiritual promise. It makes perfect sense to do what God’s Word says.

Think: Would you resent the makers of your phone if they warned you not to submerge it in water? Do you ever resent God for warning you not to violate his design for your life?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be grateful for his instructions about your life because following them results in blessing for you.

Do: In the style of an instruction book or user’s manual, write 2-3 of God’s commands about how he intends for us to live.

Hear and Do: What Nike Said

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)

I got into this habit a while back of downloading task-list software from the Internet. It was an excellent way to avoid actual work. It felt productive; I was cataloging all the important things I had to do. I was building a system. I was making a fresh start.

heardo_350But there was a problem. After going through the little ritual of typing in a “to do” and categorizing it and putting it in context, I got this little buzz of satisfaction. “There it is! I know exactly what I must do. It is captured!” I felt proud of myself for being so organized as to have this sophisticated list-making knowledge.

And then I didn’t do anything else. Why? Because I already got the completion buzz from just adding the task to the list. It felt “done” even though I didn’t do anything. James noticed we have the exact same problem with the Bible. We feel great because we take time to listen to God’s Word – so great that we sometimes don’t worry about actually doing anything about it.

Think: Ever feel so satisfied with yourself for having devotions or going to church that you skip actually doing what God’s tells us to? Yeah, me too.

Pray: Ask God to help to be both a listener to and a do-er of His Word.

Do: Find a way to “do” something today you’ve heard in the Word recently.

Hear and Do: No Outlet

“Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:21)

Have you ever spent any time in a maze – either on paper with a pen or pencil or inside some kind of life-size contraption? The implied goal of being in a maze is to get out, to get through it, to get to the other side. You can’t escape if you keep getting stuck in dead ends.

heardo_350James makes an assumption in these verses. He assumes that our goal in life is to live “the righteous life that God desires.” If that’s not our ultimate goal for life on this side of heaven, then his book isn’t going to make much sense to us.

He told us yesterday that human anger is a dead end; it does not lead to choices that please God. Today, James drops some more knowledge on all of us maze-dwellers: “Other dead ends: moral filth and evil. The way home? It’s in the Word. The Word’s in you. Don’t resist the Word (unless you like dead ends).”

Think: Have you discovered some dead ends in life? What are worthless choices or attitudes you’re learning to avoid because they don’t get you where you want to go?

Pray: Ask God to give you a radar for worthless paths so you can keep heading in a worthwhile direction.

Do: Off the top of your head, write a quick definition for moral filth. Then look the two words up in a dictionary.

Hear and Do: Speed Control

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

I love that the Bible never says, “Don’t feel angry!” God understands that’s not possible. Instead, he gives us some of the most practical and profound teaching on what to do with anger in all of recorded human history.

heardo_350First, rush into hearing. Listen long enough to clearly understand all the facts and all the motives, as best you can. Then listen again. Second, shut up. The first words out of our mouths in an angry situation are often the worst ones. When you’re angry, doubt your mouth.

Finally, own this: You’re not going to make any real progress toward your real goals while the anger meter is in the red. Wait for it to cool off before taking action or making big decisions. Don’t let your anger run your life.

Think: What are some ways you can slow your anger down – and keep it from sending you spiraling in an unhealthy direction.

Pray: Ask God for speed control over your listening (faster), talking (slower), and getting mad (slower).

Do: Ask a mature Christian friend or two what their strategy is for keeping anger from controlling their lives.

Glory: A Prayer for the Connected

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

[Cue movie announcer’s voice:] If you only attach one Bible verse to your forehead this year, attach this one.[/announcer]

To my knowledge, King David of Israel never Googled anything. He didn’t have Facebook or Twitter. He didn’t write comments on someone’s Instagram. But under the inspiration of God, he wrote Psalm 19:14 for all those of us who do those things today.

glory_350The Internet and our smartphones practically beg you and me to convert every random thought in our heads into published words. That’s dangerous, and it should scare us way more than it does. Not just because we might say something to make ourselves look foolish – but because we might write something unkind or deceptive or immoral and make our God look foolish.

Maybe even worse, the Internet offers an avalanche of ideas and images for our hearts to “meditate” on. And even if we don’t consciously think about them all, our “hearts” and minds are always processing those messages. We must develop the ability to delete the worthless thoughts and keep the valuable ones.

David sees that the only hope for pleasing God with our words and thoughts comes from our Rock and Redeemer.

Think: Do you have a different standard for what you will say and think about online or on your phone than in the rest of your life? Is that standard more or less pleasing to God than the one you stick to in the real world?

Pray: Write down this verse with your hand and pray it every day this week and/or month and/or year.

Do: Notice someone who reflects God’s character on any social network this week and thank him or her for that.

Glory: Hidden and Willful

“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. ” (Psalm 19:12-13)

If you’ve been following along in Psalm 19 this week, you’ll notice another shift in verse 12. In the first few verses, David looked up. He found himself amazed by a God who could create the heavens, especially the enormous and powerful fireball called the sun. Then he looked down into the pages of God’s Word and was overwhelmed that the creator of the heavens would talk to us in words on paper.

glory_350Now David looks into his own heart. Compared to the sun, he sees his smallness. Compared to God’s commands in Scripture, David sees how sinful he is. He realizes immediately he often does not live according to the Law. He is not operating according to the design. He naturally sins without thinking of it sometimes.

At other times, David admits, he intentionally rebels against God’s commands. For the fist time in this chapter, he asks God for something: “Forgive the sins I do without realizing I’m doing them – and keep me from doing the ones I know are wrong. Please help me not to be controlled by my sinful desires.”

Think: Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the sense that you are way off the path of living according to God’s design for your life? Do you ever run into a brick wall of conviction over your sinful choices?

Pray: Pray this passage to God. Ask him to convict you of sin and to give you the courage (and power in his Spirit through faith in Christ) to obey him.

Do: Ask someone you trust to tell you if they think you have any “hidden sins” that you aren’t aware of most of the time. (Be brave and try not to get defensive.)

Glory: How to Drive

“The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” (Proverbs 19:9-11)

Imagine if you lived 1,000 years ago and you woke up one morning to discover that everyone in your village had a car parked in front of their house. Cool, yes? Except nobody has ever seen a car before. Nobody knows what it’s for and why it exists or where it came from. Some people start using their cars for beds or dining rooms or less pleasant things. Others begin to worship the cars as a kind of god.

glory_350What would it be worth to discover, hidden under one of the floor mats, an owner’s and driving manual written in your own language? If you studied it, you’d suddenly understand the point of “car.” You’d get that it was transportation, that it was meant to be fast, that it has an in-dash stereo. You’d realize what the key was for – and you’d learn some things not to do if you wanted it to work properly (e.g., put sand in the gas tank, drive at night without headlights, etc.).

Having the car’s maker explain in writing how the car works best would mean the difference between having a worthless hunk of metal – and having a ticket to drive really fast. Paying attention to the maker’s warnings and direction would mean the difference between life and death. (Okay, you get the metaphor – God’s directions to us about how to live are worth everything. Don’t worry about where you’d find gas or the lack of roads. It’s just an analogy. Come on. Work with me here.)

Think: What are the chances of coming to the right conclusions about how our lives are meant to be lived if you eliminate God’s instructions in his Word?

Pray: Ask God to help you to value his Word for what it’s worth.

Do: Write down three things the Bible warns you to avoid on the road of the life. Then briefly describe (in a sentence) the reward of obeying God’s commands.

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